Lake Trail overhangs Sammamish politics for 20 years

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City_of_SammamishJune 5, 2016: Development of the East Lake Sammamish Trail has been an overhang of Sammamish politics for 20 years.

It was a dominate factor in the first City Council race 1999 and surfaced again in 2001. It became a key issue in the 2003 election, with a flood of “outside” money flowing to candidates favoring the Trail.

The issue surfaced periodically in subsequent elections. It wasn’t until 2015 that once more it became a key election issue, as Trail residents rallied behind three candidates to win bitterly contested races. For the first time, they helped elect a resident who lives along the Trail.

And the issue hasn’t subsided, either.

In April, three Council Members voted to undercut the City’s own Hearing Examiner and side with King County, developer of the Trail, on a jurisdictional issue in an appeal before the State Shoreline Hearings Board.

This is the story behind the 20-year battle of the ELST.

Rails to Trails

Development of the East Lake Sammamish Trail pre-dates Sammamish’s incorporation. Without going

East Lake Sammamish Trail

into ancient history, the Trail is on the rail bed of the former Burlington Northern Railway. Used for logging in decades past, BN chose to abandon the line, as so many railroads have done in the past elsewhere in the country. Many of these became walking trails.

King County viewed this segment as a link between other previously abandoned rail right of way and the popular Burke Gilman Trail. The County purchased the land from BN, announcing plans to make this into another part of the County’s extensive and growing trail system, much on former railways.

Many property owners along what would become known as the East Lake Sammamish Trail objected to its development.

In many areas, the rail bed, and proposed Trail, bisected their property. BN had easements or rights of way and in some cases outright ownership. In some cases, there were legal disputes arising out of any of these usage rights. In some cases, long, costly and complicated court cases began to sort out legalities. Some of these cases continue to this day.

Some adjacent property owners objected for real and perceived safety reasons. They feared the Trail could become a magnet for crime. They objected to the certainty that not all dog owners would clean up after their pets. They were concerned about liabilities if someone were hurt along their section of the Trail. Some simply didn’t like the reduced privacy that would entail from people using the Trail.

Still others simply objected to King County, with good reason. King County proved a poor steward of development in the Sammamish Plateau area, granting development permits on a prolific basis but not spending on infrastructure to support it. Furthermore, the County approved development all along the railroad that resulted in encroachments by the homeowners for necessities such as driveways and simple access to the homes. These would come back to haunt the County when it came time to design and develop the Trail years later.

Along the proposed lake Trail, the County proved to be insensitive to property owners and in the view of many, the County bullied them and was the quintessential stereotypical Big Government Gone Bad.

On the flip side, hikers, walkers, the Cascade Bicycle Club, other bicyclists and nature lovers supported development of the Trail.

The ensuing battles and controversies would pit “self-interested and selfish” property owners against environmental, liberal “do-gooders” who cared not a bit about the concerns of those living on the Trail.

1998 Incorporation Vote

When citizens in what would become the Sammamish area petitioned to incorporate, the over-arching reasons were runaway development, neglect by King County, self-government and the proposed Trail.

Residents here wanted better government representation and self-determination. The area was represented on King County Council by two of the then-nine-member Council. One, Louise Miller, didn’t care much about the area. The northern part of the proposed city was the hind teat of her district. There was no clout here at all with her.

The other representative was Brian Derdowski. A renegade Republican, he had developed a reputation from his critics of being ineffective. Whether deserved or not will remain a matter of debate among those who cared then or now, but the perception was real enough. (Derdowski would be comfortably defeated for reelection two years later.)

King County Executive Ron Sims thumbed his nose at those opposed to the Trail and their reasons for doing so, such was his commitment to seeing the link connect the Burke-Gilman Trail and a trail parallel to I-90 east of Issaquah.

Citizens voted in November 1998 in a landslide to incorporate, effective in August 1999. Those along the proposed Trail hoped the new City would block the Trail, or at least prove more responsive than King County.

