Tacoma Urbanist

Nov. 16, 2011 at 12:01am

City of Tacoma's "Rain Garden" as Part of the Pacific Avenue Streetscape Project Could Require $500,000 Removal Fee


The City of Tacoma's efforts to clean up downtown Tacoma and repair the sidewalks and curbs are good.

However, the ill advised plan to place a multiple suburban "rain gardens," also known as a ditches over the objection of local businesses and property owners as part of the Pacific Avenue Streetscape project will be detrimental for businesses downtown and could cost Tacoma taxpayers $500,000 to remove as one did in Ballard.  See below.

This is a misguided effort for the city to be "green" by trying to inappropriately force a ditch on Tacoma's mainstreet where businesses are just lately moving in.   


Just a year ago, Seattle was promoting its roadside rain garden project in Ballard. Now, the city is spending half a million dollars to dismantle huge sections of it.

Some neighborhood residents say, despite good intentions, the whole thing has been a fiasco.

When you hear the phrase rain garden, you think of lovely, watery greenscapes that help save the planet by keeping dirty storm water out of Puget Sound.

Mark Early, who is with the group Sustainable Ballard, says thats exactly how Seattle Public Utilities (SPU) sold the street side rain garden project. Early says he thought it all sounded great. But, he says, the reality was a different story.

"What was actually installed, instead of looking like the photos we had seen, the rain gardens were just deep, muddy ditches, Early said.

Ditches, that he said, filled with rainwater and didnt drain at all.

They smelled, even in the winter, it was really quite surprising, Early said.

After great hue and cry from the neighbors, the city did more research. It found that the clay soil in Ballard is particularly hard.

It was a surprise to our people that the ground there in Ballard did not drain as well as we expected it to. For whatever reason it was like concrete,said Mike Egan, spokesman for Seattle Public Utilities.

You might think thats something that would have been discovered before more than a dozen gardens were installed. Egan says SPU did the same pre-installation investigation in Ballard that it had done in other areas of the city. In retrospect, he says, perhaps more testing should have been done.

At the time, the city was under a tight deadline. The $1.8 million dollar project for the roadside rain gardens in Ballard was one of those shovel ready projects that qualified for federal stimulus dollars.

Now, Seattle is spending $500,000 to remove one-third of the gardens. Some of the strips are being planted with grass. The other gardens are being revamped to avoid the muddy ditch problem.

But some residents, including Early, remain skeptical of the redesign.

Theyve just made them into attractive landscaping that doesnt hold hardly any water at all even though theyre going to be very expensive to put in,Early said.

What everyone agrees on is the need to better handle storm water pollution in the city. Ballard is a focus because it accounts for a majority of the overflows into Puget Sound. 

comments [214]  |  posted under tacoma


by Erik on 11/16/2011 @ 12:04am
Also see:

Will The Pacific Ave Streetscape Project Cause More Harm Than Good?

Bizarre: Placing mis-designed harmful Walmart styled suburban buffers on Tacoma's mainstreet makes Tacoma less green, not more. See discussion on Exit 133.
Today, from 4:00 to 6:00, the City of Tacoma will hold an "informational session" concerning the proposed Pacific Avenue Streetscape "improvement." The Pacific Avenue Streetscape Project (Phase 1) area includes the Pacific Avenue right-of-way between South 7th Street and South 17th streets. From the city website:

On May 9, the City will host an open house from 4 to 6 p.m. to solicit public input for the Pacific Avenue streetscape project that spans from South 7th Street to South 17th Street. The open house will be held at the University of Washington-Tacoma in the William W. Philip Hall, 1918 Pacific Ave.

The project will include a new streetscape design, intended to help attract new business to downtown Tacoma and incorporate innovative stormwater management practices. The open house is an opportunity to review the preliminary design layout and to offer feedback.

Because 1) this area of Pacific Avenue is currently functioning extremely well as designed, 2) the proposal to fill in much of the street with suburban type buffers where parking spaces are now would be very detrimental to the area, and 3) the significant impact on nearby businesses during construction such as on Paddy Coynes, Matador, Maconi's and many other Pacific Avenue businesses in the area would be more substantial, the city should re-asses the project with minimal disturbance to the vibrant street life and businesses in the area.

The City of Tacoma is essentially trying to "fix" something that isn't broken on one of the few areas of downtown Tacoma that is property functioning that has not been decimated by the city.

Below is a letter I sent to the city on the project with my concerns. You can email and mail your comments here.


December 8, 2010

Sue ONeill, Asst. Division Manager
PW Engineering
747 Market Street, Room 544
Tacoma, WA 98402

RE: Proposed Changes for Pacific Avenue
Public Charette Streetscape Project

Dear Ms. ONeill,

Please accept this letter as the public comment to the proposed changes to Pacific Avenue.

My Office is located near Pacific Avenue and my clients and visitors often park on Pacific.

The Complete Street idea in the Streetscape Project is a good one in theory. However, it can cause some damaging effects if carried too far.

The Broadway LID did a great job in improving the streetscape while actually increasing the number of curb parking spaces. A number of different designs were considered and the city ultimately choose one than retained a good number of curb spaces.

Curb parking is the gold standard for parking to enhance the life of a city and business who are considering moving into or being able to stay in downtown Tacoma. Curb parking should be maximized.

Thus, my central concern to the Streetscape Project on Pacific is that it not reduce the number of available parking spaces on Pacific Avenue. Doing so would be very harmful to the businesses and life in downtown Tacoma and the use and enjoyment of downtown Tacoma.

Empty building lots need buildings on them. Not surface level parking lots. The best streets in the world have curb parking. That is the best place to put cars.

Better street trees would be a welcome improvement. However, the City of Tacoma needs to be careful it does not start fetishizing green and start placing green suburban type buffers where parking spaces are now. Downtown Tacoma need not try to imitate suburbia or a Walmart parking lot.


Kunstler discusses this critical issue often:

This idiotic exercise in civic mis-design is called a green space. The Saratoga City Council strong-armed the property owner into scraping off a strip of parking lot in order to put this in. Its supposed to be a solution to a particular problem of poor civic design i.e., the fact that there is no building on this important downtown site. What has been delivered is a cartoon of a park. If you ask for an abstraction, youll get an abstraction. By the way, this stupid green space is right across our main street from an 11-acre park by Frederick Law Olmsted.



by tacoma1 on 11/16/2011 @ 7:15am
I thought that we already determined that Ballard clay soils and Tacoma rock were polar opposites in terms of water permeability? Your whole premise seems to be based on a false assumption. IMHO of course.

by NineInchNachos on 11/16/2011 @ 10:20am
Ryan Mello told me the city guys made sure our ditches will have drains too.

by Erik on 11/16/2011 @ 10:41am
I don't anyone trying to force in ditches (rain gardens) believes it is appriopriate on a main commercial street. Instead, it is a "green" buzzword used to secure a grant. Because the business owners and building owners objected, the city backed off from putting them in front of businesses. Instead, they are putting them in front of vacant storefronts pretty much ensuring that the storefronts remain vacant.

However, I doubt the grant covers the removal cost.

Even if they worked though they are a bad idea. The city of Tacoma is struggling with the question : Where should cars be located. Buildings should be built on building lots and cars parked on the curb.

The city's approach has been the opposite by building or forcing to be built an endless supply of surface level parking lots on building lots and destroying curb parking.

by fredo on 11/16/2011 @ 10:51am
Here's my idea, skip the grant, skip the street "improvements" and spend the next two years identifying waste fraud and abuse at city hall. Make Tacoma a shining example, not a shining example of pet projects and out of control spending, but rather the shining example of a city which made a 180 degree turn and decided to apply a strict austerity template to every city decision. We don't need any stinking ditches DT to placate the bath house boys at city hall.

by low bar on 11/16/2011 @ 11:05am
Doesn't matter what you do DT with the port stinking it up. Corporations can't bring big investors into an embarrassment like that. Can you imagine what cultured international business men see and smell when they arrive in Tacoma? HAHAHAHAHA. And because the people living there all have their olfactory radars turned off due to olfactory fatigue, they can't figure out why no one with a shred of culture wants to invest in the city that can't seem to fix their nasty plumbing.

by tacoma1 on 11/16/2011 @ 11:07am
I get it that you think we need more surface street parking downtown. With the recent article in the TNT that said the municipal parking lots are at 35% full during peak hours, I hardly see the panic over a few surface street spots disappearing.

Since the soil should drain, and the design includes silva cells so the tree roots have lots o room to stretch their toes, and the city received lots of federal money to put the rain gardens in........your concern with the cost of taking them out since they wont be coming out makes no sense. IMHO.

If the city doesn't put in the rain gardens, they will definitely lose the fed grant money. Its gonna cost city tax payers more to not put them in than to put them in, making those few extra surface parking spots awfully expensive.

by Nick on 11/16/2011 @ 12:33pm
I dunno, I guess I just wonder if street parking is so worthless we can afford to replace spaces with grass and plants, what does that say about our paid parking program? What does it say about prospective retailers that are looking for lots of customers?

If they aren't that worthless, why are we doing it? Just doesn't seem like a reasonable trade to me. Examples of reasonable trades (in my opinion) in place of on-street parking spaces:
- Larger building footprint.
- Bus/Light Rail Stop
- Bike Storage/Parking
- Wider sidewalks (possibly)

by NineInchNachos on 11/16/2011 @ 12:37pm
we lose our best parade street!

by thriceallamerican on 11/16/2011 @ 1:05pm
As mentioned elsewhere, there is a glut of parking downtown, all the city has to do is help people find it, make it cheap for businesses to provide off-street parking for their employees, and provide retail parking validation programs, etc.

Regarding the rain gardens, I can easily get behind many of the principles of New Urbanism, but rain gardens are a sound environmental choice for decreasing impermeable surfaces and filtering out contaminants. I'm proud to see our city taking leadership in this area.

(Aside: Erik, your tendency to cite yourself as a source reminds me somewhat of this comic.)

by fredo on 11/16/2011 @ 1:13pm
RE: glut of parking DT

I'm going to call BS on this. There may be a glut in the city owned parking garages but when I go DT I'm not finding that 15% vacancy rate that the current kiosk system promised. On broadway street in front of Chas. Schwab brokerage it's nearly impossible to find one of these vacant spots. You have to circle the block several times. Either the price at the kiosk is too low or the enforcement on parking violators/phony handicapped placards is too low.

by Erik on 11/16/2011 @ 1:16pm
@Thrice: Thanks. Prior posts are fun to read.

Trying to place suburban "rain gardens" in a central commercial district is not from the New Urbanism toolkit.

At best, it is a Landscape Urbanism approach which varies little from sprawl driver suburban developer techniques:

Much of the discussion has focused on whether Landscape Urbanism, which specializes in expansive open spaces that celebrate ecological features, represents a greener form of sprawl. Based on the comments by Harvard’s Charles Waldheim, the biggest name in Landscape Urbanism, and a response by Andres Duany, the biggest name in New Urbanism, at the Congress for the New Urbanism June 4, the sprawl accusation seems misplaced.


Re: killing off curb parking in front of retail spaces: it is not a good idea. Potential visitors to a retail space prefer immediate curb parking and are going to have to be far more motivated to want to park in the North Park Plaza Parking Garage and many will decline to do so.

by NineInchNachos on 11/16/2011 @ 1:16pm
how many rain gardens will the port be installing I wonder.

by NineInchNachos on 11/16/2011 @ 1:19pm
What does Erik Hanberg think about all this?

by JesseHillFan on 11/16/2011 @ 1:21pm
You can remove the contaminants by removing the blight creating polluting automobiles the most destructive weapon of mass destruction known to mankind.

by thriceallamerican on 11/16/2011 @ 1:41pm
Of course people want to park right in front of the business they're going to. Same reason that people swirl the parking lot. We're Amer'cans, we're lazy and self-centered. But if Tacoma's going to be a city with a real live city downtown, people at some point are going to have to make the jump from this mindset to either parking in a garage and going it on foot or even better just doing the whole thing with transit. Of course there should be some street parking, it just shouldn't be assumed to be everywhere and plentiful.

