The Sammamish City Council election this year has a number of issues before voters. One of the key issues is not about roads or trees or parks or finances. It’s about a philosophy of government. It’s about standing up to the government and for the citizens or standing up for the status quo.
Mayor Tom Vance, seeking reelection, and Mark Cross, a former mayor and city councilman seeking to return to the Council after a four year absence, stand for the status quo. They have endorsed each other for election.
Council Member Ramiro Valderrama, seeking reelection to a second term, Christie Malchow (running opposite Cross) and Tom Hornish (opposite Vance), both newcomers, stand for standing up to government and for the citizens.
Under Vance’s two years as mayor, he’s proved less interested in citizen concerns and
more interested in protecting the power of City government–and the power of the Gang of 4 ruling majority on the Council.
The City Council practiced benign neglect on several issues until scores and scores of residents packed the Council chambers to protest grievances against City Hall: an insufficient tree ordinance, King County’s intractable heavy hand in developing the East Lake Sammamish Trail, barricades and rampant development ignoring City code and ordinances, just to name four issues.
Vance famously dismissed public comment and public process with the remark that this and 25 cents would get you a cup of coffee–obviously a metaphor given that coffee at Starbucks is several dollars.
Vance’s campaign advertising has, tellingly, been all about Tom Vance and why he gets satisfaction out of serving on the City Council–not about what he can do for the people.
Silencing a critic
Vance and the Gang actively tried to recruit a candidate to run against Valderrama, who opposes the tactics of the power-protecting group. Hank Klein, of the Park Commission, was recruited, not on the basis of having an agenda or platform of issues on which to run, but because he wanted to bring a nicer approach to the council than the often abrasive Valderrama. Klein would have made the Gang of 4 the Gang of 5, but in July he dropped out of the race for “personal reasons.” It was too late to remove his name from the ballot, however.
Cross, who served on the City Council well and admirably from 2004 to 2012, will be a reliable member of the Gang and a protector of the status quo. His first action as a candidate was to endorse Vance for reelection. Vance returned the favor, as did two other members of the Gang.
There is no doubt Cross is well qualified, but he revealed that government comes first and citizens second when he stood up at a Council meeting to defend King County’s inflexible trail design of the East Lake Sammamish Trail that threatens to destroy “significant” trees (high quality trees with large-diameter trunks) and unreasonably encroach on properties. Cross made it clear he will not listen to citizens over government. His campaigning is all about projects, but, up to this point at least, not about people.
Valderrama, along with retiring Council Member Nancy Whitten, spent the last four years as Citizen Advocate on the Council. Valderrama’s fingernails-on-the-blackboard approach hardly is soothing to listen to, but without it, property owners along the Lake Trail, barricades and on other issues wouldn’t have gotten a hearing before the City Council. For years he was the sole advocate on the Council in favor of the Initiative and Referendum, powers for the people granted by the State Constitution but denied to Sammamish citizens from the day of the incorporation. He kept advocating for the Citizens for Sammamish grass roots group effort to adopt the I&R until the Council agreed to put the issue on the April ballot for an advisory vote. The issue prevailed in a 55.5%-44.5% margin.
Even then, two members of the Gang of 4–Deputy Mayor Kathy Huckabay and Council Member Tom Odell–continued to oppose enacting the ordinance to the very end. Vance allowed his own opposing view to be recorded as an affirmative vote rather than stick with his convictions and be recorded in the negative in this election year. (Mark Cross has stated his opposition to I&R as well.) The fourth member of the Gang honored the citizen vote.
Valderrama is one incumbent who will continue to represent the citizens.
Putting their money where their mouth is against government
Malchow spent more than $15,000 to challenge a City Staff approval of the Chestnut Estates West subdivision that had environmental and traffic impact implications. The City’s own Hearing Examiner upheld her appeal (and that of two other citizen groups), ruling the City improperly approved the project. Malchow faces new legal expenses after the developer filed an appeal of the Examiner’s decision.
She demonstrated a willingness to challenge government and the status quo, protecting the environment and neighborhoods in the process. It’s clear she will continue if elected (obviously having to recuse herself from the Chestnut litigation that almost certainly will continue into the next City Council term), challenging staff and City Administration decisions in the process–something that a successive series of City Councils, including Vance’s City Council, has failed to do.
Hornish, like Malchow, has challenged government. As president of the Sammamish Home Owners (SHO) group, which represents property owners along the Lake Trail, he’s led the challenge to King County’s intractable and heavy-handed development of the North end of the ELST. For more than a year, little success was achieved against King County–or in getting Vance’s City Council to pay attention to the problems. With Valderrama’s help, Hornish finally got traction. It was largely too late for the North end development, but design of Section 2A (the 7-11 south to the Issaquah City Limits) was held up as the City finally got involved and attempted to negotiate with the County for flexibility (the very flexibility Cross opposes).
If elected to Vance’s seat, Hornish will have to recuse himself from ELST issues due to pending litigation against the City and County of which SHO is a part. But Hornish, having been on the receiving end of the County’s treatment and the City’s benign neglect of citizen concerns, won’t be part of the Gang nor of the status quo.