All too often, elected officials forget who they were elected to serve. This unfortunately is the case with some on the Sammamish City Council.
During the course of this year, Sammamish Comment chronicled a number of important issues in which the Council and the City Administration practiced benign neglect. In many cases, individual Council Members have pursued personal agenda, played follow the leader or blamed citizens for being whiners or misunderstanding what they are supposed to understand.
These attitudes are why Washington D.C. and Olympia (WA) are so dysfunctional and failing to serve the peoples’ interest in pursuit of their own. It’s why Sammamish citizens voted to incorporate in 1998: to get out from under an unresponsive King County government that ignored our wishes and needs.
Certainly being our own City proved far more beneficial than being under the King County Council. We have roads and parks we weren’t going to get under the County rule. We have community events, notably our Fourth of July, Sammamish Nights and similar activities we’d never get under King County.
But the City is letting citizens down in a number of areas due to the benign neglect and personal agendas referenced above. For example:
Skipping the Cascadia Rising earthquake drill
There are a lot of things in government that fall within the category of “What were you thinking?”
Skipping the Cascadia Rising earthquake drill tops the list.
The Sammamish Comment revealed October 5 that the City skipped the sign-up deadline last year to participate in a regional Cascadia Rising earthquake preparedness drill that outlines a scenario of a 7.2 magnitude earthquake hitting Sammamish. (The scenario’s epicenter is the Cascadia Subduction Fault off the Washington coastline, with a 9.0 epicenter magnitude.)
Sammamish had no plans to participate. Until after The Comment began making inquiries.
This is a huge public safety issue. This is the worst example of benign neglect yet by our City and City Council. Read the details here.
Protecting trees: too little, too late
This is the classic case of closing the barn door after the horse got loose. It’s a classic case of the City and City Council failing to anticipate in advance a problem and reacting too late to it.
The City’s tree protection ordinance was always a weak one. While the ordinance required retention of 25% of trees on a lot to be development, and permits to be obtained before removal, the penalties were so weak that developers could, and did, sometimes ignore the requirements. The small fines were merely the cost of doing business.
Meanwhile, individual property owners faced the requirements, which for them, could be costly.
It was only after the Kampp Property development (the large swath of land on 228th Ave. SE at SE 20th) was clear cut, followed by a heavy rain that sent dirt and sediment into sensitive Pine Lake, did the City wake up that there was a problem. An emergency tree retention ordinance was passed at the end of 2014 and a permanent ordinance the following summer. The retention percentage was bumped up and so were fines.
But the suggestion that any developer who violated the ordinance be faced with a six month stop work order was cast aside.
Furthermore, this ordinance is only for future projects for which applications are filed after adoption. Every project in the pipeline is vested to the old ordinance and won’t be affected. Only 2.5% of all the land in Sammamish will be affected by this ordinance.
This is a classic example of failure to anticipate. It’s a failure of leadership by Mayor Vance and Deputy Mayor Huckabay, two self-proclaimed environmentalists.
East Lake Sammamish Trail
In January this year, Sammamish Comment posted an 18-page investigative report about how the City Administration and the City Council ignored citizen complaints and pleas for help as King County ran roughshod over them, removing hundreds (or thousands by one estimate) of trees, including high quality ones; made it impossible for some residents to get into their own garages; encroaching on property owners; and other grievances.
The Sammamish Home Owners group, led by Tom Hornish, tried for a year to get the City to act and to get the City Council involved.
Ramiro Valderrama and, earlier, Tom Odell, were the only Council Members to listen to the
citizens. Valderrama tried for six months to get the Council’s attention, but Mayor Tom Vance and Deputy Mayor Kathy Huckabay refused to put the matter on the agenda and Odell, despite his earlier meetings with property owners, didn’t back him up. None of the other Council Members did either. It was only after Valderrama’s persistence and some other factors did the City finally start responding to the complaints.
Huckabay, the Deputy Mayor, throughout the second half of 2014, famously kept repeating the fiction that the issues didn’t reach the Council level until April that year. As Sammamish Comment revealed, Huckabay didn’t want to know—and neither did the Council—because most considered the lakefront homeowners to be a bunch of whiners and whacko loons. While this reputation is deserved by a few, the City’s benign neglect was a classic example of government failure for its citizens.
Council candidate Mark Cross, who filed to run for Whitten’s open seat and against Christie Malchow, testified in public comment that the design of the trail should not be altered in any way to take into account special circumstances affecting property owners. Cross steadfastly supported an 18 ft wide trail, including six feet of soft shoulders (three on each side of the 12 ft paved trail), even when environmental and property circumstances
suggested some narrowing of the soft shoulders. Cross supported the 18 ft trail for “safety” reasons for bicyclists.
Shortly thereafter the Cascade Bicycle Club endorsed Cross. But the local citizens he hopes to represent—and the environment he claims to want to protect—suffer.