1999 City Council Election

As Sammamish Comment previously detailed, the election for the new Sammamish City Council pitted the “do-gooders” against the Republicans. Six Republicans on the de facto slate sided with the Trail homeowners over the principal of property rights. The seventh candidate, Kathy Huckabay, was a Democrat and favored the Trail but she had latent support from the Republicans. Huckabay was opposed by Leslie Kralicek, a bona fide member of the do-gooder slate.

Former State Sen. Phil Dyer, who had represented the 5th Legislative District as a Republican, lived a block east of East Lake Sammamish Parkway and was considered the closest thing to a lakefront property owner.

The Trail property owners lined up behind the six Republicans and helped send them to easy wins over the do-gooders. Huckabay also won.

As hoped, the new City Council and the new City assumed development and review jurisdiction over the proposed lake Trail and County application process. Also as hoped, progress ground to a halt.

2001 Election

The Trail continued as a campaign issue in the next City Council election, in 2001. Candidate Michele Petitti, a newcomer to politics, challenged Dyer, who was running for reelection. Moving ahead with the Trail was one of Petitti’s pledges.

Nancy Whitten, a long-time environmentalist and activist, challenged Ken Kilroy. She, too, favored the Trail.

Incumbent Ron Haworth, a Trail opponent, faced token opposition, after his challenger dropped out then dropped back into this race. He was not a serious threat to Haworth’s reelection.

Dyer and Kilroy proved complacent. They had easily won election in 1999. Petitti was an unknown. Whitten refused to campaign out of personal aversion to this necessary activity.

The results were stunning. Petitti, an aggressive campaigner and far more personable than the dour Dyer, cruised to an easy victory. Whitten finished on election night a mere 17 votes ahead of Kilroy, but lost by 147 votes as absentee and late votes were counted. Whitten would come back in the 2003 election and try again.

The results left the Council line up with a solid 4-3 majority opposed to the Trail. The three favoring it were Petitti, Huckabay and Don Gerend, who proved to be far more moderate than the de facto 1999 slate’s image of which he was a part. Opponents were Haworth, Kilroy, Jack Barry and Troy Romero.

For the next two years, the City stayed the course on the Trail: stall and delay the County permitting application.

A sea change would happen at the next Council election, however.

2003 Election

The 2003 City Council election brought the Trail front-and-center for a third time. Sammamish Comment’s next post on the City’s history will focus on this election, so here we’ll provide a superficial review of events.

With a 4-3 majority of the Council opposed to the Trail going into the 2003 election, both proponents and opponents knew this would be pivotal. Haworth and Kilroy decided not to run for reelection. Petitti was up for reelection. Gerend and incumbents Barry, Romero and Huckabay were in the midst of their four year terms, and not up in this year’s balloting.

Petitti was opposed by Will Sadler, a member of the Planning Advisory Board that had recently concluded its work in writing the City’s first Comprehensive Plan.

Karen Moran, also a former PAB member, was opposed by Whitten, who came close to winning in 2001.  Moran was a neighbor of Whitten’s previous opponent, Kilroy. Moran was also a major supporter and strategist for the Republican slate in 1999. She and Sadler were allies on the PAB. Both were viewed as opponents to the Trail (though the characterization with Moran was a bit overstated).

Mark Cross and Mike Rundle vied for the third seat. Cross, a career planner with nearby cities and Snohomish County, made supporting the Trail development his top campaign issue. Rundle owned large, under-developed parcels bisected by the Trail. He proposed moving this section of the Trail to near the East Lake Sammamish Parkway (this became known as the Rundle Bypass). He was viewed as a close ally of the rest of the lake Trail property owners and generally opposed to King County’s plan. Rundle made the case that he wasn’t opposed to the Trail, per-se, but argued the plan was deeply flawed.

Still, the Cross-Rundle contest became one of pro-vs-con on the Trail.

