- Greenwashing (a compound word modeled on “whitewash”), or “green sheen,” is a form of spin in which green PR or green marketing is deceptively used to promote the perception that an organization’s products, aims or policies are environmentally friendly.–Wikipedia.
Sammamish staff has never required an Environmental Impact Study (EIS) from a developer when reviewing a project, it was revealed October 7 at the only candidates’ forum held for the City Council election November 3.
Nor, as far as Sammamish Comment can determine, has staff ever issued a Mitigated Determination of Non-Significance (MDNS) for a project until the current Conner-Jarvis project, which is under citizen appeal; it’s only otherwise issued a Determination of Non-Significance (DNS) in 15 years of projects.
For those not versed in land use regulations and reviews, this alphabet soup of letters is confusing and, on its face, meaningless.
Here’s what these mean, why they are important to development in Sammamish, why the staff practices lie at the root of what citizens are seeing today as trees come down and controversies emerge over protection of wetlands, streams, lakes and Kokanee salmon and why the responsibility ultimately flows back to the City Council.
When a government’s development department reviews a project, the staff must determine whether the proposed project complies with regulations. This is true whether the jurisdiction is the city, county or applicable state and federal agencies, if the latter reviews are required.
In the case of Sammamish, our staff checks the project details against the City Code for compliance. As The Comment previously reported, issuing variances to the Code is not unusual for a variety of good reasons. But over-issuance risks making the codes weak or meaningless, and in Sammamish’s case, the City has become known in some quarters as Variances-R-Us.
When staff is done reviewing the project, it can determine that with or without variances, or by requiring certain actions, the result is a Determination of Non-Significance of an adverse environmental impact, and a DNS is issued.
On the other hand, the reviewing staff may find that there are adverse environmental impacts that would result from a project. This might be adverse impacts to water, wetlands, creeks, rivers, streams, lakes, wildlife or traffic, or a combination of these and/or other issues. However, the staff can find that any or all of these impacts can be resolved through mitigations required as part of the approvals. The staff then issues a Mitigated Determination of Non-Significance, or MDNS. When Sammamish was unincorporated and under King County rule, the MDNS was routinely issued. King County rarely issued anything other than an MDNS for a development and none in Sammamish that this writer can remember in the 19 years he’s been active here.
The Sammamish staff has never issued an MDNS other than Conner-Jarvis, at least as far as The Comment can determine. The previous Director of Community Development was once asked by this writer why, and the response was that the code was strict enough and the staff diligent enough with its reviews and conditions applied that the MDNS was essentially already covered within the DNS.
Many citizens, of course, disagree.
Returning to King County’s rule, one reason no EIS was required was that no single project was deemed sufficiently large or of a nature as to potentially create materially adverse impacts that couldn’t be covered by an MDNS.
The reason for this is that developers split up large projects into separate applications and sizes that taken individually didn’t meet the threshold of size and impacts to demand an EIS. An Environmental Impact Study is a lengthy, complex and costly process that developers want to avoid.
The end result is that even projects that are adjacent each other, built by the same developer, in the same water basins and impacting the same roads are viewed in isolation and not for their cumulative impacts. Thus, each project gets approved individually, typically with the MDNS if a county project. But the cumulative water runoff and traffic of these and the other projects can result in overwhelming nature’s ability to cleanse water and man’s ability to avoid traffic gridlock.
This writer appealed two such projects under King County which were at the top of SE 8th St. east of Skyline High School, winning on traffic concurrency issues. The County Hearing Examiner required an EIS, which the developer ultimately avoided by downsizing the project and coming to a settlement.
In Sammamish, there are few adjacent projects and none of the size and scale of those mentioned above being developed by a single developer, but the cumulative effect issue nonetheless remains.
In the case of the Conner-Jarvis development of 114 homes, now under appeal by the Kempton Downs Homeowners Assn., the appellants are worried about cumulative traffic impacts from Conner-Jarvis on top of other projects; and of cumulative impacts to wetlands, Laughing Jacobs Lake, Laughing Jacobs Creek, the outflow into Lake Sammamish and the impacts to the threatened Kokanee salmon. Wally Pereyra, who spent hundreds of thousands of dollars of his own money to restore Ebright Creek for Kokanee preservation and another $100,000 successfully appealing a development that threatened Ebright Creek, believes the Conner-Jarvis project poses a new threat because it will drain into Laughing Jacobs Creek.
Kempton Downs complains that the City has required an EIS for Conner-Jarvis, and discovered the City has never demanded an EIS of a developer.
Impacts of Staff Decisions
The impacts of staff decisions over issuing only the DNS and not issuing the MDNS or EIS means that threats to the environment and traffic may cumulatively be greater than otherwise believed or that through the Variances-R-Us approach, regulations are waived or weakened. Citizens have seen this with the “rape and scrape” of land, denuding it of all trees in violation of what was a weak tree ordinance that had penalties so small that developer viewed the fines as merely a cost of doing business rather than as an incentive to comply.
The tree ordinance approved by the City Council on October 6 is, as advertised, the toughest in the state, but it’s too little, too late. Fully 97.5% of the land in Sammamish has already been developed or is under application to be developed. The new, tough tree ordinance applies to only the 2.5% for which applications haven’t been filed.
The Ultimate Responsibility
Ultimately, the City Council is responsible for adopting ordinances. It’s also responsible for overseeing the City Manager, who in turns is boss of the City staff, who carry out his orders.
Since most of the City code dates back to 1999, each City Council is responsible for the weak codes (such as the old tree ordinance) and for supervising the City Manager, whose own supervision of the staff over interpreting and enforcing code is his responsibility—and ultimately the Council’s.
Mark Cross, running for a return to the City Council after serving eight years and after a four year absence, has his share of responsibility. This means Tom Vance, running for reelection to a second term, has his share. It also means so does Ramiro Valderrama, though he’s often a dissenting vote on what he views to be weak or flawed environmental policies and ordinances.
Greenwashing: then and now
Sammamish Comment previously reported on the “greenwashing” that has been common in Sammamish, despite the self-branded environmentalists who are on the Council today. The revelation that staff has never issued a requirement for an EIS, or an MDNS, is further indication that greenwashing is alive and well.
Candidates Christie Malchow, opposed by Cross, Tom Hornish, opposed by Vance, and Valderrama, opposed by a token candidate, pledge to hold the City Manager and staff accountable to enforcing code for future development. Cross’ principal pledge is to add staff to manage future road projects and Vance’s pledge is principally stay the course.