Sammamish City Council Member Ramiro Valderrama, citing what turns out to be a series of unsubstantiated claims, executed a pirouette on his previous vote supporting a moratorium including the Town Center—and went splat.
The Town Center was exempted from the moratorium at the Nov. 21 meeting by a 4-3 vote, with Valderrama, Mayor Bob Keller and Council Members Don Gerend and Kathy Huckabay voting to lift it.
Valderrama said his vote always was about storm water management for the Town Center. In voting to exempt the Town Center, Valderrama claimed the emergency moratorium was not about traffic concurrency.
This simply wasn’t true.
The adopted Moratorium Resolution speaks for itself:
- WHEREAS, as one specific but non-exhaustive example, the City Council is concerned about transportation concurrency under the Growth Management Act and related traffic impacts. In continuing to address this specific concern, the City Council is considering and deliberating about transportation concurrency and related traffic impacts regularly on its City Council meeting agendas, has retained an experienced traffic engineering and consulting firm to provide substantial technical assistance in reviewing the City’s existing traffic model and related data, and is working toward the completion of a Transportation Master Plan…
- WHEREAS, the City needs additional time to consider possible amendments to the City’s planning documents and development regulations to address these transportation concurrency and other issues related to development and growth….
Storm water solution claimed
Valderrama claimed one of the Town Center developers, STCA LLC, came up with a new idea for storm water retention, which he said was his concern all along.
The Council Member met and communicated with STCA, then promoted a new storm
water management concept to other council members.
“The city by state law is in process of taking 4,640 new housing units till 2023 as you know,” Valderrama wrote on Facebook. “This has always been cited as a TEMPORARY moratorium while we get some planning considered. The 1,000 units of the UZDP [Town Center zoning] mentioned yesterday are coming over the next 10 years regardless but, if we did not exempt the UZDP, we would lose the one chance the city had for the best help for storm water management. As I mentioned earlier, I voted for the environment and the storm water is critical to our lakes, streams, creeks and kokanee [salmon].”
With it evolved another controversy and evidence that Valderrama misrepresented positions of Sammamish’s leading environmentalist, Wally Pereyra, and two Sammamish Plateau Water commissioners.
Council Member Tom Hornish met with an STCA representative, who, Hornish said, raised the possibility of using a process called “injection” to dispose of storm water from a Town Center retention-detention pond that initial studies place near an aquifer used by the Sammamish Plateau Water district to supply drinking water to part of Sammamish.
In a separate meeting, with Valderrama, Council Member-elects Karen Moran and Chris Ross and an STCA representative, Moran said injection was raised in this meeting. Valderrama initially denied this was the case.
“[I] just want to put to rest a story that appears to be growing,” wrote in an email Nov. 27 to several people, including the editor of The Comment. “I have been hearing from some that there is a plan for STCA to inject near the aquifer.”
“That is NOT to my knowledge correct. What has happened to my knowledge is that they have dug bore holes and found in the NW quadrant [of the Town Center] a natural occurring outwash area that they believe can hold 100 acres of water in a sustaining manner. It was to be done via natural filtration. This was a recent discovery and creates a unique opportunity to deal with the storm water that did not exist before. As it is recent it is preliminary and has to go through several studies still to confirm.
“We all see the injections near the aquifer as bad…,” Valderrama wrote. “In our meetings, including the one with Karen Moran, STCA did not mention injection. The preliminary concept that has been mentioned by STCA of filtration has been cited as best practices – but, it is preliminary and the devil is in the details. Nonetheless this is a new possibility that did not exist previously.”
Moran directly disputed to The Comment Valderrama’s contention that injection was not mentioned.
In a Facebook post, Valderrama claimed two water commissioners and Pereyra, the leading environmentalist, supported the plan.
“The approach used was cited by both Water Commissioners and Wally Pereyra (who wanted this to be bonded) as the best chance for us to help control the significant run off already taking place on the plateau,” Valderrama wrote on Facebook.
In another Facebook post, Valderrama doubled down.
“This was the one chance for comprehensive storm water management and supported by water commissioners and environmentalists, including Wally Pereyra, who I consulted prior to my decision,” he wrote. Valderrama did not identify the “environmentalists.”
This was immediately disavowed by Pereyra. In an email to the City and others, and later to The Comment, Pereyra minced no words.
“My short phone conversation with Ramiro took place late one night when he called me to advise that the TC developer’s injection idea was gaining traction and might be approved,” Pereyra wrote. “Did I have any thoughts? I responded, ‘Make sure it is bonded.’ We never got into a discussion of the merits or demerits of injecting stormwater.
“Unfortunately, it seems Ramiro took a suggestion I made to him that any proposed solution needed to be bonded to mean I support the concept of injecting TC runoff into the ground. I do NOT support this latest TC proposal. It is risky and will have environmental impacts to normal hydrological functioning of our wetlands and streams and hence our Kokanee,” Pereyra wrote.
“This TC injection proposal is a bad idea to justify moving forward with a Town Center Plan that should be scrapped. Seeing the expected impacts from TC development, we should put any further development in the Town Center on hold until we have at least completed the Basin Stormwater Plan and know where we are going. This latest proposal is just more flying in the dark which is going to lead to serious consequences.”
Bad ideas all around
Pereyra didn’t stop there. He continued in his email to members of the Council and others:
“I have been a strong opponent of the Town Center from the very beginning…precisely because of stormwater impacts. I am still strongly in opposition. The TC was a bad decision by the Council from the get-go because of traffic and runoff,” Pereyra wrote.
“My opposition and that of others contributed to the Council initially requiring 100% stormwater retention for development in TC in order to make certain that we did NOT have runoff impacts, particularly in the Thompson SubBasin which includes Ebright Creek. Unfortunately, under pressure from [former City Manager] Ben Yazici and with support from Don Gerend and other Council members, the 100% retention requirement was reduced to 60% and weakened even further with the modifying wording ‘to the extent practical’ or something to that effect.
