COVID-19 Updates, Sale of 3200 RIA, 2017 Audit Done, and a Forest Path in Mount Rainier

Hi Friends,

I know these are unusually hard times for many of us. As a result, I want to start off by saying that if you need any assistance at all, please email me and we can work together to find resources to help. Do not hesitate to ask.

Despite these hard times, your elected officials and city staff continue to work hard to achieve victories both large and small towards that strategic vision I laid out in August. This focus on our little circle of control - namely, our community - is also what I see neighbors doing every day during these most difficult times. From live music on one's front porch to help in sharing in the responsibility of grocery purchases, we continue to build the bonds of community right here in Mount Rainier.

All said, here are some updates regarding COVID-19, as well as some of those large and small victories I mentioned . . .

COVID-19 Updates

I would recommend everyone pay attention to the state's announcements on COVID-19 and bookmark the Governor's webpage, which includes links to his press conferences, as well as the state's Department of Health webpage, which has a wealth of information on the virus itself and how quickly it is spreading in the state. 

The city's Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) had a successful food drive and is also preparing for how it can help people during these times. If you would like to help CERT, please email Danielle Carter at [email protected]

Many of our small businesses are temporarily shuttered as a result of Governor Hogan's order that closed down most businesses. As a result, the state has issued an emergency small business relief fund that can provide grants of up to $10,000. If you are a small business owner, you can read more and apply here. Please do so.

Some bad actors are, unfortunately, using these times to take advantage of people. WSSC reported that scammers are trying to sell customers water filters by claiming that such filters are necessary to prevent the spread of COVID-19. That is a lie. Please report such activity to WSSC at 301-206-4001.

Finally, please try and disinfect your trash and recycling handles both before you put them on the curb and after our Public Works employees handle them. I think that is a best practice we should try and follow to protect staff and residents.

Sale of 3200 RIA

The sale of 3200 Rhode Island Avenue to IFG is complete. The closing was completed earlier this week with over $1.3 million deposited into the city's account ($1.5 million sale price minus closing costs). 

IFG plans to develop this important parcel in-line with the 2010 MUTC plan for this site, and used the stock photos envisioned by the MUTC plan on their website so you can get a sense for the type of mixed-use development we're looking at in the future.

This is a huge win for getting us one step closer towards increasing the density in our downtown core that I talk so much about in my strategic vision for the community. It is that density of population - e.g., more people walking out of their door wanting a cup of coffee or pint of beer - that will increase the demand that is needed to sustain our current businesses and provide new businesses with the appetite for taking on risk in opening up shop here in Mount Rainier. 

2017 Audit Complete

While we continue to be behind on our audits, we took one step in the right direction by completing our 2017 audit. We received a clean bill of health with a note that the city needs to hasten its development of written financial policies and procedures. This continues to be a priority for us as we move forward. 

When both Celina and I came on board, the city was behind on its audits with 17 different bank accounts spread out over three banks. This 2017 audit should be the last audit where an auditor will have to deal with three different banks as we consolidated our accounts under one bank soon after Kevin Greenville took over the Finance Department a few months after we arrived on Council. Unfortunately, additional delays occured when Kevin took a promotion to a larger city soon after we let go of our prior auditor. With our new auditor now able to deal with one bank, we are hopeful that the city will get current on its audits in FY21 or FY22. 

A Forest Path and a Native Food Forest

I know it is not much during these hard times, but I am happy to report that, with the help of several amazing residents following social distancing rules, we cleared a forest path that connects the 31st Street Pocket Park with Rainier Avenue (near the big oak tree at the stop sign where 32nd Street dead ends into Rainier Avenue).

While walking becomes one of the few ways to enjoy time outside now, I felt it would be great to take it one step forward and provide residents with a brief respite from concrete with a walk through the woods.

You can find the trail one of two ways:

  1. From the west (31st Street) - enter the 31st Street Pocket Park (between Taylor and Upshur) and follow the contours of the park to the back where a gap emerges in the fence line. Then follow the make-shift path bordered by tree limbs to your left and the fence line to your right until it spits you out to Rainier Avenue.
  2. From the east (Rainier Ave) - find the big oak tree near the stop sign on Rainier Avenue where 32nd Street dead-ends into Rainier Ave. Then walk past the big oak towards a clearing in the woods that is marked by a curved mulberry tree that serves as an arched entrance to the path with tree limbs on the ground marking the path's border. This route then spits you out into the 31st Street Pocket Park.

There is a pretty patch of yellow buttercups back there so please enjoy and watch your step! I also encourage pants and high socks to avoid any ticks. 

This path sets the stage for a planned Native Community Food Forest in the 31st Street Pocket Park that I am happy to report we received approval from MNCPPC and the city to begin building out this spring/summer. Huge kudos to several residents here: Brad Ball donated his expertise in landscape architecture to design the specs; Barry Stahl provided his expertise in native planting and horticulture to help pick out the plants and come up with the concept; Gabe Popkin successfully applied for a grant to help pay for the cost of the trees; and so many others who provided their input on this project. Thank you!

This park will serve as a key hub for the Mount Rainier Native Plant Network I am pushing to create in Mount Rainier. This project aims to turn as many of our yards as possible into the native forest this place is meant to be, creating habitats for the insects and birds that are also meant to be here. If you would like to join us in this effort, please let me know!

This is yet another part of my strategic vision that I am happy to report is still moving forward with lots of interest not just from our residents, but neighboring communities as well. While we do our part to save our own bio-diversity, who knows . . . maybe we can even start a movement in our neighboring towns to do the same thing.

Our Excellent Interim City Manager

None of this would have been possible without the amazing leadership our Interim City Manager Latasha Gatling has provided to our city over the last several months. She has continued our efforts to professionalize staffing policies and procedures and focus on the priorities of your Mayor and Council. 

Her experience in city management, transparency, and ability to prioritize are all qualities that are enabling us to get so much of what I talked about above done. 

That's all for now folks. Like you, my schedule is very odd right now with two kids at home and a full-time job that is now virtual. We are doing our best to keep things moving but I do apologize if it takes me a few days to respond to email during these times. 

Be safe.