The student voice of Washington State University since 1895

The Daily Evergreen

The student voice of Washington State University since 1895

The Daily Evergreen

The student voice of Washington State University since 1895

The Daily Evergreen

Small business owners express concern over Project Downtown at City Council meeting

Several small business owners make their case to city council, mayor pro temp elected
Local business owner CJ Robert asking the city council to have an open public discussion about Project Downtown Pullman with residents

The Pullman City Council heard from multiple small business owners concerning Project Downtown Pullman at their meeting Jan 30.

The meeting began with a presentation from Diane Hodge, Pullman School District finance director, who presented on the 2024 levies.

“We want to say we are very grateful for our community and the support they provide for our schools,” Hodge said. “The support Pullman has provided to Pullman School District is just amazing.”

Hodge said Pullman School Districts funding is 80% from the state government, 15% from local funding and 5% from the federal government. A levy is meant to help bridge the gap in funding between what the state pays and the actual cost of operating the schools.

Levies can be used to pay for libraries, music and safety in schools, among other things, Hodge said. The school district is asking voters to consider replacing the existing expiring four year levies with new four year levies.

Overall, the school district is requesting an additional $1 million in voter approved levies amount, which will raise the amount to $6.3 million overall, Hodge said. The school district has not requested an increase in the levy since 2014, but partially because of the increase in the cost of utilities and insurance, they are requesting an increase.

“Election day is February 13, so we just want to remind people to vote,” she said.

The issue will be decided in the upcoming local election, Hodge said. People who have any questions can visit their website.

The council members moved on to the election of mayor pro temp and alternate mayor pro temp. Benjamin said the purpose of these positions are to certify the line of succession if the mayor is not able to lead the meeting, with the mayor pro temp first in line and the alternate following.

Benjamin said the decision for who to elect belongs to the council. The floor was opened to the council to discuss electing the mayor pro temp. Council member Nathan Weller nominated council member Pat Wright as mayor pro temp. Weller then nominated council member Eric Fejeran for alternate mayor pro temp. The council members approved the motion to elect both to their respective positions.

The city council moved on to appointing members to boards and positions. Benjamin said the tradition is to usually rotate members of the council around various positions to give them a variety of experience, which the council agreed would be good to continue.

After confirming the board seats, the council moved on to hearing public comments. Tim Paulitz, a member of Save Downtown Trees said he was appealing to the council to consider the trees during the Project Downtown Pullman discussion.

“We mobilized Pullman residents to become aware of this and got almost 700 petition signatures opposing this plan,” Paulitz said. “Based on our conversations with residents, most had no idea that most of the trees would be removed.”

Paulitz said he disapproves of the fact that there was no discussion on saving any of the trees in the project and will demolish the trees.

“What we request is the ability to work with the contractor, whoever it is, to look at the plans in detail, to walk through every tree with our people and the contractor and identify trees that could be saved,” Paulitz said.

Nikiforos Pitsilionis, The Black Cypress owner and chef, said the Project Downtown Pullman will be bad for businesses and can lead to a 50% drop in revenue for businesses in the area.

“Disallowing contractors to spread the work over two years will be highly consequential,” Pitsilionis said. “The current RFP only allows bids that shut down the street in its entirety to vehicular traffic and parking for six months.”

Resident Larry Clark said he was with Citizens for Pullman Public Schools on behalf of the levy increase and wanted to encourage citizens to support and vote in favor of the levies.

“As community leaders, I’d also ask you to please reach out to all your contacts to let them know we really need to get the ballots in and vote in favor of this so we can continue having the great schools that we do,” Clark said.

Local business owner CJ Robert, approached the council and gave them each copies of the survey results. Robert said this was her fourth time appearing at a city council meeting in the course of the year.

“I have been intimately involved in this project since 2022,” Robert said. “Since 2018 this project has been sold to business owners as a beautification project that focused on the key elements to improve the downtown … The current design you are about to bid on is a far cry from this project.”

Robert said business owners have been questioning many elements of the design for over a year and have been blown off. Since February 2023, they have been told there is nothing that can be done about the design.

“[I] implore one of the council members right now for you to make a motion and have an open public discussion about this right now,” Robert said.

O-Ramen owner Orin Ford, said it is concerning that businesses may lose revenue going into October, during the busiest time of the year.

“My business is already in a precarious position. Pullman’s a hard place to do business, the seasonal nature of it, keeping a labor force year after year has proved difficult for me,” Ford said. “I would just encourage the council to listen to the engaged citizens, make your best judgment and find a path forward.”

Resident Linda Russo said she is concerned about the fact that the council will be hearing bids on Tuesday and there are many trees that do not have to be removed in the course of this project.

“I’m emotional because I think of all trees being removed without the necessary care and consideration that can happen,” Russo said. “I’m asking the council or the city or whoever can make this happen, give the experts in the community with the knowledge about trees, about native trees, about the lifespan of trees, about whether trees need to be removed or not, would you please make room for their input as a part of the construction plan going forward.”

After the public comment period, council member Carla De Lira said she wanted to make a motion to allow public comments during the special meeting to be held at noon Feb 6.

“Community members should be able to weigh in on this project every step of the way.” De Lira said. “I realize that this may impact council members’ schedules on the 6th, but this project will make an impact on the schedules of many community members for six months.”

Fejeran said the community has repeatedly expressed concerns that they are not being heard and agreed with the motion to allow public comment. The council approved the motion.

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JOSIAH PIKE, Evergreen news co-editor
Josiah is a sophomore broadcast journalism and broadcast production double major. He is from Lakewood, Washington and began working for the Evergreen in Fall 2021.
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Maddy Rice is a photographer for the Daily Evergreen. Originally from White Center, Washington, she is a sophomore majoring in Business Managment, with a minor in Sports Managment. Maddy began working for the Daily Evergreen in the Fall of 2023.