Sammamish officials faced an onslaught of bicyclists last month in a coordinated, mass-attack email campaign urging them to approve the development permits for Section 2B of the East Lake Sammamish Trail.
City Council members were inundated with emails that said were coordinated by the Cascade Bicycle Club to approve the permit for the center section of the ELST. This section runs from roughly the 7-11 north to Inglewood Hill Road. It is the final section that is at the development permitting stage.
Sammamish, the permitting agency, is resisting the applications filed by King County, developer of the trail, on several grounds. These include environmental, tree preservation, disputes over legal ownership of the trail and past and current problems between the County and adjacent property owners over development of the north and south sections.
June 5, 2016: Development of the East Lake Sammamish Trail has been an overhang of Sammamish politics for 20 years.
It was a dominate factor in the first City Council race 1999 and surfaced again in 2001. It became a key issue in the 2003 election, with a flood of “outside” money flowing to candidates favoring the Trail.
The issue surfaced periodically in subsequent elections. It wasn’t until 2015 that once more it became a key election issue, as Trail residents rallied behind three candidates to win bitterly contested races. For the first time, they helped elect a resident who lives along the Trail.
And the issue hasn’t subsided, either.
In April, three Council Members voted to undercut the City’s own Hearing Examiner and side with King County, developer of the Trail, on a jurisdictional issue in an appeal before the State Shoreline Hearings Board.
This is the story behind the 20-year battle of the ELST.
A previous column described some of the changes in Sammamish over the 20 years I’ve lived here, ending with appeals I filed over some development along SE 8th Today’s post takes up where that left off.
When I filed appeals of the Greens of Beaver Crest and a companion development, I knew little of what I was doing. I only knew I wanted some traffic calming on SE 8th, where I lived at the time, and King County said no. (This was before Sammamish incorporated.)
Tom Harmon, a citizen activist and a member of SHOUT, a citizens group, dropped off a manual of sorts about how to pursue appeals. I also began attending the public hearings of another appeal of a development along SE 228th by a resident, James Jordan, to learn about the process and evidentiary rules and requirements.
Still another appeal, over traffic issues that were at the heart of my appeal, had been filed a resident, Craig Dickison, and adjudicated by the King County Hearing Examiner.
The appeals were all denied, although the decision on Dickison’s appeal had been a close call. This decision became the one to follow for the Greens.
One of the early takeaways from these appeals above was that citizens lose appeals. It was very, very rare that they win.
Under the law, Examiners give great weight or deference to the presumed expertise of those government employees making the decisions to grant approval of developments. Appellants have the burden of proof to demonstrate the decisions were in error.
When I talk about appellants as citizens, I should note that developers have the right to appeal as well. They sometimes do, objecting to conditions imposed by the government’s staff. We’ve seen this most recently in King County’s appeal of Sammamish staff conditions for development of the south leg of the East Lake Sammamish Trail. The County largely prevailed, while a homeowner’s group, SHO, did not in its appeal of the same ELST permit.
We also saw the developer appeal the Chestnut West development permit. Citizens won their appeals; the developer lost.
Although votes are still being counted and the election results won’t be certified until Nov. 24, Christie Malchow and Tom Hornish have been elected to the Sammamish City Council; their Election Night margins were too great for Mark Cross and Tom Vance to overcome. Their vote tallies have only increased each day additional votes have been tabulated.
So the questions become, What’s next? What’s next for the balance of 2015 in what is now a lame duck period of the City Council, and What’s next in 2016?
Tuesday is Election Day, but ballots have been out for more than two weeks. As we count down to Tuesday’s voting for City Council, a few closing thoughts are in order.
Stepping up to the front lines
First, I want to say right up front that as much as I have come to disagree with the direction of the current City Council, I respect and applaud each member’s willingness to step up, serve and be in a position to take the criticism that comes with a public position. Having served eight years on the Planning Advisory Board and the Planning Commission, I was subjected to more than my share of abuse from the public. But let me tell you: each person serving on any city commission and on the City Council deserves the recognition that too few people step up to do the job, and those that do deserve at least a modicum of respect and thanks for doing so.