Regarding New Urbanism, I in no way was attempting to say that rain gardens were part of that philosophy. I was merely stating that though I think New Urbanism has some great ideas, in the case of rain gardens I think the environmental benefits are great and can blend well even in an urban environment. But maybe I'm the only person here who thinks a healthy Puget Sound is more important than some jackhole getting to park right in front of the Pita Pit.

by fredo on 11/16/2011 @ 1:51pm
I don't mind walking some distance but the fact remains that parking rates were supposed to be set at the level which would assure the motoring public that 15 % of the spaces would be vacant. This has not been done. Maybe some people would prefer a little convenience at an added cost rather than park 3 or four blocks away to run a one minute errand. This is what the taxpayers were promised!

I for one doubt that putting a few ditches in DT is going to have any measurable remedial effect on puget sound pollution.

by thriceallamerican on 11/16/2011 @ 2:09pm
Here's a little experiment: next time it's rainy, stick a bucket under one of the downspouts from your roof and see how long it takes to fill up. Even better, do it with one of those 55 gallon rain barrels. It's amazing how fast 55 gallons of water comes off of your roof.

Now imagine the blocks surrounding your house and how much similarly impermeable surface they create, all going right into the storm drains. And extrapolate that out to the whole city. Holy crap that's a lot of water.

So yeah, maybe adding some rain gardens over just a couple of blocks downtown is very-nearly-literally just a drop in the bucket, but that doesn't make it insignificant. Rather, it points to the fact that the city should be encouraging more rain gardens city wide.

(Point of distinction, rain gardens, properly designed, allow way more infiltration than a "ditch".)

by fredo on 11/16/2011 @ 2:32pm
Here's another little experiment, the next time there is a a spell of rainy weather followed by some hot days locate one of these rain gardens near a shopping center and see how many shoppers are enjoying the clouds of mosquitos that are swarming everywhere. That's right! Mosquitos love standing water.

by JesseHillFan on 11/16/2011 @ 2:38pm
Here is a better idea. Use rain buckets,save the water from your downspouts and use the collected water during times your yard needs to be watered to grow fruits,vegetables etc.

by thriceallamerican on 11/16/2011 @ 2:40pm
@fredo: Again, if properly designed, not a problem.

by The Jinxmedic on 11/16/2011 @ 2:53pm
"Doesn't matter what you do DT with the port stinking it up. Corporations can't bring big investors into an embarrassment like that. Can you imagine what cultured international business men see and smell when they arrive in Tacoma? HAHAHAHAHA "

Well, they see a vibrant functioning center of industry that easily facilitates world trade with shipside-to-rail logistics matched by few other ports. Our port IS our city. Deal, or move to Seattle.You'll probably be happier there, anyways.

by NineInchNachos on 11/16/2011 @ 2:55pm
the tacomic endorses the idea of angry insects surrounding the shopping mall. Hornets are probably our best option.

by fredo on 11/16/2011 @ 3:02pm
The rain gardens are a neat idea but we need to prepared. Sometimes these fail even with the best of intentions. Who will cover the cost if the rain gardens need to be removed for whatever reason? What about maintenance, such as pumping, and weed removal? And finally, what if a property owner claims no one will rent his space because of the rain garden in front. Are we on the hook to the property owner? What if his commercial building is devalued?

by NineInchNachos on 11/16/2011 @ 3:13pm
"What if his commercial building is devalued?"

hey its not like building a walmart next door

by tacoma1 on 11/16/2011 @ 3:13pm
"a healthy Puget Sound is more important than some jackhole getting to park right in front of the Pita Pit"

I couldn't have said it any better myself. Tacoma happens to be full of streets with curbside parking. We can spare a spot or two for the sake of the fishes in the bay.

by NineInchNachos on 11/16/2011 @ 3:23pm
yes we can feel good about ourselves with the rain gardens and pretend there is no environmental holocaust happening over at the port.

baby steps!

by KevinFreitas on 11/16/2011 @ 3:26pm
Completely agree with @thrice and @tacoma1. Having a 55 gallon rain barrel in my backyard it's pretty shocking how quickly it fills. In a moderate rain it fills within about an hour or so. That's a stunning amount of water! Not only will these rain gardens clean at least some of that run off it'll make visible water that's normally piped out of sight into the Sound. The educational aspects of these are a huge win in my book. More green roofs around town would help immensely too but baby steps are great to start us off.

Plus, if designed properly, they'll work just fine. Plus, we're on gravel moreso than impermeable clay. There are clay layers below downtown but so long as the gravels are at the drainage of these rain gardens they'll work great.

by fredo on 11/16/2011 @ 3:31pm
"We can spare a spot or two for the sake of the fishes in the bay."

As long as we're feigning concern for the environment, how about we charge an annual fee of $1000 to every person who lives in Tacoma but has to be transported to Seattle everyday? Doesn't that contribute to environmental problems?
The rubber from the bus tires is washed right into puget sound where it might harm the fish.

by thriceallamerican on 11/16/2011 @ 3:41pm
@fredo: Disigenuous, I refuse to reply to that with any seriousness. Anyone who doesn't think that much of what they do on a day to day impact has a negative effect on the environment around them needs a dose of reality. It comes down to choices about what we can do to have less environmental impact. Obviously we'd all like to work close to home for numerous reasons, but the many realities of life make that complicated and not always possible.

No one is trying to be holier than thou here (or at least I'm notI enjoy long showers and love the pretty light put off by incandescent light bulbs, among other sins). I'm just trying to say that these rain gardens are a good idea, including any maintenance budget required.

by fredo on 11/16/2011 @ 3:53pm
Well let's talk about the "maintenance budget"

What is the maintenance budget for the water gardens? How will a city that's currently spiraling in debt ($26-31M) cover this budget? What would you be willing to give up? And what about the environmental degradation caused by maintence workers and their trucks who may have to pump these out and mow them a few times a year to keep them draining? Are they going to be fenced so youngsters won't drown in the ditch? What if they smell like sewage?

by thriceallamerican on 11/16/2011 @ 4:00pm
I didn't expect the Spanish Inquisition!

I'm assuming you're capable of Googling to learn a bit about maintenance (at least what it entails if not costs), though your descriptions of rain gardens as smelly drowning hazards seems to suggest you haven't done much research on even what they are...

by tacoma1 on 11/16/2011 @ 4:04pm
The water percolates thru the soil fredo. That's how they work. No pumping required. It's not a septic tank.

There isn't any grass to mow either. The grassy photo that Erik has shown has nothing to do with this project.

So many fools, so little time.

by fredo on 11/16/2011 @ 4:06pm
I did use google. That's how I discovered that the rain gardens could become smelly drowning hazards. I had no trouble finding once enthusiastic rain garden supporters just like you who now wish they could be rid them. I'm not giving you the spanish inquisition, just raising topics for discussion. This city is constantly getting involved with projects that we should have avoided altogether. I'll just name three: Tacoma Convention Center, Prium Develpment Company, MLK Housing Authority. We would be millions of dollars ahead if someone at city hall just employed the average common sense that most people were born with.

by fredo on 11/16/2011 @ 4:09pm
"That's how they work" tacoma1

Pretty sure you meant to say "That's how they're supposed to work."

by tacoma1 on 11/16/2011 @ 4:27pm
That's how they work when they are above soil that percolates like the rocky glacial till that is prevalent in T Town.

by fredo on 11/16/2011 @ 4:33pm
Obviously there isn't anything that could go wrong with this project. And if the property owners end up losing big time, oh well, that's not our concern.

by tacoma1 on 11/16/2011 @ 4:44pm
Soil science isn't a mystery.

Soil can be tested before hand too.

Btw, does anyone know of anyplace in DT T town that has standing water that won't drain? I havent seen any place like that.

by fredo on 11/16/2011 @ 4:51pm
Soil that might drain well under ordinary circumstances might stop draining once it reaches saturation point. Lot's of the soil in tacoma is clay which drains poorly. It might even described as hydophobic. Probably the reason you don't see much standing water in DT is that we have a network of storm water drains which channel excess water away.

by NineInchNachos on 11/16/2011 @ 4:53pm
Response below. Thanks for checking.

Ryan N. Mello
Tacoma City Council Member
At Large, Position 8

747 Market Street, Suite 1200
Tacoma, WA 98402

Environment & Public Works Committee, Vice Chair
Government Performance & Finance Committee
Public Safety, Human Services & Education Committee
Puyallup River Executive Task Force Committee
Community Council Liaison
Puget Sound Regional Council Growth Management Policy Board
Family Support Center Advisory Committee

From: McKinley, Dick
Sent: Tuesday, October 25, 2011 10:21 AM
To: Mello, Ryan
Cc: Arellano, Rey; Boe, David; O'Neill, Sue
Subject: RE: Beware Rain Garden Pit Fall

Yes, we are up on this. Thanks for the heads up. Seattle didn’t really do the soils testing and assumed the water would infiltrate into the soil. It basically made bathtubs. Our design will have 18” of soils designed to treat the stormwater, then pipes below to collect the water and pipe it away.

From: Mello, Ryan
Sent: Tuesday, October 25, 2011 10:17 AM
To: McKinley, Dick
Cc: Arellano, Rey
Subject: FW: Beware Rain Garden Pit Fall


I’m assuming our consultants and engineers have already tested for this and can guarantee we will have no problems per the below per our soils in downtown?


by NineInchNachos on 11/16/2011 @ 4:58pm

by fredo on 11/16/2011 @ 4:59pm
can't understand the letter because the text is corrupted by the rich text editor or whatever.

by NineInchNachos on 11/16/2011 @ 5:04pm

by KevinFreitas on 11/16/2011 @ 5:05pm
@fredo: Take a close look at the hillside along Schuster Speedway you'll see alternating layers of gravels/glacial till and clay. So long as, with the proper soil sampling mentioned above, these rain gardens drain into the permeable layers there's no problem with standing water.

Seattle messed it up. We can get it right and should for the health of our areas water resources.

by NineInchNachos on 11/16/2011 @ 5:07pm

(oh my god that was the coolest thing i've ever seen)

by low bar on 11/16/2011 @ 5:08pm
Seattle doesn't stink like rotten pepperoni pizza though

by Erik on 11/16/2011 @ 5:11pm
Rain Gardens/Wetlands serve a purposes. However, like TAGRO, they are not appropriate in every place.

New York, NY, 10281, USA: A small rain garden (wetland) at Teardrop Park, inside the Battery Park City development in Lower Manhattan, infiltrates all stormwater from the site and also stormwater from the adjacent apartment towers. The park makes extensive use of plants and materials from the Hudson River valley. Battery Park City, developed from a proto-New Urbanist plan by Cooper, Robertson, has made a strong commitment to green building; several adjacent apartment towers are LEED-certified, incorporating advanced environmental features like photovoltaic panels and on-site blackwater recycling. Landscape architect: Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates. Owned and managed by Battery Park City Authority.


by Erik on 11/16/2011 @ 5:13pm
Also see:

Ballard's rain gardens: A green experiment gone wrong

The gardens, which look sort of like shallow, sparsely planted ditches running between the road and sidewalk, fill with water – and stay filled. Some of the rain gardens drain over the course of hours or days, but some become miniponds until the city comes to pump them out.

Now the financially pressed city will have to spend $500,000 to fix the rain gardens. And after the fixes, the gardens will do less of what they were designed to do: keep runoff from sewers to prevent overflows.

