Old year brought new problems
December 31, 2013
Top news stories of the year
Many new things happened in Issaquah this past year and not all of them were greeted warmly.
While most people saw new parks and a new mayor as positive changes for the city, contention rose around new technology, new development standards, new fish ladders, new plastic bag ordinances and a newly legalized drug.
Much of what happened in 2013 spells more growth for Issaquah in the years to come and even more changes ahead. The year 2014 can learn much from the lessons taught by this past year of transformation.
A city of Issaquah employee was directed to register websites in an apparent effort to deceive customers of the Sammamish Plateau Water and Sewer District.
Two domain names had been registered that were similar to ones the district employs in business practices. Both sites, owned by the city of Issaquah, took an Internet user straight to a city webpage entitled “Our water, our city.”
The sites letstalkaboutourwater.com and sammplat.org bore a strong resemblance to the district’s sites letstalkaboutourwater.org and its main website sammplat.wa.org. City employee Warren Kagarise registered both sites in May, six months after the district launched letstalkaboutourwater.org and years after sammplat.wa.org became the district’s home website.
Council members said they were unaware of the administrations actions, while Mayor Ava Frisinger explained the URLs were used in light of a “misinformation campaign” by the district.
In response to the district’s complaints, the city took down the misleading sites.
Hatchery trucks had to drive about 2,000 salmon upstream due to renovation of the Issaquah Creek dam, which even now remains unfinished.
Originally scheduled for a Sept. 15 completion, a number of problems held construction back on replacing the dam with a set of gentler steps and installing a new hatchery intake. The creek flow during much of the construction was diverted through tubes, leaving returning salmon no way to get to their destination.
Per state-determined quotas, hatchery workers had to put 1,000 of each species into trucks and drive them past the construction.
More than three months past the initial completion date, project manager Tim Ward cited ground water problems, unstable soil and heavy storms as reasons for the continued delay.
The new structured is expected to last 50 or 60 years and benefit returning salmon and the hatchery.
Civic voices protesting a medical marijuana collective garden and the City Council’s September moratorium on recreational pot businesses set the tone for the drug’s legalization.
The Peaceful Choice, a medical marijuana collective garden, submitted an application in July to open within the Issaquah Court Condominiums, a mixed-use building in the 100 block of First Place Northwest that houses residential and commercial units.
Robin Brewer led community action against the facility, saying it would be too close to local child care locations and the senior center. The city denied the application Sept. 6.
In September, the council also decided to hold off on recreational business practices until the state figured out official rules. A unanimous vote led to a six-month moratorium.
The moratorium did not stop Issaquah applications during the state’s monthlong window in November and December. The Liquor Control Board received five producer applications, two processor applications and three retail applications.
After 16 years, Issaquah voted in a new mayor, by a landslide. Council President Fred Butler ran against Councilman Joe Forkner in a mild race for the position. