Today is Thursday, Feb. 20. A mere seven more votes were counted in the Klahanie annexation vote: two more “For Annexation” and five more “Against Annexation.” The spread is now 31, up from 28 yesterday.
I can now provide this analysis of How Issaquah lost Klahanie.
It had to come as a shock to Issaquah government officials: residents of the Klahanie Potential Annexation Area sent them packing in February 11’s annexation vote.
It wasn’t just that residents rejected the prospect of assuming a portion of Issaquah’s current debt load—that happened in 2005, despite overwhelmingly approving annexation itself. This time, the election night results presented a shocking six vote margin in favor of annexation. The results from the next day narrowed this to one vote. The next day, the vote counting swung in favor of “Against Annexation” with a 34 vote margin. And it got worse from there.
How did Issaquah lose Klahanie?
Arrogance. A sense of entitlement. A sense of what Klahanie could do for Issaquah, not what Issaquah could offer Klahanie. Past statements making it clear improved roads and parks for the area weren’t in the cards. An aggressive Sammamish offering an alternative. A history that demonstrated Issaquah had trust and integrity issues. A nasty fight with the Sammamish Water and Sewer District that revealed the worst of Issaquah government. And an effective citizens uprising in the form of Klahanie Choice.
Arrogance and Entitlement
The Klahanie PAA had been part of Issaquah’s Comprehensive Plan since before I can remember. Previous efforts to annex failed because Issaquah wanted Klahanie to assume a portion of the City’s debt, despite residents voting in favor of the annexation.
This time, Issaquah wrapped the debt assumption into the annexation vote, figuring that since residents voted twice previously to annex while rejecting the separate ballot issue on debt, a favorable vote this time would be forthcoming despite the debt component.
Issaquah officials also felt they were entitled to annex Klahanie because of the lengthy inclusion of the area in its PAA. And, when the decision was made to pursue annexation a third time, they figured annexation was a given.
These assumptions proved to be dramatically wrong.
Follow the Money, Part 1
It was an incredibly revealing document: a July 19, 2013, memo from Issaquah City Administrator Bob Harrison to the City Council outlining how annexing Klahanie would benefit the City—but little about what the City would do for Klahanie. Among the revealing items:
- Klahanie would add $600,000 annually in revenue for the City coffers; in addition to the general tax revenue, Issaquah’s utility tax could apply to all of Klahanie, something officials neglected to tell the PAA voters;
- There “is an opportunity for enhanced retail development in Klahanie to add to the tax base” of the City; and
- Issaquah’s current debt would be placed on Klahanie and new debt bonding power would be added as a result of the annexation.
In other words, Issaquah was interested in annexing Klahanie for all the new development, taxes, fees and debt that would benefit the City by doing so.
Follow the Money, Part 2
Another factor helping Issaquah lose Klahanie was the influence of outside money going into the anti-annexation campaign. The professional association for the King County Sheriff deputies contributed $10,000 to Klahanie Choice, which mounted a sign, advertising and flier campaign to Vote No. Why? Sammamish police are contracted with the Sheriff’s office and Sammamish promised to hire six more deputies if/when Sammamish annexes Klahanie.
Past Statements Come Back to Bite Issaquah
Over the years, various Issaquah officials said:
- We don’t have the money to improve parks and roads;
- Sammamish is better positioned to support the parks; and, among other things,
- Issaquah-Fall City Road is fine the way it is;
In other words, nothing to offer Klahanie.
Promising the Moon
On the other hand, Sammamish seemed to offer a blank check:
- $38m to fix Issaquah-Fall City Road;
- Funding for the parks;
- Six more policemen;
- A Klahanie council; and
- A partridge in a pear tree.
In other words: Sammamish taxpayers beware.
Who can you trust? Not Issaquah
Dating myself, the original 1950s Maverick TV series had an episode with John Dehner as a banker who swindled Bret Maverick. Throughout the show, Dehner said, “If you can’t trust your banker, who can you trust?”
Water Wars and Cyber Squatting
In what was probably the most improbable element to this entire campaign, Issaquah’s years-long fight with the Sammamish Water and Sewer District likely kick-started the anti-annexation mood swing.
The City wanted to resume injecting polluted stormwater from Issaquah Highlands into the aquifer through a facility known as LRIG. This injection site was only 600 feet uphill from the first of three District wells that drew drinking water from the same aquifer. LRIG had been shut down by the state Dept. of Ecology because fecal coliform (dog and bird poop and other pollutants) had been detected in a District monitoring well. In other words, the filtering capability of the injection site was not working. This aquifer supplies 40%-50% of the drinking water to the entire District, including Klahanie and most of Sammamish. After years of diverting this same stormwater instead to the North Fork of Issaquah Creek (which in turn flowed into lower Lake Sammamish), the City wanted to resume injection. The District objected and the fight was on.
Then the District discovered the City wanted to assume that part of the District that is within the City limits, sparking a hostile takeover. It so happened the aquifer and related wells downhill from the LRIG are in this area. Public records showed that the City figured assuming the District’s three primary wells down-plume of LRIG would essentially silence the District and its opposition to stormwater injection through LRIG.
At the same time, Issaquah re-started plans—suspended since 2005—to annex Klahanie, which comprises about 20% of the District. The more of the District Issaquah could assume, the better the case could be made for a hostile takeover. It didn’t take a rocket scientist to conclude that Issaquah’s renewed interest in annexing Klahanie had more to do with its fight with the water district than it did about the PAA.
