By Don Gerend
In reference to the Guest Column in the Sammamish Comment by Tom Odell, I have a few comments and questions, but first I would like to provide a little background. Tom has been a good friend and was a fellow councilmember during our time on the Sammamish Council together. When he first came on the council, he was eager to not only engage locally, but to look regionally and nationally as to ways to help municipal government.
Specifically, a local example is when Tom learned about the Kokanee Work Group, Tom joined our group and he has been a major contributor in the effort to preserve this native Lake Sammamish “little red fish”. Tom also supports the Department of Interior’s Urban Wildlife Refuge Partnership launched in 2014 here by Secretary Sally Jewell.
Tom was involved in many regional forums and participated with me on Association of Washington Cities committees and he also engaged in National League of Cities committees.
Tom and I have been totally in agreement on many issues, but our views on the build out of the Town Center, the current election and the future vision for Sammamish would appear to be diverging.
Below I will compare and contrast our views as I interpret them from reading his Guest Column.
In his post it is unfortunate that Tom Odell would label the three candidates Karen McKnight, Rituja Indapure and Karen Howe as for unabated and unrestricted development. These candidates have never expressed that view. In my opinion they have been supportive of carrying out the programs defined in Sammamish’s Comprehensive Plan which includes the Town Center Plan that was so exhaustively developed some 11 years ago. Scott Hamilton has published his view of that Plan’s evolution in earlier columns on this blog (see August, 2016, and earlier columns). As he pointed out, during the years 2002 through 2010 “5 citizen committees and commissions involving 70 Council appointees” were involved, as were 5 terms of the City Council. Scott goes on to say “Many, many public meetings and tours of other cities were conducted to provide data and public comment”. Scott’s 2016 articles are infused with his personal perspectives, but more recently he said “In the end, a Town Center plan of modest proportions was adopted [by the Planning Commission] and forwarded to the city council for approval. With minor modifications, it was approved as recommended.” (source: Scott Hamilton application to Bainbridge Island Planning Commission, April, 2019)
Odell suggested that if we wanted density we would have gone elsewhere rather than settle in Sammamish. Indeed, my family moved here 40 years ago when local shopping was restricted to a country store with a hitching rail. But that was before the explosive growth of Central Puget Sound and the State’s passage of the Growth Management Act (GMA) in 1990. Basically, this was a plan to increase zoned density inside urban growth boundaries in order to protect farmland, forests and critical areas from the sprawl inherent in uncontrolled growth. Environmental organizations strongly supported GMA and put pressure on the newly incorporated City of Sammamish to have minimum density of R-4. We resisted and retained our minimum densities of R-1 for sensitive areas with the understanding that we would have to accept some area or areas with higher density to accommodate our growth targets of dwelling units and jobs as negotiated amongst the cities and counties of Central Puget Sound.
In his post Odell claims that Sammamish does not have to take more growth than it can handle. Ah, but there is the rub. Puget Sound Regional Council, the Metropolitan Planning Organization for the four Central Puget Sound counties, has struggled with handling the growth that is coming, and is encouraging the development of urban centers to better accommodate local needs and possibly slow the congestion growth regionally.
Again, in his post Odell suggests that some current councilmembers are more closely aligned with the development community than they are with the interests of the residents. The development community responds to the Comprehensive Plan and zoning ordinances that a city or county puts in place, as well as the marketplace demand. Odell’s house, as are most of ours, were built by developers who anticipated the desires of people to live here. Very few people living in Sammamish built their own houses. Since the incorporation of Sammamish, the councils have continually increased the restrictions on development regarding protection of trees and critical areas, as well as surface water runoff and setbacks. Personally, I would like to see additional restrictions to protect our existing neighborhoods, such as requiring public easements around new subdivisions and expansion of the internal Transfer of Development Rights (TDR) program.
In his post Odell points out that developers are by and large outsiders and that after their projects are finished, they take their money and are gone while we have to live with the consequences of their actions. There are tremendous risks involved in development as is evident by the number of builders that went bankrupt in the last recession. Furthermore, there are few Sammamish developers that can take on large projects. However, the developer of the Metropolitan Market property, as well as Merrill Gardens (a senior housing developer) are developers who retain ownership of their properties and become valued members of the community.
In his post Odell claims that we now have to decide about what kind of development that we want. Well, we have done that. Eleven years ago, we decided as a community, and planned a Town Center, to accommodate much of the future development in a holistic fashion while creating a heart and soul for Sammamish along with providing a spectrum of housing and commercial types. This was a broad community effort, as Scott Hamilton detailed, and the zoning has not increased since then. School districts were well aware of the plans and have had 11 years to start accommodating the growth from the Town Center as it gradually develops.
In his post Odell then discusses the election and opined that Christie Malchow has kept Sammamish on even keel over the last four years, and particularly during the two years that she has been mayor. He suggests that two years ago the council called a time out while the traffic model was overhauled. On the contrary it was clearly understood that the time out was to be short lived while an interim concurrency ordinance was put in place followed immediately by concentration on the Transportation Master Plan which would encompass motorized and non-motorized levels of service and focus on achievable project goals. This did not happen during these two years since our retirement.
Next Odell claims that Malchow led a Council initiative on improving Sammamish’s human services and public safety. This initiative stalled when the mayor and Tom Hornish voted to table it and it has not come off the table since.
And then Odell claims Malchow was focused on improving our infrastructure – roads, sidewalks, stormwater, and schools – to keep pace with and even get ahead of the pace of development. What is the evidence of any infrastructure improvement? And speaking of schools, Lake Washington School District knew about the Town Center Plan eleven years ago and has planned for its impact on local schools. The zoned density hasn’t been increased since the plan was approved and even the proposed Santoni rezone would not increase the density of the Town Center, contrary to the letter from the School District. Town Center also does not affect Issaquah School District at all.
