Vashon Chamber of Commerce
Statement on developments in King County policies and procedures regarding Vashon event road closures
June 9, 2023
I want to begin by thanking the on-Island staff with King County Roads for going above and beyond to make not only the June First Friday road closure possible, but for their hard work to make previous events possible too. I, and so many others, recognize the work done and the time given that made really popular events like Festival and Halloween happen. Thank you.
Below I outline recent events surrounding the changes to policy and procedures for King County Roads support for Vashon road-closure events. The Chamber definitely acknowledges these changes came about because on-island staff was spread too thin, with too many other responsibilities, to continue supporting road closures as they had previously. I, and I don’t think anyone else, wants to burden that staff further.
But I would like to be transparent, as well, about the timing of the change and the potential effects on Vashon events. Following is a detailed account of recent events as I experienced them:
For many years, King County has provided road closure support to safely shut down the streets for all-island civic events. This support came in the form of allowing use of their signage for Vashon events and County staff placing detour signage, no parking signage, and road closure barricades at the road side. Volunteers then stood up and staffed the closures at the beginning and end of events.
On April 3, 2023, the Chamber submitted a permit application to King County to close Vashon Highway from 174th to 177th on June 2, 2023 for First Friday. After speaking with the Vashon community and better understanding the support for the street closures, and after consulting our contact at the permit office, on April 12th, the Chamber submitted a permit application to close Vashon Highway from 174th to 178th on June 2, July 7, August 4, and September 1.
On May 15th, 2023, when notice of permit status had not yet been received, the Chamber reached out to the County to follow up. Our Local Services representative made time to track down the status, and learned the permit was pending with an internal department.
On May 24th, 2023, the final permit was received. No change in the Roads support policy was communicated at that time.
On May 30th, the Chamber reached out to County Roads to see where detour, closure, and parking signs would be laid. For the past decades, Roads has placed the signs before the event, and the Chamber stood them up, staffed them, and removed them at the end of the event.
No change to this policy/process had been communicated to the Chamber at any point in applying for Strawberry Festival and First Friday closures in 2023.
Below is the communication from King County Roads, received at 8:07am on Wednesday, May 31:
After reviewing the permit guidelines and consultation with [the] management team, the permit clearly states that it is the applicant’s responsibility to provide and correctly use traffic control plans and traffic control devices and not the responsibility or liability of King County Roads. … [In] the past we have helped with the festival road closures but with the added closures over the years with Halloween and the Christmas parade and now the first Friday events and the loss of some of our provided traffic control devices that we replace at our cost we will no longer be able to provide this service. … [S]orry to inform you of this but ultimately it is the permit applicants’ responsibility to provide these functions. If you have any questions or need any further assistance feel free to reach out.
The Chamber understands that there has been no change to the language in the permit document. It is true it has always stated that the permit holder bears the responsibility for closures.
The effective change communicated was that Roads would no longer provide support to make that happen by dropping and picking up the signage, as it had in the past several years. We also understand this change was made because staff was overburdened.
I also want to note that the County has told the Chamber that there is no fee for the permits we submitted, and refunded the check submitted with the Strawberry Festival permit application in the amount of $500. If that is an issue, the Chamber will absolutely make those payments going forward. We are grateful for the past financial support.
The Chamber replied to the May 31 email that morning and asked if there might be a way to still provide support as it had in the past, at least for the event that Friday night.
A member of on-island staff at Roads personally did just that – pulled and placed the signage in the midst of fulfilling other duties. It was a really big lift. I and so many folks are exceptionally grateful for that time and work given to make a great community event happen.
Later that Wednesday, our Vashon representative to Local Services set up a meeting with the Local Services Director and the Director of King County Local Services Road Services Division, initially set for that Wednesday afternoon, May 31, to talk about future solutions. County representatives weren’t able to plan and prepare for the call on short notice, which was very understandable. The meeting was reset for the afternoon of Wednesday, June 7th.
During the week between May 31st through June 7th, no further communication from the County was received. During that time, the Chamber did not expect to receive future closure support in any way, per the May 31st email.
On Wednesday afternoon June 7th, the discussion at the meeting opened with an inquiry about how the County no longer providing signage would impact Vashon events. The Director of Roads suggested that Vashon could purchase and store its own signage from this point forward, as other communities do. Chamber staff responded that we did not have immediate funds available to make such a purchase in time for Strawberry Festival, or to pay an off-island rental company. At that point, the on-island Roads Supervisor joined the call, and reiterated that since Covid, their staff really was stretched too thin to assist in the way they had previously.
The Local Services Director suggested it might be possible that Roads could loan signage to the Chamber for events, which volunteers would pick up, deploy, and return. This had been a successful previous arrangement with Vashon event organizers many years ago. There was discussion around whether enough signage was available. Vashon Roads Supervisor suggested he could purchase more. The Director of Roads asked if the Chamber might be able to fund that purchase. Chamber staff explained we didn’t have that funding immediately available. The Director of Local Services then suggested the County could find a way to fund the purchase any additional needed signage to restore inventories.
At that point, the Vashon liaison to Local Services joined the call. There was discussion about connecting with the Economic Development representative at Local Services to seek grant funding for future Vashon events.
Discussion circled back to the proposal that Roads would loan Vashon event organizers signage. All parties agreed this could work, and at that point it was firmed up that Roads could provide signage if volunteers would pick up, deploy, and return. Volunteers would still staff the actual closures and reopen. That agreement was reached at 1:26pm on Wednesday, June 7th. The agreement is absolutely helpful and vital to making Strawberry Festival work this year, and is appreciated.
There has been public discussion about the Beachcomber article published Thursday, June 8th. That article was accurate at the time of press; it was only that Wednesday afternoon, June 7th, that Roads offered loan of the signage. The article was clear that future developments would be reported. This new, current agreement is just such a development.
The Chamber is committed to continuing to find ways to host civic events that help nurture our vital community fabric. We want to work with Roads more closely in the future to better understand, anticipate, and meet budget and capacity challenges. We are committed to doing our part but hope that going forward we might have a longer on-ramp to budget and raise funds for infrastructure purchase if that is needed in the future.
The County providing signage moving forward does give us this opportunity, and it is appreciated. It is a reality that it creates a new hurdle to find volunteers to complete this part of event execution. We are grateful to Roads staff that for so long cleared that hurdle for the community. We will reach out to the community next week with sign-up opportunities.
I want to again emphasize our understanding of the hard work done by KC Roads crew and share the feeling of being stretched thin and still wanting to do the best we can to support the Vashon community. If that in any way has been lost in this situation, I apologize. Additionally, I apologize if this has impacted businesses’ and community’s positive experiences with the June 2 event.
Thank you for this opportunity to fully explain the Chamber’s experience in this situation.
Executive Director, Vashon Island Chamber of Commerce