Traffic clearly was the No. 1 topic of interest in Sammamish during 2017. It made five of the Top 10 stories posted in Sammamish Comment.
The issue exploded after citizen Miki Mullor performed his own study of the City’s traffic concurrency system. He concluded traffic concurrency data and policies were manipulated by City staff. The Comment, which reviewed Mullor’s work before he went public with it, revealed the findings.
The study and story set off a series of events that reverberate to this day.
City Manager Lyman Howard denounced the study as “deeply offensive” and “inaccurate.”
Then-communications manager Tim Larson, with what he later claimed was approved by Howard and City Attorney Mike Kenyon, began a strategy intended to discredit Sammamish Comment and this writer, Scott Hamilton.
An effort by Larson to interest the Issaquah/Sammamish Reporter backfired when the editor of this paper rejected the story as too personal an attack on Hamilton. Written remarks from Larson to the reporter, who was transferred to another newspaper in Kenmore, became the target of controversy and investigation by members of the City Council.
Howard, Larson’s boss, came under criticism for his handling of the entire affair.
No. 1 priority
Traffic was labeled the No. 1 priority by the Council and the City Staff and traffic engineering consultant admitted Mullor was right on certain elements—namely, policy, code and the Comprehensive Plan were not being followed in key respects.
The Council is overhauling concurrency and adopted an emergency building moratorium stop halt development while the overhaul continues. This flared another controversy, not only for residents and developers affected by the halt, but with Council Member Ramiro Valderrama, whose own actions revealed his manipulations and misrepresentations which destroyed his credibility with fellow Council members.
It also probably killed Valderrama’s last chance to be selected as Mayor, a vote that comes Tuesday on the City Council meeting.
Top 10 stories
Here are the Top 10 stories on Sammamish Comment for 2017.
|1. Sammamish manipulates traffic counts to approve development, study charges
This is the report of the Mullor study that charged City staff with manipulating the traffic concurrency modeling to approve development.
|2. Sammamish, in surprise move, adopts a building moratorium to deal with traffic concurrency|
When Mullor revealed his study in June, he simultaneously called for a building moratorium while an overhaul of the concurrency system proceeded. Initially, the Council didn’t even discuss the prospect of a moratorium. But as the Council-directed investigation made it clear Mullor was fundamentally right, Deputy Mayor Christie Malchow and Council Members Tom Hornish and Tom Odell achieved a unanimous vote for adoption of a moratorium. The vote came as a surprise; it wasn’t on the agenda.
|Weeks later, Council Member Valderrama was the driving force to exempt the Town Center from the moratorium. He won a 4-3 vote in favor of exempting the Town Center from the moratorium.
In a bizarre set of maneuvers and misrepresentations, he claimed the moratorium had nothing to do with traffic concurrency, an assertion that was clearly false.
He claimed his vote for the moratorium was entirely about storm water runoff management, which is not a reason legally allowed for a moratorium, which is true. He took it upon himself to seek a solution to storm water management that involved STCA, the developer on the west side of 228th, to create a single, large retention pond. Briefings by STCA, including one at which Valderrama was present, included the possibility of storm water “injection” in addition to or instead of infiltration.
Valerrama claimed environmentalist Wally Pereyra and two commissioners from the Sammamish Plateau Water district supported the idea.
All three immediately denied they did, citing opposition to injection. Valderrama claimed injection was never discussed—contrary to what Pereyra, the commissioners and at least one Council Member briefed by STCA said was the case.
Valderrama took a beating on Facebook over his actions and Sammamish Comment revealed his perfidy. Fellow Council members behind the scenes roasted Valderrama for his actions and misrepresentations.
Having started to lobby for support to be named mayor the day after the November election, Valderrama lost support of the four votes needed to be named mayor. Although he continues to lobby, this is his last chance. The mayor’s slot is a two-year term and he begins the last two years of his second term on Tuesday.
|When Deputy Mayor Malchow pressed City Manager Howard about Larson’s actions to interest the Issaquah-Sammamish Reporter in a story discrediting The Comment and Hamilton, Howard replied Larson talked to the paper on his own volition. A short time later, Howard placed Larson on paid administrative leave while an “investigation” was underway.
A month later, Larson was offered a different position to return to work. Larson drafted a statement for Howard to issue exonerating him of wrong-doing. Emails produced under a Public Records Request showed the Human Resources director and attorneys were concerned that a statement of exoneration could be used against the City should Larson later sue.
Instead, the attorneys drafted a watered-down version of Larson’s statement. Larson declined to return to work with a “cloud” hanging over his head, and resigned. He wasn’t wrong; the existence of the investigation, coupled with the resignation, left the cloud he was concerned about.
The matter became stranger as more records were produced under PRRs. The Comment requested all the records and any reports related to the “investigation.” After two months, the City Clerk’s office responded that “as of the date” of the request, no investigation existed. The parsing of words was reminiscent of President Clinton’s famous statement, “It depends on what the meaning of ‘is’ is.” Was there an investigation prior to the date of the PRR?
In an interview with City Manager Howard, he said there had been an investigation, but there was nothing put on paper about it “upon the advice of counsel.” The response was odd, given the possibility of litigation by Larson’s attorney throughout the investigation. See this story.
Both Larson and his attorney demanded to know the nature of the investigation. Apparently, they weren’t told, at least according to Larson.
After he resigned, he wrote a four-page letter to Staff and Council giving his side of events. In it, he claimed he remained in the dark over the nature of the “investigation.”
An email produced under a PRR from the Human Resources director said Larson was put on administration leave for “gross insubordination,” but no details were revealed.
|This story was a follow-on to Mullor’s study, with inside details about how the study and the City’s reaction came about.|
|This writer had been involved in creating the first Comprehensive Plan that included the City’s first traffic concurrency policies. Since its adoption in 2003, the policies were watered down. Mullor’s conclusions came as no surprise.|
|The City Council election in 2017 was the first time since incorporation in which a majority of the seats were contested with no incumbents running for reelection. Position 5 was contested in the primary by Ryika Hooshangi, Rituja Indapure and Chris Ross. Indapure and Ross advanced from the primary. Ross won the general election. He takes office Tuesday.|
|After the surprise, emergency building moratorium was adopted, the upheaval led Mullor to declare, “City Hall will not be the same.”|
|There was no primary race for City Council Position 1, which pitted Jason Ritchie against Mark Baughman. Ritchie was reasonably well known; he had run for State Representative, barely losing to incumbent Jay Rodne. He also had run against US Rep. Dave Reichert, having been the Democrat’s sacrificial lamb in the heavily Republican 8th Congressional District.
But Baughman was an unknown. He was not previously active in Sammamish. His background in construction labeled him as a “developer,” though he works for a company that does “green” building and development.
Ritchie went on to win easily. Baughman has applied for appointment to the Planning Commission.
The August primary had contests in three of the four City Council races. This story was election night coverage.