YAKIMA, Wash. — The Yakima City Council eliminated a much-debated bus route and unanimously approved the opening of emergency winter homeless shelters at a packed study session Tuesday morning.
The city approved an agreement allowing three temporary emergency winter homeless shelters to open beginning Friday and continuing until March 15. The city adopted the agreement after weeks of negotiations between homeless advocates and city code enforcement staff, which had proposed not allowing the shelters over fire safety code concerns.
The agreement calls for the installation of wireless smoke detectors that can be monitored from a central location, an evacuation plan and volunteer training in case of emergencies and other safety precautions.
It also requires city approval for pick-up and drop-off locations, as well as having notifications sent to property owners within a 300-foot radius of the shelters, which will be at the Unitarian Universalist Church at 225 N. Second St.; Englewood Christian Church at 511 N. 44th Ave.; and First Baptist Church at 515 E. Yakima Ave.
The shelters are operated by the local nonprofit Sunrise Outreach and have operated each year in Yakima since 2007. The nonprofit’s director, Ken Trainer, told the council that volunteers have never dealt with major safety issues running the shelters, and no one who arrives and has a medical issue has ever been lost on their watch.
“This is a great opportunity to engage people, to get people, our neighbors, to care about each other,” Trainer said.
City officials and the Yakima County Homeless Network are continuing to look at options near downtown to establish a permanent emergency shelter for the area’s homeless. City Manager Tony O’Rourke said the city and county hope to have such a facility established by next winter.
The City Council also approved eliminating Route 8 and modifying Route 1 for Yakima Transit to save an estimated $300,000 annually, avoiding a projected 2016 end-of-year deficit and opening up funding to put into reserves to be used for the purchase of new buses for the city’s aging fleet.
The routes were the only two that served West Valley out to 96th Avenue and ran in nearly identical paths but started and stopped in opposite directions, which gave some commuters in those areas two options for transit traveling to and from their destinations.
The proposal, which was opposed by City Council members Bill Lover and Rick Ensey, will go into effect Jan. 1. On that day Route 1 will run from North Sixth Street to Lincoln Avenue west, turning south to Summitview Avenue at 40th Avenue and continuing west on Summitview to 96th Avenue.
From there the route will begin its return trip heading south on 96th and turning east on Tieton Drive. The route would dip south on 80th Avenue to Nob Hill Boulevard to provide access to the Meadowbrook Shopping Center and Wal-Mart and Walgreens near 64th Avenue, where the bus would then turn around and head back west before turning north on 72nd Avenue and connecting with Summitview Avenue headed east downtown, where it connects with Yakima Avenue at 16th Avenue.
The changes will end bus service on Lincoln and Englewood avenues west of 40th Avenue on Jan. 1, whereas currently Route 1 serves Englewood and Route 8 continues on Lincoln across 40th Avenue to 56th Avenue.
City transit officials told the council the changes would save costs and boost ridership on Route 1, but opponents said the proposal would make travel time unreasonable for commuters who would use it to reach a location in West Valley and then have to swing through downtown before being dropped off farther west so they can reasonably walk home, creating about an hour of travel time.
Ensey opposed eliminating the routes and made a failed motion to cut funding from the Yakima-Ellensburg Commuter program instead to save an estimated $150,000.
“I disagree with cutting services, changing services inside the city when we’re using money for trips outside the city,” Ensey said.
The only other council member to support Ensey’s motion was Lover, who said he opposes cutting service to areas the city promised to provide transit to when they were annexed.
O’Rourke said the changes were difficult but necessary because the “easier decisions” to cut evening and holiday transit hours to save money have already been done, and the prospect of a spending deficit by 2016 remained.
The average city bus route has netted $62,100 in revenue for the city so far this year, but Route 8 had only drawn in $20,391. The average cost to the city per bus rider citywide is $5, but nearly $8 for Route 8.
• This story has been corrected to note that the modified bus Route 1 would connect with Yakima Avenue at 16th Avenue.