The details of this election will be included in the 2003 Election Campaign history to come. In the end, Petitti won reelection. Cross and Whitten won. This shifted the 4-3 Council majority from anti-Trail to 5-2 pro-Trail. Romero would have to resign shortly after the election, for reasons to be explained in our 2003 history. A pro-Trail person would be appointed to Romero’s vacancy, giving the dynamics a 6-1 majority, with Jack Barry the sole hold- out.

The next step

With a 6-1 line up on the City Council now in favor of the Trail, the property owners along the Trail were essentially doomed.

At the direction of the reconstituted City Council, the City entered into an interlocal agreement with the County, handing over design and regulatory review of the Trail back to the County. The City retained actual permitting authority.

As was expected and intended, the County approved its own plans. The City permitted the development of the North end (from Inglewood Hill Road to the Redmond City Limits) and construction began.

Construction begins

The City staff and Council largely washed their hands of events thereafter. The County completed the design of the Trail: a 12-foot wide paved section with two-foot gravel shoulders on either side plus another one foot “clear zone” on top of that: 18 feet all together. In some places, the width expanded to 24 feet, contrary to plans and the permits—much to the outrage of affected property owners, whose complaints fell on deaf ears.

Residents along the north end began screaming about these widths, as well as what some claimed were encroachments onto their properties. The City paid little to no heed.

Construction didn’t begin until 2013/14. In 2014, then-Mayor Tom Odell visited with some of the property owners and sympathized, but little was done.


Ramiro Valderrama.

Council Member Ramiro Valderrama, elected in 2011, established himself as a citizens advocate for the Trail property owners. Throughout 2014 he requested that the City Council schedule time on the agenda to listen to their complaints. Marginalized by a new majority on the Council, led by Mayor Tom Vance and Deputy Mayor Kathy Huckabay—supporters of the Trail who viewed the property owners as obstructionists, whiners and loons—Valderrama’s repeated pleas were ignored.

It was only after The Sammamish Comment published an 18-page in-depth study in January 2015 detailing the benign neglect and City Council in-fighting over the Trail did the Administration and Council sit up and take notice of the County’s abuses of the process, permitting and property owners.

ELST Section 2

To its belated credit, the City stepped up to take a proactive role in the design review and permitting of the Southern portion of the Trail, Section 2A. The City held the County’s feet to the fire, demanding significant changes and efforts to save scores or trees. Concerns of property owners along the southern end (from the 7-11 to the Issaquah City Limits) were actually considered—a novelty at the time.

When it was all said and done, the City imposed a host of conditions on the County for a permit.

The Sammamish Home Owners Assn. (SHO) appealed over some property rights issues. The County appealed over a number of conditions.

SHO appealed to the City Hearing Examiner. The County appealed to the Shoreline Hearings Board. The City said the Hearings Board had jurisdiction. So did the County. SHO claimed the City Hearing Examiner did.

The Examiner agreed with SHO, and assumed jurisdiction.

He quickly rejected SHO’s appeal, as being made in the wrong forum (he said it should be in the courts). In the County’s appeal, the Examiner upheld many of the County’s points but sided with the City on a few.

Shoreline Hearings Board

SHO, the County and the City all appealed the Examiner’s decisions to the State Shoreline Hearings Board. The County appealed principally on the jurisdiction issue. The City, in what is clearly a waste of taxpayer money, appealed the location of a stop sign and a point over a storm water drainage requirement.

These appeals are pending.

2015 Election

While King County’s permit application was winding its way through Sammamish bureaucracy, spurred by the damning and embarrassing revelations in The Comment’s January 2015 report, this was an election year. Three seats were up: Mayor Vance, Member Whitten and Valderrama. Vance and Valderrama were completing their first terms; Whitten was ending her third term.

