So long, Sammamish—sort of

Personal message from Scott Hamilton, Editor of Sammamish Comment.

Hamilton KING5_2

Scott Hamilton

After 20 years, two months and 10 days, I have moved from Sammamish.

For my wife, Gail Twelves, it’s been one month short of 16 years.

We’ve moved to Bainbridge Island, where we will build a home. For the first time in decades, we’re renters—for the time being.

Sammamish Comment will continue through next year, at which time this community service to Sammamish will close. The Comment was formed in 2003, so at the end of next year, this will have been a 14 year run.

Why we’re moving

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Gail Twelves and me on one of our adventures. This one is near the top of the world, in Svalbard (Norway).

There are a lot of reasons why we’re moving. Basically, it’s time. We’re downsizing the house and the yard. We’re downsizing King County taxes, by a lot (Bainbridge is in Kitsap County). We’re getting out of Sound Transit’s taxing district, where all of Sammamish money goes elsewhere in exchange for increasingly poorer service here.

Mostly, Bainbridge Island is, well, island atmosphere, compared with the suburban/urban environs of the greater Seattle metropolitan market.

When I moved to what was then unincorporated King County in May 1996, we were still a highly forested area. It wasn’t rural King County, to be sure, but there was still a rural feel. When we incorporated in 1999, the population was just under 25,000. Today, following the annexation of the Klahanie area, it’s about 60,000.

Bainbridge Island’s population hovers between 23,000 and 24,000. The forests still exist. There is a real concerted effort to cluster the growth, though pockets outside the clusters exist and will emerge. Still, there are connecting trails throughout the island.

Interestingly, the Fourth of July celebrations are far more extensive than Sammamish’s, which are marked by very impressive fireworks. Gail and I spent this year’s fourth on Bainbridge. There are two days’ worth of activities, including Dancing in the Street on the Third. Winslow Way is closed, vendor booths line the street and live and DJ music marks the stroll down the street. For the first time in what seems like decades, we heard disco music. There had to be three generations of people enjoying disco. Good grief, does this mean it’s going to make a comeback?

The Fourth itself is even more impressive. We hope that when the Sammamish Town Center is complete, Sammamish will be able to up its game for the Fourth of July celebration.

Sammamish over 20 years

Early this year I posted an article about a 20-year retrospective of Sammamish. A few readers who know me well immediately realized what was up. We announced to our close friends in February that we had purchased land and were moving. Word began to spread to others, but I wanted to wait until we actually moved before making a general announcement. This happened Aug. 2.

Because of preparing the house for sale, finding a house to rent, moving, etc., The Comment hasn’t been as active this year as last. Since this is a free site that is a free-time endeavor, I’ve simply not had the time to devote to it.

But I did want to write The History of Sammamish (According to Scott). Hence the periodic articles. I want to finish this series to present day. Given the pace so far and the fact the next 12 months will be equally busy with designing a house (Gail’s ambition), building it and then moving into it, I figure I won’t complete the series until well into next year.

There’s still news to report, too

I’ve been a journalist all my adult life and have always enjoyed investigative and in-depth reporting, much more than the day-to-day news. Last year, there was so much to look into and write about. The local papers weren’t “going there,” so I had all kinds of fodder to pursue.

This year’s City Council, under the leadership of Don Gerend as Mayor, is far more citizen-friendly than the previous two years had been. Gerend’s calm hand proves to be exactly what was needed after the previous council became dysfunctional and citizens were ignored. There’s an enormous mess to clean up, and the continued citizen frustration exhibited this year portends a high probability of lively City Council elections next year. This will also be the first time the Klahanie area will be able to vote in the City Council races, adding what will certainly be a new and particularly interesting element to cover.

To the extent this year and next I have the free time to put into reporting and insight about Sammamish, I will do so in between the completion of the History of Sammamish.

Personal Reflections

When I moved here in 1996, I had no idea nor intention of becoming as involved in local affairs. As I’ve noted in previous History posts, King County pissed me off due to maltreatment of my concerns (I joined a huge club on this score), so I appealed three developments and a cell tower. It was from there that I became active in the effort to incorporate, and from there City Council elections. From that, I was appointed to the Planning Advisory Board, which wrote the first Comprehensive Plan for the City, and to the Planning Commission, which wrote the Town Center plan.

