Council candidates look toward future at forum

October 13, 2009

By Warren Kagarise

City Council candidates envisioned redevelopment of the commercial district, promised to protect crucial city services and looked beyond the defunct Southeast Bypass — the defining issue of the 2007 municipal election — at a campaign forum last week.

Organized by The Issaquah Press and moderated by Publisher Debbie Berto, the Oct. 8 forum drew Position 5 candidates Maureen McCarry and Joan Probala, and Position 7 hopefuls Tola Marts and Nathan Perea. The candidates, bedecked in campaign buttons, spent the hourlong forum fielding questions from Berto about issues including the economy, growth and transportation.

Open for business

Asked to envision the future of the commercial district, known as the Central Issaquah Area, McCarry said efforts to plan transportation and attract businesses would be essential to redevelopment efforts.

“I’m hoping that we will have major employers close to our transportation areas such as [state Route] 900, the transit center and, hopefully, in 20-some years, light rail at SR 900 and maybe another location,” McCarry said. “My hope is that when we have major employers, that it would be with residents who can walk from their residence to major employers.”

McCarry was elected in 2005; she was also appointed to serve as a councilwoman from 1998-2000.

Probala, a real estate agent and member of several city boards, said city planners should first lay the foundation for expansion.

“We have to be very careful about where we put things, how we design it,” Probala said. “First of all, we have to have the basic infrastructure put in place before we do anything — before we site big businesses or houses or anything, we need to have the walkways and trails.”

Perea, a mortgage adviser and member of the city Urban Village Development Commission, recalled how Issaquah was in the mid-1980s, when he moved here as a child.

“I think whatever we do, when we develop our new commercial districts and central area plan, we need to recognize Issaquah as Issaquah when it’s all said and done,” Perea said. “Character, charm, beauty — we need be very careful with all of that. I hope that in 20 years, when my daughters either still live here or come back to visit, they will recognize it as well.”

Perea and Marts are vying to succeed Councilman David Kappler, who bowed out of the race in early June.

Marts, a mechanical engineer, recommended a mix of land uses as the commercial district is redeveloped during the next few decades.

“We have an incredible opportunity with the central area,” Marts said. “What we want is a combination of commercial, residential and recreational in the heart of our town. What this can do is help reduce congestion, we can help bring good housing, some higher density housing, into the area without necessarily changing the character of the existing neighborhoods.”

Tough decisions

Candidates were asked how they would shape the 2011 budget if the economy were slow to recover. The forum was held four nights after Mayor Ava Frisinger presented a trim 2010 budget to the City Council.

Candidates said funding for fire and police service should not be slashed, but differed on how and where to make other cutbacks.

Probala encouraged the city to support local businesses and engage residents.

“You have to look at noncritical, nonimportant services: the maintenance of parks, the maintenance of streets,” Probala said. “I’d like to be able to use the city residents to take care of the inability of the city to maintain the city and what it looks like.”

McCarry said city officials should work to keep property taxes down.

“We need to make sure that we don’t add taxes to our citizens,” McCarry said. “We have to make sure that we reduce the services that are nonessential. We actually have one of the best road programs in the Puget Sound area. We repave roads; we do trench work and things. These don’t have to be done as regularly as they have been, although they’re beautiful.”

Candidates said the city plays a key role in providing social services, especially amid the recession. Perea said residents needed to be made aware of homelessness in Issaquah in order to address the problem.

“I know personally a lot of folks who I associate with in the city — neighbors, friends, businesspeople — it’s not a topic that comes up very often, so I think making that aware to the public is the first big step there,” he said.

Marts praised efforts by the city and A Regional Coalition for Housing to build units for low-income people in Issaquah.

“If you combine the good, affordable housing that Issaquah already has with a path up and out for citizens, that’s a good start toward addressing our homelessness,” Marts said.

Beyond the bypass

Though candidates kept responses focused on the next four years, a question submitted by a resident forced them to look back at a contentious council decision.

Candidates said they would not revisit the 2008 vote to halt the Southeast Bypass. The bypass would have linked Interstate 90 and Issaquah-Hobart Road with a road across lower Tiger Mountain. McCarry, the only incumbent at the forum, had voted against the project.

“I consider the Southeast Bypass dead,” Probala said. “I think we should move on to look at new issues, new ways of meeting transportation issues in our town. We need to do that. Our future cannot be planned by continuing to look at issues that have proved unsuccessful and unwanted in the community.”

McCarry said estimates showed the bypass would have a limited effect on traffic congestion on Front Street.

“The purpose of the Southeast Bypass was to alleviate traffic on I-90 from 90 onto Front and I think with the I-90 Undercrossing allowing people to get across the freeway to the other side without having to use Front Street or SR 900 will do a lot to the transportation,” McCarry said.

Marts said he would not support future efforts to construct the road. He said city officials should widen roads and take other steps to unclog streets.

“The second way is to make the roads that we have more efficient,” he continued. “We can do that by looking at roundabouts, so that, for instance, my friends at [Issaquah Valley Elementary School] don’t have to wait 14 minutes to take a left out of IVE, like a friend did recently. The third way is to, of course, reduce the amount of traffic on the roads with mass transit and multimodal transportation as well.”

Perea, too, said the bypass should be left in the past.

“I consider myself fortunate to have not been involved with the city when the bypass was being discussed,” Perea said, drawing laughter from McCarry and Probala and people in the audience.

“I say that because I don’t believe in continuing divisive issues that just draw lines and cause people to become divisive over something,” Perea said. “Let’s move on. Let’s look for the next solution. We need to address traffic issues in this city. We need to figure out ways to get people moving through.”

On the Web

A video of the forum will be posted to the city Web site, Follow the “Video Archive” link to watch.

Watch the rebroadcast of The Issaquah Press candidate forum on Issaquah Channel 21 every Friday, Sunday and Tuesday at 7 a.m., noon and 9 p.m. until Election Day, Nov. 3.

Due to a technical problem, the portion of the forum featuring school board candidates Marnie Maraldo and Wright Noel is unavailable.

Warren Kagarise: 392-6434, ext. 234, or Comment at

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