Top issues for Sammamish city council in 2018

Four new members of the Sammamish City Council are sworn in tonight. The mayor for the next two years and deputy mayor for the next year will also be selected.

This new Council has a plethora of thorny issues facing it this year. Many of them come with hefty price tags that could mean a need to raise new taxes, despite universal opposition to any in a county where tax fatigue has set in.

Top issues

Except for the declared No. 1 priority, traffic, there’s no attempt to prioritize these issues; they are listed in alphabetical order.

Traffic

Far and away, this is the biggest issue facing the City Council this year. It’s also the thorniest and most expensive.

It also impacts development and the building moratorium.

Traffic concurrency is exceedingly complex. For the new council members, there’s going to be a steep learning curve. There’s also going to be a staff and consultant who say concurrency can’t stop growth. But infrastructure (ie, roads) must meet concurrency or land use can be reassessed.

Making roads meet development is costly and in some case, impossible because there simply may not be room to widen roads at anything approaching a reasonable cost.

Furthermore, Sammamish is a land-locked “island;” with the exits controlled by Issaquah, Redmond, King County and the state, none of which have a particular interest or motive in making things better for Sammamish, the city council can approve all sorts of road improvements—only to be stymied at the choke points.

Or, there is another solution: the council can take the position that failure is an option.

It’s going to be a difficult set of choices.

Budget

Whatever is done with traffic concurrency is affected by the budget. Or, to put it another way, the budget will be affected by the choices.

The city has a Transportation Improvement Projects plan that identified $165m in projects over six years. Unfortunately, since its adoption, costs for just two of them—Issaquah-Fall City Road and Issaquah-Pine Lake Road—ballooned to $54m and $49m, or $103m between them.

The city’s operating fund can’t support all the projects identified and everything else that’s needed, or desired, for the city.

During the city council election campaign, all the candidates identified things that would be good to have. But not one of them supported increased revenue, other than road bonds (debt), to pay for all the “wants.”

Only one of them, Mark Baughman, openly said that new taxes might be necessary to pay for the road bonds. He went down to a crushing defeat (though this candor probably wasn’t the reason).

The last city council, like others before it, dodged the budget issue. It did not take the 1% property tax increase allowed by law, instead “banking” the increase. Nor did it adopt other taxes possible, such as a utility tax. The inaction only delays the inevitable.

Development

Development continues to be a sore point with citizens. They see trees coming down. They get stuck in the additional traffic.

The Town Center, where 2,000 residential units and up to 600,000 sf of commercial/office space has been authorized, is under construction but less than 200,000 sf and less than 400 units have been approved so far.

Some residents want to stop the Town Center projects and reassess the entire plan.

Be care what you ask for.

Reopening the plan, under the Comprehensive Plan, means delaying the Town Center several years. It also means the prospects for increasing the plan, not reducing it. One resident proposes adding 8,000 units to the plan.

The roads, of course, wouldn’t support this—unless the council agrees that failure is an option.

Delaying development of the 2,000 units approved also threatens the commercial viability of the stores that have opened.

And, as Redmond and Issaquah approve development on the choke points exiting Sammamish, it becomes more difficult for citizens to get out for basic amenities, staples and jobs. The Town Center provides essential and desired services needed.

There will continue to be a push by some to reopen the Town Center plan. The council must consider all the issues listed above, and more.

East Lake Sammamish Trail

Construction of the south end of the East Lake Sammamish Trail is underway, but legal issues remain between Sammamish and King County. Sammamish appealed a court decision that essentially said the city has no permitting control over the trail because it’s a former rail line under federal law. The court ruled this preempts local control. Sammamish appealed this.

This is important because the remaining, center section of the trail is the next, final and most difficult link of the trail. King County wants to finish the trail but homes it permitted before Sammamish became a city encroach on some of the right-of-way.

The county and city have squared off for years, with the property owners caught in the middle.

The trail issue will continue to be a problem for Sammamish–and for taxpayers who are footing the legal bills on both sides of the adversaries.

Environment

As always, the environment is a key issue in Sammamish. Tree retention and replacement is the most visible.

But this year, storm water management is a priority.

Sammamish has three lakes that are labeled, in government-speak, 303(d) lakes: Beaver and Pine lakes and Lake Sammamish.

This link describes that water sensitivities of the designation.

All the storm water drainage eventually routes its way into Lake Sammamish, which also receives storm water from Issaquah, Redmond, Bellevue and some areas of unincorporated King County. Issaquah, through the North Fork of Issaquah Creek, is allowing untreated storm water to enter Lake Sammamish.

Sammamish last year completed a storm water management plan along Inglewood Hill Road. But the city and successive city councils have diddled a solution to the Tamarack subdivision storm water management problems for more than 12 years.

Tamarack has been adversely affected by storm water runoff from uphill development. The storm water runs through Tamarack into Lake Sammamish, just a short downhill distance away.

The inaction is a stain upon the councils. This year is another year in which it remains to be seen whether the council will do something to protect the environment and homeowners whose property is being damaged by uphill development.

Moratorium

The city council last year adopted an emergency moratorium on development to deal with traffic concurrency. After a bungled maneuver by Council Member Ramiro Valderrama to exempt the Town Center from the moratorium he voted for, he flip-flopped a second time to reinstate the Center into the moratorium.

The two 180s by Valderrama creates uncertainty for the development of the Town Center.

Sammamish Comment believes the Town Center should be exempted, but for thoughtful reasons, not the wham-bam Valderrama approach that made the council look foolish and for the reasons Valderrama gave that had nothing to do with concurrency in his first 180.

The rest of the city, including small “short-plat” developments, is frozen by the moratorium.

Since Comprehensive Plan changes are necessary to alter concurrency standards, residents and developers are looking at the rest of this year before new applications will be processed, absent any other council action to adjust the moratorium.

Residents shouldn’t expect to see any pause in development in the meantime. There were two years of applications in the pipeline before the moratorium was adopted. Construction and traffic growth will continue unabated.

4 thoughts on “Top issues for Sammamish city council in 2018”

  1. Failure on the traffic issue is not an option. That is the easy way out and unacceptable. It also would be political suicide for any sitting Council member or City Manager who wanted to stay in office or employed. The failure mind set is what got us to where we are today. Obviously growth didn’t pay for growth and the resulting development costs have been heaped on the citizens of Sammamish. Our citizens have already had their pocketbooks picked by ST3. Its time for hard choices as to how much additional growth we are going to allow in Sammamish and what that growth is going to cost those who want to develop in Sammamish and those new comers who want to live in our fair city. Happy New Year all. 2018 is going to be a great year.

    1. @Wally: I wasn’t making a judgment call on the merits or demerits of “failure is an option.” I was making a legal statement. Just so everybody knows.

  2. Plastic bag ban and styrofoam ban…………let’s get our city up to environmental standards. Boston just banned single use bags. Issaquah, Mercer Island, Kirkland, Seattle, Hawaii, the state of California, the entire country of Riwanda. Just to name a few!

    1. So in a commentary and discussion about the major environmental issues facing Sammamish, traffic, development, tree retention and storm water runoff, your pressing issue is banning plastic bags and styrofoam?!?!

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