Position 5: Chris Ross Questionnaire

Chris Ross

Name:                  Chris Ross

Position sought: #5

Primary Questionnaire from 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?

We have the largest impact fee in the state largely due to our transitioning from a rural to urban road structure with all its amenities.   The process was designed to allow flexibility including the “one Zone” system, segment averaging, and credits for medians, sidewalks, bike lanes, and road width.  They intentionally established a system that would barely pass concurrency and did not implement the Highway Capacity Manual upper limit because the cost would be passed on to existing residents.  Our regional road solutions are diminishing with no plans for road improvement going across lake Washington to Seattle.

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

We need to prevent the problem from getting worse.  The current system measures capacity.  The credits utilized are misleading.  For example, adding a median, increasing road width by 1 foot, and adding a walkway provides a credit of 7420 vehicles or added capacity of 57%.  This does not mean that we are taking 7420 cars off the road, just that these improvements allow a greater capacity of traffic to safely utilize the road.  We need to examine the magnitude of these credits and the accuracy of the measurements used to qualify them.   We need to focus our attention on congestion.

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 absolutely agree with this decision. Traffic is a very complex issue that needs to start with education and end with concrete recommendations for potential policy change. It is critical that our residents are given the opportunity to view these discussions and by putting it first, it starts at a predictable time and doesn’t get lost in the late hours of a lengthy meeting. Further, if extended time is needed, lower priorities are deferred or put under time pressure rather than rushing this important discussion.

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 the proposal referenced is Thriving Sammamish, it currently is an idea being evaluated with other ideas considered in developing the Urban Forest Management Plan.  It is my understanding that proposal’s goal was to replace 65% – 75% of the trees removed by developers, not the difference between 25% and 35%.  As written, I do not support allowing 25% retention if only up to 35% is replanted.

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

I value any proposal that has a goal to maintain or enhance our tree canopy.  We must consider replanting strategies and other landscape design techniques that beautify our community.  The Urban Forest Management Plan development will consider commission and citizen input to come up with proposals that will benefit Sammamish. During this review, we should consider types of trees, deciduous vs. conifers and what solutions are durable and easy to maintain at a lower cost.

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?

The Council holds the City Manager accountable for the performance of his staff.   As in any organization, if these deficiencies continue, the City Manager’s performance reviews should reflect it and corrective action taken.  New city leadership may be considered if our City Manager does not hold his staff accountable and fails to infuse a culture of putting the interests of Sammamish residents first. The council must speak with a unified voice so expectations of the City Manager and staff are clear.

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.

Council meetings, emails, personal contact, surveys, and social media are all important methods to gather input from citizens.  People have different levels of comfort to provide their input.  Presenting at televised council meetings may be intimidating.  Emails, personal contact, and surveys allow direct input away from public view.  Social media may be an area of comfort to communicate with those that share concerns on the same themes.   I think personal contact with citizens is the most valuable method of gathering input because there is an opportunity to clarify and draw out great ideas.  Surveys results and written feedback can be misinterpreted.

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

Dismissing social media communication is not a good idea.  Several forums include passionate citizens that share the same concerns.  Many bring experiences and knowledge that should be considered as we develop city policy.  Too often they do not assert themselves outside of their group and so much opportunity is lost.

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

The city is trying harder to get citizen involvement with more forums to provide input on key issues.  A major setback was the aggressive defensive posture taken by the city when a concerned citizen highlighted concerns about concurrency.  It doesn’t matter if his approach may have offended some leaders in the city. The city leaders must be held to a higher standard and always welcome input from Sammamish citizens even if the topic is uncomfortable.  Citizens should feel comfortable bringing tough issues forward.  Putting Traffic on the top of the list and supporting good dialogue is encouraging.

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?  

Providing property tax relief for homeowner’s that rent a portion of their home provides affordable housing while preventing many from being priced out of their homes.  Allowing for fee-simple ownership of multifamily units may help more finance their homes. Encouraging Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) also has positive implications to a renter and homeowner.  We need to focus subsidized housing options for our moderate to lower income employees working in our city. I do not favor changing the impact fee structure to a square foot basis.