Worn out after 12 years and frustrated by being marginalized by a succession of City Councils, including the Vance-Huckabay-led current one, Whitten decided she had enough. She declared she would retire come Dec. 31.

Valderrama was targeted by Vance and Huckabay and their Council allies for defeat. They were tired of the often abrasive Valderrama, who wasn’t particularly a team player and who often embarrassed the Council and Staff into doing the right thing by his perpetual finger nail-on-the-black board approach to topics the others preferred to ignore.

On the other side, Vance was targeted by those who were tired of his imperious leadership and a growing reputation of ignoring public sentiment. A desire to break up what became known as the Gang of 4 ruling majority, led by Vance and Huckabay, galvanized opposition to Vance.

With Whitten retiring, hers became an open seat. First to announce her candidacy was Christie Malchow, an energetic mother of two young children who, at age 41 at the time of her announcement, stood in stark contrast to the septuagenarian dominance on the Council.

Frantic efforts commenced to find challengers to Vance and to Valderrama. Each side had several false starts. Opponents to Vance finally persuaded Tom Hornish, president of SHO and a Trail resident, to run. Parks Commissioner Hank Klein was recruited to run against Valderrama.

Opponents to Malchow, who was quickly and correctly tagged as a Valderrama ally, recruited former mayor and former City Council Member Mark Cross to make a comeback.

Malchow and Hornish were newcomers to Sammamish. Malchow had lived here four years; Hornish just two. With Hornish, president of SHO and a Trail resident, the Trail became a top issue for his campaign, but not the only one. He clearly was aligned with Valderrama and the latter’s established advocacy for Trail property owners.

Malchow was an appellant in a development case called Chestnut Estates West. Though her appeal points focused on traffic issues, she was co-appellant with environmentalist Wally Pereyra and the “green” group, Friends of Pine Lake. The absence of environmental issues in her appeal would be used against her by the Vance, Cross and their supporters to paint her as anti-environment. (Malchow said this was a coordinated strategy to divvy up the issues.)

Valderrama’s opponent, Klein, dropped of the race in July, too late to have his name removed from the ballot. Klein never publicly said why he dropped out—he only cited personal reasons—but others who said they talked with him claimed he did so because he refused to be a front-man/shill for the anti-Valderrama leaders who urged what Klein considered an unseemly campaign outline.

Cross, who served two terms on the Council from 2004-2012, proved a terrible candidate. Unlike the 2003 election in which he actively campaigned and was informative about his stand on a variety of issues (led by favoring Trail development), this time Cross didn’t take the effort seriously. Assuming the newcomer Malchow to be non-threatening, and assuming he could rest on his laurels from two successful previous elections by wide margins, Cross failed to even answer a League of Women Voters questionnaire about his positions until after The Comment publicized this slight.

Cross’ campaign was largely a rerun of his 2003 effort: complete the Trail. He added, more staff was needed to be sure road projects were handled efficiently. Although he had a point on the latter issue, his dearth of issues and campaigning, along with a transparent arrogance toward voters and an early endorsement of Vance—which was reciprocated by Vance and others in the Gang—Cross would go down to a crushing defeat when Malchow captured 58% of the vote.

Vance also took his reelection for granted. Vance lost his 2009 attempt to win a Council seat by a 55%-45% margin to celebrity John Curley. He won election in 2011 with almost two thirds of the vote against a weak and uninformed candidate, clearly giving Vance a confidence that was misplaced in the anti-incumbent climate emerging in 2015 (think Trump and Sanders).

Vance and his allies didn’t take Hornish seriously. Initially, there was good reason. Hornish was a reluctant candidate, filing because he didn’t want to see Vance unopposed. Then his mother died unexpectedly, requiring long periods out of state to handle the estate matters. By the time Hornish truly engaged in the campaign, months had gone by between the May filing and the end of the summer doldrums at the end of August.

