Position 3: Karen Howe Questionnaire

Karen Howe

Name: Karen Howe

Position sought: Sammamish City Council Pos. 3

Primary Questionnaire in Sammamish Comment

Questionnaire for General Election from Sammamish Friends

Questions to All Candidates

Traffic and Transportation

After your Primary Questionnaire was returned, the City Council on July 10 had a presentation from Staff and Consultants about “Concurrency 101.” What are your take-aways from this presentation?

Clearly how we measure traffic volumes must evolve. Previously, not measuring peak morning traffic might have been fine, but no longer. It’s a sharp reminder that all our Best Practice frameworks need regular review (e.g. storm water treatment, budgeting process, etc.).

Allowing a corridor to ‘pass’ even though segments within it ‘fail’, doesn’t relieve the City of its responsibility to provide residents a reasonable Level of Service. The City and Council are on the hook for providing residents clear answers and solutions which includes line-item expenditures, funding sources, and realistic timelines.

We must confront infrastructure shortcomings head-on and implement creative solutions.

What, if anything, do you see a need to fix?

Now 25-years-old, the GMA should reflect that regional infrastructure has not kept pace. Growth is supposed to pay for growth through impact fees, but they don’t cover all growth-related expenses. Ideas includes:

  • Update measurement criteria: AM/PM traffic, intersections, and segment failure
  • Look to the future: re-work Level of Service goals to prioritize transit
  • Strength in numbers: align Sammamish Level of Service goals with other regional cities
  • Coordinate school-start times before allowing more development
  • Create options: explore supporting an infrastructure bank (Senate Bill 5464) which allows us to fund and complete major projects ahead of development.

At the July 18 City Council meeting, the Council declared traffic to be the “No. 1 priority for Sammamish” and voted to have this as the first topic on the agenda for the foreseeable future. Do you agree or disagree with these actions, and why?

I agree with the Council’s decision. I believe focusing the Council’s attention and resources on traffic, and the many inter-related issues including safety, growth, and economic vitality, is an important step towards a comprehensive solution.

Frustration with traffic is the first thing mentioned when I speak with residents.

Environment

There is a proposal to create a “tree canopy” for Sammamish that involves reducing the tree retention requirements from 35% to a level to be determined (but no less than 25%). The difference would then be planted in neighborhoods, with the types of trees being agreed upon by the neighborhoods. Do you believe this to be a good, neutral or bad proposal and why?

If there is such a proposal, it would not be in our City’s best interest and is not an either/or decision. Sammamish should be able to attain our tree canopy goals with public land while maintaining our current tree retention policy. Encouraging residents to plant appropriate trees would be additive to our canopy goals. It’s essential that those residents living in condos and apartments be near stands of significant trees on public land, and shifting a sizable percentage into distant neighborhoods would not be equitable.

If you do not believe so, what would you propose instead?

Seattle’s Trees for Neighborhoods project has helped plant over 7,300 trees in 8 years. Residents get help selecting the right tree and planting location and have access to a limited number of free trees. It’s an inexpensive and successful program.

In addition to our tree retention policy, Sammamish needs to enforce tree buffer zones as new developments go in, and ensure that retention requirements are being met. I am in favor of applying for Tree City designation from the National Arbor Day Foundation. Sammamish already meets the core standards required for this distinction.

Accountability

During 2015, it was revealed that Staff acknowledged in a Land Use Appeal that they don’t always follow code. During the July 10 City Council meeting, the Staff and Consultants acknowledged they have not followed policy on certain transportation issues. Under the City Manager form of government that governs Sammamish, the City Council cannot “reach down” to staff level. How would you hold staff accountable for failing to follow code and policy?

It is disappointing that policy enacted by the Council, who were elected by Sammamish voters, is not being followed. After years in executive management, I’ve learned the biggest problems occur when communication about roles, responsibilities, and accountability are not clear.

The City Manager is ultimately responsible for Staff and can be removed with four votes by the City Council. I believe the Council needs to understand what causes Staff to deviate from policy, better communicate with everyone during the policy design process, and coordinate with the City Manager during application to ensure it is operating as intended.  