Many of the residents are not pleased. They worry that the swamped gardens are a drowning hazard for young children, a breeding ground for mosquitoes and a flaw that will lower property values. There’s even a neighborhood blog calling for their removal.

“We feel badly,” said Nancy Ahern, deputy director for utility-systems management for Seattle Public Utilities, the department that installed the rain gardens. “It’s been hard on this community.”


by fredo on 11/16/2011 @ 5:16pm
Kevin, I'm not saying it can't work. I'm just getting tired of Tacoma getting roped into projects that turn out to be much worse than imagined. Just two years ago the city "loaned" prium development millions of dollars and assured everyone that the loan was properly vetted and that all investigation needed had been performed. Well guess what? There was no investigation and the city lost millions.

Why don't we postpone our enthusiasm for development proposals until AFTER all the questions and problems have been answered or resolved?

by Erik on 11/16/2011 @ 5:33pm
Interesting. There is even a neighborhood blog set up against the failed Rain Gardens in Ballard:


The residents on 77th and 29th/28th Avenues Northwest (in the Ballard neighborhood of Seattle, Washington) are part of a pilot project for Roadside Raingardens that Seattle Public Utilities (SPU) intends to install on more blocks in Ballard and the city.

SPU�s flyer distributed at community meetings and mailed to our homes (reference: www.seattle.gov/util/Services/Drainage_&...) included photographs of what the Raingardens would look like: they were flush to the ground (not deep pits) with no standing water, smaller bump-outs, no signage, and better landscaping. What SPU installed was a new design and differed dramatically from the photographs: they are large depressions intended to hold water for longer periods of time, similar to open cisterns, swales, or ditches.

As residents on these blocks, we were supportive of the project and continue to understand the necessity to reduce stormwater flows into the combined sewer during peak storm events. However, after monitoring this project since implementation, we now believe this project will not produce desired results and may possibly exacerbate the overflow.

Since these bio-retention ponds are not a viable Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO) solution, we would like to see this pilot project stopped, the ponds removed, the parking strips returned to their original state, and other CSO solutions sought (see �Other Options� tab).


by tacoma1 on 11/16/2011 @ 5:33pm
Erik. The clay soils of Ballard have nothing to do with rocky soils in Tacoma. You are making a totally irrevelant comparison.

Now it's time for my favorite JFK quote, it seems appropriate at the moment.

"Too often we... enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought."

by Erik on 11/16/2011 @ 5:35pm
From the Ballard site comments:

December 19, 2010 at 3:18 pm

How can you possibly expect other homeowners to embrace a project that devalues their homes and changes their neighborhood into a commercial mud pit zone?

Also the issue of standing water is completely unacceptable. Rats? Mosquuitos? Children? Pets? Someone is going to drown in those. Cildren walk to and from their elementary school every day through this neighborhood. For the city to leave three feet of open standing water is very negligent.

I am shocked. This is just one more example of the city taking sides against what citizens want. No one is saying these are not necessary. But the beauty and sanctity of our neighborhoods, and the safety of our children are just as necessary. There is a way to make this work for everyone. Make them beautiful and take the bump outs off. it doesn�t seem like too much to ask.


by fredo on 11/16/2011 @ 5:42pm
"The clay soils of Ballard have nothing to do with rocky soils in Tacoma" tacoma1

link please.

by low bar on 11/16/2011 @ 5:44pm
fuck rain gardens, we need hugs for fredo

by Erik on 11/16/2011 @ 5:44pm
Rain Gardens are actually MORE appropriate in Ballard's neighborhoods than they are in downtown Tacoma.

Neighborhoods often have wetlands in and around them. The center of commercial districts generally do not.

Interesting also is that they were both funded by stimulus/grant money. Hence, acquiring the money appears to be more important than placing an appropriate project in the right place:

Ballard Rain-Garden Fiasco Offers Simple Lesson

And the lesson is this: if you have a good and useful idea (like installing dozens of "rain gardens" in an affluent Seattle neighborhood to help stop our shit from ending up in the ocean), don't be slapdash in its execution, or else you'll likely fuck everything up and make your good and useful idea a bunch of unnecessary enemies.

To back up for a moment: As you probably are aware, stormwater runoff is a problem in these parts. Specifically, when there is a big rain, stormwater can mingle with raw sewage and the mixture can find its way, untreated or undertreated, into the Sound. It's totally not cool.


by tacoma1 on 11/16/2011 @ 5:48pm
Fredo. See Kevin's post above. We have predominately glacial till in Tacoma I'm on a bus using an iPhone. I can't provide u with an education in soils science while I'm commuting.

by KevinFreitas on 11/16/2011 @ 6:06pm
From Erik's own link to KPLU's article above:

After great hue and cry from the neighbors, the city did more research.  It found that the clay soil in Ballard is particularly hard.

"It was a surprise to our people that the ground there in Ballard did not drain as well as we expected it to. For whatever reason it was like concrete," said Mike Egan, spokesman for Seattle Public Utilities.

Hard, clay-y soil = zero drainage. Gravel = rapid movement of water downstream/hill with gravity. Sounds like the research is being done here according to Mello's email correspondence above.

@Erik - They may not typically be located in urban cores but, to my point on education, there are more people downtown to see them working properly (see soil thing above) which will generate more awareness of water quality issues overall. Water is a precious resource we take for granted around here and the more we can do to educate on that fact the cleaner our supply will be going forward.

by fredo on 11/16/2011 @ 6:12pm
I read Kevin's post. It didn't say anything about the soils DT. He mentioned the soils in the area of Shuster Parkway. It sounds to me like you disapprove of even investigating the soil in the vicinity of the rain gardens. I live in Tacoma and my property is predominately impermeable clay.

by Jesse on 11/16/2011 @ 6:50pm
"Our design will have 18” of soils designed to treat the stormwater, then pipes below to collect the water and pipe it away." -- Dick McKinley

I am glad to hear about the pipes underground to drain away the excess water. Are they going to drain ALL the water?

IMO, the real problem isn't the rain gutters and how they affect parking, but, how the newly introduced water will affect the foundations of the pre-1920's buildings particularly north of 9th. Lots of new water pressure underground could very easily destroy the foundations of these buildings. Old pre-1920's concrete was mixed with unwashed sand, it's often full of voids from dirt falling into the original pour, and has caustic levels of lime in the cement. Hydrostatic pressure can be devastating to these foundations thus causing the building to be eventually demolished.

by NineInchNachos on 11/16/2011 @ 8:52pm
here is what Pacific Ave should look like...



butt loads of people teeming over streetcar tracks.
Screw parking!

by NineInchNachos on 11/16/2011 @ 8:55pm
From: McKinley, Dick
Sent: Tuesday, October 25, 2011 10:21 AM
To: Mello, Ryan
Cc: Arellano, Rey; Boe, David; O'Neill, Sue
Subject: RE: Beware Rain Garden Pit Fall

Yes, we are up on this. Thanks for the heads up. Seattle didn't really do the soils testing and assumed the water would infiltrate into the soil. It basically made bathtubs. Our design will have 18inches of soils designed to treat the stormwater, then pipes below to collect the water and pipe it away.

- Dick

by dolly varden on 11/16/2011 @ 9:30pm
Whether or not rain gardens are appropriate for where they're being proposed on Pac. Ave. (I haven't had time to dig into it, no pun intended), they are a well-established way to improve the water quality of urban runoff without investing in expensive infrastructure. Erik's blind trashing of this example of "green" infrastructure is kind of sad, and kind of reactionary.

by KevinFreitas on 11/16/2011 @ 10:50pm
@dolly: Agreed.

@fredo: I look forward to learning exactly what the soils are like under the proposed rain gardens on Pacific. Like I've said, there are layers of clay but it just depends where your at vertically in our local strata. We have springs that run off many of our hillsides (see Puget Creek -- it originates as a spring below houses on the North End in the gulch! And all the old Heidelberg water came from springs that still flow just off 25th below Tacoma Ave -- the water's used in trucks that water flower pots and landscaping all around town) wherein water that permeates through gravelly layers flows down with gravity until it runs into a less permeable layer -- often the clays in our area. So long as the rain gardens are within a gravel layer they'll drain like champs. I use Schuster Parkway as the example because it's the nearest example of exposed strata to downtown. I could drill to find out what's under Pacific but don't think Public Works would be too keen on that. ;)

by Erik on 11/17/2011 @ 12:04am
IMO, the real problem isn't the rain gutters and how they affect parking, but, how the newly introduced water will affect the foundations of the pre-1920's buildings particularly north of 9th.

Lots of new water pressure underground could very easily destroy the foundations of these buildings.

Interesting Jesse. I am not sure whether the "rain gardens"/wetlands will work or not. There is a great deal written about the methodology as to what makes rain gardens work and fail:


From my review of the issue, however, trying to force in rain gardens in the middle of the mainstreet in downtown Tacoma has neither support in the literature on the issue nor do comparable cities do such a thing. Instead, rain gardens are typically placed in far more suburban settings.

I don't think there is any question that the proposed rain gardens on Pacific Ave are being considered primarily so the city can secure a funding grant for other improvements.

Their specific location was chosen to be in front of vacant storefronts to cater to the objections of businesses in existing storefronts. Yet their placement there is a poor one if the city ever expects to one day have businesses in the current vacant storefronts with the curb parking removed.

As ill advised as the rain gardens are in this location, the original design was far worse on Pacific Avenue. The first design would have turned much of the north portion of Pacific Avenue into a huge K-Mart stylized suburban buffer.

by tacoma1 on 11/17/2011 @ 5:00am
Erik since this is your topic, this question goes to you. How much money is the city getting from the Feds to install the rain gardens?

by fredo on 11/17/2011 @ 6:45am
WE currently have storm drains to remove the rainwater. How is putting a storm drain at the bottom of a raingarden really going to make much differrence? I think Erics right. The city is just trying to grab some federal money. There really isn't much homegrown interest in the rain gardens themselves

by KevinFreitas on 11/17/2011 @ 7:10am
@fredo: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rain_garden Storm drains are not part of rain gardens except to deal with any overflow from intense rain events (like the overflow on your sink or bathtub).

Do you have facts/figures to support your statement "There really isn't much homegrown interest in the rain gardens themselves"? I support them as, it seems, does @tacoma1 and @thrice here in this forum. I'm all for helping out our water quality and snatching up some Fed money to do so on their dime.

by KevinFreitas on 11/17/2011 @ 7:16am
Also, if you'd like to see a rain garden in person the City of Tacoma's EnviroHouse. There's info about that and rain gardens in general also over on the City's website: www.cityoftacoma.org/Page.aspx?hid=8373

by fredo on 11/17/2011 @ 7:23am
Yes Kevin, I counted about 3 people who wanted the raingardens bad enough to post their opinion. that's how i determined that there "wasn't much homegrown interest."

Kevin, what if we take the federal money, but subsequently we don't like the rain gardens? What would you suggest we do then? Are we going to give the grant money back and ask the taxpayers to replace everything like it was?

by fredo on 11/17/2011 @ 7:28am
The city has a poor history of botching / abandoning these projects as soon as the newness wears off.

In 1992 the Department of Economic Development obtained funds to put some ornamental trees in the Proctor Business District They were supposed to be a SMALL variety and they were supposed to be placed BETWEEN the storefronts where they didn't obscure merchant signage. The next time you're in the neighborhood take a look for yourself and see if the city did a good job implementing these "improvements."

by KevinFreitas on 11/17/2011 @ 8:31am
With the proper research the rain gardens can work out just great. And if the research shows the drainage won't be sufficient then of course they shouldn't get installed!

I'd entertain your question about "what if" but there are many things that go on in a city that one day people may be for and someday may be against. The price of progress is sometimes the changing of the tide.

