By Miki Mullor
A Sammamish Chamber of Commerce vice president this week called for denser development and taller buildings in a piece containing scathing criticism of the city council published on the chamber’s website.
Tossing aside long-standing claims that the chamber doesn’t endorse candidates for city council, Julio Richburg called on Sammamish voters to elect candidates who do not support the policies set by the current council.
The chamber did not disclose Richburg is its vice president.
The president of the chamber, Karen McKnight, is running against incumbent Mayor Christie Malchow, who is seeking a second term.
We need more density, building higher
“We need to be building more density, building higher, and stop clearing all the land for more houses,” Richburg said.
“The City would not get a good grade — I’d give them an F — for not providing transportation options. There are no places to shop, housing is unaffordable and that’s only going to get worse. We’re not bringing in any commercial revenue to the city; we’re stifling it. Property tax is the only tax.”
According to the City’s recent budget, the City brings about $14.8 million local sales tax every two years.
(Source: City of Sammamish, Washington 2019-2020 Budget in Brief.)
Against a building moratorium
Richburg also took aim at a building moratorium that was enacted in 2017 while the city reviewed and revised the traffic concurrency system. The moratorium was adopted on a unanimous vote of the previous city council and supported by all the candidates running for election in November 2017.
A bitter split later developed between the current council members over retaining the moratorium.
The moratorium was lifted on Dec. 4, 2018.
“[The moratorium is] shortsighted and serving a special purpose, but none of them are coming out and admitting it,” Richburg said. “It’s morally bankrupt. Playing on the fear of development is making the situation even worse, without having the vision to plan for proper development. I think the people in Sammamish generally don’t have any idea how it works and how bad it is. Having some way to explain it and why it’s bad is important.
“Projects like the town center and similar proposals would relieve the very issue about which they have concern. Certain individuals on the City Council have an agenda and they aren’t honest about that agenda. The average citizen doesn’t realize that the complete lack of action will just make the problems worse.”
Richburg believes Sammamish is capable or should be capable of effectively tackling transportation issues without a moratorium.
“Absolutely, the moratorium hurts the transportation issue. We’ve had people from Sound Transit reach out to us and say they’d like to make this a model city for transit.”
[Update] Rachelle Cunningham, Public Information Officer for Sound Transit said Sound Transit can’t confirm that anyone from Sound Transit said this.
City councils nearly since the inception of Sammamish in 1999 have been trying, with minimal success, to get Sound Transit and Metro Transit to increase bus service to the city.
Sound Transit’s ST3 $27 billion tax plan for a $54 billion transportation program actually reduces bus service to Sammamish. A $20 million park and ride is planned for Sammamish, however.
Tossing neutrality aside
Richburg tossed aside any pretense of chamber neutrality in the election.
“A lot really depends on the upcoming election. It is critical that residents of Sammamish really investigate the candidates on these issues and vote accordingly. If we continue the same course, I believe the situation will only get worse.”
The chamber is sponsoring a candidates’ forum Oct. 7. Chamber member Art Finkelstein is the moderator. He has donated to McKnight’s campaign, as has chamber board member Jason Ritchie. Ritchie, elected to the city council in 2017 (and who supported the moratorium as a candidate), is a bitter political opponent of Malchow.
These factors raised concerns from Malchow and candidates Ken Gamblin and Kent Treen, seen as Malchow allies, over the fairness and the appearance of fairness of Finkelstein’s moderating role. The chamber’s CEO, Deborah Sogge, has rejected these concerns.
Richburg’s comments increase the appearance of bias of the Oct. 7 forum.
“Sammamish Comment is propaganda”
Richburg’s unprecedented attacks on the city council were not isolated. He took on Sammamish Comment as well.
“I don’t think people are getting local news, just a lot of rumor mill, word of mouth. Neighborhood web sites are rumor mill central. Sammamish Comment, from what I’ve seen and heard from others, it’s even worse than misrepresentation, it’s propaganda,” said Richburg.
In his piece, Richburg cites no sources or evidence to any of the claims made in it.
The Comment reached out to Sogge, the Chamber CEO, on whether the Chamber shares Richburg view of The Comment:
“These views shared by Julio are his own. We did not censor his comments. The Chamber’s view of Sammamish Comment has always been that it is a blog and as such we take things as opinions there, not news.“
Reference: PDF copy of Richburg’s opinion.