Sammamish city council descends into dysfunction, paralysis

By Scott Hamilton


The Sammamish City Council hardly distinguished itself Tuesday night, descending into full-fledged dysfunction, paralysis and open warfare.

The issues: concurrency and the building moratorium.

It was often an embarrassing display and overall, the council as a collective body came off tarnishing itself.


The Comment’s report of the meeting yesterday doesn’t reflect the dysfunction that emerged by the end of the debate.

Mayor Christie Malchow completely lost control of the meeting. Debate became endlessly repetitive. Twice there was “call the question,” for a vote. Under Roberts Rule of Order, this is supposed to end discussion and move to a vote. Malchow ignored these calls and debate continued even though nothing new was offered. By the time these calls were made, it was already clear the vote was going to be split 4-3. Nothing was gained by continuing.

Update: It turns out that a call for the question needs a second and a super-majority vote. The person calling for the question has to be recognized for speaking.

Deputy Mayor Karen Moran, who knows the ins-and-outs of concurrency better than most because of her long service on the Planning Advisory Board and Planning Commission, preceding her election to the council in November, nevertheless had trouble answering questions from Council Member Pam Stuart about the benefit of adopting her proposal to add capacity measurement to the Level of Service metrics.

Member Tom Hornish succinctly summed up the confusing and conflicting positions, drawing on the legal skills he has as a lawyer preparing a summation. But then he reminded the council that the previous (2017) council had named transportation as the city’s No. 1 priority and went on to say everything else can wait until this issue is resolved.

It was a stunning statement. Transportation may have been declared the No. 1 priority, but it wasn’t declared the only priority. There is other important city business that must be pursued: environment and storm water management are just two. The city council and government seem paralyzed over concurrency. Hornish’s statement that everything else can wait was stunning.

Member Jason Ritchie displayed once again his ability to ask good questions, but once again displayed he doesn’t do his homework outside the council that would provide the answers to the very questions he asks. Regardless, his sincerity shows through. He’d be much more effective learning the subject before the meeting, however.

Member Chris Ross said little Tuesday night beyond there is one chance to get concurrency right and this is it. Ross was the only council member to acknowledge he and the others have 65,000 bosses—the residents of Sammamish—to whom he must answer, not just those pro- or con concurrency and development.

Member Pam Stuart has a talent of dismantling a proposal she doesn’t like in a razor-like fashion that is very effective. As she has before on concurrency, she grilled Moran about the benefit of adopting the proposal and the cost and delay of doing so. The last time she grilled Moran on a concurrency proposal, Moran retreated. This time, Moran didn’t retreat but she still struggled to make a convincing case her proposal should be adopted.

Member Ramiro Valderrama  also has a talent of drilling down on key arguments, even if (like a lawyer) the facts are selective. He and Malchow got into a heated tiff over a table called T-8 in which Valderrama pointed out resulted in few improvements (such as sidewalks) but which Malchow said wasn’t the point of T-8. T-8, she said, instead used metrics that artificially boosted road capacity so no project ever failed.

Valderrama correctly pointed out in an emotional, angry rant that East Lake Sammamish Parkway will never pass concurrency because of the bottleneck at ELSP and SR202.

Predictable outcome

The outcome was predictable, given the positions of the council members previously and my own discussions with council members before Tuesday’s meeting.

In June, I opined that it was time to adopt the moratorium and move on, predicated on the council’s self-imposed target of lifting the moratorium by July 17. A few weeks later, in response to a council member misrepresenting my June 6 opinion on Facebook posts, I added more thoughts about what I thought should have happened.

Tuesday’s meeting was a further tweak of the LOS concurrency model, but watching the debate left me shaking my head.

I didn’t come away convinced that the tweak offered was worth the contention displayed—the case, to the public, simply wasn’t made.

The suggestion that all other city business, other than the budget (this process begins in September), can wait is preposterous.

The cohesiveness of the council clearly is lacking, with a split clearly obvious between the “M4” (Malchow, Moran, Hornish and usually Ross) and the “V3” (Valderrama, Stuart and usually Ritchie).

I can’t help but think the council needs an intervention.

Chris Ross is right. There are 65,000 bosses. And it’s clear their business isn’t getting done.

5 thoughts on “Sammamish city council descends into dysfunction, paralysis

  1. The ELSP and SR202 bottleneck will get worse when they start to build the 2K plus housing units and ST3 in that area. Congestion is a concern in Sammamish and we can only fix the things that are under our control.

    • Correct; Sammamish can fix some of the traffic flow issues within the City, they can develop its downtown business district, which is virtually non-existent, and they can improve mass transit but to get those investment dollars, they need to move forward with their comprehensive plan.

  2. It is my understanding that the reason town center is being built is to provide shopping/professional services ON THE PLATEAU to allievate traffic into Redmond/Issaquah. Is it not also to provide jobs for Sammamish citizens, again, so that citizens don’t have to enter the traffic mayhem? I suppose the percentage of cars removed from the equation is negligible, hence the discussion. With the bottleneck unfixable, I assume the conversation will never end….

  3. Mr. Hamilton fails to mention that “M4” seems to think that the citizens can just pay higher taxes to fund the “fixes” – I doubt many thought that would be the outcome when they asked the Council to address traffic congestion. The “M4” are content to kick the can down the road forever, spending revenue to admire the problem instead of fixing anything. Hornish had the audacity to say to say extending the moratorium another 2 mos was not a big deal and if it turned into lengthy process, they could stop – what?! Ludicrous. I applaud the three council members that attempted to talk sense into the other 4. The reason the Council seems so dysfunctional is that some are allowing personal agendas to get in the way of common sense. There are some inexpensive things the City could do to help improve traffic (bus turnouts, bike lanes, build the town center to provide services within the City, open up connector roads, such as Crusader Way – this one would certainly ease the pressure, etc). Yet, instead of actually doing something the “M4” demonstrate that they are content to talk about traffic forever if that’s what it takes. Hornish is now employed in CA, not in WA any longer – he should resign his position. Malchow is ineffective as a leader, she also has unbelievable bias that makes her incapable of carrying out the business of the City (how many times has she talked about her lawsuit against the City, how she’s frustrated by traffic when she’s taking her child to school or martial arts classes in Bellevue; really, maybe she should move to Bellevue?

  4. This congestion mess was hoisted onto the backs of our citizens by the actions and inactions of other Councils and City staff. They are the ones who should be held accountable for this predicament, not those council members who are serving today and are now saddled with the thankless task of fixing this mess. Rather than throwing rocks at current Council members, it would be more helpful if folks would come forward with workable suggestions and provide the Council with encouragement to work with staff and come up with a comprehensive solution.
    There ain’t no easy fix. Topographically, Sammamish presents real challenges to manage development such that it doesn’t destroy the livability of our City, and the community and environmental values that brought us here in the first place. It goes without saying that a longterm fix is going to be costly for both our citizens and the developers. There is no free lunch. Someone has to pick up the tab.
    We can be assured, though, that if there is no meaningful and purposeful solution implemented before we once again open the floodgates of development, congestion will continue to worsen and the livability of our City will continue to drop and these added development costs will continue to be externalized onto the backs of our citizenry.
    It would be irresponsible to lift the moratorium now before a funded solution was agreed on. To do otherwise would be akin to riding a horse ahead at full gallop knowing full well that there was a precipitous drop off a short distance ahead.

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