Issaquah, Port of Seattle candidates answer questions
October 13, 2011
By Warren Kagarise
NEW — 11:30 p.m. Oct. 13, 2011
Candidates for local and regional offices offered prescriptions for counteracting the ailing economy and educating a 21st-century workforce at a forum Thursday.
Organized by The Issaquah Press and moderated by Publisher Debbie Berto, the forum attracted candidates for City Council, Issaquah School Board and Port of Seattle Commission.
The candidates, gathered at the King County Library System headquarters in Issaquah, answered questions in 40-minute sections organized by race.
The forum occurred days before King County Elections mails ballots, and as many voters start to pay attention to the off-year election. Election Day is Nov. 8.
Though the majority of council seats is up for election, only a single seat is contested. In the lone contested race, challenger TJ Filley faces incumbent Councilman Joshua Schaer for the Position 4 seat.
Incumbent Councilman Fred Butler, appointed Councilwoman Stacy Goodman and candidate Paul Winterstein did not attract opponents for the other positions.
In a far-reaching discussion about municipal issues — transportation headaches, economic development, ongoing efforts to regulate a medical marijuana operations and more — Filley and Schaer stuck to the usual themes.
“I will continue to fight against unnecessary spending and live up to the reputation I’ve earned among my colleagues for always doing my homework on issues the council decides,” Schaer said.
Filley lambasted a $6.2 million pedestrian bridge across Interstate 90 completed using substantial federal and Sound Transit dollars. The connector — and link across the interstate at state Route 900 — is a major issue in the council campaign.
“People should not have to micromanage the City Council,” he said. “Congestion is and has been a major problem in Issaquah, and the people are sick and tired of hearing about transportation but seeing resources squandered without effective ROI on the projects that are presented.”
The plan to remake Central Issaquah — 915 acres in the business district along the interstate — in the decades ahead seeped into the candidates’ responses about attracting and retaining businesses.
“In the Central Issaquah Plan, there are certainly several good aspects, specifically dealing with the parts where the developers of Issaquah are going to have clear, consistent rules going forward on development,” Filley said. “They’ll be able to have easy-to-predict costs associated with their projects, but when it comes to things — such as parking and the redevelopment and what’s going to be businesses versus residential versus mixed-use — there, I believe, the Central Issaquah Plan does need a lot more study by the council” and community groups.
Candidates also addressed the perennial issue about commercial construction in the Issaquah Highlands. The latest proposal for the neighborhood calls for a Safeway and associated gas station, plus a Regal Cinemas theater.
“We need to look at revitalizing the city as a whole and, frankly, I’m a little disappointed in some of the plans that I’ve seen for the Issaquah Highlands,” Schaer said. “I don’t like the idea of having an inconsistent vision when we’re trying to change this impervious parking and these strip malls and these parking lots in the valley into employment centers and retail centers. Yet in highlands, we’ve got a different vision and a different tack. I don’t like that. I think we need to be consistent as a city about how we approach redevelopment.”
In the school board election, incumbents Brian Deagle and Suzanne Weaver face challengers in the nonpartisan races.
Deagle, a Sammamish resident, faces challenger Patrick Sansing, a Sammamish resident, for the Director District No. 3 seat. Weaver, a Sammamish resident, faces Issaquah resident Brian Neville to retain the Director District No. 5 seat.
Bellevue resident Anne Moore is running unopposed for outgoing board member Jan Colbrese’s post.
In addition to proposals, school board candidates offered a veritable alphabet soup to describe involvement in local education efforts. PTSA and VIS, or Volunteers for Issaquah Schools, factored into candidates’ statements at the forum.
The questions during the forum’s school board portion focused on improving school experiences for students and maintaining a high-achieving school district despite near-constant cuts from Olympia.
The incumbents, Deagle and Weaver, said Issaquah School District officials trimmed unnecessary expenses, or “low-hanging fruit” in Weaver’s description. Future cuts could impact students more acutely in the classroom.
“What it comes down to in the short term, it’s staff,” Deagle said. “The largest expense for the district is teachers. In the short term, unfortunately, that’s the only lever we can pull. In the long term, it will be a different approach to serving the kids.”
Sansing said district leaders should instead consider trimming administrative costs if state legislators hand down additional cuts in the months ahead.
“That’s got to be the place that we continue to look first,” he said. “I don’t want to look first toward the schoolroom.”
How to better serve students inside and outside of the classroom dominated the school board candidates’ discussion.
Neville said the district could do a better job to serve students uninterested in a traditional college education after high school. The proposal came in response to a prompt from the moderator: “Complete this sentence: The one area of our schools that should receive more attention is…”
“Issaquah School District certainly place a lot of focus on college prep, which is understandable,” he said. “I think most parents, probably, in the Issaquah district probably expect their kids to go to college. However, an area that I feel is somewhat lacking is the vocational side as well as on the arts, potential viable alternatives to the college prep track.”
Neville’s opponent, Weaver, said district schools should focus more on “the students who don’t fit the mold in high school.”
“I think we have a greater number of kids who, I guess you could say they underachieve,” she said. “They’re not achieving at their potential. They kind of fit in the traditional high school, but they need something more. They need more hands-on opportunities. They need more things that will give them exposure to careers and other types of paths that they might take.”
In September, school board members delayed sending a proposed bond — a $219 million package to fund construction and upgrades at schools across the district — to the electorate from February to April. Questions arose about using bond dollars to fund improvements to stadiums at Issaquah, Liberty and Skyline high schools.
“I would say these are not Cadillac stadiums, but I’d say they’re also not Pintos,” Weaver said. “It’s important to spend a certain amount of money to build things well.”
Sansing said the stadiums at the high schools serve a key component in surrounding communities, because the facilities serve more than sports teams.
“I think that they are not only a school resource but a community resource,” he said. “There are many groups that use our stadiums, and I think that it’s important for them to be able to do so. I also think that the education that you receive outside of the classroom is just as important as the education you receive inside of the classroom.”
Questions for the Port of Seattle Commission candidates closed the forum.
In a nonpartisan commissioner races, Democrat Dean Willard, a Sammamish resident and onetime state House of Representatives candidate, faces Republican incumbent Bill Bryant. Richard Pope is challenging incumbent Commissioner Gael Tarleton. (Pope did not attend the Issaquah forum.)
The discussion focused on the economy and the environment — major issues at the agency responsible for the Port of Seattle and Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.
“At the Port of Seattle, we’re proving that we can rise to what I think is the challenge of time — to generate jobs while protecting the environment,” Bryant said.
Despite a recent turnaround for a once scandal-plagued agency, Willard said more progress is needed to create jobs and clean up damage to the environment related to trade.
“There are too many people that work at the port that don’t have family-wage jobs,” he said. “Far too frequently, the environmental damage that’s caused by economic activities are borne by those who are least able to bear them.”
Tarleton, regarded as the commission’s expert on security, tackled a question about the balance between security and convenience at the bustling airport.
“Our job is to make sure that people can move through that airport safely and securely, with minimum hassle,” she said. “Now, we all want to rid of pat downs. We all want to get rid of the hassle of walking through a security system that feels like you’re a salmon swimming upstream. Then, suddenly you reach that choke point and you’ve got to climb that ladder and you hope you get to the other side. I’m working on that.”