Here are some of the big issues I see facing Sammamish and our citizens for 2013, in no particular order except for….
- The future of Ace Hardware. Time is running out. Ace needs a building permit by March (February would be better) if it is to have a new building ready by August, when its lease expires. Staff was directed by the City Council in December to expedite a review of issues facing development of some of the most environmentally constrained land in the city, next to the Washington Federal Bank and the Mars Hill Church on 228th. A land swap with the City is a crucial component. Procedurally, an “emergency” probably would have to be declared to speed up processes required by state and local laws, but there are still certain requirements that suggest to me that even on an expedited basis, I don’t see how it can all come together by February or March. I hope I’m wrong. The City Staff is to report back to the City Council at the first meeting in January (the 8th, I think). Let’s hope. What happens could play into the 2013 City Council race. If a positive solution isn’t found, the issue is certainly going to become a major campaign event. Four seats are up for election: Mayor Tom Odell, Deputy Mayor John James, and Members Don Gerend and John Curley. Failure to find a solution will be used against these guys, and the issue will become a major one. Success will be used by these guys.
After Ace, here are some of the other key issues I see:
- Staying with or defecting from the Eastside Fire and Rescue (EF&R): This is going to be a Big Deal. A decision will be controversial. The outcome has the possibility of becoming a major election issue for the 2013 City Council race. There is some significant sentiment to leave EF&R because of the costs (it, along with police service, is the highest single item in our budget and it’s going up) and long-running disputes over Sammamish’s fair share of the EF&R budget. Ambitions to expand the district by other EF&R members would have the effect of neutralizing our influence on the EF&R board and place our two representatives at a disadvantage to protect our taxpayers. But, according to several City Council members and others we’ve talked to, our City Manager Ben Yacizi is adamantly opposed to the City forming its own fire department because he doesn’t want to deal with unions. The City Council, which in my long-held view, is too subservient to the City Manager, may well be out-maneuvered by him in his opposition. A committee of former City Council members appointed by the current City Council to study the issue recommended leaving EF&R. The committee included Ron Haworth, a former fire chief himself, Kathy Huckabay and Lee Fellinge. Our City Council so far has ignored this recommendation. A decision comes before the election in November. It will be interesting to see if the four Council Members whose seats are up will have the political courage to withdraw from EF&R; the time, I believe, has come to do so.
- Changes to the Town Center regulations and policies: Although development of the Town Center has been delayed in part by economic conditions, it’s also clear some relaxation of the policies and regulations are needed. I proposed some in January 2012 to the City Staff and City Council (which I’ve previously written about) and all the ideas were put on the shelf by the Council’s Economic Development Commission. Landowners in the Southeast Quadrant proposed a new Docket Request for consideration by the Planning Commission this year. The City Staff opposed putting any of these on the Docket. I argued to the Council that they should be, and the Council did. The outcome will take the better part of a year.
- Changes to other zonings in other areas of the City: I made several proposals in December for these to provide other commercially zoned areas. The Council so far has not directed Staff to do anything with these. I bet it won’t either, but I can always hope.
- Potentially expanding the Farmers Market hours: This should be a no-brainer, but facetiously I half-expect “process” to run amok.
- What should be done but probably won’t: Improvements to SE 24th from 200th Ave. SE to the East Lake Sammamish Parkway are needed. This is a designated arterial but there are no shoulders of any kind (a real hazard in snow and ice) and there aren’t any walking paths. The absence of both mean people and bikes are in the traffic lanes around blind curve-after-blind curve. Fixing this has been proposed to several successive councils.
- The Critical Areas Ordinance updates: This is now called something else (Environmentally Sensitive Areas, I think, or ESA) and this is going to be a hot issue that also could become a campaign topic. Sammamish is one of the most environmentally sensitive areas in the County. It has steep slopes, erosion hazard areas and three highly sensitive lakes (Sammamish, Pine and Beaver lakes), called 303(d) lakes that are among the most critically affected in the County. Creeks leading to these lakes are environmentally sensitive and wetlands leading to the creeks all ties in. There are state laws mandating certain buffer zones that effectively tie the hands of the City Staff, which is compounded by a myopic black-and-white approach by the staff that fails to use Low Impact Development techniques as a mitigating way to achieve some development in some of these sensitive areas. Opposing all this are the property rights people who seem to want to do anything with their property in the other extreme, also without looking for the middle ground. This is already contentious. It’s going to be more so.
- It’s not on the radar screen yet but it’s lurking: There have been a few oblique references in the newspaper about Issaquah wanting to assume part of the Sammamish Water and Sewer District. I haven’t figured out the implications yet, but following Issaquah’s action on the Lakeside development and stormwater runoff into an aquifer that serves as drinking water for Sammamish, I can’t help but wonder how the dots are all connected.
- Town Hall Meetings: Council and Staff continue to oppose Town Hall meetings, for reasons that frankly are unfathomable. Stated reasons are they are afraid of controlling the agenda and the audience. This is poppycock. If the President of the United States and candidates for President can do Town Hall meetings, why the devil can’t our City Council? Pressure is building is there is some talk, but the Council continues to clearly be resistant. Citizens are royally frustrated with being restricted to three- and five-minute monologues in Public Comment periods. The City Council just rejected the Initiative process (a decision I basically agree with, given the abuse at the state level), saying they communicate well enough. But the Council’s Unfavorables in my poll (see below) suggests otherwise. The fear of holding periodic Town Hall meetings is amazing–and it is silly.
And, of course…
- The November 2013 City Council election. Four seats are up, are noted above: Odell, James, Gerend and Curley. When Curley ran in 2009, he said he would serve only one term. He has the highest absentee record of Council Members and his new radio gig at KIRO promotes sleep deprivation. So If he holds to his word, this will be an open seat. Gerend, according to other Council Members, already plans to seek another term. He is the last remaining original Council Member from 1999. By November he will have been on the Council 14 years and other term will make it 18. According a poll we did, 54% of the respondents have an unfavorable opinion of the job Gerend is doing and 54% think he should retire. Only Nancy Whitten polled more unfavorably. Curley, Odell and James didn’t do much better in the favorables-unfavorables, polling only slightly better than Gerend and the City Council as a whole did poorly, too. The outcome of Ace, the EF&R and CAO/ESA will be the key issues in the election this year. Whether solid candidates emerge to credibly challenge the incumbents who seek reelection remains to be seen. The last two elections produced some really, really bad challengers.