Barricades: 10 years and counting
This is another benign neglect issue.
The residents on both sides of the 42nd Street barricade has waited 10 years for resolution. Once again, promises made (this time by Mayor Vance) to have a discussion “in July or September” have been broken. Several Council Members wanted to put off this discussion to next year (it appears they will get their wish), and Deputy Mayor Huckabay wants to put it off for another two years.
Barricades are a controversial subject, and the City has been ignoring the topic for years.
Badly approved development and hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees
This is costing the City hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees to defend against citizen appeals and more recently a developer who is suing the City for damages.
Some developments approved by the City Staff have sufficiently ignored our own rules and regulations as to prompt citizens to appeal the projects to the City Hearing Examiner. In some cases, lawsuits have been filed against the City.
Council Member Valderrama says he has asked repeatedly for a tally of the legal costs to defend the City against these appeals, and the lawsuits, some of which citizens have won. So far, he says the City Administration has not produced the information.
(In a public records request by Malchow, the City disclosed it had paid $100,000 in legal fees in the Chestnut Estates West appeal.)
More recently, William E. Buchan Inc. filed a lawsuit against the City seeking unspecified damages because the Hearing Examiner denied the application. Buchan itself appealed the City Staff’s conditions set on the plat approval and citizen groups also appealed. The Examiner concluded the Staff should never have approved the plat in the first place.
The City gets part of its revenue from processing permits from developers. But at what cost to the legal budget and the environment—and to the pocket books of the citizens who fight City Hall?
Isolating minority Council Members
Council Members Nancy Whitten and Valderrama have been isolated and ignored by the
majority Council Members for years. To be sure, Whitten proved many times during her three terms to be cantankerous, picayune and infuriating. During her second term, her most important issue seemed to be getting out of her driveway on busy 228th during rush hour. But she asked questions that needed to be asked and consistently advocated for the environment—something the self-branded environmentalists on the Council didn’t always do.
Whitten was isolated, kept off council committees and more often than not was ignored by fellow Council Members and even the City Administration. Mayors Vance and Odell, when he held the office, dismissed Whitten. To be sure, she’s a difficult personality, but she was elected three times by citizens with between 53% and 55% of the vote.
Valderrama joined with Whitten four years ago for his first term with 56.5% of the vote in a contest marked by scurrilous accusations against him.
During his first term, Valderrama proved to be a real thorn in the side of the ruling majority of the Council and of the Administration. A forceful personality, Valderrama was more than willing to take issues the majority and Administration wanted to keep out of the limelight and put them into the public domain at Council meetings. His persistence over the Lake Trail became an irritant, as he was on other issues, including giving the right to vote to the Klahanie area residents after they voted to annex to Sammamish. The physical annexation became effective July 31, but the City Council delayed voting rights to Jan. 1—some say to deny votes for Valderrama and candidates Tom Hornish and Christie Malchow, the latter two opponents of Vance and for Whitten’s open seat respectively. City officials said the decision to put off enfranchising Klahanie was all about staff workload.
As Valderrama increasingly became the squeaky wheel, the Council leadership—Vance, Huckabay and City Manager Ben Yacizi—increasingly ignored Valderrama’s requests to put topics on the agenda: the Lake Trail, barricades, the Transportation Improvement Plan and others. Under Council rules, the leadership makes up the agenda, or if four Council Members agreed, the leadership could be overruled or bypassed. But the current Council Majority is comprised of Vance, Huckabay, Odell and Bob Keller, the so-called Gang of 4, and Valderrama can’t muster four votes to overrule the Leadership.
Many of his requests to the Administration have been rejected because he didn’t have “four votes.”
Most ironically: two of the Gang of 4 privately concede Valderrama is often right, yet they won’t deviate from the Gang to support him.
And the citizens bear the consequences.
Initiative and Referendum: a Constitutional right opposed
This is perhaps the most shameful example of personal agendas vs citizens’ rights.
Citizens for Sammamish (CFS), a grass roots group, advocated for two years to give Sammamish citizens the right to Initiative and Referendum. Valderrama was the greatest advocate on the Council and for most of this time, the only advocate. The other six Council Members, Vance, Huckabay, Odell, Keller, Gerend and Whitten, opposed it due to the abuse on the state level by Tim Eyman and also because Big Money interests were hijacking what Constitutional writers intended to be a citizens’ right.
Over time, Valderrama picked up Whitten’s support. Citizens for Sammamish continued to press and in January the Council decided to put the issue to an Advisory Vote in April to see where citizens stood. An informal consensus said they would honor the outcome of the vote. Odell was the lone vote against even sending the issue to the voters, a principled vote on his part but a stunning statement about how he views the rights of his constituency. Even Huckabay, whose subsequent actions would embarrass several Council members, voted to send the issue to the voters.
