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

October 20, 2009

By Warren Kagarise

Nathan Perea

Nathan Perea

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 proprietor of 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 was 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, said he 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?

He 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,” he 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.”

He 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 to 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.

He 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 to 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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