Community Feedback and Communication

Community feedback comes in many forms: emails to the City Council and staff; appearances during Public Comment and Public Hearings; Letters to the Editor; Virtual Town Halls; Social Media; and the periodic City-sponsored community survey.

The City’s Communications Manager was dismissive of social media as a feedback resource. He stated that he: “consistently made the case to the City Council and senior staff that social media feedback does not provide an accurate view of the community’s perspective. Noting that contented residents are unlikely to jump on the ‘Save Sammamish’ Facebook page, [and] suggested that everyone should pay more attention to the results of [the] random, statistically valid community survey.”

 Please state your views of community feedback, the most important avenues and the value (or not) of social media as a gauge of feedback.

While I believe statistically valid surveys are the most accurate way to best understand the opinions and concerns of residents, under no circumstance should city leadership or Staff dismiss the input of any resident or group of residents.

Social media is an easy and legitimate way for busy folks to engage on civic issues and have their say.

Our social media strategy should focus on outreach, and embrace all methodologies popular with residents: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and so forth. It’s especially useful for charting trends within our community and can alert Staff to an issue before it becomes a problem.

What do you believe the City can do to better communicate with citizens?

I believe the City can and should do more to communicate with residents. The monthly newsletter is inadequate and doesn’t meet the expectations or needs of a tech-savvy community. Other opportunities to improve communications are:

  • Updating the website to fix ease-of-use issues; adding a complete community calendar that includes school district events would drive value and additional site traffic
  • Collaborate with Sammamish Chamber of Commerce to coordinate events and communication
  • Encourage subscriptions to an online newsletter and safety alerts
  • Measure everything – there are free software tools to help us understand the effectiveness of our outreach.

Do you believe the City is “hearing” resident concerns and properly addressing them?

Both the Council and Staff who attend council meetings hear from residents about the things that matter to them most at that time, whether it’s too much traffic or concern over a new development.

The disconnect is that once residents voice a concern, they may not hear back on next-steps or how their problem is being prioritized. Creating a simple decision matrix that is published on the website would allow residents to see that 1) they were heard and understood, 2) others may/may not share their concern, 3) there is/is not a plan to address the issue, and so forth.

Affordable Housing

Most of you stated concern over affordable housing in Sammamish. The recent 2017 Housing Affordability Response Team (HART) Recommendations report from the Affordable Housing Advisory board proposes several directions for policy at the local level. Which of these regulatory changes and policies would you support at the local level? Which would you be opposed to?  

We must use current data analysis tools to determine where the greatest need for affordable housing lies. Impact fees are a good way to support public services. I also believe the permit processing procedure can be expedited to benefit affordable housing developers. HART offered many other worthy suggestions, including:

  • Reducing impact fees for affordable housing units
  • Density bonuses for affordable/senior housing
  • Donate underused publicly-owned land; help with infrastructure costs

I do not believe we should consider relaxing standards. City leaders must find innovative solutions based in best practices to build housing within our City’s high standards and quality of life.

Raising Revenue

All candidates have stated that they’re opposed to raising taxes to cover the revenue gap that is forecasted for Sammamish, and you’ve all proposed different ways to raise revenue for the city. What do you recommend as your top revenue raising ideas and how much incremental revenue do you estimate for each?

I have several ideas for raising revenue without raising taxes on Sammamish residents. Sammamish generates $278M in retail sales outside the city. If we established successful retail enterprises, we could claw-back $40M – $50M, creating $1M of new revenue. We could increase State/Federal grants by 10% ($1M) and partnerships ($1M). I’d like to increase mitigation fees collected prior to construction ($500K) and increase fines for unapproved tree removal to $10K per tree. Bumping up REET could earn between $500K – $1M in additional revenue. An “Empty Homes” tax might only earn $30K but could be added to our ARCH contribution.

Revisiting your July Questionnaire

Since you answered our Primary Election Questionnaire July 7, you have had the chance to campaign, talk with citizens, see the Candidates Forum and see emerging issues (principally surrounding traffic). This is your opportunity to return to your July answers to revise or change any of them. If you do not wish to make any changes, do nothing. If you want to revise your previous answer, copy-and-paste the question(s) here and insert your new answer(s) after the question.

