City Council candidates Tola Marts, Nathan Perea outline visions

October 14, 2009

By Warren Kagarise

NEW — 12:20 p.m. Oct. 14, 2009

Between now and Nov. 3, Issaquah voters will choose a successor to longtime City Councilman David Kappler.

Besides the Position 7 race, voters will decide between incumbent Council President Maureen McCarry, a Squak Mountain resident, and South Cove real estate agent Joan Probala in the Position 5 contest. Mayor Ava Frisinger, Councilwoman Eileen Barber and newcomer Mark Mullet are running unopposed. Mullet will become the first Issaquah Highlands representative on the City Council.

Meet political newcomers Tola Marts, a Squak Mountain resident and engineer, and Nathan Perea, a highlands resident and mortgage adviser. The candidates hope to succeed Kappler in the Position 7 seat.

Tola Marts

Tola Marts

City Council hopeful Tola Marts aims to build consensus

Before he settled on Squak Mountain in 2006, Tola Marts first encountered Issaquah politics as a Klahanie resident during the unsuccessful push to annex the community. The measure would have added more than 10,000 people to Issaquah during a period when the city grew 139 percent through other annexations and construction of the Issaquah Highlands and Talus.

Marts and his neighbors supported the Klahanie annexation, but Issaquah officials balked when the majority of Klahanie residents refused to take on a share of the city’s debt.

As Marts campaigns for a City Council seat, he could face the unresolved Klahanie issue again. How Issaquah grows will be a defining issue for the next council.

Marts grew up in White Bear Lake, Minn., a Twin Cities suburb hit hard by the boom-and-bust cycle of growth.

“I came from a town in Minnesota that has really struggled,” Marts said. “It was doing great when I moved there in 1980 and it has struggled to find its way after being a growth city.”

The candidate, active in Issaquah School District affairs since 2005, became interested in how to best position the city for the growth ahead. He hopes Issaquah avoids the problems of his hometown.

“Now that I’ve come to really love Issaquah, I just don’t want to see that happening here,” Marts said. “So I started talking to people on the City Council.”

Marts, 40, entered the race for the Position 7 seat in May. Voters will choose between Marts, a mechanical engineer and design lead at Blue Origin, a commercial spaceflight venture based in Kent, and another newcomer, mortgage adviser Nathan Perea. The city electorate will pick a successor to Councilman David Kappler, who was first elected to the seven-member board in 1991.

After the move to Squak Mountain, Marts dipped into school district affairs. He served on the PTA and site council at Issaquah Valley Elementary School, where his children were students. Marts was tapped for the Issaquah School District Levy Development Committee and advocated for education issues in Olympia.

Marts believed the deliberative approach and ability to build consensus he employed on school groups would serve the City Council well. As he mulled a council bid, he crossed paths with city government in a familiar place: IVE. Marts talked to Council President Maureen McCarry, whose daughter, a former IVE student, is friends with Marts’ daughter.

The candidate talked to other elected officials as well, and realized his engineering background could be useful to the city.

“Many of the problems that we face, especially as you look at the Central Issaquah Area Plan,” Marts said. “What to do with the central area is an example where I feel that somebody who has got a really strong background in technical systems” could be useful.

Central Issaquah — 915 acres straddling Interstate 90 — is the commercial heart of the city. Mayor Ava Frisinger appointed a task force last month to plot redevelopment in the area. Marts said the effort would be critical to the economic health of the city.

“In engineering world, you have to look at how aerodynamics interacts with structural interacts with thermal,” Marts said. “In the way, you have to look at how transportation interacts with businesses interacts with the financial side.”

Marts described his views as centrist and pro-business. He said officials and residents should be proud Issaquah is home the headquarters of Costco. But the candidate said the effort to retain businesses is just as important as the drive to lure new employers.

“What are we doing to help our current businesses thrive and make sure they don’t get a wandering eye?” Marts said.

He said the recession, combined with a slowdown in housing construction, would reshape how Issaquah grows.

“The days of astronomical growth are slowing down,” Marts said. “I think this latest recession and its effects on the city having to lay some people off are a perfect example.”

How the city responds to the recession will be the No. 1 challenge faced by the next council, Marts said. The city has shed 27 jobs throughout 2009 due to layoffs, a hiring freeze and a severance program.

“You have to manage your growth more carefully,” Marts continued. “In a growth economy, if you have 27 extra employees, you can maybe hold out for awhile because you’re going to need 27 new people. But if you’re going to be at approximately 250 [employees] for awhile, then all of the sudden the math becomes harder.”

