Position 3 Questionnaire: Karen Howe

Karen Howe

Karen Howe

Sammamish City Council Position 3

General

Why are you running for Sammamish City Council?

Public service is a way to make a positive difference in our community. I want to contribute my skills to add resources for Sammamish, such as substantial grants and partnerships to offset costs, and to help preserve our “livability.”

Managing growth means careful, data-driven assessments to ensure growth pays for growth and that ordinances protecting the environment are strengthened and adhered to.

Choices we make now will dictate the future of the City for decades to come. I’ve lived and volunteered here for 25 years. I want to put my senior management and fiscal experience to work on our growth and traffic challenges.

What do you hope to achieve?

  • Improve traffic and mobility options for residents in the near term.
  • Stop all pilot projects in designated environmentally sensitive areas. Enforce tree preservation and canopy protection ordinances. Acquire land for parks and open spaces.
  • Create an improved, more robust, process for neighborhoods to productively engage with developers and City subject matter experts (SMEs) prior to submission of development proposals to the City.
  • Increase affordable housing goals.
  • Enhance and maximize usage of existing sports fields.
  • Encourage businesses/retailers willing to house operations and new jobs in Sammamish. Living here and walking to work reduces traffic and increases local revenues.
  • Pragmatically determine how to fund and execute priority projects faster.

What are the Top Three issues you see as priorities?

My top three are informed by resident feedback and include:

  • Relief from congestion and traffic
  • Deep concern over current development outpacing our infrastructure
  • Preservation of trees, wildlife, and natural spaces

Other priorities mentioned to me are more affordable housing options and compelling retail and dining choices.

What data did you rely on to help you arrive at these priorities?

  • National Citizen’s Survey where three Sammamish services were rated lower than national benchmark comparisons. These were bus or transit services (26%), natural areas preservation (47%) and land use, planning and zoning (27%).
  • City Council and committee meetings (in person and video recordings), PDFs and data on the City website
  • News and social media channels
  • Feedback and insights from residents

How would you solve these issues?

  • Cease development in designated environmentally sensitive/critical areas, especially all pilot projects.
  • Institute a regularly scheduled shuttle between fields/parks, retail centers, and the library. In cooperation with the 3 school districts, put the Walking School Bus into practice.
  • Attain the higher annual ARCH commitment goal of $196K. Increase affordable housing unit targets from 10% to 18% within new residential and mixed-use developments.
  • Shift to synthetic turf and LED lights ahead of plan via a Certification of Participation or bond measure. Re-double efforts to connect trails to make Town Center and other neighborhoods more bike and walk friendly.
  • Rework 20.05.035 regarding neighborhood meetings with developers so that the purpose becomes more than just receive neighborhood input prior to submission of the application. The applicant should owe answers and/or an amended proposal back to the neighborhood that specifically addresses all feedback.

Finances

Please state your view of the current state of City finances? (IE, are they solid, precarious, neutral.) Please state why you reach your conclusion.

The City’s finances are solid and balanced today but do not anticipate the budget “cross-over” when expenditures exceed revenue around 2023. Additionally, there is no significant provision to pay for accelerating road, transit, and stormwater management improvements.

The City has been fiscally prudent by outsourcing major services such as fire, emergency, and police. It also carries no debt and has a high bond rating.

I would like to see a budget that helps us understand what we lose if we cut or reduce certain budget items and what we stand to gain by adding new revenues sources.

Do you feel a tax hike or imposition of a new tax is needed? If not, why not? If yes, why?

I would favor a bond over a tax increase to offset land acquisition in the Parks, Recreation & Open Space plan. No one is excited about a tax property tax increase right now. However, bonds or financed debt earmarked for specific projects that residents want makes sense.

If a new tax is needed, what tax would you favor?

The City has not increased taxes in over 6 years and has banked the option. I do not favor a regressive property tax increase even though it is income tax deductible. I would ask residents what priorities they are prepared to pay extra for, and how they want to pay for them. Examples could include an increase in sales, B&O, REET, utilities taxes, or something similar.

According to the NCS survey, 2/3rds of residents supported road improvement taxes while 8 in 10 supported a tax to buy land, preserve trees and protect open space. This survey was conducted before the recent property tax hike was approved by the state legislature. A non-statistically relevant survey was conducted via virtual town hall where residents did not support increasing taxes for roads.

What are some ways our City can increase revenue without raising taxes?

  • Increase government grants and partnerships
  • Increase services fees
  • Increase fees for development permits
  • Increase rent and usage fees on City-owned properties (for non-residents)
  • Increase road and other impact fees collected prior to construction
  • Increased fines for unapproved tree removal or other infractions
  • Enact a plastic bag fee

Parks and Recreation

Are more parks with ball fields needed? If yes, how would you achieve these?

