Sammamish officials faced an onslaught of bicyclists last month in a coordinated, mass-attack email campaign urging them to approve the development permits for Section 2B of the East Lake Sammamish Trail.
City Council members were inundated with emails that said were coordinated by the Cascade Bicycle Club to approve the permit for the center section of the ELST. This section runs from roughly the 7-11 north to Inglewood Hill Road. It is the final section that is at the development permitting stage.
Sammamish, the permitting agency, is resisting the applications filed by King County, developer of the trail, on several grounds. These include environmental, tree preservation, disputes over legal ownership of the trail and past and current problems between the County and adjacent property owners over development of the north and south sections.
During the 2015 City Council election, Section 2A (the south end) and to a lesser extent, Section 2B (which had yet to come to the forefront), disputes between the City, County and property owners became a campaign issue.
Mark Cross, who served on the City Council as a Member and Mayor for eight years, ran again after a four-year hiatus. Cross was elected in 2003 as a strong supporter of the trail. In 2015, he began appearing before the Council regularly during public comment to support development of 2A and 2B, to federal standards of 12 feet wide, two foot shoulders and a one foot clear zone on either side.
However, Cross—and others appearing before the Council then, either ignored or dismissed the environmental impacts and removal of large, mature trees in some key areas in both sections, and in Section 2B, a physical impossibility to build a trail to the federal standards because homes (permitted and approved by the County) abut the old rail bed on which the trail is to be built.
The email campaign launched in January by the pro-trail advocates likewise ignore the environment and physical realities on the ground in Section 2B.
Furthermore, most of the emails Sammamish Comment reviewed under a public records request came from people who don’t live in Sammamish.
The email campaign clearly is coordinated. The subject line in the emails was identical, as was most of the language and the technical points.
Council Member Ramiro Valderrama wrote in an email on Jan. 25:
FYI – In addition to the email blast I see that on Facebook Cascade Bike Club is posting advertisements for people to submit the form letter to permit the trail.
But there was nothing at all recognizing the issues facing City officials as they try and strike a balance between approving a popular trail development, the environment, tree retention, physical constraints and property disputes.
The following email is representative of the hundreds of emails received by the City. (Typos and grammatical errors are not corrected. Only the address of the send is deleted.)
Dear city of Sammamish,
I’m writing to express my support for completing the ELST and approving permit SSDP2016-00415.
Please approve the permit, as submitted.
Approval of the permit will advance completion of the 44 mile regional trail system between Seattle and the foothills of the Cascades. The trail, as proposed in the permit, will provide a safe walking and biking route through Sammamish. Please support the proposed trail widths, which reflect industry standards (AASHTO).
A 12ft trail with 2ft shoulders will create a safe trail with space for the various different uses… from people running to people riding a bike. Please approve the permit, including the proposed width of the trail.
Ensuring crossing priority for the trail is an important safety issue. Giving priority to the trail when roads and driveways cross the path will be intuitive for all users. The trail alignment, as proposed in the permit, provides sight lines for good visibility for people on the trail and people crossing the trail at trail intersections.
My husband and I cycle regularly in the area, and we need a safe route that is separate from the busy E. Lk. Sammamish Road in order to get out, stay fit and enjoy our beautiful lake. Marymoor Park is such a great regional resource and Lk. Sammamish State Park is as well. A safe, off-road route connecting the two parks would be a terrific enhancement to the City of Sammamish, making this city a more livable, attractive place to be.
Please approve the permit, as proposed, with expediency.
Seattle, WA 98115
Council members expressed frustration to The Comment about the orchestrated campaign, most from outside the City, that (1) doesn’t understand that the Council itself
doesn’t issue the permits and (2) there are unusual circumstances that must be considered. Council Members also are angered at the form-letter approach by the Cascade Bicycle Club.
Council Member Tom Odell’s internal email (obtained under a Public Records Request) is cranky, consistent with his curmudgeonly approach to things, but pretty well sums up the situation:
Just opened up my e-mail. Another 66 separate e-mails from the Cascade folks. I have noted that the large majority are not Sammamish residents. This is actually hurting the case for building the trail per spec. Also, there is absolutely no compassion indicated for the impact on the property owners.
Two days earlier, Odell, also in an internal email, wrote:
So far this afternoon I have deleted 89 emails from these guys and am no longer reading them or responding. I suggest that we allow a single speaker for 5 minutes from this organization at public comment.
A few Sammamish residents wrote in support of the permits, but clearly put the support in their own words. One drew a response from Council Member Christie Malchow that explained the unusual issues involved. This brought a reply from the sender noting that the late radio commentator Paul Harvey would use his signature phrase, “And now the rest of the story.” This resident wrote that he had a new appreciation for the issues.
King County hunkers down
Given the huge pushback by property owners along Section 2B, continuing issues along the North and South sections and the growing hostility between the City and County leading to protracted legal challenges, the County reneged on participating in round-tables with the City and residents to address issues.
