Name: John Robinson
Position: Sammamish City Council Position 7
Why are you running for Sammamish City Council?
My wife Daphne and I have been blessed to raise our family in Sammamish, and as long-term residents of nearly 30 years, we have witnessed the dynamic growth of our community as it transitions to a more urban setting and we are concerned for our community character and our quality of life. Recently I retired from a business career and I now have the time to devote to City Council and apply my seasoned business leadership experience for a more open and transparent government. I believe it is my moral obligation to apply the learned management principles of my cumulative experiences to find the proper solutions for growth management, traffic and transit balance, and protection of our environment while maintaining a conservative fiscal policy.
What do you hope to achieve?
My goal is to bring to city council a real world, experienced organizational management view of how to resolve the issues and challenges facing Sammamish in cooperation and collaboration within the city council. Our local government requires that it’s council be responsible to its citizens and hold the city manager and staff accountable. I will be a non-partisan, independent voice within city council who clearly states the views of our citizens and works for them to resolve our issues and to enhance our quality of life.
What are the Top Three issues you see as priorities?
The Top Three issues as communicated to me by the citizens are:
- Comprehensive Planning – identifying the vision of our city’s future and the Town Center while maintaining our character and quality of life.
- Growth Management – managing, balancing and enhancing our roadway network with trails, parks, forest preserves, safe bike lanes, sidewalks, transit and infrastructure required to maintain our quality of life while being fiscally conservative.
- Management of Environmentally Sensitive Areas – our unique city character is built upon our natural environment of trees, lakes, streams and wetlands and we must preserve for our children and our quality of life.
What data did you rely on to help you arrive at these priorities?
My observations and concerns of being a long-term resident in Sammamish and my extensive travel throughout the U.S. (in business) where I had the opportunity to compare Sammamish to other cities, attendance at city council meetings and study sessions since December 2016; and, interview sessions with each of the current city council members and the city manager as to their insights on the issues concerning Sammamish. Most importantly, I have listened to our citizens and their concerns for Sammamish and the vision they have for our future.
How would you solve these issues?
To resolve our issues, we require open communication, collaboration, transparency and the application of SMART organizational management principles to hold the city accountable to our citizens. During my healthcare business career, I relied upon and facilitated numerous management decisions by applying sound business judgement and the application of the SMART management principles. The management of priorities for the city is like managing a business – we have goals to achieve, revenues and expenses to account for and shareholders (citizens) to hold us accountable. The primary goal of the city is to provide a positive impact on the quality of life for its citizens.
Please state your view of the current state of city finances? (IE, are they solid, precarious, neutral.) Please state why you reach your conclusion.
The city has two budgets: an operating budget to pay for the day to day expenses of running the city, and a capital budget to pay for the roads and infrastructure projects required for a growing city. The operating budget appears to be on acceptable ground with a good balance between revenues and expenses. The capital budget will significantly be underfunded due to the need to expand and revise our road network and requires that the city seek funding from the financial market. Financial transparency is required for the citizens regarding all aspects of the city’s projected revenues and expenditures. As an example, I would like to know the financial director’s level of confidence in modeling for revenues and has it been quantified with a plus/minus rating (CV) so the citizens clearly understand the city’s financial health – its rewards and its risks.
Do you feel a tax hike or imposition of a new tax is needed? If not, why not? If yes, why?
A new tax is not needed for the operating budget because of the current growing economy in residential and business development. Further transparency by the city is required to fully understand the risk of a cross-over between imbalance of revenues and expenditures. Regardless, the city must balance it operating budget and not raise any new taxes. As in business, if the city’s operating expenses exceed revenues then cuts will need to be made to the expense line to balance the budget. A new tax will not achieve the funding needed for the capital budget if all projects are implemented – the city will need to go to the financial markets for funding of capital projects.
If a new tax is needed, what tax would you favor?
If a new tax is needed for the operating budget, and as a last resort, the city could implement a utility tax, but prior to a new tax the revenue and expense lines will need to be balanced. A new tax will not achieve the funding needed for the capital budget if all projects are implemented – the city will need to prioritize its projects its projects and go to the financial markets for funding.
What are some ways our city can increase revenue without raising taxes?
Primarily, the city needs to attract more business development to increase the sales tax revenue. I propose that Sammamish partner with its major employers such as Microsoft, Costco and Amazon to provide employee “share sites” at the Town Center as an initiative to keep our major company employees home more often than commuting around the lake. Additionally, Sammamish is a home for a growing population of home based businesses and we need to incentivize this segment of employment by attracting the tools businesses require such as a citywide partnership with broadband internet services that is affordable, reliable and cost neutral to the city. Additional city based businesses mean more tax revenue.
Parks and Recreation
Are more parks with ball fields needed? If yes, how would you achieve these?
No, Sammamish citizens identified that “active” parks are third on their priority list following the addition of trails and tree canopy preserves. It is critical to the city’s unique community character that the Emerald Necklace be completed over the next 10 – 20 years to link the forest preserves in one continuous trail surrounding the city’s eastern perimeter. The city has three high schools within a one mile stretch of 228th Ave NE with adequate ball fields that need to be fully utilized to capacity before more ball fields are constructed.
