Politics & Government

Public access to Tacoma City Hall will get more rules Feb. 3

Starting next month, the city of Tacoma will require most people to show government-issued identification to visit any floor above the third at City Hall. Visitors must also have a reason to be there, such as an appointment with a staff member.

The move is part customer service and part employee safety, said Jeff Jenkins, assistant director of Public Works, during an afternoon meeting with the Tacoma City Council in a ninth-floor room called the “visibility center.”

The change was born out of a 2012 space planning study, which the city had not done since it moved into the current City Hall building in 1979, Jenkins said.

Departments that members of the public are most likely to visit will be consolidated on floors one through three, Jenkins said, “to prevent people from having to go through this 15-floor maze of this building.”

“Just because it’s a public building doesn’t mean the public has access to every corner of the building,” Jenkins said.

Starting Feb. 3, once a visitor shows federal- or state-issued identification and a security staff member verifies they have a valid reason to travel above the third floor, the visitor will be given an access badge that can be used to operate the elevator.

There’s only one exception, Jenkins said: people visiting the building for a public meeting scheduled for floors four through 15 would not be required to show ID to get an access badge. State law prevents agencies from requiring people to sign in to attend a public meeting.

Before the end of the year, the city will construct a permanent customer service center to help residents, contractors and other members of the public find the right departments. There will also be new conference rooms somewhere on the first three floors. Once those conference rooms are built, appointments with city officials and public meetings will almost always be held in one of those rooms.

Restricting access is meant to increase security at City Hall. In 2012, someone stole five laptops from the City Council. The thief was never apprehended.

Jenkins said the city examined policies at surrounding cities, including Seattle and Bellevue, both of which restrict public access to their city buildings. The city of Tacoma has three security staff members. Seattle has more than 100, and Bellevue’s City Hall includes its Police Department.