Oh, and you failed playing my @fredo game, by the way. I asked for a specific example to back your statement "wasn't much homegrown interest," and you gave me none. I gave you three.

by fredo on 11/17/2011 @ 8:43am
3 raingarden supporters out of a population of 200,000 residents would be a specific example "not much interest.":)

Also, we haven't heard much from the key stakeholders. That would be the DT merchants and the DT property owners.

Finally, it would be a good idea when presented with what looks like a wonderful idea to ask the following question, "if we had to pay for this with our own money (there was no grant involved) would be do it?" If the answer is NO, then we shouldn't do it even if a grant is available.

The city has a very poor track record on pet projects and we should exercise the highest level of caution on this one.

by KevinFreitas on 11/17/2011 @ 9:11am
@fredo You still fail at your own game. You're making a grand claim of "not much interest" and all I've said are "3 people". Mine is a fact, yours is gross speculation. At least in the past when you've challenged me on such claims you've pointed to surveys in the TNT. This time, nothing. :(

I love the idea of some rain gardens downtown and would advocate for us spending the money especially as part of a streetscape renovation project for the aforementioned clean water and public education reasons. I (was going to say "we" but don't want to make any claims I can't backup) won't miss a couple parking spots downtown and love the idea of more green, native plant space downtown on my walks to/from work and other activities.

by fredo on 11/17/2011 @ 9:23am
OK Kevin, I'll wait till the TNT does a survey and discovers that 99% of the people in town don't know what a rain garden is and have no opinion on where they should be placed.:)

Maybe I missed it but how many parking spots will the rain gardens actually displace?

At 9:11 you indicated that it would be a couple of spots. You know, if it's only 2 parking spots then I think Eric is making a big deal about nothing. Let's let the rain garden people have their two spots and be done with it.

by NineInchNachos on 11/17/2011 @ 9:31am
rain gardens for healthier octopus gardens!

by The Jinxmedic on 11/17/2011 @ 10:00am
Cthuly underwater glass exhibits...

by KevinFreitas on 11/17/2011 @ 10:21am
Update from the TNT: blog.thenewstribune.com/business/2011/11...

by low bar on 11/17/2011 @ 11:33am
if fredo was a german shepherd sized turtle, he could sit in the rain gardens and we could visit him. parking spots don't have that potential.

by fredo on 11/17/2011 @ 11:42am
why don't we start calling these things what they are...ditches?

Calling a ditch a "rain garden" is a little like calling Oprah Winfrey a "tanned tinkerbelle"

If I were a turtle I'd rather live in a ditch than a rain garden.

by low bar on 11/17/2011 @ 11:51am
If we end up with ditches I'd rather visit you as a pomeranian sized panda bear. don't worry i'll plant bamboo.

it's a difficult solution to getting the right amount of dish soap and water together to make blowing bubbles.

by NineInchNachos on 11/17/2011 @ 12:05pm
a good point has been made about potential guerilla gardening hotspots. Luckily I am stocked up with my Father Bix Anti-Nuke Sunflower Kits!


by Nick on 11/17/2011 @ 12:13pm
So I'm willing to own up to my previous ignorance on how rain gardens work and their benefits. I'd actually love to see them located throughout downtown where appropriate. However, I'm still concerned about the possibility of getting carried away. Are we talking an average of 1 or 2 spaces per block? 5? 100? I'll look it up, but just curious if anyone is already up to speed on that.

by fredo on 11/17/2011 @ 12:35pm
Nick, all you need to know is that the liberals in city hall are jonesin' for some federal money and putting ditches along Pacific Avenue is how we can get it.

by low bar on 11/17/2011 @ 12:41pm
no more then war contractors are jonesin' to put in completely inoperable infrastructure in places no american ever needs to park in. america first. tacoma first. politics has nothing to do with it. federal money belongs to the american people to pay for projects IN AMERICA. beautify your city. be proud to be american. be proud to live here.

by KevinFreitas on 11/17/2011 @ 2:17pm
An update from that TNT article above:

So, back to the swamp issue. Tacoma's rain gardens will drain three ways: First, a perforated pipe under the soil, called an underdain, will pull in the water and whisk it away. Second, if it rains so quickly that water builds up past 3 inches, it will flow into a separate grate along the surface. Finally, in a gully-washer, the water will run out of the garden, down the gutter and into the grate at the end of the block, like all the water does now.

Seems the issue of permeability isn't really an issue after all. Hot dog! Can't wait to see these rain gardens help beautify downtown and clean stormwater run off at the same time!

by tacoma1 on 11/17/2011 @ 3:05pm
Kevin, Thanks for your technical expertise on this subject. Unfortunately, science and actual facts can get in the way of some peoples opinions.

It looks like the rain gardens might have some secondary benefits for traffic calming too, but thats just conjecture on my part.

by fredo on 11/17/2011 @ 3:09pm
tacoma1, could you mention a few of the specific issues raised by the water garden critics which imply the commentor is ignorant of either fact or science? I thought all the questions raised were thoughtful and relevant.

by fredo on 11/17/2011 @ 3:13pm
"hey its not like building a walmart next door"

Is there a walmart building next to someone's house?

by tacoma1 on 11/17/2011 @ 3:16pm
My your in an argumentive mood today. But since you asked. trying to rename a rain garden a ditch (which it isn't) isn't thoughtful or relevant. It is ignorant and devisive though, IMHO.

by NineInchNachos on 11/17/2011 @ 3:23pm
I nominate rain gardens for corporate personhood.

to deny a rain garden is an act of discrimination like the oppression of gay people.

by fredo on 11/17/2011 @ 3:30pm
"A rain garden isn't a ditch"...well let's see what the Free Dictionary has to say:

Ditch=a trench dug in the ground for drainage
Rain garden=a depression that allows rainwater to be absorbed

Pardon people for confusing the two, the definitions are almost identical.

by dolly varden on 11/17/2011 @ 5:19pm
Read and learn: Rain gardens and other green infrastructure can clean up our water and save taxpayer money. And real "urbanists" embrace it: www.nrdc.org/water/pollution/rooftopsII/... Another one on the economics of this stuff: www.cnt.org/repository/CNT-LID-paper.pdf

by fredo on 11/17/2011 @ 6:08pm
Dolly, I think we are in agreement that, when used properly, green infrastructure can be a good thing. Your first link didn't work for me. The second link scarcely mentioned rain gardens so it wasn't very useful. It didn't discuss the micro economic effects that a green project like the rain gardens under discussion might have on commercial property owners and tenants in a struggling DT setting. This is the topic Eric raised. To dismiss relevant concerns by saying that everything green is good seems, to me, to be missing the point.

by Erik on 11/17/2011 @ 6:17pm
Rain Gardens, like TAGRO, are good environmentally and certainly have a place in Tacoma. However, they are not appropriate everywhere especially if they hobble the ability of vacant storefronts to ever have businesses in them.

Here are a couple examples of places on Pacific which ave been targeted 1) in front of the vacant ground floor level in the Rust Building and the vacant storefront in front of North Park Plaza parking garage:

2) next to the large vacant space next to Chase Bank and the vacant space by the walkway to Commerce where 12th Street ends:


There are being located here because the lessors of retail spots which have businesses in them have (rightfully) objected. Placing the "rain gardens"/wetland here will make it even more difficult for businesses to ever be located here. It is if the city is writing them off for future retail.

If less runoff were created by having permeable surfaces below the curb parking, don't think there would be any negative impact.

Tacoma v. Ballard

I am sure the designers of the failed Ballard rain gardens had nice artist renditions of what the wetland would look like after it was completed. I have not heard anything which would suggest that the rain garden designers that the City of Tacoma has hired or more or less skilled than the designers of the rain gardens in Seattle:


Seattle's failed rain gardens in a neighborhood were at least placed in the right location than the commercial one proposed in Tacoma.

If Tacoma wants to be more "green," it is going to have to utilize the right tool in the right location, otherwise, it will only result in a waste of money and be harmful to businesses.

by fredo on 11/18/2011 @ 10:43am
If treating the runoff water is a good idea so that contamination doesn't reach puget sound why don't we just put the Pacific Avenue stormwater into the sewer system and treat it there? Using that method we can forego the ugly raingarden project, skip the permeable street project and protect the fish at the same time. This is a win win win!

by dolly varden on 11/18/2011 @ 11:24am
"Rain Gardens, like TAGRO, are good environmentally and certainly have a place in Tacoma. However, they are not appropriate everywhere especially if they hobble the ability of vacant storefronts to ever have businesses in them."

Thank you, Erik. I think it's legit to debate whether this is an appropriate site for a rain garden, but your original post appeared to attack the concept in general. Thanks for clearing that up/correcting it.

Fredo, routing stormwater to the sewer and treating is great if you like seeing government choose the more expensive alternative. Treating stormwater as sewage is much more expensive than using natural processes to filter it. Apparently you didn't read the links I posted...

by fredo on 11/18/2011 @ 12:56pm
No need to read all your links, most of that stuff wasn't relevant to this discussion. Nobody said green wasn't a good idea. Erik said DT wasn't the place to put rain gardens because he claims commercial property owners and retailers don't want it, it would lead to even greater vacancies, and the devaluation of DT property. Posting incessantly about how great rain gardens are misses the entire point Erik was making. You're entitled to you opinion but you can't force DT stakeholders to embrace an idea which may very well sow the seeds of their own destruction. If I owned a commercial building downtown I would have an attorney working night and day to try and prevent the installation of a drainage ditch in front of my property. The history of Tacoma "improvements" is one of botched plans, cost over runs, unexpected problems, and convenient excuses.

by Maria on 11/18/2011 @ 1:47pm
Bear with me. Green building practices are something I'm very interested in.

Rain gardens, despite the failure of the Ballard examples, are a fairly commonplace, accepted and well-researched method of using low impact development (LID) practices in residential and urban settings.

Why bother installing these things? They do a really good job of filtering urban runoff and removing pollution. A couple of feet of vegetation, soil, sand, gravel, rocks, etc. can almost completely eliminate toxins from groundwater percolating through it. Studies show ground filters like rain gardens can remove the majority of oils, heavy metals, industrial runoff, etc. They work because rain gardens are based off nature's way of cleaning up water, using soil, sand, substrate as a filter.

Why not just rely on stormwater treatment facilities rather than trying these green/innovative techniques to handle runoff? Dirty little secret of urban wastewater: it's impossible to treat all the storm runoff, especially when there's a heavy rain. Quite a lot of stormwater is going into the Puget Sound without getting treated. Which is one of the major components of why we're having problems with the Sound. ("Stormwater runoff is the cause of about 75% of the pollution in Puget Sound." --Pierce County Stormwater/Low Impact Development page)

Is there research to prove these things work?Plenty.

WSU has done a considerable amount of work on the subject of low impact development, including rain gardens. www.wastormwatercenter.org/low-impact

The EPA has spent years testing best management practices for LID. (There are four rain gardens at south end of the Federal Triangle Complex.) www.epa.gov/owow/NPS/lid

Here is tons of links from the Puget Sound Partnership: www.psparchives.com/our_work/stormwater/...

The Northwest, despite our high amount of rain, is nowhere near at the forefront of the research into rain gardens and LID. Cities and municipalities on the East Coast have been doing trials with innovative stormwater management for decades now.

Is this appropriate for urban areas and especially, Downtown Tacoma?I'll have to disagree with Erik on this one. Rain gardens and LID are not just okay in urban settings, they are especially beneficial in areas where there are miles of concrete. Suburbs and rural areas with large areas of grass benefit from innovation in managing their runoff, but flooding and overflow from parking lots, roads and buildings is a huge urban issue.

