The Sammamish City Council is poised to approve the management agreement with the YMCA on Feb. 19.
The lengthy agreement is here: ComCtrOpAgreement21413
In a last-ditch effort to alter the path toward the Community Center size and YMCA element, Arthur Goldman, an opponent, commissioned a public opinion survey that concluded an opposite result to the November advisory vote in which citizens approved the Center and the Y deal. Goldman’s letter to the Council is below the jump.
The Citizens for Sammamish this month held a meeting about the Community Center. I attended, as did Councilmen Don Gerend and Ramiro Valderrama; several employees for Columbia Athletic Center/Pine Lake Club and officials of the YMCA.
Frankly (and I more or less said so) I found the meeting to be perplexing since the die was cast. With the advisory vote a clear winner–by nearly 7 percentage points (Obama won by four and Inslee by three)–the City Council fairly could conclude it had a mandate to proceed with the $30m building, the YMCA management agreement and the $1/yr lease of the Y’s property next to Pine Lake Middle School for eventual development of another recreational facility.
The owner of the Pine Lake Club accused the City of double-dealing and dishonesty. But in the end, nothing was going to change and nothing did.
See below the jump for written exchanges and the public opinion survey.
Arthur Goldman Letter:
What The Citizens Really Want
Our Mayor and City Council of Sammamish miraculously one day knew the citizens wanted a $30,000,000 community/aquatics center run by a non-profit, so there was no need to consider other alternatives that could save millions of dollars, evaluate the impact on local business or put this proposal out to bid.
I found it particularly interesting that when I talked to several hundred residents, almost every person without question initially supported the idea of a community center based upon the information they were receiving. You would be crazy not to trust years of studies, surveys and significant planning performed by City! When you add no increase in taxes and no new taxes, why would anyone oppose this new facility?
As I explained to Sammamish residents the issues, over 90% who originally agreed with the City now disagreed with the current plan. Had I talked to ten thousand residents, not several hundred residents, the recent Proposition 1 would have failed miserably.
To learn more what the people really wanted I hired an independent research firm. Below is a summary of the results.
- Only 18% of Sammamish citizens support the City’s current approach of assigning the operation of the Community Center without a competitive bid process.
- When provided 3 options for a community center, the least popular choice was the City’s current plan, receiving support from only 21% of the respondents. The most popular option, a 45,000 square foot facility built and run by a private developer, was very similar to the offer made by the Columbia Athletic Club that the City both ignored and never disclosed to voters. Whether the two other options provided are viable is only part of the issue; why were no other options considered and discussed with residents?
- If building a 60,000 square foot facility could put the YMCA out of business, respondents overwhelmingly said (by a 2 to 1 margin) to keep the YMCA in business by building a smaller community center. When the same question was asked about a private health club, a higher percentage (58% versus 54%) indicated they preferred the City to build a smaller facility that would keep the local company in business.
(Here is the 19 page PDF opinion survey:) Sammamish Community Center Final Report
Why is it so clear to the residents of Sammamish, but not our leaders, that we want the City to explore more than one option, we want the process to be a fair and competitive process and we should not treat businesses that support our community disrespectfully? Using City Hall to decide which businesses succeed and which companies fail is not the role of government. Have flaws have been exposed in both the information provided to us by our leadership to achieve their objectives and their decision making process?
Our Mayor and City Council have a choice. They can attack me and my survey, they can ignore my survey and proceed ahead against the wishes of a majority of the people they are supposed to represent, or they can work with concerned citizens and businesses to develop a plan that has a clear super-majority support of the residents. No one is questioning that residents want a community center, just not the City’s current single option plan that goes over the top to compete with private business and was never even put out to bid.
If the City Council doubts my survey, I am more than willing to talk with the City about a new survey at no cost to the City. As a concerned citizen, all I ask is that the City agrees to let me have input to assure the questions are fair and the Council agrees not to ignore the results.
While I cannot stop the Mayor or Council from proceeding in their current direction, I can continue to educate the public. And when it is election time, I believe we will be seeing new people on the Council who truly care about good governance and what their citizens really want.
PS As Councilman Curley has openly communication his opposition to the current plan, I do not include him in any of my remarks above and thank him for being willing to consider other options.
The following is an email exchange I had with Goldman when he brought his survey to my attention; the questions are mine, followed by his answers:
What do you hope to accomplish with these surveys?
I wanted to learn what the citizens really wanted! I felt our city leaders had an agenda and they were misleading the people that they are supposed to represent. I think my simple survey raises some legitimate questions, but of course the Council has no interest in considering anything that does not support their desires.
I hoped the City would consider an independent survey and would:
1. present to residents other alternatives for how the money could be spent,
2. consider the impact on local businesses (or even the Y if they did not get the management contract),
3. consider a smaller facility more friendly to business and less expensive
4. and if they decided to push ahead and ignore the above, would use a RFP/bid process.
Additionally, if they continue in their current direction, I was happy to provide information that anyone who wanted to run for a council position in the future could use to discuss how the current workings of the City could be improved.
In the big picture, I have read several articles that discuss the role of government. None of them even remotely discuss building a community center. In fact, they are very clear to separate the roles of public sector (government) and the private sector. The public sector should only step in to handle the vital needs of the community (safety, schools, infrastructure, etc.) and may consider other needs (wants) that are not being handled by the private sector. In this instance, we had at least one business, and maybe more, willing to build a health club/community center at tremendous savings to the City, but the City just ignored them and withheld this information from voters.
Why should the City accept your data over a vote of the citizens?
Because over 47% of the citizens opposed their current direction, when a better thought out plan might have passed by 80%. A City should strive to unite their citizens, not divide them! This isn’t like a presidential election where you start with a dozen or more candidates (choices) and select the very best. This was a single option, with a lot of misleading information that was pushed through by the council. Key information was withheld and alternatives were neither considered nor offered. If you wanted a community center, more swimming space or a new Y, you had to vote yes because you had no other alternative.
What do you expect the City to do with these results?
Let me answer a question with a question. Who proceeds ahead with a project of this magnitude without doing an impact study or taking an honest survey to learn what their citizens really want? The City’s own survey expert (off the record) calls the City’s survey misleading and designed to get a pre-desired result. I was hoping that the council would take me up on my offer where I would pay for a new survey, created by people with numerous interests including the City, Y, Pine Lake Club, swimmers, tennis players, etc. Questions would provide residents options and let them prioritize their desires. Then the City would put a plan together to use the $25 million based upon what the people they represent really wanted, not what the council wanted.