Failing the public trust in Sammamish, failures of leadership from the Council

The Sammamish City Council is failing the public trust.

All you have to do is watch the video of the June 17 City Council meeting to understand this bold statement.

When we became a city in 1999 (after the 1998 vote to incorporate), there were high hopes about getting out from under an unresponsive and arrogant King County government, the Council and departments, who viewed Sammamish as a dumping ground for development but without supporting infrastructure. We could communicate with “downtown” till the cows came home and our concerns would fall on deaf ears.

In the early days of our city, our council and staff indeed proved more responsive to citizen concerns. Today, our City is certainly more responsive to infrastructure requirements–but responsiveness to citizens has been slowly returning to “downtown” mentality.

Long-time readers of this column know the evolution of support I’ve expressed for the City Council and policies to a great deal of concern as arrogance and tone-deafness has set in. I need not recount all these issues, but instead will focus on what came up at the June 17 meeting.

East Lake Sammamish Trail

The ELST was a hot political issue during the 1999, 2001 and 2003 City Council races. I supported establishing the Lake Trail and I use it often. It’s a great amenity. Now, King County is spending millions of dollars to pave the trail (I prefer the gravel trail) at a time when the money probably could be better spent elsewhere.

What is especially concerning about the trail “improvement” process is the apparent rough-shod approach by the County, with the tactic and explicit approval of the City of Sammamish. Resident after resident testified during public comment that trees are being cut down, some unnecessarily, the trail path is being altered and environmental codes appear to be violated. Reid Brockway and his wife testified about code violations and an attorney representing some homeowners testified about the trail alignment issues as well as landscaping and privacy issues.

I’ve been told for some time that the City has been unresponsive to these issues, and the testimony of many residents provide a compelling case that the City needs to step up and represent their interests.

The cutting down of valuable trees opens the prospect of homeowners filing claims against the County and perhaps the City for the cost of these trees. There are complicated formulae to establish the value of trees, which can run to tens of thousands of dollars per tree.

Big Rock Park

Interspersed among those testifying about ELST were a few residents speaking about Big Rock Park, which is on SE 8th St. at 218th. There was a lengthy public process that resulted in a passive park design. According to testimony, the City has now made substantial changes that alters the previously agreed plan–without additional information to the public.

The speakers questioned, Why have a public process if the City is going to later ignore and do what it wants?

On this last point, welcome to the club. In 1999 there was a public process concerning the proposed Sammamish City Hall. The public made recommendations and the City proceeded to do what it wanted anyway. A citizen by the name of Bob Keller later complained about the ignored public process. Keller was elected to the City Council last November–let’s hope his 1999 experience will prompt him to advocate for citizens in these cases.

The City Council has a long history of ignoring public sentiment. Five council-appointed citizen committees and commissions, with 70 citizens serving, recommended all commercial development for the Town Center be around the Sammamish Commons. A public meeting with 200 citizens attending opposed a “corridor” concept with commercial on both sides of 228th Ave. A successive series of City Councils ignored these and adopted a “peanut butter” approach, spreading commercial on both sides of 228th and splitting the commercial “mass” that makes development viable. To date, no commercial has proceeded and the only development east of 228th proposed is residential, which is what it should have been all along.

Also on the current agenda, so-to-speak: continued drive to assume the local water districts despite clear indications that citizens aren’t interested in the City “fixing what ain’t broken.”

The City of Sammamish is failing the public trust more and more often. It’s time to regroup, reevaluate its approach to its own citizens to become more responsive. This is a leadership issue from the Council–and the Council has been failing in its leadership–which is led this year and next by Mayor Tom Vance and Deputy Mayor Kathy Huckabay. It’s rather astounding that Huckabay says this is the first time she is hearing about many of these issues.

City Manager Ben Yacizi made an eloquent set of statements after the public comment closed about helping the County with its interaction with the Citizens–and this is good–but I’m struck with the question, Where was this pledge before? These are hardly issues that were unknown before June 17. What Yacizi has outlined is good–but it’s too little, too late for the North end of ELST.

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