By September, Vance and Cross woke up to the true threat of the Hornish-Malchow campaigns. But by then it was already too late. With the City indifference to residents (and voters) of the lake Trail serving as the catalyst for citizen discontent over a variety of issues, and benefitting from Valderrama’s essentially unopposed coattails, what became known as the “V-3” swept the election. Neither Vance nor Cross ever conceded to Hornish or Malchow.

The full analysis by The Comment of the 2015 election can be found here.

The new dynamics of the City Council was immediately described as the V-3 vs the “H-3” (Huckabay, Odell and Keller), with Gerend caught in the middle as the swing vote. As things evolved, Odell and Keller have proved to be less solid as members of the H-3 than was assumed would be the case. It’s fair to say that the V-3 tend to vote together more often than not. Gerend, the swing vote, indeed finds himself siding with one side or the other, depending on the issue.

Abandoning the Hearing Examiner—and the public

When it comes to the Trail, the Council proves to be evenly split.

At the April 19 City Council meeting, following an executive session, Keller made a motion to side with the County on the jurisdictional issue before the Shoreline Hearings Board, effectively abandoning the City’s own Hearing Examiner—and the Trail property owners.

The executive session was permitted because of the “pending litigation.” When the Council emerged from the session, Keller immediately made his motion with no discussion, explanation or rationale expressed to support it. Valderrama opposed it, saying the City should back its examiner. Odell, who evolved into a major critic of the County during the 2014-15 period, concurred.

Hornish said he would abstain from the vote because he lives on the Trail and is a member of SHO, creating conflicts of interest.

Keller’s motion went to a 3-3 vote. He was supported by Gerend and Huckabay. Malchow joined Valderrama and Odell in opposition. Therefore, the motion failed. The reasons behind the motion remain a mystery.

It’s not over till it’s over

It’s clear the ELST issue won’t go away any time soon. Decisions from the Shoreline Hearings Board on the appeals before it are expected this summer. Appeals from here, if any, would go to court. If nobody appeals, then construction of Section 2A, the Southern portion from 7-11 south, can begin.

Then the design and permitting of Section 2B, the center section from 7-11 north to Inglewood Hill Road, begins in earnest. The County does the design, environmental review and mitigation plans. The City does the permitting.

Section 2B is the most difficult part of the 7.5 mile Trail. Because King County approved development virtually within arm’s length of the old railroad tracks in some locations, an 18-ft wide design (let alone 24 ft) is all but impossible. The design challenges are immense.

Valderrama occasionally agitates for revocation of the interlocal agreement with the County that gives the agency the design and review authority. With Hornish recusing himself from any vote because he lives on the Trail (in fact, he lives in Section 2B) and is a member of SHO, the 3-3 split on the Council does not portend an easy solution over the prospect of revoking the interlocal.

Gerend is by nature a “regionalist,” intent on regional cooperation. So are Keller and Huckabay. Odell, who by the end of 2015 was completely pissed off at the County and sided with Valderrama on blocking Keller’s April 19 motion, nevertheless is negotiating with the County over transferring far north Sahalee Way from the County to the City so the City can design and fund widening of the road to SR 202. Whether Odell is willing to rock that boat remains to be seen.

Malchow’s position on the interlocal is not known to The Comment.

This could make the City Council election in 2017 another one in which the Trail remains an important issue. Given the time involved in dealing with Section 2A, this is almost a given.

Finally, there is Valderrama’s candidacy for State Representative in this year’s November election. He is running for Position 1, as a Republican, against Democrat incumbent Richard Goodman. If elected, Valderrama says he will retain his seat on the City Council and serve both positions. Skeptics believe this will prove too much and if given a choice between the two, Valderrama will choose the Legislature over the City Council.

If Valderrama were to resign his Council seat in 2017, this will throw the 3-3-1 split into a 3-2-1-0 split, with Gerend, Keller and Huckabay in a majority. The Trail will be in play again if this happens.

Next in Sammamish history: The writing of the Comprehensive Plan.

