Tensions between newly elected Langley Mayor Larry Kwarsick and the City Council escalated this week when several council members gave the freshman mayor a tongue lashing over his performance concerning the reinstatement of a controversial truck loading zone on Second Street.
“This is taking an inordinate amount of time and it’s causing a very ill-will, negative feeling among the merchants,” City Councilwoman Rene Neff said. “People are really pissed. It needs to be fixed tomorrow but it isn’t and it’s very frustrating for all of us.”
“This really upsets me — you’ve put the town in a place where we didn’t need to go.”
In March, Kwarsick decided to remove the loading zone between City Hall and the Star Store on the North side of the street without first vetting it before the public.
The surprise decision caught many merchants off guard and the resulting firestorm was made clear in an April council meeting where a score of people showed up to complain.
Kwarsick promised a quick fix and the matter appeared all but settled. However, that was seven weeks ago and Neff wasn’t the only council member who voiced discontent at the group’s regular meeting about the city’s seemingly slow progress to resolve the issue.
“I’ve had so many people come up to me and say, ‘What the hell is this city doing?’” City Councilman Bruce Allen said. “Why did it happen without anyone knowing it and why hasn’t it been fixed? This happens almost daily.”
“I just don’t like what happened here,” Allen said. “I don’t like the way it happened and I don’t like the way we responded to the citizenry of the town in regard to fixing it.”
Except to contest one or two comments, Kwarsick largely took the verbal beating in silence. However, he did say in an interview last week that he removed the loading zone in preparation for the Second Street re-design process.
He said he had always planned for it to be just a temporary situation until a more permanent solution could be created.
“It was never my intention to have no loading zones,” Kwarsick said.
Also, the city has not been idle since the April meeting. City officials have already reinstated the old loading zone, though it is slightly smaller, and is in the process of adding two new ones near U.S. Bank.
The first is 65 feet long and will be located in the alley behind the bank and the other is located on Second Street adjacent to the bank building. As for the old loading zone, it will remain in place but be slightly smaller as the three parking spaces closest to the Star Store parking lot entrance are being removed for safety reasons.
The street loading zones have a time limit of 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. on weekdays only, while the alley space has no time constraints. The loading zones are already in place but rainy weather has hindered striping.
Council members criticized city staff for not doing the striping earlier when the weather was nice and for not having appropriate signs. Some even suggested cones be used as an interim solution.
“This needs to be done tomorrow,” Neff said. “I don’t know how much clearer I can make it.”
Another complaint centered on the loading zones requirement for trucks to park in the same direction as traffic. Kwarsick said his hands were tied as that’s a state law, but it’s troublesome for truck drivers because it means they have to back into the loading zone or approach from the east.
City Councilman Doug Allderdice suggested the city consider not enforcing that particular state law, an idea that saw some support from City Councilman Jim Sundberg.
Police Chief Randy Heston said officers do have the power of discretion but such a policy could leave the city legally liable should an accident occur.
The request was somewhat ironic in that last month the council asked the Island County prosecutor to investigate whether Kwarsick violated state law when he made decisions concerning a family member’s home when he worked as the city’s planner in 2011.
Kwarsick emphasized last week that the Second Street redesign process is about to begin and that he couldn’t promise there wouldn’t be more changes ahead, specifically for the old loading zone.
“My inclination is, as it always was, that we should look at other alternatives,” he said.
Kwarsick said the new loading zones will be “more than satisfactory” and meet the needs of delivery drivers and anticipates they are likely there to stay.