In a Jan. 26 email, Valderrama wrote:
In the past, they have given their update presentations at the 30%, 60% and 90% completions and heard public input. I find their change of practice and reluctance to meet during the comment period troubling. They could have done as they did last time (and should have done) is present upon release of the 60%.
In my discussions with [County Council Member] Kathy Lambert, I shared that they were reluctant and she found that very troubling as well.
It is also troubling that they want to meet to discuss their application with their attorneys present- had this been a developer, the purpose would not be seen as “solutions based.”
Asking the County for help
Reid Brockway, a trail-side resident, appeared before the King County Council Feb. 27 as president of the Sammamish Home Owners said Section 2B is “a unique” situation. The new trail should be aligned on the current rail bed and in other areas remain at 16, not 18 ft. In cases where the trail is within a wetland or buffer, the width should be 14 ft.
He said this meets federal standards.
Brockway did not advocate that Sammamish deny the permits, nor did other residents who asked the County Council to help realign the trail design.
County Council Member Lambert noted that the County previously approved some zero-lot line buildings and some homeowners can’t get out of their garage under the present 60% design.
Lambert said the County and City are meeting Feb. 28 to work out issues, but there isn’t a public round-table meeting scheduled.
This is typical “special interest group” politics and is co-ordinated. It does not take into consideration
the situation and needs of the owners or the citizens of Sammamish.
TLDR: The City Council should remember that they work for the Citizens of Sammamish, not the Cascade Bicycle Club or the SHO. Protracted legal battles where large sums of money are spent on fighting another governmental body will not be viewed favorably by the vast majority of their constituents. Work with King County to find a resolution to this problem.
I’m sorry, but both of these sides are special interest groups with their own agenda, neither of which really aligns with the typical citizen of Sammamish.
The bicycle lobby has way too much sway in this area for representing such a small segment of the population. East Lake Sammamish Pkwy currently has excellent, wide bike lanes that go nearly the entire length of the parkway. The speed limit is only 35 mph which is plenty safe for bike traffic. Why does this trail even need to be paved in the first place? As a pedestrian, I prefer gravel and dirt anyway. I mean sure, if you want to ban bikes on the parkway, force them onto the trail, and raise the speed limit… that’s something I could get behind. But we know this isn’t going to happen, they want both the trail and the parkway.
Meanwhile, the lakeside homeowners are some of the wealthiest in an already wealthy Sammamish and have significant influence on city policy. The city is spending a significant amount of staff resources and money on fighting the county on this project. Is this really a battle worth fighting for the 60K people living in the city? I don’t tend to think so. Let SHO and other interested parties pay the legal bills for this fight. I have little pity for the folks living in real mansions along the lake that haven’t had to deal with the McMansions crammed onto postage stamp sized lots that the rest of the city has had to accept. I’d rather see the money spent on legal bills fighting King County put towards things that matter, like fixing Tamarack or using it to fix chronic chokepoints in the city.
The city of Sammamish is approving housing developments all over and trees are being clear cut and grading done at a scale that makes the ELST work seem trivial. I have gone over the 60% plans, as have others, and the issues are minor and can be worked out. In the big picture, the county is building a legacy with its trail system. Not completing this remaining section is like walking around with a tooth missing after having done extensive dental work. The designation that CBC is a special interest group seems demeaning given that CBC has huge programs that encourage biking with its work with area schools, and work as professional consultants in non-motorized transportation. As to the bike shoulder on the road… would you ride down that road with your 5 year old? I didn’t think so. The existing section is truly an asset to the region. We need the “pizza rule” invoked… get everybody in one room, nobody goes home until agreement is reached. CBC will pay for the pizza. Beer only when it is done.
@Peter: No pizza. Just coffee. No bathroom breaks until a deal is done. That’s the Chicago way of Mayor Richard J Daley….
That gives the young guys an advantage, but I like how you agree that a deal can be done if we all get together. Why is this so hard to do?
The development on the hill by large housing deeply concerns me as trees are being torn out at an amazing rate.
All those folks will benefit from the completed trail. Looks like gold standard sidewalks are being paved and built so they can walk down to the lake and trail.
Folks that live in Sammamish and in Redmond and Issaquah and the region enjoy using the public’s land. Every one is excited to finally get this trail completed for their families’s to enjoy.
I do care for the families that bought property along the trail in that I say: “Thank God there is a lovely trail going in as these family’s would suffer tremendously if a train came in- the noise, pollution, and safe crossing would be horrible for these families and property values would plunge.
All folks in the area do stand to gain an increase in property value as facts show people “value” living along a beautiful, safe paved trail along a greenway.
No one stands to gain “special interest” profits except home owners that bought along a train track and want to add the public’s land to their private estate.