SE8th Sammamish 19960002

SE 8th St, east of 228th Ave. SE. My first home in then-unincorporated King County is just to the left, out of the picture. This is what Sammamish looked like in 1996. Forested areas still were common. King County’s development along this road and ignoring neighbor concerns led me to appeal projects–and become active in Sammamish public service.

My appeals led me to meet Gail Twelves. She was chair of the local Sierra Club chapter, where she was active in environmental matters, including traffic issues. My appeals were principally based on traffic and Gail wanted a speaker for her club meetings. My traffic engineer, the talented Joe Savage, and I spoke to one of her meetings. From there, our relationship evolved. We were married in 2004. An interesting part of this story is that neither of us belonged to a church, so we didn’t have a minister to marry us. However, we both knew an ordained minister. Gail knew him through her environmental activism and I knew him because I sued King County (the appeals, and won all four times). Ron Sims, the King County Executive at the time, is an ordained Baptist minister.

When King County dedicated the purchase of the East Lake Sammamish Trail, I went to this dedication and asked Sims if he would marry Gail and me. He said yes, and he’s who performed the ceremony for us.

Thus, just as ELST has been a key issue for the City of Sammamish, it was an important step in the lives of Gail and Scott.

Gail and I also credited Mike Miller, president of Murray Franklyn at the time, for bringing us together, though he was an odd and unexpected Cupid. It was two of his projects over which I appealed King County’s permit. These were the two key projects that brought me to Gail’s attention at the Sierra Club.

While I was busy in Sammamish politics and planning, Gail became active in environmental issues in town. She was a leading advocate for Low Impact Development techniques (which, unfortunately, never got the City’s backing or developer use that it should have). Gail also served on citizen committees, including early in the Town Center research days. One of the other committees had to do with devising a new tree ordinance.

One of these meetings involved Sammamish officials and environmentalists and the developers. The atmosphere of the room was tense and the parties lined up opposite each other at the table. To make small talk before the meeting began, Gail told Mike Miller he was responsible for our getting married. Miller, who is a decent sort even if always cast then as the Big Bad Developer, was understandably confused. She then told him the story of her wanting me to speak at her Sierra Club meeting about defeating his projects at King County, and being married by Ron Sims. The story broke the tension in the room.

The 25% tree retention ordinance was the result. At the time it was considered ground-breaking. Today it is viewed as inadequate, now superseded by the 35% ordinance, adopted in 2015, but coming too late in the City’s development to be of much impact.

Given my roles on the PAB and Planning Commission, I have a special insight to the evolution of Sammamish that are and will be touched upon in the History series. Naturally I have an biased viewpoint. I will try to keep this in check to a large degree, but inevitably this perspective will play a major role in the History (According to Scott). I hope this series will also help the Sammamish Heritage Society record the history of our City.

Winding up

It’s been a 20 year ride. There have been successes. There have been failures. There have been good times. There have been not so good times. But this is the course of public service, politics and life in general.

There have been a lot of people along the way that I’ve met and dealt with throughout these 20 years, including the elections and public service. Some, of course, I’d rather have avoided. But I have to say, Sammamish is filled with great people and many, many fine, dedicated people who have served in official capacity or who are simply dedicated activists.

There are far too many people to specifically name, but there are some I definitely want to call out.

  • Every City Council Member. Whether I agreed with their politics and positions or not, each and every one who stepped up to serve deserves our thanks, especially since these are otherwise thankless jobs. Mostly, people contact their Council Members to complain about one thing or another, some with greater vigor than others. The pay is less than nominal. The hours are far too long. The earaches are often severe. Regardless, the citizens of Sammamish owe each of these public servants a debt of gratitude.
  • Some Council Members especially stand out. Don Gerend has been on the Council since its inception in 1999. Whether you agree or disagree with his positions, Don’s service has been extraordinary. He’s ably represented Sammamish on regional councils. His public service and integrity is above reproach. I don’t like naming rights, but whenever Don retires from Council (he’ll be 75 next year when his current term is up), the City really ought to consider naming something prominent for him. Kathy Huckabay is also another original Council Member. Except for a four-year period in which she left the Council, she, too, has served continuously since its inception. Long-time readers know I became a vociferous critic of Huckabay last year. But her dedicated service to Sammamish is only the tip of the iceberg. Before Sammamish, Huckabay also was a public servant in Issaquah. Her dedication deserves special thanks. Finally, another 12-year public servant is Nancy Whitten. Whitten served 12 straight years from 2004 through 2015. Many of these were difficult years for her. But she was perhaps the fiercest protector of the environment on the Council. Before that, she was an environmental activist. Nancy deserve special accolades.
  • Staff members: Although former City Manager Ben Yazici drew plenty of critics during his tenure, including this one, his 16 years of service to Sammamish (15 as CM), provided steady continuity and fiscal conservatism. Ben retired in February after 30 years of public service. Other key staff members, who were also often targets of complaints: Evan Maxim and Eric La France in the planning department. I worked with them while on the PAB and PC. I found them to be dedicated and professional throughout. Kamuron Gurol, the director of Community Development (planning), was likewise one who I respected. All three have moved on to other cities.
  • Every committee and commission volunteer: If City Council Members don’t get paid enough (and they don’t), the citizens who volunteer for Planning Commission, Parks Commission, Arts Commission, etc., don’t even get what the Council Members do: these citizens get paid exactly nothing. For this, they work long hours. They have to undertake complex issues. And they often get abused by citizens who don’t like what they are doing. To make matters worse, the City Councils and City Staff have a long history of under-appreciating the work and dedication of the volunteers. In some cases, they didn’t back the work ethic of the commissioners under attack from citizens, even if the Council Members disagree with the recommendations. These dedicated citizens deserve a special thanks from citizens, Council Members and Staff.