New Voices, New Perspectives Needed
Having said that, our City Council needs new voices and new perspectives.
I’ve chronicled all year issue after issue on which this City Council and its leadership has failed its citizens. Public records obtained through the Public Records Requests, documents on the City website and through interviews paint a picture of a City Council that has lost touch with its citizens and which has become more interested in maintaining its own power structure and agenda.
Even though the self-branded environmentalists indignantly protest criticism over a belief they have strayed from their brand, the evidence is compelling. The variances routinely granted by staff on traffic and environmental issues in approving development are well documented. Where have these self-branded environmentalists been in providing the oversight of the City Manager, and through him, the staff, for which they are responsible? One letter writer to The Sammamish Review supporting Mayor Tom Vance for reelection said the next council needs to focus on the environment. That’s what this Council and this mayor were supposed to do. The letter writer wrote, “Soon the current city manager will be leaving and I’m hoping that a new era will start – one that focuses on the environment and the original intention of incorporation.” Where was Vance’s leadership, as Mayor for two years and a Council Member for four years, in upholding the “original intention of incorporation”? There has been a huge failure of leadership–Vance’s leadership–and of the self-branded environmentalists on the current City Council. Why reelect the failed leadership in hopes of a “new era?”
When you have a staff that routinely ignores City codes in traffic and environment, and follows unwritten policies, something is very wrong.
When you have a Council that still does not get that the movement behind the Initiative and Referendum was the manifestation of citizens feeling unheard—not because of any burning issue to put up to an Initiative–something is very wrong.
When 55.5% of the people who voted approved the I&R and you still have members of the Council who attempt to diminish the result, something is very wrong.
When you have City Council Members who try to throw a planning commissioner off the commission because she supported the Initiative and Referendum, something is very wrong.
When you have the mayor of the City (not Vance in this case) calling the school superintendent to discipline a school principal because she supported retention of the Eastside Fire and Rescue in contrast to the mayor’s position, something is very wrong.
When you have scores and scores of property owners pleading with the City because King County is trashing the environment and over-reaching on property concerns to build a freeway-like lake trail, only to be ignored until it is too late, something is very wrong.
When the Ruling Majority blithely dismisses the minority members because they can, something is very wrong.
When you have members of the Ruling Majority undertake frontal and covert assaults on one Council member through front-people filing massive email Public Records Requests in an attempt to dig up dirt that doesn’t exist, something is very wrong.
When you have a City Administration and City Council give lip service to disaster preparedness, something is very wrong.
Sammamish issued this statement at 5pm Friday, after Sammamish Comment reported on Thursday three appeals had been filed against its permit issued to King County for development of the East Lake Sammamish Trail.
City Manager Ben Yacizi didn’t mention two appeals by others, a resident along the trail, and one by Sammamish Home Owners and two residents.
Sammamish officials spent all year saying “we need King County” as a reason to not take a harder line over fixing development issues of the Northern end of the East Lake Sammamish Trail and design plans for the far South end.
And although officials were optimistic a negotiated design for the South end was achievable, King County officials clearly concluded otherwise.
The County filed an appeal July 28 of the City’s permit for the South end, Section 2A, of ELST because of several conditions the City imposed a conditions to the development permit.
Section 2A is the portion of the interim trail from 33rd (the 7-11) to the Issaquah City Limits.
The Sammamish Home Owners (SHO) and two property owners also filed an appeal. So did a limited liability company called Lake Sammamish 4257 LLC, which consists of one property.
SHO’s appeal is here. APPEAL-SHO It contains as an attachment the City’s permit with Findings of Fact and Conditions, which are referenced in the County’s appeal. The reader may cross-reference the County’s citations with the City permit in the SHO appeal.