Recent emails discovered on Fehr & Peers servers, obtained through a public records request, reveal separate, secret meetings between Kendra Breiland from Fehr & Peers, former City Manager Lyman Howard and Town Center developer STCA.
“This is confidential correspondence from the City Manager’s office,” wrote former Deputy City Manager Jessi Bon to Breiland in an email dated July 22, 2017. “We would like to meet with you on Thursday at on off-site location. At this time it will just be myself and the City Manager. The other staff are not aware of this meeting, so again, please keep this confidential.”
Meetings between developers and government officials are common. What is uncommon–and suspicious–are meetings that are labeled confidential and specifically excluding staff under a request for confidentiality.
A contractor’s emails are subject to the State Public Records Act under certain circumstances, which applied in this case. The complete email exchange is here.
Background: concurrency model was manipulated
We wrote extensively about the importance of concurrency and its role to prohibit over-development. (here)
Concurrency uses traffic as a gauge to over development. The law requires adequate roads to be in place, or to be funded to be completed within 6 years, to serve new development.
June 2017: Concurrency manipulation exposed
In June 2017, this writer released to the public a study that concluded the City of Sammamish manipulated its traffic reports to understate traffic congestion.
Although former City Manager Lyman Howard tried to discredit the findings in public, a response by the staff and then-traffic consultant Victor Salemann validated the underlying revelations that Sammamish’s concurrency model had been manipulated to approve development.
The City Council responded by enacting a moratorium and directing staff to redo concurrency so it matches the actual driver experience in Sammamish. The council action amounted to a major rebuke to Howard.
Howard resigned as city manager in August.
Future growth on the line
On the line is the future of growth in Sammamish, especially the Town Center. Recognizing the bad state of the roads would stop growth in its tracks until the city can show roads can be built and paid for to support it. Given 15 years neglect in roads investments, it’s not clear to anyone that this can be achieved – which could mean a massive downzone throughout the city.
The Growth Management Act provides the option to revisit existing zoning if traffic concurrency cannot be achieved.
July 2017: The secret meeting with Fehr & Peers
A few days after City Council adopted a resolution to make traffic its first priority, former Deputy City Manager Jessi Bon approached traffic consultant Kendra Breiland from Fehr & Peers to arrange a secret meeting with Howard off site, behind his staff’s back. The meeting was set to “private” on Howard’s calendar, preventing staff from seeing the meeting schedule.
November 2017: Critical public meeting not recorded
Following the meeting in July 2017, the administration appointed Fehr & Peers to take over the concurrency project and present to council options on a new one that will match the driver’s experience. This most critical public meeting was held in the middle of the day and was not recorded, making it the only public meeting not recorded that year. This was especially strange given that the very same day, just before it, city council held a public meeting that was recorded.
December 2017 – April 2018: False assurances
New model would measure congestion–or not
Over the course of several council meeting, Breiland assured city council that the new concurrency system will recognize and measure traffic congestion, in response to pointed questions by Mayor Christie Malchow and Council member Tom Hornish.
It was only later in May, after city council demanded that the new concurrency be verified against current traffic conditions, that Breiland admitted that the new concurrency in fact would not measure congestion, just like the old one it was designed to replace.
We reported on that extensively here.
February 2018: Breiland’s secret meeting with the Town Center Developer
On February 28, Breiland met with STCA, the Town Center developer, at an offsite location in Bellevue. The meeting was coordinated by Cheryl Paston, the city’s Deputy Director of Public Works. There is not a single email documenting this meeting, its purpose or result, neither on the city’s email servers or on Fehr & Peers servers. Other meetings with STCA or other developers normally take place at City Hall, with written agendas and notes.
The Comment learned about this secret meeting by a single expense report Breiland submitted to the city and a single voicemail from Paston to Breiland that was kept on Fehr & Peers servers.
January 2018 – June 2018: Town Center developer spends over $30mm to acquire land in the Town Center
Support for Town Center – conditional on passing concurrency
In November 2017 City Council adopted a resolution:
“declaring full support for the City’s Town Center Plan adopted in June, 2008, and a desire that any future development in the Town Center be subject to the City’s amended concurrency methodology and LOS standards.”
Before the council had a chance to weigh on the new concurrency system, Town Center developer STCA moved forward and began purchasing land in the Town Center in January 2018, spending over $30mm through June 2018, knowing that any plans to develop in the Town Center will be subject to a concurrency system that at that time was still unknown to the council and the public.
