Tacoma neighborhood loses power for Trafton development

North Slope District resident Marcy Rodenborn holds up a notice she received from Tacoma Public Utilities three days before her power was cut for 10 hours, for an elevator to be installed for a new development being built on his street on Saturday, April 16, 2022 in Tacoma, Washington.

North Slope District resident Marcy Rodenborn holds up a notice she received from Tacoma Public Utilities three days before her power was cut for 10 hours, for an elevator to be installed for a new development being built on his street on Saturday, April 16, 2022 in Tacoma, Washington.

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It was eerily dark last Thursday evening. The bar I walk into on my nighttime walk with my dog ​​was vacant and the headlights on the street went blinding without the ambient glow you expect in a city.

It was also quiet, which was just as unnerving. There was no windstorm or glaring emergency. There was simply no power. A few blocks of Sixth Avenue faded away, while the rest of Tacoma buzzed.

Consumed by my thoughts, my meager excuse to exercise, and the bad 90s rock playing in my headphones, I kept walking. By the time I got home – to my neighborhood on the other side of Sixth, where the lights were still on – I almost forgot.

That’s when Marcy Rodenborn, 56, who has lived on North Trafton Street near Grant Elementary for two decades, found me on Twitter.

Rodenborn’s house was in the dark, and she wasn’t happy about it, largely because news of the service disruption came three days prior, attributed to ‘system maintenance’ on a door hanger yellow delivered by Tacoma Public Utilities.

We spoke by phone the next morning.

“If you walked around… our whole block and the whole area was completely black,” Rodenborn said, validating what I had seen for myself. “We had to go to a friend’s house for the evening, make sure everything was powered up, my husband had to go get some ice cream and we brought out a cooler. Obviously we didn’t die or anything, but it was just one more thing, and more things we had to do.

Let’s stop there for a disclaimer: this column isn’t about one of Tacoma’s most pressing issues. In a world full of homelessness, poverty and inequality and a million other terrible things, what Rodenborn and his family have endured over the past week amounts to little more than a one night inconvenience. . Hashtag First World Problems North Tacoma Edition. A total of 130 Tacoma Public Utilities residential customers and a handful of businesses were affected by the outage, which lasted from 8 p.m. to about 3:30 a.m. All likely survived.

Still, as Tacoma continues to rush into the future, it feels like there’s a lesson to learn.

If we want current owners and residents to support the kind of seismic change needed to accommodate growth while keeping Tacoma Tacoma— and win over the skeptics, which currently include Rodenborn – we should probably find a way to be a little less callous as we go along.

Take this power outage with three days notice – which Rodenborn said left some of his neighbors without heat and many others out of shape.

Maintenance of the pressing system?

This happened because the 42-unit market-priced apartment project on North Trafton Street, undertaken by a private for-profit developer, needed to have its elevator installed on a tight schedule, according to the TPU spokeswoman. , Carrie Mantle.

Rodenborn said the short notice seemed “sneaky,” as if it was designed to limit the surrounding neighborhood’s pushback.

Can you blame her?

220416 power outage cb trafton_03.JPG
A view of the 42-unit market-priced apartment project being undertaken by a private, for-profit developer on North Trafton Street on Saturday, April 16, 2022 in Tacoma, Washington. Area residents received notice from Tacoma Public Utilities three days prior to their 10 a.m. power outage, to have an elevator installed for the project. Cheyenne Boon [email protected]

System capacity

According to Mantle, the truth is less nefarious and largely tied to contractor scheduling. The building needed electricity for the installation of the elevator – more electricity than the existing infrastructure in the historically residential area could support – so a night shift had to cut the electricity to add power. ability.

Mantle failed to recall a similar situation during her time at TPU, but a delay, she explained, could have caused the elevator installation to be “delayed two to three months in reason for the request”.

“All of a sudden you’re building a complex that’s going to have a whole bunch of users in an area that’s already been built on. You’re changing the density of that area, which means you’re going to have increased demand, so you have to add capacity,” Mantle said. “We tried to let people know as far in advance as possible, so they could prepare.”

OK, of course… but just three days notice?


“We only had a very small window in which to plan the work to be done to accommodate everyone,” Mantle said, telling The News Tribune that TPU sent notices to customers on Monday, the same day the utility learned that system upgrades should be completed by the end of the week.

At this point in the column, I could dive deeper into the weeds of installing elevators and the details of Tacoma’s electrical system. I could bring in outside experts and try to figure out if there really was no other way to get the job done, and no way for TPU to find out more than a few days in advance. I could chop it all up, the likely end result being unsatisfactory: it’s complicated.

Or, I could go back to Rodenborn – one of the real living people affected – which probably makes more sense.

We chatted for about a half hour last Friday morning, and — aside from his stories of doing with camping lanterns — it was a conversation like many that have taken place in Tacoma in recent years. We discussed the things we love about our neighborhoods and the need to ensure that more people have the opportunities we have had to live there.

We also talked about the change, how shocking it can be, and the Home in Tacoma effort — which is designed to encourage more housing types by replacing low-density single-family and multi-family zoning with higher-density options. in all the city.

In other words, developments much like the one down the street from her, with the new elevator.

At one point, Rodenburn – who grew up in Oakland, the daughter of a transportation planner – admitted she tried her best not to be a “NIMBY”. She gets that, she said.

But like many people, she also harbors reservations. There were things we disagreed on, like how much is too much for a neighborhood.

“I understand that we need more housing and all that,” Rodenburn offered. “I just don’t like the way (the city) has gone about it.”

It’s a small thing, of course, but cutting power to Rodenburn and its neighbors on short notice – and the message of contempt it sent, intentionally or not – probably didn’t help.

Change is already difficult. There’s no need to make it insulting, too.

Just a thought.

Matt Driscoll is a columnist for the News Tribune and the newspaper’s opinion editor. A recipient of the McClatchy President’s Award, Driscoll is passionate about Tacoma and strives to tell stories that otherwise might not be told.

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