The City of Sammamish has gone to court 28 times in the last 10 years on matters other than routine operational reasons. Half were for Land Use Petition (development) (LUP) appeals from Hearing Examiner decisions, a review of court records reveals.
In addition, the City wound up in Court over development of the East Lake Sammamish Trail for what’s called an Administrative Law Review, three times over Public Records and twice by parties seeking injunctions against the City.
The City also is a defendant in a damages lawsuit by developer William Buchan, which is also the plaintiff in one of the LUPs. Both are for the proposed development of Chestnut Estates West, west of 212th Ave. SE and SE 8th St.
The review of records in King County Superior Court this week revealed numerous other court actions relating to City requests to condemn land (usually for road rights of way) and Quit Claim deeds. These are routine cases related to the normal operation of the City.
The court cases do not include recent actions before the state Shorelines Hearing Board on appeals by King County and the Sammamish Homeowners group over a Hearing Examiner’s decision regarding development of the East Lake Sammamish Trail.
Land Use Petitions
By far, the issue that winds up in court more than any other is that of Land Use Petitions.
When any city (or county) staff approves a development application, the approval may be appealed to a hearing examiner. In Sammamish, a decision by the Hearing Examiner approving or denying the application and appeal, or accepting parts of an appeal and denying other parts, may be appealed to the King County Superior Court.
Appeals, whether to the Examiner but certainly to court, can cost the City, the applicant and citizens tens of thousands of dollars in legal and expert fees. For the developer, there is also the cost associated with a delayed project while the appeals are being heard.
Although in 2015 there were two high-profile LUPs appealed to the Hearing Examiner, Chestnut Estates West and Conner-Jarvis, only one (Chestnut) went to Superior Court. The case has yet to be resolved.
Chestnut’s developer, William Buchan, also filed a lawsuit against the City for damages, citing unreasonable delays among other issues. This, too, has yet to be adjudicated.
Three cases went to court involving Public Records disputes. Two were filed by the same “Jane Doe” seeking to prevent release of a family photo mistakenly sent to Council Member Ramiro Valderrama to his City email address, according to court records. In one of these two cases, then-Deputy Mayor Kathy Huckabay was also named as a defendant, but as a private citizen rather than in her official capacity.
Huckabay was named because she filed her own Public Records Request when the person originally requesting the photo (among other records) decided not to pursue the matter in court.
Huckabay did not hire her own attorney, but piggybacked off the City Attorney in pursuing the case. (The outside council, under contract for legal services as the City Attorney, billed Sammamish for about $4,000 in this case, according to billing records obtained by Sammamish Comment pursuant to its own Public Records Request.)
The Court ruled the photo was not a public record and did not have to be produced. The matter was dropped after the ruling.
In the other case, David and Megan Gee v Sammamish, the Gees sued after Sammamish failed to produce public records pursuant a Public Records Request over a dispute they had regarding property they owned near Beaver Lake.
A settlement ultimately was reached in which court records indicate the Gees were paid $40,000 by Sammamish. Press reports at the time indicated a total of $90,000 was paid to the Gees by the City.
A current case, Stickney et al v Sammamish, was filed in August challenging the legitimacy of the Town Center Plan following the 2015 rewrite of the Comprehensive Plan. Stickney and his co-plaintiff, Richard Birgh, allege the plan is now invalid because City officials failed to include the Plan in the new 2015 Comp Plan.
Details of this complaint may be found here.
Stonewalling the Cost to Taxpayers
Council Member Valderrama, during his first term on the Council (2012-2015), repeatedly asked what the legal costs were defending all the citizen appeals to the Hearing Examiner and then to Superior Court.
Valderrama never got the figures from then-City Manager Ben Yazici. Then-Mayor Tom Vance and then-Deputy Mayor Huckabay, who with Yazici comprised the leadership team, didn’t back up his requests for a cost accounting.
Valderrama told Sammamish Comment yesterday he will be renewing his request.