2015: Fehr & Peers previous work on behalf of Town Center landowners
Previous traffic analysis done for a Town Center land owner
In 2015, Fehr & Peers has prepared a traffic analysis on behalf of Paul Stickney, a
landowner in the Town Center, stating that the city has originally overstated the traffic impact from the future Town Center. In his memo, Chris Breiland, a traffic engineer for Fehr & Peers, said:
“There is strong and compelling evidence that the Town Center can support additional housing units, from a low of 3,650 to a high of 8,000, over and above the 2,000 units originally planned for (total units from 5,650 to 10,000) without generating additional traffic beyond which was identified in the EIS. “
It’s unknown whether Chris Breiland is related to Kendra Breiland, the current traffic consultant handling concurrency and if so, what conflict implications can arise.
Fehr & Peers’ contract with the city is currently estimated to be worth $935,476.
The secrecy is in stark contrast to the public process undertaken in establishing the traffic concurrency model and traffic impact fees in the past, said Scott Hamilton, a member of the Planning Advisory Board and Planning Commission that adopted plans and sent recommendations to the city councils at the time.
“We had extensive public involvement in creating the traffic concurrency parameters on the PAB,” Hamilton said. Hamilton is now editor of Sammamish Comment. “All meetings where consultants made recommendations and decisions made were public. The public was allowed comment opportunities.
“At the planning commission, when we set the highest impact fees in the state, developers were openly welcomed to participate. They gave public testimony. The public commented. By the time we were done, we had buy-in from developers for these unprecedented fees,” Hamilton said.
“The secret meetings, declared by former deputy city manager Bon and kept off Howard’s calendar, secret even from the city staff, is astounding and it’s suspicious. It denies other developers and Sammamish citizens their right to participate and smacks of favoritism for one developer, STCA, for one project, the Town Center.”
Here is a simple question for Mr. Mullor. Have you had any “secret” meetings and private exchanges with members of the City Council?
Many citizens have had meetings with city staff, city council members, consultants…City council members have had private meetings with a wide range of people.
Official business does not emerge in a vacuum. But, keep in mind, actual city business is conducted at public meetings and it is in that venue that voting takes place. There is nothing wrong or illegal about the meetings held.
As a major land owner with huge investments (other citizens and developers have been similarly impacted) that have been threatened, injured by this uncalled for moratorium does not STCA have a right to engage whoever in discussions?
Lets hear what the Planning Commission has to say. Lets listen to what the Chamber of Commerce has to say. Lets listen to what citizens have to say. Lets note how much time and money has been wasted fooling around with concurrency. After a year of meetings and revisions council members Malchow and Hornish protest against their own proposals citing them as worse than what existed when they instigated this entire process.
One of the concerns, John, is Jessi Bon and Lyman holding an off site meeting and keeping the meeting off calendar, all in the name of secrecy (“confidentiality”) from their own staff.
Holding another off-site meeting with STCA, with the only record being discovered is an expense claim and a voice mail, doesn’t look or smell good.
As you know, I continue to support the entire TC plan that was ultimately adopted. What concerns me is the current process that is confined to STCA to the possible detriment of all others (the “mom and pop” builders and the other developers). This has not been an open and fair process.
You’re right, it hasn’t been fair. This particular builder has been singled out, not because of anything that has been built just because they want to develop the TC. How dare they – yes, some sarcasm. If anyone has squeezed out the “mom and pop” companies, it’s the City’s moratorium. A smaller developer couldn’t weather this mortorium, oh and by the way, we’ve heard some of them speak at council meetings. This is the type of thing that can bankrupt a small business that has invested in land acquisition and now can’t build. The logic you cite is incredibly flawed. The city didn’t select a builder. They created a vision and developers began to buy land, not just STCA, look at the existing development in the TC. They review the TC plan and work with the City to develop the concept. This is not a City funded project, it’s private. Zoning dictates what will be built and the City will tweak that if they believe it makes sense. I’d rather have a comprehensive plan than the mishmash we have from one end of the City to the other. The mishmash approach is how a city ends up with strip malls and no real downtown corridor.
There is no ‘current process’ the entire city of Sammamish has been brought to a standstill. No City Manager, no Deputy City Manager, an endless building moratorium, a traffic ‘concurrency’ item that is holding up everything and the current city council thinks the new version of concurrency is worse than the previous, utter chaos, thanks Miki, you have brought Sammamish to its knees.
I am also concerned they are talking about funding indirectly or who knows.
Well stated Catherine
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