The Sammamish City Council members just screwed their constituents.
On a 5-2 vote May 15, the council agreed to advance the current proposal for revising the traffic concurrency model.
Deputy Mayor Karen Moran and Members Jason Ritchie, Pam Stuart, Ramiro Valderrama and Chris Ross voted to advance the concurrency revisions even through the model doesn’t include analyzing congestion and travel times. The model’s creation also included count flaws, the staff admitted, nor was it validated when submitted to council for approval.
Drivers who sit in traffic are told they have a better experience. Traffic, according to the model, has improved from 2014 to 2016.
It’s a preposterous claim. Yet five council members voted to advance the model toward approval in June or July.
Ignoring the facts and campaign pledges
Malchow and Hornish led the way in challenging the veracity of the old concurrency model and the new one developed by staff and consultants.
The council split over the process. Malchow and Hornish were followed by Moran and Ross. Valderrama led Ritchie and Stuart in opposition. This pattern is why Malchow and Hornish were stunned by the 5-2 vote.
Here’s a rundown.
Karen Moran campaigned in part on her expertise and knowledge of concurrency. She served on the Planning Advisory Board that wrote the city’s first Comprehensive Plan and on the Planning Commission when concurrency was before both commissions.
She also campaigned in part as a council member who would challenge and question staff, consultants and the city manager.
Her vote to continue with this flawed concurrency model and her general complacency with personnel is a huge disappointment.
During the candidates forum in the August 2017 primary, Moran said that on the issues of traffic management and the current methodology for measuring concurrency the Level of Service (LOS) metrics have been “watered down,” over the last several city administrations. Her vote on May 15 further waters down LOS.
In Moran’s general election questionnaire, she criticized the practice of “segment averaging, lowered Level of Service, and capacity added for things such as trails, curb width, width of sidewalk etc. This has left us in gridlock.” Yet the core problem, congestion and travel time, left out of the new concurrency model, doesn’t seem to matter now to Moran.
Pam Stuart’s strong position advocating proceeding shouldn’t be a surprise. At the primary candidates forum, Stuart praised staff and said council should rely on them. She tried to walk this back some when The Comment criticized her for this, writing:
“We need to rely on staff to provide the recommendations for the very complicated issues that face our city and have council who has the technical acumen to review those proposals and make decisions in the best interest of the community. If we don’t have enough or the right staff, that needs to be corrected. But we should not be looking to a 7-person council to come up with all of the answers. Our traffic issues are not easily solved – the council needs to set the direction that we must solve traffic – get experts to advise, have full time staff engaged and provide recommendations… and then council make the right decisions.”
Stuart indeed is deferring to staff, but she’s not providing direction. Rather, she’s siding with staff and challenging those council members who are questioning staff.
In her Candidate’s Questionnaire for the primary, Stuart listed traffic as one of her top three priorities.
“Increase transportation options through increased road capacity, adding intra-city public transit – relieving congestion,” she wrote.
But today, “congestion” is excluded from the proposed concurrency model and Stuart is going along.
Ramiro Valderrama is the biggest disappointment. Throughout his first term, Valderrama not only made it his mission to challenge staff and be the citizen ombudsmen, he relished these roles.
Today, he’s become the council’s strongest champion for STCA, having flip-flopped on his support for the Town Center three times. Valderrama is leading the charge to quell any drill-down into concurrency flaws, to adopt the current proposal and lift the moratorium.
His 180-degree flip from his first term confounds even who were his strongest supporters, including The Comment. His motives are perplexing and his motives are questioned even by fellow council members. Valderrama criticizes Malchow and Hornish for pursuing their beliefs concurrency is flawed, a huge contrast to his own approach to issues in his first term when his critics criticized his persistent squeaky wheel demeanor.
Jason Ritchie is new to city government and many issues. Traffic concurrency is one of the most complex and he asks many questions to clarify the issues in his mind.
But during the general election campaign, he was clear about this:
“We are not measuring traffic, as part of our concurrency requirements, in a manner that accurately represents true traffic patterns. More weight should be placed on traffic during rush hours.”
The proposed concurrency model doesn’t “accurately represent true traffic patterns.” Nor does it truly measure rush hour traffic. The new model proposes measuring traffic between 7-8 AM to capture school traffic. Malchow presented data that in some locations, the true rush hour is between 8-9 and.
Some cities measure a two-hour window.
Ritchie’s rookie lack of understanding of all the complex issues is natural. But these flaws compared with his own campaign statements are clear as a bell.
Chris Ross is also new to the council, and like Ritchie, is befuddled by some of the complexities of concurrency.
During the general election, Ross wrote in his candidate questionnaire:
“We need to prevent the [traffic] 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.”
However, the new model ignores “congestion.”
A larger issue
Aside from abandoning their own pledges to meaningfully address concurrency and congestion, council members face a larger issue: the veracity of the staff and consultants.
The city manager, his deputy, the public works director and his deputy have no any experience or domain subject expertise on traffic engineering.
Staff and consultants have provided conflicting information, unkept promises, stonewalled and practiced the bob-and-weave to questions.
Candidate Stuart perhaps said it best:
“At no point was I implying that we should blindly follow staff…but if we cannot rely on our staff, we have other issues that need to be resolved – and we need leaders to do that. An organization is only as good as its employees – we need to hire the best, provide them the vision and priorities, provide them what they need to be successful, and then hold them accountable.”
This is not happening at the Sammamish City Council.
Under the city manager form of government, the council can’t dip down to staff level. The city manager is the chief executive officer of the city and the council is the board of directors. Thus, in Sammamish, the buck stops in the corner office of the city manager.
The city just spent six months and nearly $400,000 of a contact awarded for more than $900,000 to craft a new concurrency model that doesn’t analyze congestion and fails to follow council direction to measure travel time, which weakens Level of Service standards and is worse than the concurrency model it is designed to replace.
The model doesn’t measure driver experience and claims traffic is better than it was in 2014. This model is crafted so that no traffic concurrency test will ever fail.
The council can and should hold Lyman Howard accountable.
Then it should reverse itself and pursue a model that is honest.