5 thoughts on “Lake Trail overhangs Sammamish politics for 20 years

  1. Excellent write-up, as usual. A few random thoughts:

    – The city needs a full time attorney. It is laughable that this is still contracted out. I understand that Disend gets rave reviews, but look at all the legal issues this city has had to deal with since incorporation. I fully support the contract model as it saves money, but this is a tricky, potentially costly area. We need someone full time here, not someone who boasts that they represent North Bend, Cle Elum, and Friday Harbor, in addition to Sammamish. I don’t want to see staff making “guesses” at interpreting codes, resulting in mistakes, because the city is worried that calling the attorney on the issue costs too much.
    – It is quite ironic that Tom Hornish has to recuse himself from voting on the very issue that spurred his run for Council. It is almost unfair, although it is admirable that he is trying to do the right thing.
    – Tom Odell is almost certainly going to retire and not run again. SHO should find someone who can actually vote on the issue and get them to run in this slot.

  2. I enjoy reading these articles, so please keep them coming. I’d like to make one point however. This article makes it sound like the two largest voices regarding ELST are those who are against the trail, and those who are for it. But I believe this isn’t quite correct anymore. The owners I know support and want the trail, their issue is the recklessness in which the county has moved forward.

    Although I understand why Tom has chosen to recuse himself from trail votes, I believe his intentions are misguided.

    First, he’s not against the trail. He supports a trail that is designed and constructed in a way that respects affected property owners and the impact the trail has on the use of their property. Though some property owners might not be reasonable, most I’ve spoken with are very reasonable.

    Second, Tom’s candidacy did not hide the fact that he’s affiliated with SHO or that he lives on the lake. He was elected by voters knowing his obvious bias, and there was (and is) an inherent expectation that he will vote accordingly. To skip the votes he was elected to weigh in on is unfortunate.

    My fear is that his lack of participation is exacerbating the complexity of the ELST issues and the City’s ability to resolve them. Vote Tom, vote!

  3. Mr. Hornish’s recusal, is absolutely necessary, regardless of what voters may (or may not) have known about his trail views at the time of the election.

    1) Mr Hornish is not merely a member of SHO, he acted as their attorney arguing against the trail agreement between the City and the County at the Hearing Examiner’s meetings in 2015-2016.

    2) Mr. Hornish sued the County in Federal Court, arguing that the County does not own the property on the portion of the trail adjacent to Mr. Hornish’s property (his case was denied on Summary Judgment back in April).

    Mr. Hornish would be in clear conflict of interest in voting on any trail matters under those circumstances.

    Call me cynical, but I can’t help but think that if Mr. Hornish had won in court, he would have barricaded the existing gravel trail within 24 hours of being recognized as the owner of the trail property adjacent to his.

    The current appeal situation on South Sammamish Segment A is appalling. The City and the County reached agreement on all but two issues. The CIty’s Hearing Examiner ruled against the City on the two outstanding issues:

    1) For safety reasons, the Examiner ruled that a stop sign should be placed on the access road crossing the trail – trail users will have the right of way at the crossing point (the City wanted the sign on the trail, giving right-of-way to cars at the crossing.

    2) The County does not have to pay for drainage improvements that the City would like made on City property outside of the trail property. The City wanted the County to pay for drainage betterments to address problems not caused by the trail.

    The Hearing Examiner was clearly right on both of those issues. The City elected to appeal to the Shoreline Management Board. This is wasteful. A lot of staff, consultant, and legal time and expense will be incurred by both the City and the County as a result of this (as taxpayers we all lose). Also, given that the City has appealed, the County says that they no longer feel bound by the concessions they made to reach agreement before the Hearing Examiner. The City may end up spending money, losing concessions agreed to by the County, and delaying the project, all in one fell swoop. And inflation will drive up the cost of the trail even further.

    Let’s face it – the Council is dominated by folks opposed to the Trail…

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