Why me?

Why should Sammamish citizens vote for you over your opponent?

Living in Sammamish for 25 years, I’m an active member of the community serving on PTSA and other service organizations across the Eastside. I have years of executive leadership experience as a vice-president, marketing director, and high-tech CEO. I’ve always had to be accountable for my work, forge partnerships and build consensus, and lead teams to be responsive, accountable, and efficient. Voters should expect nothing less from me. I look at problems comprehensively and use data for problem solving and solution validation. With corporate and community experience, I will work to ensure Sammamish remains a great livable city.

Candidate-Specific Questionnaire

On your Website, you list 11 “Top Issues.” What do you believe is the most pressing issue facing Sammamish? How would you solve this top issue? Be specific.

The most pressing challenge facing the city is managing growth. Many other issues are growth-related, including: canopy preservation, infrastructure, transportation, and sustainability. We may be able to slow growth, but that is not a permanent solution. Managing growth requires a long-term, holistic plan to address the variety of challenges it produces. My first steps include:

  • Ensuring the proposed Urban Forestry & Transportation Master Plans delivers on objectives
  • Taming traffic via shuttles, adding transit options
  • Siting the Park & Ride promised by Sound Transit
  • Connecting bike/walk/trail routes; adding sidewalks
  • Fast-track development of all-weather sports fields
  • Reinforcing an actionable sustainability framework

You have very few endorsements on your website and very few financial contributors, according to the State Public Disclosure Commission filings. You are mostly self-funding your campaign. Where is your visible support of the citizens of Sammamish?

I have 3,875 endorsements – everyone who voted for me in August. I have raised as much as my opponent and I’m confident my support will continue to grow. I am building my list of elected and community leaders supporting me, as well as organizations who share my values. To date, those supporters include:

  • WA Conservation Voters
  • WA Bikes
  • Planned Parenthood Votes WA
  • Minal Ghassemieh
  • State Rep. Roger Goodman
  • State Rep. Judy Clibborn
  • Former Sammamish Mayors Tom Vance, Mark Cross
  • Lake Washington SB Director Mark Stuart
  • 5th, 41st, and 45th District Democrats, Young Democrats
  • National Women’s Political Caucus

You are a CASA (court-appointed special advocate) for abused and neglected children. In thinking about this often-overlooked segment of the citizenry, what are your priorities concerning the children of Sammamish?

I’ve seen several interconnected government agencies intervene at a time of crisis, collaborate to identify the resources needed to rebuild families, maintain a high level of respect and cultural competency, and successfully place children in safe, stable permanent homes. For the kiddos – it means everything.

Sammamish families are not immune from serious health-related challenges, relationship breakdowns, job loss, or other significant stressors. Many children enter into the dependency system because there was no preventive support. By adding a social service component, the City can play a proactive role in supporting families, helping to keep kids out of the system.

You propose increasing clarification and enforcement of the city’s tree preservation ordinances. Which policies specifically do you think need tightening and how do you suggest doing that?

We can streamline and simplify City tree ordinances. For example, 21A.37.240 discusses requirements for receiving a tree removal permit. Much of the language of the section is complicated and difficult for residents to interpret. Creating a guide with simple terms and explanations for those looking to remove trees would ease the process and might prevent any undisclosed tree removals.

Residents complain that tree retention ordinances aren’t uniformly enforced in new developments and that their trees have been mistakenly targeted for removal. Tree counting software can help the City manage tree inventory (and fines!) without adding staff.

You are a strong advocate for a local shuttle for public transportation. What are the details or data that back up this idea?

A recent Metro report states over 72% of Sammamish respondents use public transit and two virtual town halls indicate that 100% of respondents want to get on a bus in Sammamish and travel to the Issaquah Transit Center. Local shuttles (like Issaquah’s 628 and Redmond’s LOOP) plus improved metro schedules would make a significant impact on traffic, fuel consumption, and the environment.

Shuttles deliver mobility to youth, seniors, riders with disabilities, enabling better access to jobs, education, and other opportunities. Popular destinations include retail centers along 228th, high schools, library, the Klahanie shopping center and the Sammamish Park & Ride.

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