By Miki Mullor
Development, the Town Center, traffic congestion and the 2019 city council election dominated the Top 10 2019 stories in Sammamish.
The Town Center became the surrogate for development throughout the city and the poster child for traffic congestion that is frustrating drivers across the Plateau.
The election, in which three city council seats and control of the council were at stake, became unusually bitter and set records for expenditures on both sides of what became a pro-development slate vs a slate that advocated “infrastructure first.”
Record amounts of money
One of the developers of the Town Center pumped tens of thousands of dollars into a special political action committee fronted by former mayors Don Gerend and Kathy Huckabay. This PAC, Livable Sammamish, consisted of only these three contributors.
A citizens’ PAC, Sammamish Life, was funded principally by two people, environmentalist Wally Pereyra and activist Harry Shedd. But some two dozen others contributed small amounts.
Candidate Rituja Indapure, part of the pro-development slate, raised more than $37,000, some seven times her opponent, Ken Gamblin. (Indapure also ran, and lost, in 2017, a race in which she also raised more than $35,000.)
The pro-development candidates and supporters out-spent the infrastructure first candidates and their supporters by more than 2.5 to one.
The election became a battle along the classic lines of David vs Goliath. As in the fable, in this case the out-spent “David” won.
Against this backdrop, here are the Top 10 stories in Sammamish for 2019, based on readership.
Top 10 stories in 2019
STCA is one of the developers of the Town Center and purchased more land than any other builder. It has the greatest at stake and the most to lose. It received a traffic concurrency certificate for 419 homes and xx,000 sf of commercial space, a surprise win following a highly controversial review and reassessment of the city’s concurrency modeling.
A joint venture partner of STCA, Seattle’s RD Merrill Company, was the company that poured tens of thousands of dollars into the Livable Sammamish PAC. Some 60% of Indapure’s contributors were also from outside Sammamish. All the outside money apparently turned off voters, mimicking the results in Seattle in which Amazon poured $1.5m into the Seattle City Council races in a losing effort to oust council members who voted for a head tax.
A state senator from Maltby proposed legislation in Olympia that would require cities like Sammamish to upzone to a minimum zoning of six units per acre. For Sammamish, this would dramatically mean more development and more traffic. Density would be greatly increased into buildable areas because much of Sammamish is restricted by environmentally sensitive areas.
City manager Rick Rudometkin was fired Nov. 19 in a rare unanimous vote by the city council. (His severance package drew one dissenting vote.) He had been in his position less than a year.
Council Member Jason Ritchie wanted to propose a resolution supporting legislation in the Legislature to ban plastic bags. The majority on the council objected to how Ritchie brought the issue to the council and claimed it was a “trap” vote. Ritchie claimed he was being denied the ability to bring the issue to a debate. The topic was tabled.
The Planning Commission forwarded to the city council a “home grown” vision that would add townhomes and apartments in single-family neighborhoods. Commissioner Indapure, at the time not yet a declared city council candidate, voted in favor of what became known at the “egg splat” vision of densifying 13 single family neighborhoods. She praised the vision before seconding the motion to send it to the council.
After becoming a candidate for the council, she and her supporters attempted to spin her vote but the video of the commission meeting made it clear she supported the vision of densifying neighborhoods.
STCA revealed plans for 424 homes on 13.5 acres, a density of 31 units per acre. The controversy over traffic concurrency modeling blocked the project. See Story # 10.
The first of the “follow the money” reports revealed the “outside” money funding the city council races.
The outcome of the city council races put the balance of power in the council at the forefront, along with pro-development or infrastructure-first philosophies.
With no public polling, the outcome was anybody’s guess.
Voter turnout was unusually heavy in the off-year, city council election. (It would surpass 53% by the time all votes were counted, up from 45% in 2017.)
Right up until the first results were posted at 8:15pm Nov. 5, the pro-development backers thought they would win in a blow-out. Council Member Jason Ritchie called Council Member Karen Moran at 7pm election night to boast the pro-development slate was going to win.
The vote count 75 minutes later blew this up. The infrastructure-first slate won with 58% to 65% of the vote. It was the greatest blow-out in the history of Sammamish.
Former Mayor Don Gerend, who served on the council for 19 years from the first one in 1999, stunned the city council and observers by “suing” Sammamish over a new traffic concurrency standard. (In reality, he filed a petition for review by the Growth Management Hearings Board, but essentially it’s the same thing.)
His stature as a distinguished council member who served multiple times as mayor lent weight to the petition from a public relations standpoint.
His attorney often represents developers and the Master Builders Assn. and she is the registered agent for STCA.
This set tongues wagging and he came under severe criticism on Facebook.
Then, when he later fronted the Livable Sammamish PAC nearly entirely funded by an STCA JV partner, his legacy was in shambles.
Sammamish Comment had record readership in 2019, increasing 34.5% over its previous record in 2017—another election year.
As the only new outlet regularly covering Sammamish, The Comment (an entirely volunteer operation) provided coverage of stories unrelated to the election, Town Center and traffic. But it was clear all year these were the top issues of interest to Sammamish residents.
Two other blogs emerged in 2019, each purporting to offer “news. These two blogs, and their supporters on Facebook, often targeted The Comment; in reality, they boosted readership with their criticisms.
The Comment has been providing news and comment on Sammamish government since 2003. It’s served as a government watchdog on many, many occasions.
It will continue to serve these functions in the future.
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