Citizen activists

There are a few citizen activists who also deserve a special call-out.

  • Ilene Stahl and Erica Tiliacos. Ilene founded Friends of Pine Lake (FOPL), an environmental group, and served as president for more years than I remember. She should have received a Sammi Award years ago (she was passed over in the year she was nominated). Erica eventually succeeded her. Erica also served on the Planning Commission. Both are dedicated environmentalists, whose own land use appeals and participation in critiquing proposed regulations made real differences in Sammamish.
  • Wally Pereyra: Wally’s one-man environmental restoration effort led the way to restore Ebright Creek for the threatened Kokanee salmon. He’s also leading the restoration for Zackuse Creek here, another Kokanee spawning ground. He’s purchased some 20 acres along East Lake Sammamish Parkway and put them into a family trust so the land can never be developed. He’s helped fund several land use appeals, of his own and of FOPL.
  • Harry and Claradell Shedd: This man-and-wife team have been generous contributors to the Boys and Girls Club, the Arts Commission and other local needs. Harry is chairman of Citizens for Sammamish, a small watchdog group. Harry was the driving force last year behind getting the right of Initiative and Referendum for Sammamish. His persistence forced the City Council to put the issue on an advisory ballot. Citizens voted 55% in favor of the right. A reluctant City Council codified the right last October.
  • Karen Moran. Karen is one of the original founders of Sammamish. She’s also one of the most controversial. She and I were political enemies for many, many years. She ran for City Council twice and I had a hand in crafting the strategies that defeated her both times. But after serving with her on the Planning Commission, we came to respect each other. Today she serves as a Commissioner for Sammamish Plateau Water. She also has emerged as a vocal citizen advocate before the City Council.

There are many, many more public servants and citizen activists who deserve recognition. I’m already more than 2,600 words into this quasi-farewell to include them. There is, however, one more. Without being maudlin, this person is my wife, Gail.

Gail loves the concept of public service and making a difference. She hates the politics that go with it. I’m much more political in my thinking than she will ever be. She’s tolerated me for it (and I don’t choose that word lightly). Politics, by its very nature, becomes personal, especially at election time. But for those who participate in it, it’s the business we have chosen. It comes with the job description.

As we head off to Bainbridge Island for the next phase of our lives, I promised I would retire from politics. But I intend to become active in emergency preparedness there.

There’s just something about public service I can’t give up.

It’s been an honor and (usually) a pleasure to provide it to the citizens of Sammamish.

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3 Responses to So long, Sammamish—sort of

  1. Vicki says:

    I am saddened at this news. Your writing is intelligent and insightful, kept us informed, and has been a voice for many when we too often felt unheard and invisible. Frankly, it was just cathartic. Sammamish still needs all the warriors it can muster. My husband and I moved here in 1991 and, little by little, watched my “little Tahoe” disappear. (That’s what I called it when I first visited this area in 1989). Bainbridge is peaceful and lovely and I wish you and your wife all the best in this new chapter in your lives.

  2. Trina Thompson says:

    Perhaps there will be Bainbridge Island comment in the future 😊. Good fortune to you on your new adventure. And thank you for your many years of service to Sammamish.

  3. Pingback: History of Sammamish resumes today | Sammamish Comment

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