East Lake Sammamish Trail: Only the Middle section, Section 2B, from the 7-11 north to Inglewood Hill Road, remains under permitting review and appeals by King County. This is the most difficult section to develop given the tight proximity of homes permitted by the County before Sammamish became a city. Please state the issues as you understand them and what your position is to resolve them.
The primary issue is that some property owners encroached upon county land (the rail corridor) destined to be a part of the trail. It is ironic that the county provided building approvals for these property owners over the years and now they want to settle with them to allow access to the land for the trail. At this point, it will only be possibly to resolve through due legal process to ensure that the property owners legal rights to ownership are not compromised. Until the property issues are resolved the trail construction should be halted.
Developing the YMCA land adjacent Pine Lake Middle School is a contractual obligation to Sammamish in exchange for the YMCA’s financial contribution, program development and management of the Community Center. The City’s obligation is to develop an active use for the property, which is currently thick woods and encompassing sensitive areas. Some neighbors prefer a passive use, such as trails, to protect wildlife and the wetlands. Please state your understanding of the issues and the outcome you support.
The citizens of Sammamish have voiced their number one desire to maintain passive land to protect our environment and our unique city character. I will work for stronger property development codes for the future which strengthen the enforcement of maintaining our environment and aligning with the goals of our citizens.
Roads and Transportation
Council Member Tom Odell has stated Sammamish neglected road improvements for 10 years. The City today is about to receive a draft Transportation Management Plan (on July 11, after this questionnaire is due back to us). This will perhaps make recommendations for priorities in road improvements. Until then, the only “plan” is the Transportation Improvement Plan (TIP).
The TIP is available on the City’s website. Please state your opinion of the TIP projects and the cost of the projects listed in the TIP.
I am fiscally conservative for funding projects such as the TIP and I understand the difficulty in projecting costs into the future. Two questions arise: how were these costs calculated and when a project is approved for funding how well do we negotiate with contractors? I will enforce a competitive bidding process to ensure that road projects are the most efficient use of tax payers dollars. Additionally, building roads is not the cure all for traffic issues in our city. The city should incentivize our major employers to build and enforce ride-sharing and company owned transit as well as partnering with the city to build worker share sites within Sammamish.
Do you believe the City can pay for these projects under its current financial condition? If not, how would you suggest paying for them?
The total TIP Projects estimate ballooned to $155M, if all projects are implemented, and is significantly underfunded or over estimated. I support the city prioritizing the road needs and implement only one or two projects per year for the next six years so we don’t burden our citizens. Additionally, the city is required to pay the best price possible to justify costs to its citizens – a more stringent bidding process is required with construction company contingencies so that overrun costs are absorbed by a construction company and not be shouldered by the city and its citizens.
Issaquah-Fall City Road improvements were promised to the Klahanie area residents if they voted to annex to Sammamish. At the time, in 2014, City officials estimated the cost of this project would be about $23 million. The latest estimate is $32 million and this may rise. Do you support the current proposed design of the project, and how do you believe the City should pay for it?
I support current design even though it is higher than the alternative design of a culvert because of the extended life of the bridge roadway and the mitigating damage that would occur to the sensitive wetlands under and adjacent to the road. Rising construction costs require a stringent bidding process with construction companies so that cost overruns are not the responsibility of the city and its citizens.
Sahalee Way became a highly controversial project, both in design and in cost. Initially it was promised that it would relieve congestion. However, the City’s contract traffic engineer stated it will not because Sahalee Way empties onto SR202. As a result, any improvements will be principally for safety, such as stop lights, turning lanes, bike lanes and a sidewalk on one side of the street. The project is estimated to cost $15 million-$16 million. Do you believe there is sufficient return on investment to support this cost, or do you believe the design should be modified to reduce the cost?
Washington State is not able to upgrade SR202 for an estimated 4-6 years, so I would not support the current design and implementation of the Sahalee project until SR202 is funded by the state with a projected completion date. It currently makes no sense to enhance the Sahalee roadway only have our citizens stopped and congested at the SR202 connection. The design of the SR202 as it connects Sahalee requires a review prior to any changes to Sahalee for the best financial efficiency for dollars spent.
What is your understanding of Concurrency and Level of Service?
The Growth Management Act is a guide for cities to manage their development to maintain their city’s quality of life and levels of service. Quality of life is subjective but we all know when it is negatively impacted. Traffic concurrency is a measurement of the impact of new developments and their concurrent addition of traffic to our road network. The city needs to be more transparent in its calculations of the traffic concurrency so that the citizens can more easily observe the impact of a new development and the ultimate impact upon our quality of life and levels of service. Traffic concurrency metrics should be applied objectively with transparency so the city, the city council and its citizens can hold developers accountable for their projects.
What data are you using to inform your positions on traffic management?
Observations of the situation, attendance at city council and planning commission meetings since December of 2016, the reading of the city Comprehensive Plans and hearing from citizens and citizen groups as to their observations. I interviewed each of the current city council members and the city manager to discuss in detail their insights on traffic management.
