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.
During the 2015 City Council election, Section 2A (the south end) and to a lesser extent, Section 2B (which had yet to come to the forefront), disputes between the City, County and property owners became a campaign issue.
Mark Cross, who served on the City Council as a Member and Mayor for eight years, ran again after a four-year hiatus. Cross was elected in 2003 as a strong supporter of the trail. In 2015, he began appearing before the Council regularly during public comment to support development of 2A and 2B, to federal standards of 12 feet wide, two foot shoulders and a one foot clear zone on either side.
However, Cross—and others appearing before the Council then, either ignored or dismissed the environmental impacts and removal of large, mature trees in some key areas in both sections, and in Section 2B, a physical impossibility to build a trail to the federal standards because homes (permitted and approved by the County) abut the old rail bed on which the trail is to be built.
The email campaign launched in January by the pro-trail advocates likewise ignore the environment and physical realities on the ground in Section 2B.
Furthermore, most of the emails Sammamish Comment reviewed under a public records request came from people who don’t live in Sammamish.
The email campaign clearly is coordinated. The subject line in the emails was identical, as was most of the language and the technical points.
Council Member Ramiro Valderrama wrote in an email on Jan. 25:
FYI – In addition to the email blast I see that on Facebook Cascade Bike Club is posting advertisements for people to submit the form letter to permit the trail.
But there was nothing at all recognizing the issues facing City officials as they try and strike a balance between approving a popular trail development, the environment, tree retention, physical constraints and property disputes.
The following email is representative of the hundreds of emails received by the City. (Typos and grammatical errors are not corrected. Only the address of the send is deleted.)
Dear city of Sammamish,
I’m writing to express my support for completing the ELST and approving permit SSDP2016-00415.
Please approve the permit, as submitted.
Approval of the permit will advance completion of the 44 mile regional trail system between Seattle and the foothills of the Cascades. The trail, as proposed in the permit, will provide a safe walking and biking route through Sammamish. Please support the proposed trail widths, which reflect industry standards (AASHTO).
A 12ft trail with 2ft shoulders will create a safe trail with space for the various different uses… from people running to people riding a bike. Please approve the permit, including the proposed width of the trail.
Ensuring crossing priority for the trail is an important safety issue. Giving priority to the trail when roads and driveways cross the path will be intuitive for all users. The trail alignment, as proposed in the permit, provides sight lines for good visibility for people on the trail and people crossing the trail at trail intersections.
My husband and I cycle regularly in the area, and we need a safe route that is separate from the busy E. Lk. Sammamish Road in order to get out, stay fit and enjoy our beautiful lake. Marymoor Park is such a great regional resource and Lk. Sammamish State Park is as well. A safe, off-road route connecting the two parks would be a terrific enhancement to the City of Sammamish, making this city a more livable, attractive place to be.
Please approve the permit, as proposed, with expediency.
Seattle, WA 98115
Council members expressed frustration to The Comment about the orchestrated campaign, most from outside the City, that (1) doesn’t understand that the Council itself
doesn’t issue the permits and (2) there are unusual circumstances that must be considered. Council Members also are angered at the form-letter approach by the Cascade Bicycle Club.
Council Member Tom Odell’s internal email (obtained under a Public Records Request) is cranky, consistent with his curmudgeonly approach to things, but pretty well sums up the situation:
Just opened up my e-mail. Another 66 separate e-mails from the Cascade folks. I have noted that the large majority are not Sammamish residents. This is actually hurting the case for building the trail per spec. Also, there is absolutely no compassion indicated for the impact on the property owners.
Two days earlier, Odell, also in an internal email, wrote:
So far this afternoon I have deleted 89 emails from these guys and am no longer reading them or responding. I suggest that we allow a single speaker for 5 minutes from this organization at public comment.
A few Sammamish residents wrote in support of the permits, but clearly put the support in their own words. One drew a response from Council Member Christie Malchow that explained the unusual issues involved. This brought a reply from the sender noting that the late radio commentator Paul Harvey would use his signature phrase, “And now the rest of the story.” This resident wrote that he had a new appreciation for the issues.
King County hunkers down
Given the huge pushback by property owners along Section 2B, continuing issues along the North and South sections and the growing hostility between the City and County leading to protracted legal challenges, the County reneged on participating in round-tables with the City and residents to address issues.
In a Jan. 26 email, Valderrama wrote:
In the past, they have given their update presentations at the 30%, 60% and 90% completions and heard public input. I find their change of practice and reluctance to meet during the comment period troubling. They could have done as they did last time (and should have done) is present upon release of the 60%.
In my discussions with [County Council Member] Kathy Lambert, I shared that they were reluctant and she found that very troubling as well.
It is also troubling that they want to meet to discuss their application with their attorneys present- had this been a developer, the purpose would not be seen as “solutions based.”
Asking the County for help
Reid Brockway, a trail-side resident, appeared before the King County Council Feb. 27 as president of the Sammamish Home Owners said Section 2B is “a unique” situation. The new trail should be aligned on the current rail bed and in other areas remain at 16, not 18 ft. In cases where the trail is within a wetland or buffer, the width should be 14 ft.
He said this meets federal standards.
Brockway did not advocate that Sammamish deny the permits, nor did other residents who asked the County Council to help realign the trail design.
County Council Member Lambert noted that the County previously approved some zero-lot line buildings and some homeowners can’t get out of their garage under the present 60% design.
Lambert said the County and City are meeting Feb. 28 to work out issues, but there isn’t a public round-table meeting scheduled.