Sammamish and “the vision thing”

In 1987, Vice President George H. W. Bush was gearing up to run for president. The Vice President was well known for mangling his syntax (like father, like son, as it turned out) and often had difficulty articulating his thoughts (as we said…).

This inability led to his famous characterization of “the vision thing.”

Sammamish has a Vision Thing problem.

First, it must be acknowledged that governments in general typically lack vision. Out of necessity, days are consumed with simply running things and fixing day-to-day problems. But Sammamish, since its inception, has had trouble with “vision.”

I’ll concede that the City has looked into the future and taken some steps on this or that. But action often becomes years in the making and vision, if it is recognized at all, often becomes inaction.

The greatest example is the Community Center. Consider:

  • City officials recognized from the incorporation in 1998 and the first City Council in 1999 that we needed a Community Center. We have one of the greatest ratios of teenagers-to-adults in King County (by some measures, it is the greatest) and we needed a community gathering center.
  • But one City Council after another dithered and dithered year after year until 2011-12, when we finally had an advisory vote on a Center. But when will it actually be built? Probably not until next year, 15 years after the need was recognized.
  • What was the vision? Initially a $64 million Taj Mahal that would have been the largest Community Center in all of King County. Vision run amok. Fortunately this monstrosity was down-sized for the advisory vote—but I’m told that new features are now being added to the Center. I can’t wait to see what emerges (sarcasm here) as the final vision for the Request for Proposals to build this thing and for the YMCA management contract.

Another example: Teen Center.

  • Like the Community Center, City leaders recognized from the beginning a Teen Center was needed. It took 10 years or so to come up with one, awarding a management contract to the Boys and Girls Club in the process, an organization that failed to fulfill its early pledge to raise money and which has since failed to fully live up to its end of the bargain in any case. There are no senior programs. Funds to expand haven’t been raised.

Take the Town Center:

  • Having been part of the process to develop this, I can tell you the City was sincere in developing the plan; it wasn’t just an exercise to meet Growth Management Act requirements as the Town Crank often charges. We had a vision to create something that was environmentally friendly and aesthetically pleasing. But the City Council, in an effort to please everyone, wound up pleasing no one. It directed staff and the Planning Commission to plan a Town Center that spread commercial “nodes” (what’s a “node”?) around multiple locations rather than concentrating it in around the Commons park for synergy.
  • The result: landowners in the SE Quadrant complain they don’t have enough commercial allocation to make it economically feasible to proceed;
  • The Lake Washington School District has land in the NE Quadrant it bought for a school. This land also has been allocated commercial zoning. But when Ace Hardware approached LWSD to relocate there, it was told no, the land is for a school. So effectively LWSD is holding 90,000 sf of commercial zoning hostage, zoning that should have been allocated elsewhere from the start including the…
  • Caboose property at the corner of 228th and SE 4th. I advocated zoning this property commercial all the way up to what is known as the commercial core at the top of SE 4th. But no, the City Council didn’t want that, so the Staff didn’t support it and the Planning Commission wouldn’t consider it. So, as it happened, when Ace went looking for commercial property, the best location in the City for this wasn’t available. Except that it still could have been, because….

In January 2012, one year ago, I presented a concept to the City Council and Staff that would have, among other things, rezoned the caboose property corridor to commercial, as it should have been in the first place. Had this been forwarded to the Planning Commission then for consideration as an amendment to the Comprehensive Plan, it could have happened by September—three months before the Ace predicament became a crisis, placing the City and Ace in the emergency situation it is today. But neither the City Council, the City Manager nor the City Staff had the vision to forward the recommendations to the Planning Commission for consideration. Instead, the ideas sit on the shelf to this day.

Consider the Shoreline Master Plan update fiasco.

  • In one of the last actions of the Planning Commission I served on, ending December 31, 2009, the Commission voted 6-1 to send its recommendations of the SMP updates to the Council. Updates were mandated by state law. I was the sole negative vote (and I’m considered by many to be a leading environmentalist in the City and would have been expected to vote for this thing). I said then that the update would be viewed by residents as yet another example of what could not be done with their property. I advocated inclusion of Low Impact Development techniques as a relief valve. Use of LID can mitigate sensitive area issues. But the chairman of the commission at the time wouldn’t even allow discussion. So the vote was held and I filed the first minority dissent ever made.
  • The SMP because a huge controversy. The Council wound up rewriting it two or three times and it probably was a leading cause for the defeat of two commissioners who ran for council in 2009.

I could list a few more examples, but these suffice.

George H. W. Bush went on to win the presidency. But he never came to grips with the Vision Thing. Nothing I see at the City suggests it will, either.

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