Part of the recovery effort, Marts said, will involve outreach to city business owners and residents. He said, if elected, he would sit down with civic and community groups to discuss mutual goals.

“I talk about the challenges that we face as a city, but I don’t want that to come across in any way as doom or gloom,” Marts said. “I think they are things that need to be understood and taken into account as we do things going forward. I think that Issaquah’s best days are ahead of us.”

Nathan Perea

Nathan Perea

Council candidate Nathan Perea recalls small-town Issaquah, hopes to redefine growth

When Nathan Perea moved to Issaquah as a second grader, the city was home to just shy of 6,000 people. Back then, in 1985, Issaquah had the feel of a small town. Perea remembers how growth — and the associated headaches — reshaped the city.

“I can remember the way Issaquah was when I moved here,” he said. “As I watched us grow, even at a young age, I watched the disparity between the growth and the infrastructure. We grew at such an alarming rate and it started to take 45, 50 minutes to get from the plateau to I-90.”

The city had swelled by the time Perea returned to the city and settled in the Issaquah Highlands in 2006. The hillside community was nonexistent when Perea moved to Issaquah as a child. Nowadays, the city is home to almost 27,000 people.

As he campaigns for a City Council seat, first-time candidate Perea seeks to unite the old and new. He talks about how elected officials can learn from past mistakes and increase the quality of growth.

“Remembering that, I know that as we grow, we need to make sure that we’re doing that responsibly and supporting it in the right way, so that we’re not just clogging this place up and detracting from its beauty and charm,” Perea said.

Voters will choose between Perea, a mortgage adviser, and another newcomer, mechanical engineer Tola Marts, to succeed longtime Councilman David Kappler. Perea could become the second highlands representative elected to the seven-member City Council. Mark Mullet, a highlands resident and the proprietor of the Zeeks Pizza in the community, will be elected unopposed to the council Nov. 3.

Perea entered the council race in June after working with the Issaquah Chamber of Commerce, serving as a neighborhood captain in his community and prompted, he said, by a longtime desire to hold public office.

“After growing up here and moving back with my kids, getting involved in the city as a parent and a homeowner really changes your perspective on the place that you grew up,” Perea said. “I felt an obligation to get involved in some way, shape or form.”

Perea, 31, also noticed his generation was underrepresented in the centers of power. He said the first question he often receives from voters is: How old are you?

The candidate usually works from Issaquah coffee shops, where he sets up a laminated sign on the table beside him. “I’m running for Issaquah City Council. Please stop and chat!” the sign beckons. The arrangement has allowed Perea the opportunity to talk with voters about the economy — the issue he describes as the most important for the next council.

“As the economy rebounds, as we return to prosperity and as tax revenues increase, I think that’s going to be the most important part of this whole thing,” Perea said. “How do we manage ourselves in an upswing knowing what we just went through in the downswing?”

Perea said the recession showed how city services are wedded to sales tax revenue. Municipal officials slashed expenses throughout 2009 and laid off 10 employees to save money.

“Now we’re realizing that with the economic situation at hand, our budget is not going to come back until people are buying and selling goods in this city,” Perea said.

Lean budgets will be a reality for the next council, too. Mayor Ava Frisinger unveiled a tight 2010 budget Oct. 5. Perea credited the mayor for efforts to cut spending.

“One of the things I noticed right away was her ability to go through and cut in specific areas she felt needed to be cut, and not just an all-across-the-board chop, which a lot of times you see in government spending cuts,” Perea said. “I think that’s a great first step there; it’s prioritizing.”

The candidate lauded city officials for the Economy Vitality Plan released in late 2006 and for hiring Economic Development Manager Dan Trimble.

“We need to be looking at ways to attract businesses to town, we need to be able let them prosper and flourish,” Perea said. “We can do all that at the same time by protecting Issaquah’s charm and character and natural beauty. There’s no reason that has to be sacrificed.”

Perea will have a chance to engage development issues as a new alternate member of the Urban Village Development Commission. Frisinger appointed him to the commission in May. The panel oversees projects in the highlands and Talus.

Perea noted how he lives and works in Issaquah. He said city officials should approach future development efforts to provide opportunities for other residents to work in the city.

“If we’re trying to match reality to that ideal, we’ve got make sure that we’re attractive and able to bring in businesses that employ people here so we can take advantage of that,” he said. “It’s great to have that ideal, but if there’s nowhere for those people to work here, we can’t accomplish that.”

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