I wish the politics would stop. It is an unwelcomed distraction to call the families in the area names for trying to find a way to be heard. Sammamish citizens and neighboring cities took time to share their excitement for the trail completion. In our democracy, citizen involvement is the way we work. No sure why you want to threaten the trail completion based on families getting excited, sending you letters, and asking for the trail to be completed asap. Name calling and threatening behavior is an mean power stroke, please work out the final small issues and complete the beautiful trail.
I believe the city is wasting taxpayer money by taking the side of a few property owners over the public good provided by having this completed trail. How many dollars have been spent on legal and consultant time to essentially fight a private property issue? And it’s a shame that the property owners are in essence suing you and me, residents of Sammamish and King County, to claim ownership of property that was legitimately purchased by the County long ago. While I am marginally sensitive to adjacent property disputes, for those who built homes and driveways that are now threatened, I have little sympathy unless they were built before the County purchased the right of way, Regardless, any award of damages would be offset by the increase in value from having this beautiful trail next door. Just a total waste of time and taxpayer money, Let’s move on and complete the trail.
@Shelly and @Debbie – you may not be aware of all the facts in this situation. King County purchased the trail from a Federal agency that had no right to sell it. See #1 below. A few other things to consider as people inform themselves about ELST:
1. The Federal Government lost a court case in which the United States Court of Federal Claims ruled the government illegally took the property of homeowners along ELST as BNSF had no ownership interest to sell. So, in essence, these homeowners have had their land confiscated without due process. Don’t believe me? See Beres v. United States. Basically it was ruled that the railroad had an easement for rail traffic only. They did not own the Right-Of-Way. They could have sold the railroad easement to another railroad, but otherwise, it was illegal. So consider that, as you empathize (or not) with homeowners along the trail. Perhaps your perspective might be a little different if the government took your land away without due process (and illegally).
2. Why does the county insist they own 50 feet on either side of the trail, when they only need 20 ft total to build the trail (especially in light of the court case mentioned in #1 above)?
2.1 Why is it that the county negotiated and came to agreements with several homeowners along segment 2B (at least 3 homeowners that I know of) where the county acknowledged that they don’t have ownership interest in the trail and instead only received an easement for 20 ft to build the trail – yet today, they are not at all willing to extend the same terms to dozens of other homeowners in the same position?
3. The trail exists today and seems to work. The trail isn’t being ‘completed’, it’s being improved. It’s already complete. You can walk, run, or ride your bike – unrestricted – from Issaquah to Redmond.
4. The county expansion plans will rip out fences, stairways, retaining walls, driveways, and other improvements with no plans or indication from the county that they will mitigate or otherwise help deal with the hardship. I’m glad the City of Sammamish is asking the County for clarification here.
This country was founded, in a significant way, on property rights. At the time of the founding of this country in Europe, common folks did not own the land. They rented it as Serfs, from the local rulers – at terms meant to keep them destitute and indentured. Our founding fathers helped build a country that was meant to protect the rights of land owners. And the People’s Republic of King County seems to have lost sight of this principle……because there are so many options that appear to be win-win, but the county is going straight down the I win – You lose path despite the fact that they represent these homeowners as much as anyone else in the county. It’s incompetent bordering on immoral. It is the tyranny of the majority that our founding fathers specifically warned against. I hope that reason and rational solutions prevail in the long run……
Nice summary. The 60% plans clearly show clearing and grubbing lines that are the bare minimum needed for the trail. The trail is not taking the full right of way. The focus should be on understanding what happens inside these C&G lines. Or is it the intent of the homeowners to hold the trail hostage until they get concessions on the right of way? Environmental, tree removal, and interface issues are only triggered by the activity inside the C&G lines, so the right of way issues is another thread and should not be confused with the permitting of the activities inside the C&G lines. Reasonable people can work out reasonable solutions to anything inside the C*G lines.
Thank you for your comments Debbie. For the most part, I agree with you. I just want to chime in on your comment about having little sympathy unless the the homes were built prior to 1998 when KC acquired the corridor. Most of the remaining property owner disputes are those older homes built long before 1998. My house, which is one of the ones that the ROW cuts in two, was built in 1932. It was remodeled in 1944, but we are still living within the 1944 footprint. I agree that my home value would increased by completion of the beautiful 20 foot wide trail, which I am totally in favor of, if King County would stick with a more reasonable 40 foot ROW instead of the 100-foot ROW that cuts my cottage in two. King County claims they “own” the land my house was built on and want me to get a special use permit to continue “encroaching” on their land. This is so unnecessary as the land they claim to own is far from the 20 foot trail that they want to build. Most of these issues are totally solvable without using lawyers, but it takes the County being willing to negotiate a little in order to do so. I appreciate the predicament that cases like mine puts Sammamish City Council in when issuing a permit. It is not a black or white issue: greater good of a trail against greedy lakeside homeowners. Most of us want a trail, some of us are not wealthy or greedy, and we also live in America and should have some property rights afforded to all citizens. I think Sammamish City Council members are just trying to get King County to be a little more flexible in working these issues out, and I sincerely appreciate their attention to this matter.
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