The Thurston County Commission has voted to support Olympia's efforts to create a permanent safe parking site for RVs, after a temporary proposal collapsed.
In a 2-1 vote on Tuesday, Nov. 23, the Board of County Commissioners directed staff to salvage part of an agreement with Olympia that the board tabled on Nov. 9. The decision revived efforts to help those living in their RVs and improve access to Providence St. Peter Hospital along Ensign Road.
In the first phase of the two-part memorandum of understanding with the city, 20 of the over 50 RVs located along Ensign Road would have been moved to 720 Carpenter Road for six months. This move would have allowed ambulances and those seeking medical care to reach Providence St. Peter Hospital's emergency entrance more easily.
In the second phase, Olympia and Thurston County would pursue purchasing a property on Franz-Anderson Road where all the RVs on Ensign Road and Carpenter Road could permanently relocate. A timeline for this phase of the project has not yet been determined.
After Tuesday's vote, the county will still pursue the second phase of the project. Commissioners Tye Menser and Carolina Mejia voted in favor of this direction while Commissioner Gary Edwards voted against it.
A permit application for the first phase of the project had already been submitted, but the board directed County Manager Ramiro Chavez to withdraw the application on Tuesday.
Mejia initially supported both phases of the plan, but abruptly withdrew her support for the first phase of the project earlier this month after she discovered it may be appealed. At the time, she said she feared an appeal could impact the timeline of the already short-term project. However, she maintained she still supports the permanent solution.
Her decision came after dozens of angry neighbors and business owners publicly shared their opposition to the temporary plan with the board. She also met with concerned residents about the Carpenter Road site prior to the vote.
Mejia previously told the Olympian her change of heart was due to the logistical problems an appeal may create rather than the concerns brought by those against the project.
During Tuesday's discussion, Menser said he felt hesitant to continue supporting Phase 2 of the project after Mejia seemingly bowed to public pressure late in the process.
"If Commissioner Mejia is looking me in the eye, saying 'I'm supporting this regardless of what I may hear from the surrounding neighbors,' I will follow through with this agreement," Menser said.
However, Mejia said she felt frustrated by Menser's request because she had already stated her support for the permanent solution.
"I just find it insulting," Mejia said. "I think I've already given my vote on this matter, saying that I would support it. So I'm not sure what else you're wanting Commissioner Menser."
In response, Menser pointed to previous public comments by those opposed to the project. Several people thanked Mejia for voting against the Carpenter Road site in their comments.
"A whole slew of citizens came in two weeks ago, believing you changed your vote because they pressured you," Menser said. "Whether that's true or not true, that's what they believe and that's what they said in public comment."
However, Mejia refuted this description of events. She said citizens thanked her for meeting and listening to them rather than siding with their concerns.
"They thanked me because I showed up as an elected official to hear the complaints," Mejia said. "Not because I changed my mind, but because I showed up."
After this exchange, Menser said he needed more time to think before supporting the second phase of the agreement, effectively tabling the decision until next week. From there, the board turned to other agenda items.
However, Mejia revisited the topic prior to adjourning the meeting, pushing for the vote. She said she did so because she felt concerned the board's inaction may cause the county to lose out on the opportunity to purchase the Franz-Anderson property.
"You (Menser) said you wanted my assurance about it," Mejia said. "So here I am looking you in the eye. You have my assurance on it. I do want to move on it today. I don't want to keep putting staff in a situation where they don't know where to go. So I'm for it 100%."