Certain members of the current City Council occasionally suggest assuming the two water and sewer districts into the City, so that the City government has control over all operations of the districts; all assets; all revenue (and liabilities); and the ability to set rates.
Do you support or oppose assuming control of the Northeast Sammamish Water and Sewer District? Please state your reasons for your position.
This is a clear business decision that must employ the SMART business management principles – my basis for decision making if elected to city council. Numerous questions need to be answered before consideration by the city council – primarily, what is the return on investment (ROI) which is calculated from the dollars invested (spent), cost of operation and return of current utility rates (revenue). Even though the city is clearly not a business, it has a fiduciary responsibility to its citizens to review a significant spend of dollars to acquire the water and sewer districts and must be held accountable. With all the other capital projects projected for the city, city staff and council should carefully weigh the risks and rewards of a decision of this type and whether it provides positive impact on the quality of life in our community.
Storm water management is a City function. For the past 12 years, the Tamarack subdivision has had increasing storm water runoff issues from uphill development approved by the City. Residents have persistently appeared before the City Council asking for a City-funded solution. The current Council is split on (1) how to proceed), (2) whether more study is needed and (3) who should pay for resolution of these problems.
Please state your understanding of the Tamarack storm water management issues.
The Sammamish Tamarack neighborhood has been experiencing storm water runoff problems for over a decade caused by the development of homes above its neighborhood. Several of the Tamarack residents have voiced their concerns to city council for the last 3-4 years as storm water runoff has nowhere to go but down (naturally) and through their properties to Lake Sammamish. The federal Clean Water Act requires Sammamish to take steps to reduce polluted storm water runoff to sensitive waters, such as Lake Sammamish.
Please state how you would resolve the issues and who should pay for them.
The city of Sammamish has an obligation to all its citizens to manage storm water runoff, its wetlands, its rivers and streams and water shed areas to reduce and minimize negative effects of storm water runoff due to development. As a part of the comprehensive water runoff plan, I would support Sammamish correcting and aligning it storm water runoff policy to be consistent throughout the city. In the case of the Tamarack neighborhood, Sammamish should develop a specific plan to these residents; and, as a part of the city comprehensive plan, bring this neighborhood up to the storm water runoff standards as required.
What other storm water management/runoff issues are you aware of?
On the west side of the city of Sammamish, adjacent to Lake Sammamish, several sensitive and naturally steep terrain areas exist and there is pressure by residential developers to build homes on these sites. If these areas are developed and trees are reduced, then a potential storm water runoff problem is created. The city council must act to minimize these potential problems by ensuring that the zoning for residential homes is consistent within potentially troubled storm water runoff areas – zoning should allow for no higher density than R-2 for sensitive areas. Additionally, the sensitive areas should be assessed for landslide potential by a third party geologic expert; and, if determined that the area to be unfit for development then the city council would restrict these areas for development.
Please state your positions on environmental issues:
- Protecting Lake Sammamish, Laughing Jacobs Lake, Pine Lake and Beaver Lake.
Protecting our natural environment is one of my top three priorities as our city character is built upon attributes of streams, rivers, wetlands and lakes. At a city council meeting in March of 2017 I was alarmed to hear that several wells in the city of Issaquah are potentially contaminated with PFC’s (perfluorocarbon pollutants) from the possible source of Eastside Fire & Rescue in Issaquah. The question not addressed at the hearing was whether the natural plume of PFC contamination is headed to Lake Sammamish and whether the state ecology department should determine if any PFC pollutants have entered the lake. I would stress that the state department of ecology analyze for PFC’s and any other pollutants and have the various local water districts, cities and state work together to develop a plan to stop the contamination.
- Protecting wetlands and streams.
Protecting wetlands, streams and rivers is a part of our integrated ecological network. The city must observe and measure our entire ecological network as it works as a fully integrated organism dependent upon its many parts to be healthy; if any part of the network is violated then the entire organism is adversely affected. Our major lakes are a result of how we treat our wetlands, streams and rivers.
- Preserving trees.
Current zoning states that a developer must retain 35% of the trees on a buildable property but we see that the city is not making these developers adhere to the zoning ordinances. Stronger enforcement is required for our developers and our citizens to help maintain our tree characteristics. Our tree canopy consists of old growth cedar and Douglas fir and is one of our defining characteristics as a city. We must protect our tree assets.
Is the City doing enough, too much or not enough?
The city is directed by the city council so if elected I will stress that the city council enhance our zoning ordinances to protect our valuable assets and environment. I completely understand that a developer is in business to earn a profit but we need to guide the developer to adhere to our zoning ordinances so we retain our city character. Most of the development companies do not live in Sammamish, so it is our responsibility to ensure that our environment is protected.
Any Other Issues You Wish To Address
Please briefly identify any other issues that you wish to address.
The Sammamish community character reflects the structure, physical and human characteristics of our community. The city council holds the significant responsibilities of listening to our citizens, providing resolutions to their concerns and holding the city staff and manager accountable to act upon the needs of our citizens to maintain and enhance our community character. The primary purpose of city council and city hall is to provide positive impact upon the quality of life for our citizens and our city’s community character. If elected, I will be an independent voice of city council with the primary goal of enhancing the quality of life for our citizens.