Staff ignored city code, continued to issue concurrency certificates

By Miki Mullor

Sammamish city staff, in a move reminiscent of the Variances-R-Us approach to development in 2015, ignored city code in approving a critical step of development between  September 2019 and January 2020.

City staff issued 11 traffic concurrency certificates for various development projects, even though Sahalee Way is failing concurrency.  Staff decided to interpret the code to allow more development to continue, even if those developments caused more cars to use the failing Sahalee Way.  

When doing so, staff ignored other portions of the code. Staff also did not ask the Sammamish City Council to clarify the code. 

Concurrency certificates issuance continues 

In August 2019, during a summer special meeting, City Council ordered staff to stop using an unfunded improvement project on Sahalee Way as a reason to approve development that impacts this main arterial.  

The Sammamish Comment obtained 11 concurrency certificates that were issued between then and January 2020 for development of 38 new homes in these approximate locations in Sammamish:

In an email statement to The Comment, Acting Public Works Director Cheryl Paston explained that after the Council directed staff to remove the Sahalee project from the traffic model in August, staff held internal discussions to figure out what the implications were for concurrency testing. It was determined that as long as a concurrency application did not make Sahalee worse, i.e., it would not be allowed to send a single additional PM peak afternoon hour trip down Sahalee by the pipeline year of 2025, the Concurrency Certificate could be approved. 

Indeed, issued Concurrency Test #13 and #14 passed because not a single car trip was forecast to use the now-failing North Sahalee Way Corridor.

But then came the next development project which was forecast to send cars to Sahalee Way.

Staff interpretation circumvents Sahalee Way failure

Paston explained that that development project did result in sending car trips down Sahalee in the PM peak hour. But after additional internal staff discussions, staff realized they had “mistakenly” used the single trip criteria and instead should have used a criteria of whether the V/C ratio is increased. 

Concurrency Test #15 passed concurrency, as the V/C ratio for the Sahalee Way – 228th Avenue North Corridor did not increase. 

The City did not provide a documented rationale for staff interpretation of the code, normally published as a “Director Interpretation.” 

City code ignored 

The Sammamish Municipal Code includes two sections that govern concurrency tests. 

One of these sections, SMC 14A.010.050 (3), prohibits the issuance of a concurrency certificate if “any” road is failing a concurrency standard. 

“(3) In conducting the concurrency test in accord with this chapter, the City shall apply the level of service standards… for the concurrency corridors and segments in subsection (2) of this section… If any concurrency intersection, corridor or segment [road] operates worse than the level of service standards, the concurrency certificate will be denied…” (Unrelated language omitted.)

Indeed, subsection (2) of the code shows Sahalee Way is operating worse that the Level of Service Standard:

The Concurrency Tests staff issued acknowledge this very same code section. Below is a snapshot from Concurrency Test #15 highlighting that no roadway may exceed the V/C standard, but excused the passing test by the fact that “there are no new or worsen failures:”

The City did not respond to a follow up question on how the above code was considered when staff interpret the code to issue more concurrency certificates.


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5 thoughts on “Staff ignored city code, continued to issue concurrency certificates

  1. 1. Is there any legal recourse to undo these violation of codes?
    2. What measure will be, or have been put in place to stop staff from promulgating more of these violations in the future.
    3. What is the root cause of these exceptions to the documented rules, councils direction, and the clear voice of the majority of voters, when this issue has been discussed and communicated so clearly in public forums. Where is the city staff decision making/leadership system breaking down, and how can it be avoided in the future to avoid more “Director Interpretations”?
    4. What are consequences (if any) for staff who willingly or ‘inadvertently’ violate the codes?

    • These are all good questions. To be clear, this happened under previous city managers. Surely will be telling how the current administration handles all these questions

  2. A lot of these problems make me wonder at the motivation of city staff. I’ve read more than a few articles now that point to city staff working against the best interests of city residents, and the city itself. Per Greg’s comment above, I wonder about available legal recourse, and if any exist will the city pursue them.

    • Behavior fosters the “impression” that staff is in pocket of the developers. Of course, no one would want that {SI}. “Avoid Even the Appearance of Impropriety”.

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