Joshua Schaer is not afraid to disagree
October 11, 2011
By Warren Kagarise
On a City Council often united in 7-0 decisions, Joshua Schaer is the occasional outlier.
The councilman opposed a hike in cable rates, a redo along Newport Way Northwest and proposed changes to the same street near Issaquah Valley Elementary School. The opposition earned Schaer a grudging respect from council members — and a reputation for outspokenness.
“I’m not trying to be contrarian, and I’m not trying to be difficult, but you can’t have 7-0 votes on every issue,” he said.
Now, as a candidate for a second term on the council, Schaer highlights the no votes just as much as accomplishments.
The councilman, 33, spearheaded a food-packaging ordinance to require restaurateurs and other food sellers to use compostable and recycle takeout containers and utensils.
The legislation is a signature issue as Schaer heads from door to door to greet potential supporters. Newcomer TJ Filley is the other candidate in the race for the Position 4 seat.
“I can’t take credit for the original idea, because it started in a lot of cities. Portland has been doing it for 20 years. Cities in California have been doing it for many years. Seattle was really the model that I looked at,” Schaer said. “If it can work in Seattle with the size of that city, then certainly it can work in Issaquah, where we are leaders in environmental preservation and sustainability. To be the first city on the Eastside to do this, I think, is a tremendous accomplishment.”
The measure caused some heartburn among business leaders, and the rollout continues to face difficulties almost a year after the ordinance took effect. Still, Schaer said the ordinance is a milestone for a city focused on sustainability.
“The next step for us, I think, is making sure we inch that compliance rate higher,” he said. “We’ve been very patient and the goal has been not to be heavy handed, but at some point it’s unfair to the businesses that are complying and going through the process of specializing their products and providing the right containers and so forth.”
Schaer also leads the Council Transportation Committee — the panel responsible for road and pedestrian projects throughout Issaquah.
The slow-to-materialize Interstate 90 Undercrossing is a major accomplishment, he said. The north-south road near the Issaquah Post Office opened to motorists late last year.
“I pushed very hard to make sure we could get that project open,” he said. “Now, I’ll be the first to admit that it’s not complete and there are still phases of the project that need to be done. Anyone who drives on 221st from the car wash to the intersection there can tell the road is not in the best condition. There is a lot of work still to be done, but just getting it open and being able to take traffic off of East Lake Sammamish Parkway and improve that internal circulation” benefits Issaquah commuters.
But another link across the interstate is a potential headache for Schaer and other city leaders. The $6.2 million pedestrian and bicyclist connector at state Route 900 opened July 1, late and over budget. Filley has made the pedestrian connector a major issue in the race.
“We have the benefit of hindsight now, after seeing the final scope, after seeing the final cost,” Schaer said. “If we knew now what we knew then, and the real cost to the city in all of this, perhaps we would have studied it more closely.”
Council Transportation Committee members referred the project to the complete council in 1-1 decision. Councilman Fred Butler agreed and then-Councilman David Kappler dissented; Schaer did not vote.
The city contributed $354,000 to complete the connector. Federal and Sound Transit dollars covered the remainder.
“By the time it came back to the council, I then learned that we essentially had two choices: take it or leave it,” Schaer said. “If we left it, that money was going to go elsewhere. It was going to go to one of our neighboring cities.”
Still, despite the dustup related to the connector, Schaer said most residents approve of how the City Council handles municipal affairs.
“I want make sure that Issaquah stays a livable community,” he said. “In fact, it’s the No. 1 thing that I’m hearing from residents as I go around doorbelling and talking to folks. We need to keep it a beautiful place to live, a safe place to live, and retain the feel and the character of the city that’s so important to all of us.”
Warren Kagarise: 392-6434, ext. 234, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.