By Miki Mullor
Sammamish Council Member Ramiro Valderrama distorted advice from an organization
before the City Council August recess that misled fellow council members about key laws governing growth, traffic and development in Sammamish.
Emails obtained from Municipal Resource Service Center (MRSC), a non-profit legal advice organization, reveal Valderrama’s selective citing of laws and legal advice from MRSC painted a picture that support his strategy to continue over development in Sammamish.
In fact, the emails, when read in their entirety, paint a different picture.
Valderrama claimed city should ignore traffic congestion
Valderrama, who does not have legal background, enlisted the unsuspecting non-profit to manufacture a legal opinion to back his policy that the city should keep ignoring traffic congestion because otherwise “the residents will be on the hook” to pay for fixing the roads.
When MRSC gave him answers he didn’t like, Valderrama omitted those answers and cherry picked the ones he liked.
This is the latest twist in the concurrency saga that has been consuming city hall for over a year.
Concurrency is a legal requirement to prevent over-development, in which infrastructure is not keeping up with development impact. In Sammamish, years of deliberate manipulation of the concurrency program allowed development to run unchecked and for infrastructure to fall behind.
Fixing concurrency will likely result in a defacto moratorium for years, given a 15 years infrastructure neglect.
Misleading posts on Facebook
In a series of facebook posts, Valderrama states:
Valderrama made similar assertions to City Council in this presentation.
But emails obtained by Sammamish Comment from MRSC show Valderrama’s manipulation of MRSC representative, making it look like he’s trying to find ways to prevent growth, not to address years of infrastructure neglect:
- “ What is the proper role of concurrency in the GMA planning process? Can concurrency be used to prevent growth?” – asks Valderrama
- “Can a city use downzoning as part of a strategy to slow down or stop growth?”
- “Assume the same logic and defense below logically applies to attempts to use the Transportation Improvement Plan or Transportation Master Plan to stop growth- correct?”
Making it sound like he is looking for ways to limit growth without a valid reason.
Valderrama never gives MRSC the real context to the situation in Sammamish: a massive shortfall of public infrastructure and misrepresents the consultants responses.
The MRSC consultant was under the impression Valderrama was looking for ways to raise the standard, not address a massive infrastructure shortfall:
“I think he wants to raise the LOS,” writes Oskar Rey, the legal consultant to his colleague.
MRSC response to Valderrama
Reviewing the complete responses from MRSC, reveal a different picture than what Valderrama painted to council and the public.
In his responses to Valderrama, Rey carefully points to different sections of the law and concludes:
- “In the course of doing so, a city has some discretion with respect to the areas in which growth will be encouraged and the rate at which growth will take place.”
- “(C) If probable funding falls short of meeting identified needs, a discussion of how additional funding will be raised, or how land use assumptions will be reassessed to ensure that level of service standards will be met.”
- “A downzone must be consistent with the comprehensive plan, and not merely the desires of a neighborhood. The primary limitation on downzones is that the community action must meet a public objective.”
- “Any proposal (large or small) to downzone an area of a city should be reviewed by legal counsel for compliance with land use and zoning law and the Comprehensive Plan.”
Valderrama cherry picks
Valderrama then cherry picks specific lines from MRSC’s response to him and puts together a presentation he presents at a city council meeting.
Below is a side by side comparison of MRSC complete response to Valderrama and Valderrama’s edited version as presented to the public:
One of the questions Valderrama presents to MRSC is whether the city will “be on the hook” to pay for roads that fail concurrency as a result of changes to the standard.
What Valderrama doesn’t tell MRSC is that he already asked City Attorney, Mike Kenyon, the same exact question and was answered during a council meeting (YouTube).
This is the public quote from Facebook Valderrama used in his question to MRSC:
But when Valderrama writes to MRSC, he conceals the fact that the quote references City Attorney:
“Here is a quote of one of our citizens today “clarifies that tax payers are not on the hook to pay for concurrency deficiencies if those are found (because the city is under no obligation to fix the roads if the citizens don’t want to pay for them). ” – My understanding of what you wrote below … means that the city MUST address/correct (pay for) identified deficiencies in “a responsible period of time”. IS that correct?”
Comparing side by side, shows Valderrama clever edit to disguise the quote as coming from a “citizen”, not the City Attorney, by editing out the four words, “City Attorney Mike Kenyon”:
|Complete Facebook quote||Valderrama’s edited version|
|“City Attorney Mike Kenyon clarifies that tax payers are not on the hook to pay for concurrency deficiencies if those are found (because the city is under no obligation to fix the roads if the citizens don’t want to pay for them).”||“Here is a quote of one of our citizens today
“clarifies that tax payers are not on the hook to pay for concurrency deficiencies if those are found (because the city is under no obligation to fix the roads if the citizens don’t want to pay for them).”
Never been challenged, never happened before
At the bottom line, MRSC consultant concludes that no local government has ever been challenged for raising LOS standards, making their advice an opinion at best:
“With respect to the first question below, are you aware of situations where a jurisdiction has been challenged for setting LOS too high? In my experience the situations come up at the opposite end of the spectrum where cities allow development to occur despite a failing LOS.” – writes Rey to his colleague Steve Butler.
“I am not aware of any local governments, however, that have been challenged for having high LOS standards.” writes Butler, on March 28.
At no point does MRSC takes any position on the specific situation in Sammamish.
Nevertheless, Valderrama invokes MRSC in the debate as if a legal conclusion was made on the merits of correcting the concurrency manipulation and recognizing the inadequacy of the public infrastructure in Sammamish.