I used to help coach lacrosse so I’ve spent a lot of time on all our fields. The Parks & Rec survey showed 42% listed active sports as their priority. Acquiring land for sports fields is difficult as the area needs to be flat and cleared of trees. By upgrading existing appropriate fields to synthetic turf and adding LED lights for night play, and lining the field for football, lacrosse, and soccer – usage of the fields could increase without having to acquire new fields.

Synthetic turf fields have a stiff upfront cost but can pay for themselves in 3-4 years. They require no “rest” like natural turf so one synthetic field can equal 3+ well-maintained natural turf fields. Their maintenance costs can be much less than natural turf, since no mowing or irrigation are needed.

East Lake Sammamish Trail: Only the Middle section, Section 2B, from the 7-11 north to Inglewood Hill Road, remains under permitting review and appeals by King County. This is the most difficult section to develop given the tight proximity of homes permitted by the County before Sammamish became a City. Please state the issues as you understand them and what your position is to resolve them.

King County asserts the right-of-way for the railroad was sold to the Cascade Land Conservancy and then to King County. Residents assert they own the land bisecting their properties and the county owns an easement – not the land itself.

In 1988, Congress passed a “railbanking” statute that allows the government to convert railroad easements into public recreational trails without compensation to the landowner. The US Supreme Court overturned this. There is case law to support both points of view.

Trail residents are asking for fair treatment. They understand this land will be used by the public as a trail. I would broker a reasonable solution that allows the trail to proceed and provides mitigation for affected residents.

Developing the YMCA land adjacent Pine Lake Middle School is a contractual obligation to Sammamish in exchange for the YMCA’s financial contribution, program development and management of the Community Center. The City’s obligation is to develop an active use for the property, which is currently thick woods and encompassing sensitive areas. Some neighbors prefer a passive use, such as trails, to protect wildlife and the wetlands. Please state your understanding of the issues and the outcome you support.

Given the findings from the most recent Parks and Rec survey, I support passive use of the land. Residents have no appetite for clear-cutting the 7+ acres to construct a building as currently implied by YMCA lease documents. We can maintain the spirit of the lease by using the land for passive recreational purposes such as trails, perhaps a ‘fitness’ course as well. The land should be viewed through the park land acquisition lens and scored appropriately.

Roads and Transportation

Council Member Tom Odell has stated Sammamish neglected road improvements for 10 years. The City today is about to receive a draft Transportation Management Plan (on July 11, after this questionnaire is due back to us). This will perhaps make recommendations for priorities in road improvements. Until then, the only “plan” is the Transportation Improvement Plan (TIP).

The TIP is available on the City’s website. Please state your opinion of the TIP projects and the cost of the projects listed in the TIP.

Many of the projects outlined in the Transportation Improvement Plan are designed to improve but not fix our traffic and congestion issues. The associated costs appear to represent estimates. I believe the new council needs to review all projects-in-process to determine priority, and if budgets and goals have been adequately assigned.

Do you believe the City can pay for these projects under its current financial condition? If not, how would you suggest paying for them?

As stated in the finance question, the City does not currently have plans in place for increasing revenue, which will be needed to complete the proposed capital improvements. As also stated, I believe that a diversified approach centered on citizen feedback will be needed for a robust revenue plan.

Issaquah-Fall City Road improvements were promised to the Klahanie area residents if they voted to annex to Sammamish. At the time, in 2014, City officials estimated the cost of this project would be about $23 million. The latest estimate is $32 million and this may rise. Do you support the current proposed design of the project, and how do you believe the City should pay for it?

If the residents in Klahanie still want and expect it, then yes and the City should pay for it. I am also supportive of efforts to implement more accountability into the estimate-to-completion cycle of major infrastructure projects, including additional incentives for meeting or exceeding expectations.

Sahalee Way became a highly controversial project, both in design and in cost. Initially it was promised that it would relieve congestion. However, the City’s contract traffic engineer stated it will not because Sahalee Way empties onto SR202. As a result, any improvements will be principally for safety, such as stop lights, turning lanes, bike lanes and a sidewalk on one side of the street. The project is estimated to cost $15 million-$16 million. Do you believe there is sufficient return on investment to support this cost, or do you believe the design should be modified to reduce the cost?

I believe that safety for pedestrians and bike commuters is paramount. The project should be reclassified as a safety upgrade – not a traffic fix. Redefining the goal may create a lower cost on the project.

In general, building wider roads isn’t often a workable solution. They destroy the neighborhoods we’re trying to preserve and commuters tend to fill the available space, rendering the relief temporary at best.

Certainly, the state has not provided the regional infrastructure to support us, and our major regional links are significantly over their design capacity. Commuters cut through neighborhoods, such as East Lake Sammamish Parkway, rather than take SR 520 to I-405 to I-90.

What is your understanding of Concurrency and Level of Service?