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 prefer to raise revenue without raising taxes.  Our traffic congestion has a direct correlation to suppressing business activity.  With improvements in transportation/traffic we can have some growth in business coupled with strategically placed new business such as in the Town Center.  A 10% increase in sales will generate about $500,000 in additional tax revenue.  The other approach to balance needs that Sammamish has done before is up fronting money that gets paid back when we collect the impact fees.

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.

[No changes-Editor.]

Why me?

Why should Sammamish citizens vote for you over your opponent?

I am the only candidate with over 30 years of finance experience.  I will leverage my financial background to help navigate the city to fund our priorities without unnecessary tax burdens.  Three council members recognized in testimonials that my financial expertise is a critical skill needed in the new council.  I am also distinguished by my community leadership roles including Board member of Sammamish Kiwanis, Chairman of Kirkland Human Services Advisory Committee, Soccer Club President, Soccer Coach of the year, and HOA Treasurer. Finally, Wally Pereyra, highly respected environmentalist, endorses me and my practical approach for protecting Sammamish’s character.

Candidate Specific Questionnaire

Finances

You have clearly made your financial background and Sammamish finances your No. 1 issue of your campaign. Your website, and your statements in the Primary Candidates Forum, talk about a “looming financial crisis” for the City. Despite your “indicators” on your website, the City Manager and most of the Council members say the City has a sound financial condition. Why do you think there is a “looming” financial crisis?

Historically our finances have been positive and largely well managed.  In my 30 plus years as a financial professional mostly in the planning and analysis discipline, I learned that forward looking planning is critical and historical performance is not always an indicator of similar future success.  We are transitioning from a high growth period since incorporation shifting from a rural to urban city largely funded by impact fees from developers.  Going forward we must maintain and improve infrastructure that requires alternate resources for funding. The changing environment requires making the right choices and spending money where it is most needed.

Following your belief, what would you do to avoid this “looming crisis?” Your website says, The time is now to set a financial foundation necessary to work key priorities.” This is a vague statement. Please be specific.

It is all about planning.  A two-year outlook doesn’t allow us to properly plan the needs of our community.  A long-term forecast is needed for our entire budget.  This will help us plan resources and funding priorities going forward.  As we identify cost increases or new priorities in the future, we can manage the challenge by making responsible hiring and purchasing decisions.   This planning foundation allows us to layer in needed projects and their timing.  With no plan, we spend, run out of money, raise taxes.

Traffic

You identify traffic as the City’s “greatest challenge.” You suggest that priorities must be set before funding is identified, something that is the goal of the current project to create a Traffic Management Plan. There are certain realities in attempting to relieve congestion: Sammamish does not control then choke points, and those jurisdictions that do don’t have the ability to fix them; Sammamish doesn’t have the money to create four- and -five lane roads for more capacity, nor is the land available to widen roads in many cases; widening the roads has an adverse impact on the environment. So, what do you propose to relieve congestion that is feasible and affordable?

You are right.  Redmond is not interested in improving roads and is focusing on transit solutions.  There are no known plans to improve I-90 or 520, so once we are off our island, we will still be stuck.  We must ask ourselves how much are we willing to spend on roads that is only a small part of our total commute? Safety improvements on our roads are beneficial to our community but does not relieve congestion.  I attended the TMP workshop and transit options are going to have to be seriously considered to connect to the regional system being developed.

Community Support

Your website lists only three people providing testimonials. There is no list of endorsements (as of this writing). The testimonials all focus on finance and no other City issue. Why is this?

These members recognize my financial strength.  We are losing significant experience with the four councilmembers retiring.  The referenced testimonials are locking in on a critical skill needed because of these departures. One testimonial also mentions my community leadership and another resonates with my diversity experiences especially within my own family with me married to a Chinese immigrant.  Most recently the Eastside Business Alliance endorsed me for my commitment to help business thrive in Sammamish generating increased revenue sources.  In addition, the Eastside firefighters endorsed me.  From the environmental community, Wally Pereyra endorses me.  These are community based endorsements.

 

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