Sammamish Mayor Tom Vance promised in March the City Council would have a
discussion of the controversial 42nd Street barricade in July or September.
July came and went. No discussion.
Now September City Council meetings have come and gone. No discussion.
The NE 42nd St barricade issue has been around for 10 years and, other than the East Lake Sammamish Trail and tree retention has probably been the most controversial and lingering issues facing the Sammamish City Council.
Citizens packed the Council chamber at the March 17 meeting, providing long public comment in support of retaining and removing the barricade, a holdover from the days before Sammamish was incorporated and King County approved development here.
King County approved all the development in the far Northwest corner of the City, from the Timberline subdivisions whose entrance is off Sahalee Way at NE 37th, to the “thumb” of the City, where the entrance is off SR 202 at 192nd St.
About half way between the two points, on 42nd St., is a barricade approved by the County. At the time these subdivisions were approved, SR 202 was a two-lane highway and the County wanted to prevent cut-through traffic into these new subdivisions. Neighborhood streets weren’t designed as arterials and the route between SR 202 and Sahalee Way would be circuitous, with some sight-distance issues and other technical challenges.
The County’s approval of the barricade was intended to be temporary, with it removed after SR 202 was improved to its current design. After Sammamish was incorporated, the City deferred action on the barricade until after the SR 202 improvements.
There is pressure from some in the Timberline neighborhoods to remove the barricade, to provide access alternative to Sahalee Way to SR 202. Some residents in the Hidden Ridge subdivision, on the SR 202 side, don’t want the barricade removed, fearing increased traffic and safety issues. Some in Timberline also oppose removal for the same reasons.
The issue has been knocking around for 10 years, with increasing pressure on the Council. It came to a boiling point in February and March. In February, the Council, with short notice, approved a resolution that essentially was a stand-still. At the March 17 Council meeting, scores of residents on both sides of the barricade and on both sides of the issues filled the Chamber to protest, advocate or oppose inaction, retention or removal of the barricades.
At the end of the meeting, the Council debated what to do and when to do it.
In the end, Mayor Tom Vance concluded that the Council would have a discussion in July or September to decide how to proceed, “more likely in September.”
July came and went and so did September with no discussion.
Kicking the can down the road
At the March 17 meeting, City Manager Ben Yazici said he didn’t have the staff to undertake a study or a process this year to address the issue, citing workload: road projects, the Community Center and the pending vote (and assumed approval) of the Klahanie area annexation.
“I would agree with him, we need to kick this can down the road a bit,” said Council Member Tom Odell. “This is something I think can wait.”
Council Member Nancy Whitten didn’t agree.
“I sympathize with the staff work load,” said Whitten. “However, the people have been coming to us for 10 years and it’s something they were promised a resolution on” after SR 202 improvements were completed. “It came up in several discussions last year. At one point we were going to hear it in October or November…. Then we were to discuss it in February or March and then it was just dropped.
“These people are entitled to some finality.”
“There are issues here that we dealt with 10 years ago,” said Member Don Gerend. “I was here when we dealt with them, and we made some promises.”
Gerend asked the staff to collect the promises made and present them to the Council, which would provide the basis for a decision how to proceed.
“I would agree with Council Member Gerend that we should gather the information that’s there,” said Member Bob Keller, and give the Council a framework for a process that might conclude it wouldn’t be this year or even next, but with some clarity other than just “kick[ing] the can down the road.”
Deputy Mayor Kathy Huckabay noted that there might be mitigation issues involved, “and we need to understand that we need to go through a public process. I do not believe we can do that and do that justice this year. I don’t know that we can do that in 2016. If we have to kick it down to the next biennium I would be comfortable with that.”
Yacizi said studying the 42nd St. barricade issue will be far more complex than the controversial decision and process to remove barricades on SE 32nd St. There’s a lot of study, public process and “hand-holding” that will be involved in the 42nd St. issue, he said.
