Aug. 26, 2019: The Klahanie area annexation to Sammamish in 2015 caused road projects in the legacy parts of the city to be delayed, despite promises from then-Mayor Tom Vance and then-City Manager Ben Yazici there would be no adverse impacts.
Acting public works director Cheryl Paston confirmed at the City Council’s Aug. 20 meeting what Sammamish Comment feared and reported in 2015: the Klahanie annexation would divert money from key projects to fulfill a Christmas list of promises made by Vance, Yazici, council members Don Gerend and Ramiro Valderrama to entice Klahanie residents to vote to annex to Sammamish.
As the current city council debates over projects listings on the Transportation Improvement Plan—notably the Sahalee Way project—the 2015 council led by Vance and Yazici’s administration manipulated the TIP then to claim sharply reduced costs for a major Klahanie road project while simultaneously shifting monies from other road projects in legacy Sammamish.
Special Council Meeting
Paston pointed to the Klahanie annexation and its adverse impact on legacy Sammamish during the special city council meeting Aug. 20, called to learn how two transportation concurrency certificates were issued to STCA for two Town Center projects.
Staff, some city council members and STCA had been telling council members for months that a new concurrency standard approved for Sahalee Way would cause the STCA projects to fail.
During Tuesday’s meeting, inclusion of the Sahalee project on the TIP—which the entire council opposed in principal but added it for technical adoption reasons—was cited as the deciding factor in the concurrency testing for STCA. Funding for the $54m project was assumed in the TIP, prompting a debate that in reality has been going on since 2015. (See the list of Related articles.)
It was then that Paston confirmed the adverse impact of the Klahanie annexation on legacy Sammamish.
Klahanie’s impact on legacy Sammamish
There are reasons that happens that are outside staff control, Paston said. “For example, when Klahanie was encouraged to incorporate into the city, there were promises made that we would put the Issaquah-Fall City Road a priority. That was a commitment the city made. There’s only so many funds that the city had in order to make that project happen.
“Not only that, we talked a number of times about not wanting to lock down the whole southern end” of the city, she said. “That resulted in the [Issaquah-] Pine Lake project being pushed out.”
Questioning the TIP
In 2015, Valderrama questioned the veracity of the TIP. He persistently
questioned the funding assumptions and repeatedly asked for a council agenda item to do so. Mayor Vance refused to put the item on the agenda. City Manager Yazici said the discussion might be worthwhile after the 2015 city council election.
Valderrama and Vance were running for reelection that year. Vance and his allies recruited Valderrama’s opponent and worked to defeat him. Valderrama won in a landslide and Vance lost by seven percentage points.
Even in 2015, the city administration acknowledged projects listed on the TIP may not get built within the six year period.
“A number of those projects won’t get built within the six year timeframe,” said Lyman Howard, then-deputy city manager.
Promises to Klahanie
The greater Klahanie area had been a target for Issaquah to annex since at least the 1990s. Residents twice rejected annexation votes when
Issaquah proposed that Klahanie taxpayers also assume a portion of the city’s existing debt burden.
Sammamish was incorporated in 1999 and abutted 3 ½ miles of Klahanie. Issaquah abutted only one-quarter mile. The new city wanted Issaquah to transfer Klahanie from its Potential Annexation Area, which it refused to do.
In 2015, Issaquah attempted a third time to win Klahanie voter approval for annexation. Voters rejected this by 32 votes.
Sammamish officials, including Vance, Gerend and Valderrama as leaders, worked to undermine the vote. Sammamish offered a Christmas list of promises if voters rejected the Issaquah annexation and instead voted to join Sammamish.
Road projects, notably the Issaquah-Fall City Road improvements from Issaquah-Pine Lake Road all the way to Trossachs, and park improvements were at the top of the list.
Gerend became a leader of a group called Klahanie Choice to politick against the Issaquah vote. Gerend and Vance went to the State Legislature to testify for a bill that would deny Issaquah sales tax transition funding—a long-standing, normal procedure when unincorporated areas annex to cities.
The Seattle Times wrote a week ahead of the Issaquah vote:
To show how much Sammamish wants to annex the area, Vance and Sammamish City Councilmember Don Gerend testified at a hearing last week for a state bill that could have prevented millions in sales-tax credits from going to Issaquah or Sammamish should either annex Klahanie.
State Sen. Andy Hill, who represents part of Sammamish, has since said the bill — which met immediate resistance — “will not be moving forward at this point.”
Sammamish council members have said they would take the lead on repairs to Issaquah Pine Lake Road Southeast and Southeast Issaquah-Fall City Road that could cost millions. King County and Issaquah have not said they would make those repairs an immediate priority.
Hill, a Republican for the 45th District (the northern part of Sammamish) at the time, carried the water for Sammamish. When Hill ran for reelection the next year, Vance, a Democrat, endorsed Hill’s opponent.
Playing with numbers
King County and Issaquah had pegged the cost of the Issaquah-Fall City Road improvements at $32m. Sammamish reduced this to $23m, a figure Sammamish Comment questioned at the time. Valderrama worried that the road project would require bond (debt) funding, something city officials initially said would be required but changed its position with the reduced cost estimated.
Today, the project already is projected to cost more than $45m and is likely to exceed $50m. This is money that has been diverted from legacy Sammamish road projects because the city refuses to fund road projects without raising debt or revenue.
As the Issaquah annexation vote approach, Sammamish threatened Klahanie residents. The Seattle Times wrote:
The two cities’ intentions to annex the area became more contentious as the election grew near. Until late January, Sammamish threatened to take away a fire station should Klahanie join Issaquah. In the first week of February, Vance went to Olympia to testify in favor of a short-lived Senate bill that would have taken away millions in sales-tax credits that would go to either city should it annex the area.
The threat to close the fire station on Issaquah-Pine Lake Road, across the street from Klahanie, drew a rebuke from the State Boundary Review Board at the time.
Grappling with Sahalee Way
The city has been grappling with Sahalee Way improvements for years.
The size, scope and cost of improvements has been a target from both sides of the current council. Valderrama today advocates adopting a set of improvements he opposed in 2015 and which he repeatedly labeled “lipstick on a pig” and “lipstick on a hippo.”