What Issaquah figured is that the fight would remain in the political arena of the City, the state Department of Ecology and the courts. What the City didn’t count on is that the District hired a consultant whose strategy took the issue to the “Court of Public Opinion” and to the City of Sammamish. (To learn who this consultant is, look at my “Disclaimer.”) The goal was to educate the public on the issue through a new website created specifically for this purpose. First, news stories hit the front page of local newspapers and TV stations followed by ads, direct mail, posters (some of which Issaquah demanded be taken down) and direct mail that directed people to the website. As a result, hundreds of emails flooded Issaquah and Ecology (and copied to Sammamish and the District) that pounded both for even considering injecting stormwater into an aquifer that put their drinking water at risk. The City of Sammamish notified Ecology it would be a Party of Interest and told Issaquah it would oppose the LRIG injection plan.
And speaking of the District’s website: In what was probably the most bone-headed move that could possibly happen, Issaquah promptly bought similar domain names to the District urls and in what is known as cyber-squatting, tricked some of the public into being redirected to the City website. Former Mayor Ava Frisinger promptly threw administrator Bob Harrison under the bus as the person responsible, but didn’t denounce the effort. None of the council members denounced the practice until well into the November mayoral campaign when Joe Forkner and then Fred Butler, both council members running to succeed Frisinger, finally stepped up and did so.
But the newspapers didn’t hold back. The editorial pages of the Issaquah Press, Issaquah Reporter and Sammamish Review blasted Issaquah for the unethical move. The Press and the Reporter named this as the Top Story of 2013 in their year-end January recaps, resurfacing the issue not long before the February 11 vote.
Issaquah officials launched personal attacks on the District’s then-president Tom Harman and criticized the District for hiring a public relations consultant (totally ignoring the fact that Issaquah has two full-time people on its communications staff, one of whom was the one who purchased the cyber-squatting domain names). Very messy, indeed. In a repeat of tactics used by Issaquah in 2009 when LRIG was shut down, Issaquah accused the District of spreading “misinformation.”
In the end, Issaquah folded and after nine hours of mediation in January, giving up the prospect of assuming the District assets for 10 years unless it was with the District’s permission. It also agreed give up on any stormwater injection into the aquifer and to dismantle LRIG, with financial help from the District. In exchange, the District agreed to take down all materials related to the PR campaign and stop plans to release its analysis on Issaquah’s Assumption Study. An oddity in this agreement was the Issaquah demanded the District remain neutral in the annexation vote. It was so odd that even an Issaquah City Council member wondered in a public meeting what in the world this clause was doing in a stormwater management/assumption agreement.
It will probably forever be a matter of speculation just how influential the water war was in the Klahanie vote, but clearly Issaquah officials feared its impact because of the demands in mediation to take down the Let’s Talk About Our Water web site, halt the public relations efforts and stop the District’s release of its analysis of Issaquah’s Assumption Study. Inclusion of these elements in the Memorandum of Agreement says volumes.
Finally, Klahanie Choice
In 2005, a small number of opponents to annexation spent less than $400 to buy some signs, print some fliers and ring some doors to defeat the second of the two-part component put to voters. The first was a straight up-or-down vote on annexation, which passed by a wide margin. The second was the poison pill: assuming the Issaquah debt. This failed to get the required 60% approval, and Issaquah chose not to proceed with annexation then.
This time, Klahanie Choice was more than grass roots: it was a well-funded, organized campaign that created its own website (fortunately, not cyber-squatted since Choice bought the similar .com and other URLs—seems they learned from Issaquah) with facts, figures and an active update. There was a Facebook page. And several full page ads in the Issaquah Press leading up to the election.
Recognized by Sammamish officials but not so by Issaquah (at least not publicly) were the changing demographics of the Klahanie PAA. In 2002 and 2005, Sammamish was still a young City feeling much of its way. Today it is 13 years old. Many of the PAA children and teens go to school in Sammamish, and our City has one of the best Fourth of July Fireworks in the entire Seattle metropolitan area. We now have attractive civic events and a popular Symphony. There are ties between our City and the PAA residents that didn’t exist during previous annexation efforts—and there has been a residential turnover since 2005 that can’t be discounted, losing those historical ties to Issaquah. Sammamish “got this;” it’s unclear if, behind closed doors, Issaquah did.
In the end, Issaquah came away empty-handed. No Klahanie annexation. No ability to spread its debt. Limited or no ability to add new debt. Blocked in further encroachment on the Plateau. No water district assumption. LRIG injection stopped. A black eye for poor government practice. Damaged credibility.
Credit to Butler
When it’s all said and done, some credit has to go to Fred Butler, who became mayor in January and had all of this to deal with. While as president of the City Council, he also bears responsibility for what happened on his watch and some of his own Klahanie-related statements came back to haunt him, Butler nonetheless stepped up right away to solve the water district issues, hoping this would moot the affect on Klahanie; inclusion of the “neutrality clause” in the water district mediation agreement is clear evidence of the sensitivity of this issue for Issaquah.
For this he deserves recognition and credit. But by this time, it was too late to save the Klahanie vote. The damage under the Frisinger Administration had been a long time in the making over a number of issues and clearing up one wasn’t enough to save the vote.
Issaquah still can retain the PAA in its Comprehensive Plan, but after three failed attempts and a clear rejection this time, what’s the point?
Sammamish officials say that if Issaquah doesn’t voluntarily give up the PAA, they will asked King County and the State Boundary Review Board to forcibly do so and allow Sammamish to include this PAA in its Comp Plan. Our City officials said they will fast track annexation procedures to enable a vote from the PAA. It’s possible the most southern portion of the PAA might be mutually agreed to stay with Issaquah and the remaining, majority portion would come to Sammamish.
What is clear is that our City Council will follow through on its promise to pursue annexation of the greater Klahanie area.
What is also clear for our taxpayers is that they better watch this process because of the millions and millions of dollars the City Council held out to Klahanie as a carrot to reject annexation.