Issaquah sustainability ‘report card’ indicates successes, shortfalls

September 7, 2010

By Warren Kagarise

The inaugural sustainability “report card” from the city touted Costco carpools, a community garden and affordable-housing construction in the Issaquah Highlands as signs of progress.

The report released last week packs data about environmental, economic and social health.

The “report card” is based upon recommendations from a 16-member panel assembled in 2008 by Mayor Ava Frisinger. The group, the Sustainability Sounding Board, formed a long-term sustainability plan and then set benchmarks for the city to track progress.

The city Resource Conservation Office collected data to answer the question: How sustainable is Issaquah?

Resource Conservation Office Manager David Fujimoto said the report represents a solid start, and sustainability needs to be a communitywide effort.

“For us to be successful in the long run, it takes residents, community groups and businesses,” he said.

Frisinger described the effort as a path to determine how the community performs in areas related to the environment, the economy and human services.

The report lauded residents for civic engagement through voter registration — 78 percent in 2009 — and volunteerism.

Natalie Cheel, Cascade Land Conservancy marketing director and a Sustainability Sounding Board member, praised the effort to track progress.

“I think it’s a testament to the forethought of the city itself,” she said.

Superintendent Steve Rasmussen, another Sustainability Sounding Board member, said he hoped to employ the benchmarks to make the Issaquah School District more sustainable.

“Our schools are always looking to act sustainably and make conservation a priority for students, so I want to be able to integrate the city’s best practices into our classrooms and curriculum, and share our perspective with the city,” he said.

The community garden — spearheaded by Sustainable Issaquah and planted on the AtWork! property — has become a source for fresh produce for the Issaquah Food and Clothing Bank.

The report also highlighted the Costco program to encourage employees to carpool, use mass transit or telecommute to the Issaquah headquarters.

YWCA Family Village at Issaquah, an affordable-housing complex under construction in the highlands, also received a nod for using eco-friendly methods.

But the report also indicated shortcomings. Demand has spiked at the nonprofit food bank in recent years. The community also lags in efforts to build additional affordable housing, despite the high-profile YWCA and Habitat for Humanity of East King County projects in the highlands.

The percentage of affordable rental units decreased from 85 percent of all rental units in 2005 to 73 percent in 2007. The percentage of affordable condominiums dropped from 25 percent of all condos to 5 percent during the same period. Barely any single-family homes — 0.2 percent — in Issaquah qualified as affordable in 2007.

Diana Crane, sustainability director at PCC Natural Markets and a Sustainability Sounding Board member, encouraged other communities to track sustainability across the Puget Sound region.

“In the end, it’s a regional economy and we’re a very mobile society,” she said. “People don’t stay in their neighborhoods 24/7.”

What to know

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

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