Sammamish voters should vote Yes on the April 28 Advisory Ballot for the Initiative/Referendum.
As long-time readers of this column know, I’ve been conflicted over whether Sammamish should adopt the right of Initiative and Referendum, as provided in the 1912 Washington State Constitution. But events since the first of the year convinced me this is the correct decision on the part of the voters. The Sammamish City Council informally said it will follow the outcome of the Advisory vote. This should be the case even if a Yes vote is narrow.
King County Elections is mailing the ballot this week.
Here’s why I’ve come down for the Yes.
Since the first of the year–and so far, it’s been a short year–it’s become undeniably clear that our City Council and the City Administration are out of touch with residents on too many important issues.
East Lake Sammamish Trail
The City’s inaction to long-running complaints by property owners along the northern end of the Trail about how King County was running roughshod over them was detailed in my January 17 investigative report about the willful ignorance and Council in-fighting for the better part of a year.
This was a total failure of our government for its citizens. There are those on the current City Council who have complete disdain for the lakefront owners, dismissing them as a bunch of complainers, and have had since we became a city in 1999, over development of the ELST. To be sure, the property owners brought a lot of this on themselves through their tactics, but King County’s bullying and thuggery, and environmental abuse, was so egregious that the City should have stepped in. It didn’t, for a very long time, ignoring the call to arms by Council member Ramiro Valderrama in the process because a majority of four, the so-called Gang of Four (see the end of this post), chose to dismiss him as a crank or, even if agreeing he was right, didn’t support his efforts to bring the issues before the Council.
Even after the City finally got involved, Deputy Mayor Kathy Huckabay suggested that the County be given the “benefit of the doubt.” The County forfeited the “benefit of the doubt,” and has to earn it back. This remains to be seen.
How this City Council member, who is part of the Gang of Four, could advocate this is illustrative of continuing to be out of touch.
Huckabay, in April 2014, said she didn’t want ELST residents writing the City asking for this or that. She also said she was unaware of the issues until that April. My January 17 report details how neither she nor the Council wanted to know about the issues.
These statements, and the City’s inaction for a year, as I detailed in that January 17 report, demonstrates a City Administration and a City Council woefully out of touch with its constituency.
As I reported March 24, no other issue currently comes before the Council with more passion that the subject of barricades, and specifically the one on 42nd Street in the far northeast corner of the City. The recent events surrounding the 42nd Street barricade are another example of a City Administration and a City Council out of touch.
The Gang of Four once again coalesced to put off any action until at least next year–other than the City Staff pulling together 10 years worth of reading material–despite three Council Members, Don Gerend, Nancy Whitten and Valderrama, pointing out that the residents in the area have been promised a permanent solution for 10 years. Huckabay is fine with putting off action for two years.
See my March 24 post for full details.
As Valderrama pointed out in the March 17 City Council meeting, this issue is a mess of the Council’s own making. He’s right that the City needs to clean this up this year.
City Manager Ben Yacizi warned that he doesn’t have the staff to take on this issue this year, without either hiring more staff or removing some tasks assigned by the City Council. So be it. The residents deserve an answer after 10 years. Not in 11, and certainly not in 12.
A majority of the City Council does not want to give our citizens the right to Initiative or Referendum. They fear a “Tim Eyman” (whoever that might be) will run amok with costly elections and costly subjects to implement. I have to admit, the abuse by Eyman of state initiatives, and the hijacking by Big Money interests, of initiatives are why I’ve been ambivalent about Sammamish adopting this right.
But as I pointed out to Yacizi and Mayor Tom Vance on the sidelines of the City’s retreat in January, neither they nor the rest of the City Council understands what’s driving the Initiative. It’s the belief and perception that neither the Council nor the Administration listen to citizens. The ELST and barricades are two high-profile examples. The development of Big Rock Park is another. Citizen input was largely tossed aside in favor of a multi-million dollar development plan that in some respects were directly contrary to what citizens had been led to believe would be the outcome of the input.
The City still doesn’t get what’s behind the drive. Some Council Members dismiss the Citizens for Sammamish (CFS) and its chairman, Harry Shedd, the proponents for the Initiative and Referendum, as a bunch of complainers and, in Shedd’s case, a member of the Tea Party.
Shedd denies he’s a member of the Tea Party, but whether he is or isn’t is beside the point. He strongly believes Sammamish citizens should have the right as provided by the State Constitution. Shedd doesn’t have any issue he wants to put to an Initiative, should it be adopted–but he believes citizens should have the right.
People who attend the CFS meetings regularly talk about an unresponsive City Council and City Administration and view the Initiative and Referendum as a check to hold over the City Council should it be needed.
Clearly, the discontent is the driver, not a drive to become “Tim Eyman Jr.” to bombard Sammamish with a bunch of Initiatives, many of which may be frivolous.
Out of touch, ignoring citizens goes way back
The pattern of putting off issues for years, ignoring citizen complaints and ignoring citizen input when a consensus is reached is hardly unique to this City Council. Now-Council Member Bob Keller likes to go all the way back to the topic of what the City Hall should look like had citizen consensus in 1999, which was dismissed by that City Council as an example of how the City ignores citizens. Keller is now on the City Council but he’s part of the Gang of Four. He didn’t step up on the ELST and he supports putting the barricade issue over to next year. He did vote to put the Initiative to an advisory vote, along with five other Council Members. Only Tom Odell, staying true to his opposition to granting the right, voted against even giving citizens a say.
And that’s endemic of what’s going on in our City.
And that’s why I came around to supporting a Yes vote.
- A majority of the City Council wanting to deny citizens of the right to initiative;
- Odell objecting to even giving the citizens an advisory vote;
- Huckabay stating on the record, at a recorded City Council meeting, she doesn’t want citizens writing the Council telling them what they want;
- Vance, Huckabay, Odell and Keller fine with putting over another year (or even two in Huckabay’s case) any action on the 42nd St. barricade despite 10 years of promises;
- A history of successive City Councils ignoring citizen inputs; and
- A City Administration that engages in delaying tactics.
Despite risking a “Tim Eyman Jr.,” the history outlined above is enough that the citizens of Sammamish should vote Yes on the Initiative and Referendum: to send a message to remind the City to whom they report and to retain an additional method of recourse aside from elections.
Defining “The Gang of Four”
The “Gang of Four” is a phrase used to describe the majority coalition consisting of Vance, Huckabay, Keller and Odell. The first three are close allies on and off the Council and, if you watch council meetings, typically vote as a bloc. Odell usually votes with the former three, but objects to being characterized as a member of the Gang of Four.
Whitten has long been an outlier on the Council, considered such for her crankiness and inability to play as a team member. She asks questions that need to be asked, often embarrassing ones, and the Gang of Four (as well as the City Administration) often ignore her requests for information.
Valderrama has joined Whitten’s status over his four years as an outlier, largely for similar reasons. Oddly, Valderrama and Odell sometimes wind up as allies on budget matters over parks, railing against what they see as scope-creep that results in what they see as out-of-control parks budgets.
Gerend occasionally has his feet in one camp or the other, depending on the issues. When he is aligned with Whitten and Valderrama, as he is on the barricades, he’s on the losing end of a 4-3 vote or consensus. He’s frequently allied with the Gang of Four to provide a fifth vote against the Whitten-Valderrama dissension.