December 31, 2013
By Peter Clark
Residents will vote again on unresolved issue
On Feb. 11, Klahanie-area voters will decide whether to join the city of Issaquah.
A yes vote would expand the population of the city by one-third its current size. This will be the second vote regarding annexation in the past seven years.
This series about the Klahanie annexation vote will attempt to answer many questions that remain on all sides of this discussion.
Potential annexation areas
Two square miles, 15 neighborhoods and almost 11,000 residents comprise the Klahanie potential annexation area.
After the booming sprawl of the 1970s and 1980s around unincorporated areas, the state of Washington reacted by passing the Growth Management Act of 1991. The legislation envisioned municipalities swallowing up the dangling, developed areas to save financially struggling counties from drowning in expenses.
“Potential annexation areas are successors to what were called ‘spheres of influence,’” Issaquah Mayor Ava Frisinger said. “They were catch-all areas for cities. Pre-Growth Management Act, Issaquah’s included at least half of the plateau and included, I think, almost as far as Mirrormont.”
The quick growth and infighting between municipalities led the way to the Growth Management Act, which insisted regions craft a strategy for their future.
“In the late 1980s and early 1990s, all of a sudden, growth started happening and cities were fighting, trying to pick up the low-hanging fruit from the counties,” Issaquah Finance Director Diane Marcotte said. “That’s when the state stepped in with the Growth Management Act and said, ‘OK, everyone stop fighting and start planning.’”
The state directed cities to plan with surrounding areas and begin exploring future annexations.
“Cities negotiated with those areas to determine boundaries for potential annexation areas,” Issaquah’s Long Range Planning Manager Trish Heinonen said, describing the city’s process of annexing various areas like Providence Point and South Cove. “When the 2000s came in, it seemed time for Klahanie.”
‘It was simply not a subject’
“We were not aware it was unincorporated when we moved in,” Brookshire Estates Homeowners Association President Dick L’Heureux said. “It was simply not a subject.”
L’Heureux, one of the first homebuyers in the master-planned community built in the 1980s, has lived in the area for 27 years. Although his address lists his city as Issaquah, his house has always been in unincorporated King County. It took him and other residents a while to figure out what that meant.
“One of the differences we’ve seen is they’ve got all the services, because the city pays for trucks and plows,” Klahanie resident Rob Young said of Issaquah residents. He’s another who did not realize his home stood outside city lines. “It took years and years to notice we didn’t get these.”
Due to the desire for such services and nearby representation, residents began asking what Issaquah planned to do with the area, since it was in the city’s potential annexation area.
“In 2002, people in Klahanie were asking about being annexed to Issaquah,” Frisinger said. “In the meanwhile, Sammamish had incorporated and they decided that they might like to have Klahanie. The city said, ‘It’s in our PAA and you can’t have it unless we relinquish it.’ So, we held lots of public hearings and people came in to council meetings. It was overwhelmingly supportive of Issaquah.”
‘Frankly, we were snookered’
Based on those hearings and a concerted effort by Klahanie residents, the city launched a study and ultimately a vote for annexation in November 2005.
“Nobody really did anything until that 2005 push,” Young said. “Everyone felt things were taking the right path. When we had that vote in 2005, we thought, ‘OK, this should do it.’”
The vote failed.
An Issaquah City Council decision led to two questions on the ballot, both of which needed 60 percent approval for annexation to happen. The proposition for the area to annex to Issaquah passed with 67 percent of the vote. The second proposition asked if residents would take on the city’s bonded indebtedness. That measure earned only 49 percent.
“It was unusual,” Frisinger said about framing the vote into two questions. “The council felt that it needed to be clear to them that people were deciding both things.”
Another nail in that vote’s coffin, according to some, was a heavily distributed leaflet that asked residents to “consider the facts” and presented a list of reasons why not to annex.
“How did we get ourselves into this predicament?” the flyer asked. “It was forced upon us by secret negotiations between King County Executive Ron Sims and the mayor of Issaquah without any input from Klahanie residents.”
Though all residents and officials can do is speculate, many believe that flyer convinced voters.
“We didn’t know we had any opposition until we were hit upside the head,” L’Heureux said. “We never thought something like this would happen. Frankly, we were snookered.”
Many also believe the divided vote to take on the indebtedness raised fears.
“The assumption of debt was a big issue,” Brookshire Estates Homeowners Association Vice President Mike Foss said. “But, I don’t recall ever moving to a city and saying, I don’t want that park or that city center and I don’t want to pay for those already expensed.”
During the same election cycle, Issaquah gave South Cove the same ballot and received the opposite results.
“It turned out really well with South Cove,” Heinonen said. “We did the exact same process, the exact same outreach, same involvement with the city, but South Cove just reacted differently. They just embraced everything that was going on, made sure everyone knew what was going on. And I think Klahanie just assumed they had it.”
Another campaign, another vote
Movement then stagnated on annexing Klahanie. The 2008 recession halted long-range planning, and rising transportation improvement costs stopped any interest in the area.
“They talked to Sammamish a little bit and we talked to Sammamish a little bit and then the Issaquah-Fall City Road came up,” Heinonen said regarding the $38.7 million estimated in needed repairs to the road. “Somebody had to pay for that, even though it’s regional. So, Sammamish backed off and we kind of backed off. It sort of went dormant because the elephant in the room was the road and someone had to fix the road.”
The question lingered. Five years after the first vote, a group of Klahanie-area residents began another campaign to the City Council, which had started expressing interest in settling the matter.
Young and a group of neighborhood volunteers collected 565 signatures, 10 percent of the area’s registered voters, and approached the council during the 2011 goal-setting retreat.
“We actively called on every single council member and the mayor, saying, ‘We’ve got to get to a spot where you either annex us or you have to release us so we could become part of another city,’” Young said. “There, they voted that they were going to pursue the Klahanie PAA. And if they couldn’t pass it as a line-item issue, they would relinquish us from its PAA. That was a huge, huge thing.”
The citizen response drove the council’s decision as much as the council simply wanted the issue finally decided.
“In between times, we always had Klahanie residents who would come up to us saying, ‘When are you going to act on this? We’re tired of being on the back burner,’” Frisinger said. “It was a response to the citizens that the council made a goal to resolve the topic once and for all.”