These rain gardens look to be very small scale. As long as the city starts with just a few, doesn't mess up parking worse than it is, and observes how well they perform, I think that's a really good idea. Really, they're just modified planting strips.

Other green technologies could be encouraged, as Kevin suggested (since there's no way rain gardens can handle all the runoff nor can they make a dent in the vast amount of tainted stormwater hitting the Sound). These include green roofs, cisterns, bioretention in parking lots and planters, permeable pavement in low traffic areas, etc. The Seattle City Hall has a green roof and a cistern (rainwater is used to flush toilets). We're falling behind, folks.

How much maintenance is involved?If they're set up correctly, it's not much more than any planting strip. Just make sure that it doesn't get clogged up with leaves and debris. Watching to make sure the soil doesn't get washed away. Any urban design feature requires some upkeep. Even stormwater drains and treatments facilities require maintenance. Lots of it ($$$).

Isn't it cheaper just to send this to a wastewater treatment plant?Nope. Think about it...handling smaller amounts of rainwater where it falls, versus piping all the urban rainwater to a giant central location that struggles to keep up with massive volumes of flow.

Years of cost analysis have shown that proper use of green building techniques can save municipalities, builders and developers money. The cost of building system to capture, transfer and then treat millions of gallons of stormwater is super, super expensive (just think of all that piping, digging, union workers, machinery, re-paving, re-digging when there's a problem, replacing infrastructure, etc). Using natural features to function as water purifying systems makes sense and also eliminates the need to continue building more massive (expensive) treatment centers and accompanying infrastructure.

Sorry--this is already more info and more technical than most people care about. I'm a designer/writer, but some of my favorite clients have been builders and engineers. The low impact development projects here in the Northwest are fascinating. I think like any technology, it has a place, and should be used when appropriate. I'm biased--I love innovation! I love creativity + science. And, having more greenery downtown and in urban settings is a plus for me.

The biggest downside, in my opinion, is the strain on downtown retailers. I can't imagine the frustration all these construction projects are causing them. It feels like we're perennially digging up the streets for one thing or another. Good projects, but this non-stop construction is damaging downtown revitalization.

by thriceallamerican on 11/18/2011 @ 1:50pm
Erik started 2 conversations, actually.

One pertained to claiming that rain gardens can't succeed here because they didn't succeed in Ballard. Obviously much of the discussion has surrounded that and it's clear that many feel Erik grossly jumped to conclusions in his claim. The facts are that if the city does it's homework and the sites are feasible for rain gardens, it can work here.

The latter conversation pertains to the effects of installing rain gardens in a downtown core on urban principles, businesses, and general aesthetic feel. This is obviously much more subjective, and given that this is the Internet, we're never all going to agree that it's a good idea or a bad idea.

But to claim that Erik is only trying to raise the latter of the two questions is patently incorrect and shows yet again that you often choose to read selectively, fredo.

by NineInchNachos on 11/18/2011 @ 1:59pm
what about the chinese tunnels ? if we go digging holes in downtown who knows what we will inadvertently release. Havent you seen ghost busters 2 ?

by fredo on 11/18/2011 @ 2:06pm
"One (conversation) pertained to claiming that rain gardens can't succeed here because they didn't succeed in Ballard" thrice

Except Erik didn't say that, what he said was:

the rain gardens are an "ill advised and misguided effort....which COULD cost Tacoma taxpayers $500,000 to remove (like they did in Ballard)"

What Erik said isn't even debatable. If we decide to remove these raingardens it could cost us $500,000. Are you saying that raingardens can be removed less expensively than that?

by thriceallamerican on 11/18/2011 @ 2:18pm
C'mon. Erik has repeatedly, here and elsewhere, mentioned the Ballard rain gardens, often including pictures. If that's not inviting a general debate on rain gardens, I'm not sure what is.

by fredo on 11/18/2011 @ 2:29pm
Please paste the quote that you've attributed to Erik that claims "rain gardens can't succeed here."

In what posting did he say that? I'd hate to think that you were guilty of selective reading.

by NineInchNachos on 11/18/2011 @ 2:29pm
hey fredo! quando omni flunkus moritati

by thriceallamerican on 11/18/2011 @ 2:45pm
Maybe my words that you're quoting back at me were kind of strong, but the fact remains that Erik can't seem to talk about this issue without bringing up Ballard and there's at least some implicit insinuation that failure should be expected. If you don't find it obvious that Erik is trying to spread FUD by posting the same picture of a non-draining pond over and over again, I'm going to let someone else tilt at windmills for a while.

by NineInchNachos on 11/18/2011 @ 2:47pm
this whole thing could have been avoided had the caracter encoding issue been fixed and more people could have read my email from Ryan Mello. I blame kevin.

by Maria on 11/18/2011 @ 2:49pm
--Please paste the quote that you've attributed to Erik that claims "rain gardens can't succeed here."

Isn't the whole premise of this post and title, "City of Tacoma's "Rain Garden" as Part of the Pacific Avenue Streetscape Project Could Require $500,000 Removal Fee" based on the assumption that something requiring removal was less than successful?

The first 40 or so lines at the top of this page are about Ballard's failed rain gardens....and speculating Tacoma could be next to face the cost of removal for rain gardens that don't work.

by Erik on 11/18/2011 @ 2:53pm
There are a lot of issues raised here concerning the city's suggestion to place rain gardens/wetland in the middle of the main commercial street in downtown Tacoma including

1) Is it worth the (certain) harm to local businesses to have Pacific Avenue ripped up yet once again to install rain gardens when the street is in excellent condition and businesses are just starting to move into the area? How many businesses are expected to close due to the construction?

2) Is this project the best use of $1,675,000 of Tacoma taxpayer dollars?

3) Is placing a wetland/rain garden in the middle of the mainstreet in downtown Tacoma appropriate when rain gardens are almost exclusively place in neighborhoods and more rural settings?

4) How much more difficult will it be to have small business move into the vacant storefronts and succeed in downtown Tacoma if the curb parking spaces are removed in front of them?

...and yes:

5) The rain gardens in Ballard in Seattle were placed in with the best of intentions and what they believed the best design at the time. What are the chances that the proposed rain gardens in downtown Tacoma will fail in some manner in the next few years? If they do fail, will City of Tacoma taxpayers be required to pick up the cost to remove them?

6) If the rain gardens in Tacoma fail like the ones in Seattle, what is the expected cost to remove them?

7) How much extra costs will the rain gardens in downtown Tacoma incur to properly maintain? Who is expected to pay for this cost? The city? Nearby businesses? The BIA?

Ballard's rain garden is certainly not the first to fail. In an urban setting the repair and maintenance cost could be significant:


by tacoma1 on 11/18/2011 @ 8:18pm
When the rain gardens go in, and they function properly and as advertised, some of you anti rain garden bloggers are gonna look pretty stupid. Just saying.

If a city needed plentiful curbside parking to be successful, Downtown T-Town would be rocking, and Downtown Seattle would be a ghost town. As the opposite is the reality, I think that it would be more productive if people would figure out how to fill the empty parking spaces that we have.

And this is way off topic, but if our municipal parking lots are at 35% capacity during peak hours, why did Davita need their own private surface lot? Why couldn't we have given them free use of existing unrentable parking.

by fredo on 11/18/2011 @ 8:55pm
Behind every failed idea there's an overconfident activist who guarantees that it can't fail. That's exactly how the city of Tacoma ended up spending $84,000,000 on a convention center we never needed, don't need now, and never will need. I doubt if anyone blogging in favor of the ditches has any important stake in downtown Tacoma. Easy to be an advocate for something that you won't have to pay for and won't have to look at.

by NineInchNachos on 11/18/2011 @ 9:03pm
in fredotopia rain garden = a convention center and black people = walmart corporation

by NineInchNachos on 11/18/2011 @ 9:04pm
hey couldn't you install a giant steel grate over the rain garden so you could park a car over top it ?

by fredo on 11/18/2011 @ 9:13pm
I think that's a good idea, should put grates over the ditches so people don't have to see them. Dang

by Maria on 11/18/2011 @ 9:26pm
We really should stop calling them "ditches." It's no more a ditch than Pacific Avenue is a hiking trail. Using incorrect definitions is a lazy rhetorical device. It just makes it harder to have a rational discussion about a legitimate topic.

A rain garden is more like a curbside planting bed. They have dirt, but they're covered in landscaping. They are not necessarily narrow, nor do they remain excavated. Nor is their main purpose to carry water. They're designed to absorb/filter runoff.

(Those ones in Ballard do look like ditches, though. They're some of the worst rain garden examples I've ever seen!!)

Erik--those 7 questions are really good questions. I have issue with the validity of #2. I don't think rain gardens are meant mainly for suburban settings. Smaller rain gardens are perfect for urban and infill areas. In fact, they're being used successfully around the country in many urban settings as part the landscaping for LEED buildings. They have to be site appropriate though. These ones look pretty small and not very "wetlands"-like.

I think #1 & #2 are the issue. After all this construction and loss of many local small businesses due to economic hardships, can we not give our downtown retailers a break? They've had to endure streets dug up from the LINK, the Broadway project, new parking system, etc.

I definitely think this is a great pilot project, but the timing seems off to me.

by KevinFreitas on 11/18/2011 @ 9:34pm
It'd be interesting if a another 'hood could be the focus of beautifying and greening that could use an infusion of $$ in infrastructure. Dome District? Or, better yet, Hilltop or Portland Ave!

by fredo on 11/18/2011 @ 9:57pm
2/22/11 the city council decided to begin encouraging the use of "language that is simple to understand, no more government speak" Since ditch would be considered a simple term to understand and rain garden is more like a government speak term, I decided to refer to the gardens as ditches. If you asked 100 people what a rain garden was I'll bet you would have no more than 5 correctly identify it, but all 100 would know what a ditch is. Erik referred to the depressions by their common name ditches in his opening post. If the term ditch is OK with an attorney then it's plenty good enough for me.

by fredo on 11/18/2011 @ 10:00pm
It'd be interesting if a another 'hood could be the focus of beautifying and greening that could use an infusion of $$ in infrastructure. Dome District? Or, better yet, Hilltop or Portland Ave!

That's a supurb idea, Kev. Let's identify the locations of all the council members homes and put a rain garden right in front. This would be a great way for the council to show leadership on this idea. No more nimby's. If you like rain gardens send in your address pronto.

by tacoma1 on 11/18/2011 @ 11:09pm
"If the term ditch is OK with an attorney then it's plenty good enough for me"

That's funny. All attorney's must be honest truthful people in fredo's world.

And fredo, the only nimby in this discussion are the people that don't want a rain garden on pac ave.

by Maria on 11/19/2011 @ 12:10am
There is absolutely no reason for these to be called ditches. Rain gardens come in all shapes and sizes. Here are some really beautiful examples, from urban areas...definitely not ditches. (They can be build more like ditches, though. It's like a kite. You can build a dragon kite, but not all kites are dragons.)

Gorgeous example from downtown Nashville, the Tennessee State Assembly Plaza
(img. by Hawkins Partners)

Downtown Nashville, retail district (img. by Hawkins Partners)
(These ones also have some mature trees in the rain garden)

Rain Garden at Victoria College of the Arts in Melbourne (used in conjunction with permeable pavers)

Rain Garden at NC State
(Jim Valvano's school, for those of you from the 80's like me and remember one of the best BB games in history)

Publix Supermarket in Nashville (img. by Hawkins Partners)

Columbia University in downtown Manhattan (img. by NY Times)

10th Street Traffic Circle in Portland (definitely not a ditch)

Sandy Boulevard, Portland (img. by SFGate)

16th & Everett, Portland (img. by SFGate)
(I imagine these next few are closer to what Tacoma's will look like. BTW, notice very sweet bike lanes & increased visibility intersection)

42nd & Belmont, Portland (img. by SFGate)
(Kinda bowed out, like those drawings of Pac Ave. resemble)

This one looks a lot like the Tacoma ones (small bump out near parking) (img. by Hawkins Partners)

I think these are some stunning examples of urban landscaping that use innovative stormwater management design plus add value to cities because of increased green space. They're not a solution to every neighborhood or setting. One of the principles of green building is to fit solutions to each site.

