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Lakewood Libraries: De-annexation moving onto the agenda?

On Tuesday (July 5) I went to Lakewood Town Hall, to make a public comment at the Council meeting. I suggested that the City of Lakewood leave the Pierce County Library System (PCLS). In the jargon, this is known as “de-annexation”. I expected my idea to be shot down by the City Council, assuming they bothered listening to me.

I nonetheless believe that Lakewood needs to deannexe from the PCLS. As I wrote in a previous article, the PCLS is a monstrous and unaccountable organization, which has taken Lakewood for granted and disrespected both its residents and elected representatives.

It is also a matter of civic pride. In 1991, when Lakewood became part of the PCLS, it was not a city. Now that it is a city, with a large and growing population, it should have its own library system. The Lakewood Library System.

Yet de-anexation is not easy. Looking at the Revised Code of Washington, the matter would have to be put to the ballot, at the same time as a general election (RCW 27.12.380). This would probably mean that the ballot couldn’t happen until November 2023. And there could be no ballot without the support of the City Council.

A ballot could be avoided if both the PCLS and Lakewood City Council supported de-annexation (RCW 27.12.355), if certain conditions are met. However, one must assume that PCLS will fight tooth and claw to keep Lakewood in its grasp.

As far as precedents are concerned, in 2013 Renton considered de-annexing from the King County Library System. The Library System wanted to close the Cedar River Library, and it was thought that the threat of de-annexation would act as leverage. Renton City Council did not support de-annexation and that was the end of the matter.

There is also a dark side to de-annexing, which we have to be careful to avoid. Lake Stevens City Council considered de-annexing from the Sno-Isles Library District. The motive appeared to be financial, and there was a proposal to replace Sno-Isles with a privatized library service. This is the City Council that became notorious for  allowing 1000s of trees to be cut down to make way for a new Costco.

It therefore needs to be clear that de-annexation means Lakewood getting its own library system, not the library services being contracted out.

Towards the end of the July 5 council meeting, there was council members’ comments. Council member Paul Bocchi was clearly not happy with the way PCLS has treated Lakewood, but he made it clear that it was “not our library”.

Donald Anderson, the former mayor, was more forthright:

I think that consideration [of de-annexation], not necessarily action, should be sooner rather than later, because we know that the library moves at a snail’s pace or slower.

He also did some calculations:

And my back of the envelope calculation is that we contribute about $4 million… to the Pierce County Library System. And if you look at Puyallup, who has their own library system, it would probably cost us 5 or 6 million dollars to run a robust library system in the City of Lakewood.

Donald Anderson was a teenage president of the Puyallup School Board in the early 1970s, so he knows Puyallup well. He seems to believe it possible that Lakewood can emulate Puyallup, and have a successful and functioning library system.

Yet Donald Anderson was treating de-annexation as a threat rather than a promise, as a way of getting the PCLS to be more sensitive to Lakewood’s needs.

It’s not enough. We need to recognize that Lakewood is the victim of an abusive relationship with Pierce County Library System, and the chains of abuse must be broken as soon as possible.

{ 2 comments… add one }
  • Lacey Johnson July 29, 2022, 8:11 am

    Please save the Lakewood library. Its a great resource for our family and there isnt another library close by. Parkland and Tacoma library are to far away.

    • James Dunlop July 29, 2022, 1:48 pm


      We’re doing our best! But is it important to be active, and to tell Lakewood City Council how you feel. While in one sense the Council have nothing to do with the Library – it is run by Pierce County Library System – they have a lot of leverage, if they use it properly.

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