Joan Probala relies on past experiences in new challenge

October 6, 2009

By Warren Kagarise

Joan Probala

Joan Probala

Long before she launched her bid for City Council, before she even became a city resident, Joan Probala laid the groundwork for her campaign. Probala and her family moved to South Cove in 1979, decades before the neighborhood along Lake Sammamish would be annexed into Issaquah.

When Probala talks about her candidacy — and she talks about her candidacy a lot these days — she mentions her role in extending city limits to include South Cove, where residents voted for annexation in November 2005.

Probala, a real estate agent and former Issaquah Chamber of Commerce president, touts her ability to bring together South Cove community groups. Her credentials as a member of the city Arts, Planning Policy and Sister Cities commissions form a cornerstone of her bid.“I’ve been preparing for this for the last 15 years, with all of the boards and commissions and others things I’ve done for the city. It’s all led up to this,” Probala said.

Though she became a city resident after the 2005 annexation, Probala opted not to run during the last round of council elections in 2007. She launched her campaign in late February. Voters will choose between Probala and incumbent Council President Maureen McCarry.

“I was in a place in my life where I had the time, and I had the support of my family and encouragement for years from my family to do this,” Probala said. “It just felt right.”

Probala said City Council members need to engage residents in neighborhoods, instead of waiting for issues to rally residents to demand city action.

“We had town hall meetings in which we invited people in,” Probala said. “Now, we need to take that another step. We need to go out to the communities, out to the homeowners associations, so people know that the city is concerned about solving their problems.”

A recent example Probala cited was the decision to ban dogs at Timberlake Park, in her South Cove neighborhood. The move surprised pet owners and galvanized proponents and opponents of the ban. Probala said city decisions should be more accessible and transparent to residents.

“If you don’t know the people, you don’t know the process, and you get upset and you don’t know who to go to,” Probala said. “I need to change that.”

Another plank of her platform is a drive to improve Front Street. Probala said new storefronts need to be added and repairs must be made to aging buildings to make the area more attractive to businesses.

“We need to change Front Street. Keep the character, keep the aura that we have in the downtown, but we need to update it, we need to add some freshness to the city,” she said. “We need to do it to prepare for the future, so the businesses are more willing to locate in an area that shows it’s been taken care of.”

Probala, a member of the Arts Commission, said more public art and perhaps a major piece of public art at Pedestrian Park — at the corner of Front Street and Sunset Way — would spruce up downtown.

“We need a vision for downtown,” she said. “We need to know exactly what it’s going to look like. We need to have businesses that draw people downtown to support our economic growth.”

As city officials grapple with falling sales tax revenues and cuts to city services and staff, Probala said across-the-board budget cuts are unrealistic. She said police and fire service are essential, but volunteer groups could assume other functions. Probala suggested enlisting volunteers to maintain overgrown medians and roadsides.

“Yes, we have to cut the budget, but we have to be creative and find ways to help do the things that need to be done,” she said.

Probala said city staffers should work during the downturn to determine how to lure new businesses to Issaquah. She pointed out how sales tax revenues drive city spending.

“We have to think about, how do we stimulate the economy in our town? How do we get businesses to come?” she said. “We have to look at the permitting process. We have to bring the chamber and the city together to sit down and look at all of the processes, not just on a one-time basis when an individual businessperson has a problem and brings it to the city.”

When she talks about her campaign, Probala melds her past experiences as she sells her candidacy.

“I want to make a change,” she said.

Warren Kagarise: 392-6434, ext. 234, or wkagarise@isspress.com. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.

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