“I support Council Member Gerend’s position and Council Member Whitten’s position,” said Member Ramiro Valderrama. “This has been looked at for over a decade.
“The pressure we’re under right now is a monster of our own creation. In November we told them there would be a hearing. We then came back to them and told them we would address it in March. Then suddenly it appears with one week notice in February, and they all believed the resolution was going solve things and be definitive. Then we told them there was going to be something taking place today. The pressure is actually being created by ourselves.”
“I saw a lot of the passion tonight on both sides of the issue,” said Vance. “I think there’s a belief we can just make up our minds and change everything tomorrow. We can’t do that. This is going to take a process.
“I don’t think it’s going to happen this year,” Vance said. “It is worthwhile to at least begin that conversation in terms of a time to get this process done and when it should be and if we can find a way to do it next year.”
“I think we need more of a commitment than we will ‘try’ and do it next year,” said Whitten. “We’ve been ‘trying’ to do this for 10 years.” The people need a definitive commitment, she said. “Let’s get the information” and decide on the process and timeframe. “I hope that will be the outcome of whatever is happening immediately,” she said in the March 17 meeting.
Yazici said that by the end of May, staff will gather all the information and put together a matrix and Council could review it and decide how to proceed.
“We do have opportunities to discuss this in July, perhaps in September,” said Vance, “more likely September.”
The previous studies were delivered to the Council in May, but no matrix, and nothing has been done about it since.
Highly emotional issue, facts in dispute
The issue is highly emotional, principally because of the fears of increased traffic through quiet neighborhoods and the resulting safety concerns that residents have.
The principal pressure to remove the barricade comes from one person, Greg Reynolds, a Timberline resident who claims to represent a large number of residents. The key reasons he cites for removing the barricades are dispersing traffic from its concentration to Sahalee Way, quicker access to SR 202 and providing a second access to Timberline for emergencies. Reynolds presented traffic studies and other data, as well as testimony in support of removing the barricade. Some residents also favored removing the barricade for emergency reasons.
The principal spokesman against removing the barricade was Richard B. Kuprewicz, a Hidden Ridge resident who has since moved to California. Kuprewicz, a risk-manager and analyst whose profession is assessing risks, said removing the barricade would cause a host of safety issues that could lead to a car-pedestrian accident or fatality in the future. He said there is a “negative camber” on the street where the barricade is located, adding to safety concerns. He points out the barricade is an opti-scan gate that can be opened by emergency vehicles.
Emotions run high on both sides, with charges and counter-charges common.
Vance says people are “lying”
In February, when the City adopted a Resolution on short notice concerning the barricade, emotions began to peak.
In an email dated Feb. 2 obtained by Sammamish Comment, Mayor Vance accused unidentified people of lying.
“Some of your neighbors have forwarded to me a very disturbing email concerning the barricade at NE 42nd St. Particularly distressing is the comment that I and the City Manager are actively trying to remove the barricade and are for connectivity at all costs,” Vance wrote to the board of the Timberline Park Homeowners Assn.
“I am not sure where you are getting this information. If someone is telling you this, it is a lie. The City has no plans nor any discussions with regard to removing the barricade. To my knowledge, no member of our Council is in favor of removing the barricade. The City Manager has never suggested to me that removing the barricade is at all desirable or even feasible, given current conditions.”
(Sammamish Comment knows of at least one member of the City Council who favors removal providing mitigation is included.)
Vance wrote that the Council was expected to adopt a resolution (this is the one approved in February) retaining the barricade for the time being. He closed his email, “I would be happy to speak to your board about this issue. But, to reiterate, I have never, nor even now, been in favor of removing the barricade. And whoever is making that assertion is lying to you.”
At a subsequent meeting with the Board, it was claimed by one of those present that Vance repeated his charge and demanded a retraction in a “bullying” manner.
Despite the emotional public appearance at the March 17 meeting and statement by Vance there would be a discussion of the documents provided to the Council in May and how to proceed to a process and resolution, no discussions occurred in either July or September.