By Miki Mullor
A months-long investigation by Sammamish Comment that includes email interviews with staff and public records requests reveal city staff opposition to restoring a stringent stormwater standard in the Town Center area.
- Staff opposes the former standard because the soil in the Town Center makes it “infeasible” to implement.
- In public, staff said the standard or an equivalent to it, is in place.
- In private meetings with council members, staff admitted it was eliminated and opposed restoring it.
- STCA’s Phase I 400 homes permit’s stormwater section was approved although the developer said it is not implementing it because “it is not feasible”.
- The City does not know the impact of the currently enacted and relaxed standards on the creeks and downstream homes.
- City Manager David Rudat on The Comment’s investigation: “a take down”.
Staff disputes Treen in public, but agrees in private
Last August, Sammamish Council Member Kent Treen published an op-ed calling to restore a special 2010 stormwater regulations on the Town Center intended to protect Ebright and George David creeks and downstream homes from increased volume of water.
City staff has been pushing back on Treen’s call in public and behind closed doors in private meetings with council members.
In our October 5 story, we explained the history behind the special “volume standard” that was enacted in 2010 to protect the creeks.
We reported that staff disputed Treen’s assertion that the volume standard has been dismantled in a Facebook post by city staff member Danika Globokar:
Globokar carefully worded rebuke of Treen’s understanding of the legislative history stands in contrast to an admission she made three months later in an internal presentation she prepared, in which she acknowledged the Town Center volume standard was indeed eliminated in 2016:
The 2016 elimination of the volume standard was included in ordinance O2016-428 that overhauled the stormwater code for the entire city, but also repealed, without being called out or discussed, the Town Center specific stormwater code.
Of the present council, only Deputy Mayor Christie Malchow was a member of the 2016 council which unanimously voted to adopt that ordinance.
Staff against – because the standard is “infeasible”
In an internal presentation to city council members only, Globokar reveals the true reason for resisting Treen’s legislative initiative to restore the standard. In page 12 of the presentation, listing possible code changes to stormwater regulation, Globokar makes it clear why staff resist Treen’s initiative: because the clay-rich soil in the Town Center makes it infeasible to require “volume matching.”
The presentation does not explain what has changed since 2010, when city staff back then argued the stringent standard is feasible.
In a July 13, 2010 council meeting, consultant Erin Nelson explained to the public why enacting a special volume standard in the Town Center is important and how it can be achieved. “So is this standard achievable? We think it is” – said Nelson then.
Nelson’s explanation could be seen in this clip of the 2010 city council meeting (an automatic transcription of the video is available here):
In her presentation Nelson gave multiple examples of how the standard can be achieved. Notably, not all methods require infiltration:
Impact already being experienced
The issue of volume matching was raised for the first time in 2013, when the city was processing the permit application for the YMCA community center, which is located in the Town Center area. Staff back then realized the 100% volume matching standard would be costly to meet due to the clay-rich soil in the Town Center. City Council then lowered the standard to 60% after staff assured there won’t be impact to the surroundings.
Indeed the impact on development of legislating stricter stormwater regulation was on the council member’s mind when discussing the issue in private with staff.
Residents who live just downstream from the YMCA disagree. Pictures submitted by a homeowner who lives just next to the Lower Commons Park show flooding during this rain season. These and other pictures were shared with city staff.
City manager dismissed inquiry
The Comment had sought clarifications on the subject of the volume matching standard after staff approved the Town Center Phase I stormwater section.
We asked Jeff Elekes, Director of Public Works, the following questions, seeking to understand the impact of the approval of Town Center Phase I on the nearby creeks:
“1. Is “Level 3 Flow Control” the same as the 2010 water volume onsite retention standard (the one Council member Treen attempted to reenact)?
2. If not, then where in STCA’s application is the water volume standard referenced?
3. Does staff still believe that increasing the volume of water draining into creeks can cause problems ? If not, why has the city changed its mind?“(Nov. 13, 2020 email from Miki Mullor to Jeff Elekes)
Internal emails obtained through a public records request show City Manager David Rudat’s immediate dismissal of the inquiry as a “take down attempt.” It also shows Rudat held a preconceived notion that the “2010 volume regs have been abandoned by [the] industry.”
Rudat is not a stormwater engineer.
The city did not respond to questions on the basis and origin of Rudat’s views.
The City doesn’t know
Elekes responded to the questions but avoided taking a firm position on whether increased volume of water is harmful to the creeks.
We continued to press Elekes for a clear position on the difference between the 2010 and 2016 standards, to which Elekes argued similarity in intent:
But when pressed on whether he actually knows the different impacts to the environment between the standards, Elekes admitted the city doesn’t know:
“I have not seen a specific report, nor have I developed the technical analysis, to determine what the exact difference might be, for a typical project site within the watershed drainage basin, that the Town Center is located and whether or not the downstream creek protect is the same.”
“In the event that the City Council desires to direct the City Manager to have staff, through consultant support services, and likely additional budget authority, to analyze the technical differences between the 2010 regulations and 2016 regulations, staff would support such an effort.”(Nov. 19 email from Jeff Elekes to The Comment)
Tonight City Council will discuss stormwater regulation, but notably, the Town Center volume standard is not on the agenda.