In short, RCW 36.70A.040, means that local jurisdictions must decide how much congestion they can tolerate, and then build the infrastructure needed to maintain that level of congestion as it grows. If growth outpaces the City’s ability to provide infrastructure, then the City must stop development IF it causes the level of service to decline below certain standards. However, each jurisdiction establishes their own set of standards for congestion and level of service.

The fact that every City can and does have different goals, means there’s no alignment, no synergy; and no City has the legal ability to make decisions about regional infrastructure.

The GMA asserts that Sammamish can choose the level of congestion we “want” to experience, and then build the infrastructure required to meet that level of service, while continuing to accept growth. This isn’t rational. I will work with regional authorities to align our goals and interests, but the ordinance is flawed.

What data are you using to inform your positions on traffic management?

Concurrency analyses for different cities in the region.

MRSC

Utilities

Certain members of the current City Council occasionally suggest assuming the two water and sewer districts into the City, so that the City government has control over all operations of the districts; all assets; all revenue (and liabilities); and the ability to set rates.

Do you support or oppose assuming control of the Northeast Sammamish Water and Sewer District? Please state your reasons for your position.

Bellevue ceded control of two neighborhood water and sewer utilities to Issaquah in 2015 which had earned them $1.4M in revenue and more than $500K as a net gain to their annual capital budgets. Arguably the City could earn revenue by assuming control of the NE Sammamish Water and Sewer District. However, this is not a core competency of the City and could end up costing residents more to manage. Utilities are a regulated industry. Changing the status quo is not a priority for me and no residents have mentioned it to me as a concern.

Do you support or oppose assuming control of the Sammamish Plateau Water and sewer district? Please state your reasons for your position.

See above.

Storm water management is a City function. For the past 12 years, the Tamarack subdivision has had increasing storm water runoff issues from uphill development approved by the City. Residents have persistently appeared before the City Council asking for a City-funded solution. The current Council is split on (1) how to proceed), (2) whether more study is needed and (3) who should pay for resolution of these problems.

Please state your understanding of the Tamarack storm water management issues.

The drainage problem started some years ago when several residences were built above Tamarack with no planned drainage solution. Tamarack is a community with a private road so there has been reluctance to use public funds to benefit privately held land, even though the City had a strong hand in creating the issue. It’s estimated to cost $1M to fix and there are more than one of these problem sites in Sammamish.

The general feeling is that a LID (Local Improvement District) initiative would not get approved by the residents.

Please state how you would resolve the issues and who should pay for them.

The Zackuse Creek area is getting a fish passable culvert to help restore the streambed at a cost of ~$1.2M. This is partially funded by a grant.

The Sammamish City Council has approved a design review which is the first step in solving the problem. I support going after additional grant funds to offset costs. The Surface Water Capital Improvement Program was established to finance capital projects and would be appropriate for this use. REET could be another legitimate source

What other storm water management/runoff issues are you aware of?

  • Inglewood Hill drainage area
  • 144th Corridor development (Mystic Lake, etc.)
  • Snake Hill (212th)

Environment

Please state your positions on environmental issues:

  1. Protecting Lake Sammamish, Laughing Jacobs Lake, Pine Lake and Beaver Lake.

Our lakes are as important as our trees and add tremendously to our quality of life in Sammamish. I feel very strongly about protecting what’s left of the kokanee habitat as they only spawn in Lewis, Laughing Jacobs, Ebright, and Pine Lake Creeks as well as some shoreline around Lake Sammamish.

Beaver Lake has its own management district but there doesn’t seem to be a specific commission that oversees and measures our progress – or lack thereof – in terms of preserving our environment. I support creating an environmental committee to help us manage and measure how we’re doing as a City in terms of being stewards of our environment.

  1. Protecting wetlands and streams.

I strongly support protecting our wetlands as they are a vital part of natural water management. In addition to birdwatching, wetlands provide a host of other benefits such as water purification, flood protection, shoreline stabilization, groundwater recharge, streamflow maintenance, and habitat for fish and wildlife. I’d be willing to bet many residents don’t know this.

We need to do a much better job of wetlands protection, restoration, and especially education. Placing wetland education and preservation under an environmental committee would give us the opportunity to increase citizen engagement.  

  1. Preserving trees.

I am firmly committed to preserving Sammamish’s tree canopy. I support our forestry study in partnership with UW because we need to know where we stand now in terms of tree retention. I also support pursuing a Tree City USA designation.

Is the City doing enough, too much or not enough?

The positive intent is there, slow in execution.

Any Other Issues You Wish To Address

As a CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate for abused and neglected children), I believe we need to address social service needs more directly in Sammamish.

We have families who periodically go through rough stretches and are not comfortable asking for help and may not know where to turn. Family stressors can be the result of a health crisis, job loss, addiction, or family functioning issues.

I work with families in crisis on a regular basis to help them connect to appropriate services and have seen firsthand the enormous difference they make. I support creating a social services connection and support function in Sammamish.

 

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