That's all I have to say. Hope any architecture buffs enjoyed the visuals.

by Erik on 11/19/2011 @ 1:04am
Rain gardens are a form of a wetland and, yes, basically a form of a ditch and are often referred as such.

The rain gardens — basically sloped ditches that are planted with grasses and small shrubs — have turned into muddy messes. Many of them fill with water and don’t drain, or drain so slowly that they have pooled water for three days or more.


Drainage ditches may be handled like bioswales and even include rain gardens in series, saving time and money on maintenance. Part of a garden that nearly always has standing water is a water garden,


What is a Rain Garden?

While it may be a dressed-up version of a retention pond or a drainage ditch,


A rain garden is just what it sounds like, a garden that thrives in the rain! Rain Gardens are gently sloped 'ditches'...


The gardens, which look sort of like shallow, sparsely planted ditches running between the road and sidewalk,


Vegetated Ditch

Technical Standards for Rain Gardens


by tacoma1 on 11/19/2011 @ 7:08am
A ditch conjures up a negative image in the brain, and a rain garden conjures up a positive image in the brain. That's why its so important to rename these things to some people. Its an age old debate tactic. Its a tactic that attys probably learn early on in college. It's a clever tactic really, I'll remember to use it in the future. I'm gonna think of a clever derogatory name for curbside parking so I can rename that too. Hmmmm, how 'bout taxpayer subsidized blacktop to benefit wealthy business owners. No that's too long. I'll hafta work on it.

by fredo on 11/19/2011 @ 7:39am
The city council decided earlier this year (February 22) that they would discontinue using government speak terminology in favor of simple language that ordinary people would be likely to understand.

The simple terminology for a place to park a car is "parking place" just as the simple terminology for a depression created along a roadway for the purpose of collecting rain water is a "ditch"

People who torture our language by insisting on pretentious language to try to impress everybody with their superior intelligence aren't following the council's language recommendations.. These are the same people who now insist that everybody call Easter Eggs by their new term "Spring Orbs"

by ixia on 11/19/2011 @ 8:26am
I am in agreement with Thrice. The one problem Tacoma does not have is parking. We have focused so much on parking – now we have a ton of it, to the determent of other development. I have lived in several major metropolitan areas, including cities where it makes no sense at all to have a car. In turn you get busy street life, lots of third places, open markets and decent public transit. Gaping parking holes in the city’s fabric rip apart the city’s function and it becomes a strip mall. Tacoma’s main downtown street Pacific has a huge dead zone for much of the middle: it is called surface parking (and parking garages facing the street forced on developers by the city). Let’s shift the focus away from parking and see what happens. Can’t get worse.
Thank you Maria - your visual say more than words.

by fredo on 11/19/2011 @ 8:58am
Ixia, your analysis is kind of correct. Right now we have a surplus of parking spaces.

But if the economy turns around or if DT becomes a popular place to do business then this surplus will evaporate. In other words the adequacy of parking is volitle and could change in a short period of time from adequate to inadequate. However, the loss of parking spaces to accomodate the rain gardens is in perpetuity. The loss of street parking will never be re established.

And yes, I did like Maria's visuals. Those appeared to be the absolute best examples of finished rain gardens. Were those TYPICAL rain gardens? That's hard to say.

by tacoma1 on 11/19/2011 @ 9:29am
Much of downtown Seatle has no cubside parking at all. When you can find it, it's $4/hr. Seattle does have tons of people walking, and tons of transit. A few curbside parking spaces are not critical to the success of a downtown business.

Pacific Grill in downtown Tacoma has no curbside parking. I was there the other night, and the place was full. It has great food and drinks, so people find a way to get there. Many people parked a few blocks way and walked, some used the valet, I used T-Link. People are adaptable, and pracical. If there is curbside parking, it'll get used, but once it's full, the next most practical option is what will get used.

by fredo on 11/19/2011 @ 9:47am
If removing all our street parking would make Tacoma more vibrant like Seattle then why doesn't the city council just remove all the street parking? Why the schizophrenic approach to urban development? I thought we just put in $2,000,000 worth of parking kiosks to make it easier for people to bring their cars DT.

I like your anedote about the Pacific Grill. What would be really powerful support for your position is if you could get the owner of the business to publically proclaim that he doesn't need or want street parking in the vicinity of his business.

by low bar on 11/19/2011 @ 9:57am
No one wants to visit a city that smells like mummified caesar's pizza no matter if you have curbside parking or the fucking transit system is door to door. You're all arguing about the wrong topics.

by tacoma1 on 11/19/2011 @ 10:11am
The owner of pacific grill put in the restaurant with full knowledge that there was no curbside parking. Would he want some, probably, but the lack of it didn't stop him from opening the restaurant, nor it's success.

by fredo on 11/19/2011 @ 11:44am
Poor street parking=foreseeable
Loss of street parking to rain garden installation=not foreseeable.

This is nothing but an unneeded pet project which will cause even further erosion of the commercial interests DT. Let's give the grant back to the federal government. They are trying to curtain federal spending and we should do our part.

by tacoma1 on 11/19/2011 @ 12:51pm
It is a lot easier and cheaper to prevent pollutants from going into the bay, than to remove pollutants after they have entered the bay. Don't pollitically conservative people normally want to do the cheapest thing? Or is filling up Commencement Bay with toxins considered an acceptable cost for a couple additional cheap parking spots?

by fredo on 11/19/2011 @ 1:26pm
We don't want pollutants entering commencement bay, but why pick on Pacific Ave?

Is Pacific Avenue especially notable as a hotbed of pollution? I'm sure a few water gardens on pacific avenue will lessen the polution entering commencement bay but the remedial effect will be so marginal it won't even be measurable. There are hundreds of miles of streets in town and we're just focusing on a few blocks. Removing the pollution from Pacific Ave. would be the equivalent of removing a pimple from Jabba the Hutt.

What about my previous point about the federal government looking for places to cut the federal budget? Isn't important for Tacoma to help Senator Patty Murray achieve her goal of reducing federal spending?

by tacoma1 on 11/19/2011 @ 2:50pm
In regards to Tacoma reducing our share of the Federal budget.....What part of its cheaper to prevent pollutants from entering Puget Sound than to remove them after they've entered the bay do you not understand?

by fredo on 11/19/2011 @ 3:19pm
tacoma1, we're under no obligation to remove any pollution that i'm aware of. If we want the cheapest course of action that would be to nothing. We should be using some sort of cost/benefit analysis before diving headfirst into this project. There's no way spending millions to screen out a tiny bit of pollution could be a wise use of scarce tax money.

by tacoma1 on 11/19/2011 @ 4:09pm
First off, my code of ethics tells me that it's amoral to be a polluter just because it's cheaper to do so. Apparently, pollution is a cheap and convenient solution in your world.

Sport fishermen don't want to fish in polluted waters. If people eat polluted fish, human health is at risk. If we pollute our bay to the point that people can't fish here, that would be an expensive end to an entire industry.

And the EPA does monitor water quality and there is a federal clean water act that covers Commencement Bay. Not my specific area of expertise but I know that superfund sites do exist in the south sound and cleanup is horribly expensive at these sites.

by fredo on 11/19/2011 @ 4:24pm
"Sport fishermen don't want to fish in polluted waters" tacoma1

So, if we install the rain gardens on Pacific Avenue we won't have any more polluted waters?

My code of ethics tells me that that doesn't make any sense.

by fredo on 11/19/2011 @ 4:33pm
tacoma1, do you live in a LEED certified home, or do you live in a less expensive traditional high polluting home? I hope you say that you live in a LEED certified home because just a moment ago you commented that:

"my code of ethics tells me that it's amoral to be a polluter just because it's cheaper to do so"

by tacoma1 on 11/19/2011 @ 5:23pm
Well I do live in an older home in old town, but I removed the oil burner furnace and installed the highest efficiency rated furnace that I could buy, fully insulated the walls and ceiling, and replaced the old single panes with triple panes. I do what I can.

Btw, my vacation condo is leed certified. Does that count?

by fredo on 11/19/2011 @ 5:47pm
Well, that's nice, but if your home isn't LEED certified then you are violating your own code of ethics. It would be better if you tore your house down and built a LEED certified home in it's place so that you wouldn't continue violating your code of ethics. :)

by tacoma1 on 11/19/2011 @ 6:06pm
That'd be a stupid waste of resources and not very green either. Sorry, but not gonna go down this rabbit hole with you any farther.

by fredo on 11/19/2011 @ 6:49pm
Tearing down a perfectly good house=stupid waste of resources.
Tearing out a perfectly good street=judicious use of resources.

The cosmos explained.

by tacoma1 on 11/19/2011 @ 7:14pm
Glad I could help.

by low bar on 11/19/2011 @ 7:58pm
what an eristical mess

by fredo on 11/20/2011 @ 8:32pm
"That's how they work when they are above soil that percolates like the rocky glacial till that is prevalent in T Town" tacoma1

Tacoma1, it would be a good idea if you would call the project manager and tell her what you know about soil science. Apparently she doesn't know as much as you do:

"We know that the soils under downtown aren’t very good,” Gavin said. “We know that we would not have success trying to infiltrate." Doreen Gavin, one of the project managers.

Read more: www.thenewstribune.com/2011/11/20/191464...

by KevinFreitas on 11/20/2011 @ 9:16pm
@fredo: I said the same thing as @Tacoma1 but ours are moot points because these rain gardens are going to be drained underneath into the stormwater system after the water is filtered through the gardens.

by fredo on 11/21/2011 @ 9:34am
"We really should stop calling them "ditches." It's no more a ditch than Pacific Avenue is a hiking trail. Using incorrect definitions is a lazy rhetorical device. It just makes it harder to have a rational discussion about a legitimate topic." Maria

Maria, a rain garden is a specialized ditch. It's not something different than a ditch. If you enjoyed an espresso or a latte and later told your friends you had a cup of coffee you would not be lying because espressos and lattes are types of coffee. Does calling your beverage by it's common term "coffee" make you irrational or lazy? A rain garden is just a sort of high end ditch. It's not something different from a ditch. IMO.

by The Jinxmedic on 11/21/2011 @ 9:54am
I don't believe that narrowing Pacific Avenue and removing on-street parking to install fancy ditches is is the best idea for downtown. If you want to filter the drainage from the street, that's a great idea- drain it off to settlement ponds somewhere below Pacific Avenue- such as under the elevated portion of I-705.

by fredo on 11/21/2011 @ 10:02am
Jinx, we can never realize a fully functioning utopia by throwing common sense solutions into the discussion. Placing the ditches in the least convenient, but most conspicuous, locations possible is the best way to thumb our nose at the 1% corporate CEOs and Wall Street type people. This has the potential to hurt their bottom line and, after all, isn't that what's really important?

by fredo on 11/21/2011 @ 11:17am
On Nov. 18th, Dolly Varden wrote:

"Fredo, routing stormwater to the sewer and treating is great if you like seeing government choose the more expensive alternative. Treating stormwater as sewage is much more expensive than using natural processes to filter it. Apparently you didn't read the links I posted..."

Well, you might wish to read the link to the Tribune story that I referenced above. Because the soils in the area downtown are so poor, all the "rain gardens" are going to be tied into the sewage system.

by Erik on 11/21/2011 @ 11:54am
Update from the Tribune:

“This street’s brand new. With all the problems on other city streets, they’re going to tear this up?”