After professing neutrality, Huckabay led a surreptitious campaign against the I&R, aided by Odell and with the knowledge of Vance, the three on the Council most opposed. Huckabay used her position as Deputy Mayor to gain a meeting with the president of the Eastside Fire and Rescue (EF&R) union and then lobbied him against the I&R and to bar CFS from the fire station where it had held meetings for years. The union head rejected her efforts. Sammamish Comment in April published an investigative report outlining the City’s stealth campaign against the I&R.
After citizens approved the I&R by a 55.5%-44.5% margin, Council Members Gerend and Keller said they would honor the vote. With Valderrama and Whitten previously saying they would, this gave the plan a majority. Vance never did personally declare his intentions and to the very end of the final vote, said nothing about it during Council meetings. His vote was recorded in the affirmative with the four declared Members, but carefully watching the videos of the meeting reveals he didn’t actually vote one way or the other. Under Council rules, an undeclared voice vote is recorded with the majority vote, so officially Vance is recorded with the majority.
Huckabay and Odell voted against creating the ordinance ratifying the advisory vote and Huckabay voted against the finished ordinance. Odell was absent during this vote.
The I&R is a right provided in the State Constitution. Citizens voted by 55.5% to have this right. Huckabay and Odell remained opposed to the very end and Vance wimped out throughout, saying nothing, making “election votes” for his reelection, and covertly supported the City’s stealth campaign against the I&R.
The City Council and City Administration don’t like critics. This, in itself, is human
nature. But this City has gone beyond just being sensitive to critics. There are several instances of overt and covert action to silence critics.
The actions against in-house critics, Whitten and Valderrama, are overt and covert, apparent to all if you know what to look for. Many of these actions have been described above.
Against citizens, the actions are less visible.
As referenced above, the City engaged in a covert, surreptitious campaign against the I&R. The City attempted to bar CFS from the Boys and Girls Club, where it held a meeting about the I&R, and from the fire station, its long-standing meeting place, in an effort to suppress the ability to share information about the I&R with the public. Huckabay spread misinformation and made false accusations. She also charged that the CFS chairman, Harry Shedd, was a member of the Tea Party, something Shedd said isn’t true. (Huckabay has made the same accusation about Council candidate Christie Malchow, who is opposed by Huckabay ally Mark Cross, also untrue.) Huckabay has proved quick to make false accusations against critics. Huckabay even went after the Girl Scouts for holding a meeting at City Hall in which the I&R was a topic about government.
An attempt by Council member Odell to silence a critic quickly became public knowledge. A school principal testified during public comment during a heated controversy over whether Sammamish might leave the EF&R, the fire consortium. The principal introduced herself with her title and the school before opposing the prospect of the City leaving. Odell, then Mayor, later called the Superintendent to complain. Several letters to the editor quickly surfaced defending the principal and criticizing Odell.
During the I&R campaign by CFS to get the issue approved by the Council or put to a citizen vote, there were a couple of meetings hosted by community organizations to look at the pros and cons of the I&R or a discussion about government. A City Planning Commissioner participated. Odell didn’t like what the Commissioner said and attempted to have her removed from the Commission, an effort that went nowhere with his fellow Council Members.
Odell later told Sammamish Comment that people like the principal and commissioner had to be “held to higher standards,” as did elected officials. But Odell had no objections to Huckabay’s dubious actions on the I&R and was allied in her efforts to defeat it and suppress voter information.
The Sammamish government continues to do an overall good job in running the City, as infrastructure improvements and community events attest. But increasingly officials have ignored neighborhood issues, they try to silence critics both on the Council and among citizens, and try to thwart the will of the people.
Three Council seats are up for election Nov. 3: Positions 2, 4 and 6. Position 2 is Nancy Whitten’s seat; she is retiring, and the candidates are Christie Malchow and Mark Cross. Malchow is a new face to local politics. Cross served two terms on the Council previously, and seeks a return after a four year absence. Cross endorsed Vance, a close ally, and is also closely allied with Odell, Keller and Huckabay, who currently comprise the ruling majority Gang of 4. If Vance is reelected and Cross is elected, the Gang of 4 becomes the Gang of 5.
Position 4 is Valderrama’s seat. He’s finishing his first term. He is nominally opposed by Hank Klein, who later dropped out of the race but too late to remove his name from the ballot. Klein was recruited by members of the Gang of 4 in an effort to become the Gang of 6.
Vance is completing his first term. He is opposed by new face Tom Hornish, president of the Sammamish Home Owners group. As mayor, he, along with Deputy Mayor Huckabay, have led the Council for the past two years in a dysfunctional manner, ignoring and isolating Valderrama and Whitten. Dissension, sometimes bitter, on the Council is rampant. Vance, Huckabay and Odell actively sought to defeat Valderrama with the recruitment of Klein.
In the meantime, desires to maintain and expand power and silence critics means Sammamish citizens come last in the set of priorities.