“In short, we don’t have effective stormwater controls on TC development which means the wetlands and streams have been impacted and will be impacted further as TC is built out. In my mind, TC is a blight on our City and becoming more so as we see what development impacts are doing to the livability of our City and its impact on our wetland and streams, and tangentially our Kokanee.”
Pereyra continued, “I am just as opposed to this idea of injecting stormwater into the ground…. Such a scheme would impact the associated wetlands and streams by robbing them of the water needed to support their function, particularly during the dry summer period…. If a stream or wetland dries up in the summer, it dies!
“I am additionally opposed to this injection proposal for TC because we also don’t know where this injected water will flow,” Pereyra wrote. “The injected runoff will not be flowing through our wetland and stream systems, so where will it go? And will it cause ‘downstream’ impacts such as we have observed with Greenbrier [a subdivision]? Greenbrier was supposed to be a fail-proof engineered stormwater solution. It failed to meet that promise and as a result, we have had unintended consequences downstream.
“What happens if injecting TC stormwater contaminates the aquifer or causes other impacts such as happened in Issaquah and Greenbrier? Then what? Will we demolish the offending developments and restore the land back to its natural state? I strongly doubt it. More than likely we will just relax our standards and cause environmental costs to our wetlands, streams and fish in some other manner such as allowing excess runoff to flow into our wetlands and streams. These environmental assets of our City and its citizens will become a casualty as will our endangered Kokanee, and our citizens will lose part of why we all live in Sammamish,” Pereyra wrote.
Injection is a controversial dispersal method of storm water. If the method is used, the storm water should first be treated—especially near an aquifer that supplies drinking water. Without treatment, pollutants could infiltrate into the aquifer, contaminating the drinking water.
Another risk of injection is “blow out” in which containment systems blow out, spilling retained stormwater which may at this stage contain pollutants, contaminating sensitive areas and aquifers. The volume of water rushing out may also be a hazard.
In 2013, Sammamish Plateau Water and Issaquah engaged in a costly and protracted legal battle over Issaquah’s plans to inject stormwater into what was called the “LRIG,” about 600 ft uphill from district wells supplying 54,000 residents, including half of Sammamish. This story in the Issaquah/Sammamish Reporter outlines the issues. (Disclosure: the consultant mentioned in the story is the wife of the editor of Sammamish Comment.)
Valderrama claimed the building moratorium had nothing to do with traffic concurrency.
In addition to Pereyra denying Valderrama’s claim that he supported the injection plan, “water commissioners” referred to by Valderrama also denied they supported it.
Moran, the water commissioner who is Council Member-elect, denied she supports injection. She declined further comment because she is a commissioner on the one hand with clear interest in injection or other stormwater control and Council Member-elect on the other.
The other commissioner referred to by Valderrama, Mary Shustov, told The Comment she told Valderrama she had to see plans before drawing any conclusions. This did not translate into an endorsement, she said.
Confronted with written evidence that the moratorium was indeed about traffic concurrency and denials by Pereyra, Moran and Shustov that they supported injected, Valderrama Monday was in full damage control.
Valderrama initially tried to dismiss Moran’s refutation by saying she was confused and later said he was the one confused. Still later, he tried to dismiss the controversy as one of “he said, she said.”
“I circled back to Karen and think the point of confusion comes from infiltration that Karen takes as injections and I took as to the absorption [infiltration],” Valderrama wrote The Comment.
Valderrama was inundated with criticism on Facebook for his voting to exempt the Town Center from the moratorium and his reasons for doing so.
On Monday, the first business day after the Thanksgiving holidays, the onslaught continued.
Valderrama felt compelled to email The Comment several times, taking responsibility for confusing injection and infiltration with the Moran meeting and, several times, “again as I have said before and now, I am against the injection into [the] aquifer.”
Moratorium and the Town Center
The Town Center is the key target for the temporary building moratorium until the City can study the traffic concurrency flaws and try to find corrections and solutions.
The Town Center plan and enabling ordinances were approved by the City Council in 2009-10. (Disclosure: the editor of The Comment was on the Planning Commission that wrote the plan and ordinances.) By then, the depth of the Global Recession was in full swing. It was only in 2015 that ground was broken for the Town Center for what is now the Metropolitan Market.
Construction of commercial, businesses and residential units is now underway on both sides of 228th Ave. SE and SE 4th St.
The plan provides to 2,200 residential units and up to 600,000 sf of commercial/retail/office space. The Environmental Impact Study allows up to 3,000 units and 700,000 sf before a supplement EIS is required to measure additional impacts.
So far, the three Town Center projects to date have vested a total of 326 residential units and 134,495 sf of commercial space, Jeff Thomas, the Community Development Director, wrote The Comment in an email Monday.
Miki Mullor, the citizen who studied the City’s concurrency model and exposed flaws, wrote on Facebook that, “The traffic plan in the TC plan is absolutely ridiculous. It ignored the many red flags raised back then and. It doesn’t address the added congestion to the morning commute. It doesn’t use data to validate assumptions. It ignored AM traffic even though that was the policy back then.”
With only 326 residential units vested, the remaining could generate between 13,118 and 18,740 vehicle trips a day, depending on the number of apartments and condos vs single-family homes that are ultimately built.
The number of vehicle trips for the remaining 465,505 sf of commercial/retail/office space authorized in the EIS depends on the mix of these uses.
According to the studies at the time the Town Center plan was created, most of the trips will go on 228th avenue north and south. The rest will go down SE 4th, SE 8th and other streets and roads. Improvements to all but 228th—for which there is little room to do more than turn lanes and traffic circles—will be required.