The downtown business owner also wonders what will happen if the project proceeds before all the money is in hand. Of the $8 million cost, the city has about $5 million. City officials have said they are confident they will find the rest either through grants, or the City Council could re-allocate existing city bonding capacity.


The project is currently scheduled to cost taxpayers 1,675,000:

• City of Tacoma’s Surface Water Fund ($1,500,000); and
• City of Tacoma’s Real Estate Excise Tax ($175,000).


Yet, the project is still short $3,000,000. Even if the rain gardens work as intended is it really worth the harm to businesses and cost to taxpayers to modify a street that is described as (practically) new?

by dolly varden on 11/21/2011 @ 12:11pm
Good try, Fredo. The stormwater system is different than the sewage system. Two different pipes. Sewage is treated, stormwater isn't -- you know those storm drains that say "drains to the bay" on them? That's because they flow straight to the Sound.

by fredo on 11/21/2011 @ 12:35pm
You're right dolly the water isn't going to the sewage system. My mistake.

But everything that isn't filtered out goes straight to commencement bay through a series of overflow tubes. That's pretty much the system we have now. The soils DT are poor for this type of project so a lot of the rainwater is not going to be absorbed. It's just going to look like it's absorbing because of the presence of all the expensive drainage tubing.

I think this is just smoke and mirrors. Most of the Pacific Ave. runoff is going to go where it always has. But the ditches will make some of the greenies feel good.

by low bar on 11/21/2011 @ 4:04pm
Greenies? HAHAHAHA as if you could survive on a non-green planet HAHAHAHAH. let me guess it's all about waiting around for the rapture while taking a big fat shit on the 'smoke and mirror' biosphere. HAHAHAHAHAHA everything you eat is because something else survived off something green hahahahaha ERISTICAL MORON!

by fredo on 11/21/2011 @ 4:41pm
Of all the places in town to put "rain garden" style ditches, Pacific Avenue would appear to be one of the worst.

Why do I say this?

Because the soil in that area, according to the project manager is slow or non-draining soil. They will have to truck in tons of regular dirt just to make it appear that the rain gardens are performing their designed function and an expensive network of tubes will shunt most of the water directly into Commencement Bay anyway. The street is in excellent condition having been mostly rebuilt over just the last few years. As of today the city can't fund the project but is going to break ground anyway. The message to taxpayers is that there is no real economic crisis in the US, and that even the kookiest ideas are feasable in service to environmental extremistism. .

by low bar on 11/21/2011 @ 5:55pm
there's only three things that the american tax payer needs and that's help from the 1% (end of the bush tax cuts), the end to defense spending in the middle east and the end of foreign aid to countries who'd stone a woman for having sex with the neighbor. RAIN GARDENS HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH UNNECESSARY DEFICIT SPENDING.

by fredo on 11/23/2011 @ 6:01pm
We're not allowed to have septic systems in the city because the waste would not be contained in the soil and and it would surely poison the water table (i.e. the aquafir).

So how come a water garden will trap all the contaminants and only discharge the rain water itself into commencement bay?

Why will the ground absorb oil, gasoline, and antifreeze, but it won't absorb human waste?

Will Occupy Tacoma protesters be allowed to use the rain gardens as make shift latrines?

by dolly varden on 12/8/2011 @ 11:05pm
Good story on the PBS News Hour on the increasing acceptance of rain gardens and other low impact development tools in Seattle and the Northwest: video.pbs.org/video/2174860229

by KevinFreitas on 12/9/2011 @ 7:22am
Good video, thanks for sharing @dolly! And, though I completely disagree with the approach of others here in this thread using Ballard's mishap as a poster child representing all raingardens, I would've like to see this video dive a bit more into what went wrong there instead of just glossing over it.

That being said, I look forward to Tacoma exploring more ways to encourage raingardens in our neighborhoods but as low/no-cost changes to our current streetscape via grants or donations. Heck, I'm happy to lend my time to get some dirt under my fingernails and make some of these happen around town.

by fredo on 12/9/2011 @ 7:38am
poor soil conditions DT make Pacific Avenue an unfavorable place to put the rain garden ditches. This is a reality that nobody seems to want to confront. You can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear.

by tacoma1 on 12/9/2011 @ 8:01am
You must not have watched the video. That subject was specifically covered by an expert. Matter of fact, all of the negative misinformation brought up on this blog is covered on the video.

85% of the pollution going into Puget Sound is from storm water runoff. It is not inevitable, it is avoidable, and since Puget Sound residents are the source of the pollution, it is our responsibility to take the steps to prevent it. IMHO.

by fredo on 12/9/2011 @ 8:03am
I couldn't get the link to work. But that doesn't invalidate my POV. The project manager for the "rain gardens" admitted that the drainage characteristics in the vacinity of Pacific Avenue were POOR.

by tacoma1 on 12/9/2011 @ 8:14am
Actually if u watched the video, u would realize that your point is specifically mentioned, and the expert interviewed on the subject said that poor soils were not a problem.

As to your POV, only you can change it. Ignoring the experts & facts won't help that happen though.

by The Jinxmedic on 12/9/2011 @ 8:17am
As I said before, if you want to clean the runoff water going into Puget Sound, simply funnel off drainage from Pacific Avenue (and the rest of downtown) into filtration ponds, i.e. "rain gardens" located at otherwise unused space under the elevated section of I-705. You don't have to narrow Pacific Avenue to do this.

by The Jinxmedic on 12/9/2011 @ 8:27am
Nobody parks downtown when you get ticketed in the amount of time it takes to walk from your car to the pay station and back. Get stung that way a couple of times, and people just don't come back. It's insane.

by tacoma1 on 12/9/2011 @ 8:35am
Weird. I have used the pay meters downtown, but never received a ticket that way. But then I actually put money in the meter. Just walking to the meter and back doesn't do it.

by The Jinxmedic on 12/9/2011 @ 8:41am
Ha ha.

The basic rule is, if you want to make downtown attractive, don't chase people away. The city doesn't seem to "get that" most of the time.

by tacoma1 on 12/9/2011 @ 9:10am
We don't have a lack of parking problem downtown, we have a lack of jobs and lack of people problem. We also have 85% of the pollution going into puget sound coming from storm water. The rain gardens won't hurt the lack of job's or lack people problem. It will help the pollution problem that we created. Since we created the pollution, it is our responsibility to stop it.

by fredo on 12/9/2011 @ 9:10am
Let's not cause extreme environmental degradation while we try to prevent a tiny bit of polluted runoff.

What is Fredo talking about?

That's right. The project will use lots of enormous dump trucks and graders and other equipment which will burn significant quantities of fuel, oil, grease and hydraulic fluid. The workers will burn lots of gas and rubber just to get to the job site. People detouring around the site will burn lots of additional fuel.

All so that a minute amount of pollution won't go into commencement bay.

The ultimate green solution! An enormous highly polluting public works project to address a tiny environmental problem. And no way to measure any results. Utopia revisited.

by fredo on 12/9/2011 @ 9:14am
What tacoma1 doesn't want anybody to pick up on is that even AFTER the rain gardens are installed most of that 85% runoff pollution that he complains about will still be going directly into the sound. A few blocks of Pacific Avenue is just a tiny fraction of the entire Tacoma street system.

It's like taking a person to the barbershop and then just cutting one hair on his head.

by tacoma1 on 12/9/2011 @ 9:23am
Well, if u took me to the barber shop, cutting one hair just about does it anymore.

Btw, no one said that these were the only rain gardens needed. I think these will become standard fixtures in our urban landscapes.

The argument that this is a big problem so we should do nothing doesn't cut it IMHO.

by fredo on 12/9/2011 @ 9:30am
So we should install the rain garden ditches even if the project creates massive levels of pollution much greater than it addresses? That sounds worse than doing nothing IMO.

by fredo on 12/9/2011 @ 9:36am
jinx, your idea to channel the stormwater runoff to some holding ponds under the freeway is much superior to the project as currently envisioned.

There's just one problem with your proposal.

The green movement has to make sure that all environmental remediation is right in front of everyone's face and putting a nasty old ditch in front of an office building serves that purpose. Nothing can create environmental euphoria like a project which can provide the additional benefit of giving corporate America and all the consumers the finger.

by tacoma1 on 12/9/2011 @ 9:37am
If u have proof, not conjecture, that the one time installation of raingardens causes more pollution than the rain garden fixes over its lifetime, I would look at it.

It just doesn't sound very plausible, but I will eagerly await your scientific findings.

by fredo on 12/9/2011 @ 9:45am
The project manager should provide the public with a complete itemized listing of all the environmental impacts which the project will be expected to cause. I'm not a scientist but I do think about environmental problems. It doesn't make a lot of sense to me to address an environmental problem by exacerbating it.

by KevinFreitas on 12/9/2011 @ 9:55am
Yeah, nice try @fredo -- march to the beat of your same argument but other folks are providing actual sources to aid their perspective.

Re: poor soils. So what? Whether you actually watch the video or listen to the input provided above that the raingardens downtown will have drainage below the filtering plants and soils the "poor soils" argument is dashed.

On the subject of money: I'm all for more grass roots (so to speak) movements to install raingardens around Tacoma and downtown. Since the gully below 705 was obviously carved out by water I'd be all for exploring this area as a place to help filter our rainwater runoff. Only big problem might be saturating those soils that hold the pillars for 705. In the meantime, we've got tons of useless little green spots between sidewalks and our streets I'd love seen converted to raingardens.

by fredo on 12/9/2011 @ 10:05am
Not OK to saturate the ground under the 705 pillars but perfectly OK to saturate the ground under enormous office buildings?

I think you just "dashed" your own argument.

I will agree that I have not performed an environmental impact statement on the project. Please accept my apologies. I didn't know that it was the job of unpaid bloggers to perform this service for the public. I would have expected that the Environmental Impact statement would be a condition of the project.

by fredo on 12/9/2011 @ 10:23am
OK, nobody will believe me that diesel engines of the type that will be used to create the ditches will cause environmental degradation.

I don't have time to do an exhaustive (pardon the pun) study however I did turn up an article written by Alan C. Lloyd PHd. The article is entitled Diesel Engines: Environmental Impact and Control.

Dr. Lloyd concludes that the use of diesel engines impacts the respiratory functioning for children who are within 300 meters of diesel engine exhaust. He further concludes that diesel exhaust is a SIGNIFICANT contributor to air pollution and is linked to the heightened risk of CANCER.

I don't want pollution in puget sound, but I also don't want children harmed, people to contract cancer, or the pollution of our air as a tradeoff. Better we leave well enough alone until we understand FULLY the environmental impacts of the rain gardens.

by The Jinxmedic on 12/9/2011 @ 10:44am
My proposal does not dump runoff water straight into the gulch, you would still need to build simplified natural aggregate filtration ponds in the currently unutilized areas under I-705. This concept would allow for a larger surface area of both the water and the aggregate, thus providing a higher level of filtration before the stormwater reaches the sound. Since we would be using various grades of rock (or reprocessed concrete, or recycled Luzon bricks), crushed rock, gravel, and native vegatation plantings in the filtration ponds- the soil composition wouldn't really matter in these locations. All you would need to do is redirect current storm drainage to these new filtration ponds, and since the ponds would be at a lower grade level than all of downtown, there would be no danger of water incursion into downtown building foundations. Another no-brainer- and the impact to Pacific Avenue is zero.

by KevinFreitas on 12/9/2011 @ 11:09am
@fredo: The water in the downtown raingardens will filter through the top layers then be returned, clean, to the stormwater system not soaking into building foundations. Remember the design info shared in this very forum above?