In the post Odell claims that Malchow also pushed for improved public safety by working with our police chief and reviewing our law enforcement coverage. A police report was completed and shelved. Why haven’t the recommendations been acted upon before this election? Regarding the closing of Fire Station 81, council and staff were informed of the closing both at a public safety meeting and by the Chief at a council meeting in which the Mayor even confirmed that with the Chief. No council action was taken and nobody from Sammamish was present at the Eastside Fire and Rescue Board Meeting when the vote was taken. The Mayor, in my opinion, is responsible to see that Sammamish has representation at crucial partnership meetings.
Now in the post, Odell suggests that the many council misdeeds of the last two years cannot be attributed to Malchow alone since the votes are taken by the council as a whole. However, as Mayor she can alone place items on the meeting agenda, and as the leader of a group of four councilmembers can control the vote on any agenda item.
Next Odell suggests that the council as a whole supported delaying the Transportation Master Plan in order to sort out the traffic model. I question where the council “as a whole” supported this decision. The council majority of four kept delaying a work plan agreed upon by the previous council.
In the post Odell next claims that blaming Malchow for the loss of one of Sammamish’s fire stations is bogus, and that most of the Council was in the dark as to what was happening at the Eastside Fire board. As I stated earlier, the Council was absolutely NOT in the dark and the record verifies that. I do not consider this bogus. The Mayor meets with the City Manager to set agenda and when we were on the Council the Mayor communicated with the EF&R board representatives as to what was on the Board agenda and how Sammamish was going to address those issues.
Odell claims that it is unfair to blame Christie for gaps in human services. Christie indeed was part of the Council that followed the requests of some of our citizens and set up the Human Services Commission, but what has happened to the findings of the Sammamish Human Services Strategic Plan? Is that report gathering dust on the shelf?
In his post Odell claims that protection of city data and technology systems is squarely the responsibility of both the City Manager and the entire Council, not the Mayor by herself.
In my opinion the disruption of staff programs, including the firing of the City Manager and loss of senior personnel is the key to the lack of attention to many critical issues. Odell and I came back from National League of Cities meetings exhorting the need to pay attention to cyber security and the then city manager agreed to focus attention in that area. For the past two years, and even before that when we were on the Council, so much effort went into the issue of the traffic concurrency ordinance that the normal work programs at City Hall were stalled.
Next in his post Odell discusses the trail connections between the Sammamish Commons and Big Rock Park. Indeed, Tom, it is a pet project of mine to have a trail from Lower Commons to Big Rock Park. And also another trail coming back from Big Rock Park B (if the Council ever allows the B section to be opened to the public) back to the Community Center and Commons. The City did miss an opportunity to purchase a key parcel that was for sale, create an easement and then resell the parcel (much like we did along East Lake Sammamish at Sammamish Landing Park). You say “The right of way has now been acquired”. That is wonderful news but I haven’t heard that in public meetings; could you please cite the source of that information? Again the Mayor controls the agenda by way of her ability to alone place items on the agenda and by her clear position of the leader of a four member majority on the council.
Yes, and the Town Center mixed use plan was adopted 11 years ago and would provide workforce housing as well as senior housing. So why was a special Council meeting called in the off month of August to question the concurrency certificate findings and attempt to stop a project in Town Center from moving forward that includes workforce and senior housing? Again, the meeting was called by the Mayor’s council majority.
In the post Odell suggests that because he and former Mayor Huckabay worked for years trying to get more transit for Sammamish without much success, that Malchow or the council majority can’t be blamed for lack of progress. However, King County Executive Dow Constantine, at the gathering sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce (with all candidates invited) promised transit support for town centers like Sammamish’s. Indeed, earlier in Sammamish’s history we did work through the Regional Transit Committee, Sound Transit and PSRC to get transit and facilities to Sammamish and made good progress. Since this earlier progress, transit options have stalled, perhaps partially due to budget prioritization at Metro and focus at Sound Transit on light rail. But looking further out, I envision a time when autonomous electric shuttle routes can be set up in Sammamish with frequencies much like the Rapid Ride programs elsewhere in Central Puget Sound. The council needs to be proactive regarding technology advances and lead the way to a sustainable future for Sammamish.
And then in the post Odell expresses concerns about a PAC funded almost entirely by the development community taking a hard line with his candidates. Let’s back up here. When I found out that a PAC was formed supporting the Mayor and two newcomers to Sammamish issues, with initial contributions totaling $35,000 from two individuals (indeed my good friends but with differing perspectives on this issue), I was troubled by the fact that this was a clear attempt to buy the election and try to shut down the Town Center plan. Former Mayor Kathy Huckabay agreed with me and with the help of a reputable senior housing developer, Merrill Gardens, we put together a counter PAC to balance the scales if you like. Merrill Gardens is committed to bringing a wonderful senior housing project to the Town Center. I might point out that senior housing does very little to impact commute traffic and provides social and intellectual enrichment and stability to our community. There are only three contributors to Livable Sammamish because we chose not to hold a fund raiser with the candidates that we support because PAC’s are not allowed to discuss campaign strategies with candidates. Such a fundraiser would be of questionable legality.
Well, Tom, I agree with reading between the lines as I have contributed above. McKnight, Indapure and Howe are not, in my opinion, for unabated and unrestricted development but do support the Comprehensive Plan and Town Center Plan that was so diligently assembled over the years.
Don Gerend, a former founding member of the Sammamish City Council and four time selected as Mayor by his peers.
And, as Scott Hamilton says, since accusations and false assertions are commonplace in this City, let it be known that I do not have any financial or contractual interest with anybody, anything, or any developer, property owner, or potential buyer in the Town Center.