@Jinx: Love it!

by The Jinxmedic on 12/9/2011 @ 11:23am
Thank you.

by fredo on 12/9/2011 @ 11:38am
Kevin, when there is excessive rainwater the excess will be put through pipes back into commencement bay just like it is now. Isn't that the information "shared in this very forum"

Also is the creation of lots of pollution to install the raingardens a good thing or a bad thing?

Jinx, the only real problem with your proposal is that is sort of a common sense and low cost solution. The environmental movement needs huge capital projects with lots of shovels in the ground, lots of prevailing wage family jobs, lots of opportunities for kickbacks, massive demolition. So what if the net environmental effect is negligible? As long as the smoke and mirrors are properly positioned there should be no worries.

by thriceallamerican on 12/9/2011 @ 12:03pm
Rerouting our entire wastewater system to direct its output to entirely different destination is a low cost solution? Wow, you really live in a fantasy world.

That said, I think Jinx's solution is interesting and worth investigating as a long term project in addition to this one.

As far as the construction pollution, comparing some short term air pollution effects to long term water quality benefits is apples vs. oranges. Of course air pollution is harmful (including having effects on water quality) but these can be built quickly and will help with water quality for years.

Shit, I just got dragged back into this discussion. But my points are made so don't be surprised if I disappear again...

by The Jinxmedic on 12/9/2011 @ 12:11pm
Besides, it's federal money, so that doesn't really cost anyone anything, right? (sarcasm)

by tacoma1 on 12/9/2011 @ 12:25pm
That Federal money will provide a lot of local jobs. Not having those local jobs will cost the locals a lot of money.

Some of those construction jobs just may turn into beer sold at a downtown pub too.

by fredo on 12/9/2011 @ 12:29pm
Oh we should definitely go ahead with this project even though we don't know how much pollution will be created, and we don't know how much pollution will be mitigated. Just as long as its a huge project and someone else is paying for it. And if some property owners and merchants on Pacific Ave. lose their investments and end up in the poor house that's no big deal. As long as some union workers can get a prevailing wage paycheck all will be right with the world.

by fredo on 12/9/2011 @ 1:03pm
"comparing some short term air pollution effects to long term water quality benefits is apples vs. oranges" thrice

Unfortunately when evaluating environmental degradation thrice we frequently need to compare apples to oranges. We live in a complex world where it is difficult to make evaluations. I'll give you an easy to understand example. People frequently say we should be using natural gas to fuel vehicles because it lessens our dependence on foreign oil and causes less air pollution. But to produce natural gas the drillers have to force carcinogenic materials down to wells to" frack" the sediment where the gas is. This tends to pollute the water table and this results in water pollution. Would you say that comparing petroleum fuel created air pollution to natural gas created water pollution is an apple to oranges comparison?

by tacoma1 on 12/9/2011 @ 1:18pm
I also am concerned with children breathing air that is polluted by diesel exhaust which is why I would be opposed to children working on this particular construction project. At least when the diesel trucks are in operation. I hope that not only you, but Tacoma City Council can join me in a pledge against child labor around diesel equipment.

by The Jinxmedic on 12/9/2011 @ 1:19pm
I used that argument about creating short-term construction jobs for LeMay, too- but there were too many LeMay haters on this forum for it to get through some peoples heads that it would be a good thing for the city, both short term and long term. My comment about federal dollars is that this project doesn't come out of the city budget. However, I would rather see my federal dollars used to repair highway infrastructure, or to create a real jobs program along the lines of Roosevelt's CCC or WPA, not this "union-only" fake job creation payoff that's been going on for the past three years.

Consider my more environmentally-friendly solution to stormwater filtration that doesn't destroy what's left of Pacific Avenue. I'm sure the same federal dollars would be available.

(By the way, I would like to get prevailing wage, myself. Not happening.)

by fredo on 12/9/2011 @ 1:21pm
I'll take your pledge a step further tacoma1. The exhaust is also associated with cancer, so I hope you will join me in a pledge against engaging in this entire cancer causing project.

by tacoma1 on 12/9/2011 @ 1:40pm
If u do truly care about air pollution, the real threat to our air quality and our lung disease is wood smoke particulates that are pervasive this time of year in the neighborhoods and very homes that people live due to wood burning stoves and fireplaces.

If you want to go after diesel exhaust pollution, the Port of Tacoma is the big local source in that category.

I don't remember you ever objecting to either before.

by fredo on 12/9/2011 @ 1:48pm
I never said the cancelling the rain garden ditch project would solve all the worlds problems or eliminate all the world's pollution. We don't have a wood stove and I made sure my home and my work are located in close proximity to each other. I occasionally walk or ride my bike to work. The diesel pollution at the port is regrettable but that's how we get goods moved around. I guess you could say it's unavoidable. The rain gardens, on the other hand, are an entirely avoidable misapplication of environmentalism.

by KevinFreitas on 12/9/2011 @ 4:09pm
@fredo - So the City should've really purchase Nissan Leaf work trucks? Three cheers to the electric fleets of the future!

A single diesel truck is to the entire Port and their emissions as a handful of raingardens is to diverting and treating our entire stormwater system. Baby steps forward for our planet (and thus our health/well-being) for the win!

@Jinx - I'm all for LeMay. Emote along those lines anytime (full disclosure: we do all their web stuff at work because they're awesome, as is their amazing collection, as is the new building and what it will bring to our City's revenue and museum/tourism landscape)

by fredo on 12/9/2011 @ 5:03pm
since we're looking at additional expenses for the city I guess it's a good time to address an underlying issue:

How is tacoma going to pay it's share of this project? I thought the city was broke.

also do they make battery powered dump trucks and road graders? If so we should probably use them since nobody wants to die of cancer just so some stupid dogfish doesn't grow a third head.

by tacoma1 on 12/9/2011 @ 5:41pm
The pollution in the sound actually has more widespread consequences than that. Being at the top of the food chain means we need to be careful what we eat eats among other things.

And I also have always been in favor of the Lemay.

Btw, for a dogfish to grow a third head, does that mean they already have two?

by fredo on 12/11/2011 @ 7:52am
"First off, my code of ethics tells me that it's amoral to be a polluter just because it's cheaper to do so." tacoma1

In that case lets build this project by hand and not use any power equipment whatsoever. This will be more expensive but will reduce the diesel emission that we know will cause pollution. As you've said so eloquently tacoma1, we should not "pollute just because it's cheaper to do so"

by tacoma1 on 12/11/2011 @ 1:27pm
aw shucks...........

you said that I was eloquent.

by Erik on 5/25/2012 @ 4:11pm
Tacoma receives more money from the state to try to insert rain gardens on Pacific Avenue: www.tacomadailyindex.com/portals-code/li...

by fredo on 5/25/2012 @ 5:57pm
I'm OK with no downtown ditches. it really will make Tacoma look like more of a podunk place then it already does.  

The ecological "benefit" is probably so miniscule as to be unmeasurable. Spending millions to reduce pollutants by some small increment is a little like using a bomb to kill an ant.

 Pretty sure there will be one certain impact, some marginal DT businesses will have to throw in the towel when Pacific Ave is torn up for the umpteenth time.

by tacoma_1 on 5/26/2012 @ 7:14am
From EPA's website regarding stormwater runoff:www.epa.gov/owow/NPS/roads.htmlOils and grease are leaked onto road surfaces from car and truck engines...Heavy metals...come from car and truck exhaust, worn tires and engine parts, brake linings, weathered paint, and rust. Heavy metals are toxic to aquatic life and can potentially contaminate ground water.

by fredo on 5/26/2012 @ 7:41am

Tacoma1, I'm only commenting on the Pacific Ave Ditch project, not global pollution in general.

by tacoma_1 on 5/26/2012 @ 11:20am
As am I.

One of the more insidious pollutants in the Puget Sound is copper, which comes from brake dust from cars and trucks.

Very hard and expensive to clean up and deadly to fish.

by fredo on 5/26/2012 @ 12:20pm

  Once the ditches are finished there will be no measurable difference in the amount of pollution found in puget sound. IMO Also if the brakes of trucks cause pollution then why would you want more trucks on Pacific Ave. installing these ditches? That doesn't make sense. That makes the pollution problem worse!

by tacoma_1 on 5/26/2012 @ 5:59pm
Thank you for sharing your fact less opinion.

by fredo on 5/26/2012 @ 7:33pm
Maybe you could mention a similar "rain garden" project in another area that made a significant impact on pollution levels in a large body of water.  Or is your advocacy just based on your own factless opinion?

 The burden of showing that this project (or ANY project for that matter)  is cost effective isn't on the opponents but rather on the proponents. Let's see your facts! If it isn't going to show any measurable benefit then why are we funding it?

by Jesse on 5/26/2012 @ 7:37pm

by fredo on 5/26/2012 @ 7:40pm

Anytime people can't defend their positions they resort to name calling.  

by L.S.Erhardt on 5/26/2012 @ 11:07pm

Money is allocated. Nothing you can do to stop the juggernaut of state/municipal spending.
Onto the next gov't spending outrage...

by fredo on 5/27/2012 @ 5:37am
Well, money may be allocated, but Tacoma has to come up with a portion of the financing and we all know that Tacoma is broke.

Also, is there funding available to fill in the ditches if the project is a bust like Erik already suggested? 

But since you suggested we move to the next government outrage I suggest we look at the proposed 150 page urban canopy law.The rain gardens may be a festering boil on Tacoma's rear end, but the urban canopies promise to be the civic equivalent of flesh eating bacteria. Stay tuned.

by KevinFreitas on 5/30/2012 @ 10:52am
Just posted by the Mayor on her Facebook page. Interesting read:


One rain garden will help filter out pollutants. It's a start. The more permeable surfaces with natural filtration (e.g. rain gardens, green spaces, woods, etc) we have in a city like ours means healthier ground water and a cleaner bay for all. Unfortunately, the pendulum has swung too far towards impermeable surfaces in our history of pave, pave, pave so it needs to swing back or we're only going to spend more money on artificial filtration and chemical treatment plants.

by KevinFreitas on 5/30/2012 @ 11:03am
Great quote from that article re: costs:

"In terms of savings, [Linda M. Dobson, a division manager in Portland’s Bureau of Environmental Services] points to one of Portland’s sub-basin initially estimated to cost $144 million in old-school sewer upgrades. By substituting a greener approach, the city shaved $63 million off the cost."

by NineInchNachos on 5/30/2012 @ 11:06am
how about a compromise? Only put raingarden in front of business you don't like. 

by cisserosmiley on 5/30/2012 @ 11:11am
Is it healthier for puget sound when bums pee in rain gardens vs peeing on a brick wall and sidewalk area?

by NineInchNachos on 5/30/2012 @ 11:19am
yes!  good for plants too

by Erik on 5/30/2012 @ 11:41am
Good post Kevin. However, the picture shows a rain garden in a neighborhood or non-urban setting.  They have a place, but not to dominate a urban area downtown where business should go.

But doing a rain garden requires careful site planning, experts say. If planted too close to buildings, they can exacerbate rather than alleviate basement flooding. And it's important to find a patch of land where water percolates well through the soil, which is not necessarily the case everywhere. Researchers have found years of mowing and other activities sometimes leaves the ground so compacted that its about as permeable as concrete.

by KevinFreitas on 5/30/2012 @ 2:07pm
No matter the setting (downtown near a building/business or in a neighborhood near a house) site planning is necessary. They can easily work downtown and I look forward to seeing a little piece of a more balanced city/environment there soon.

Sure wish we had more opportunities for green roofs to crop up as well! The one atop Park Plaza is pretty incredible. I know first hand from having a rain barrel at my house how very much rain water washes down the drain. In a moderate rain draining about half of my roof a 55 gallon drum would fill in an hour. Multiply that by an entire city of impermeable roofs and streets and the damage to our hydrologic system is staggering!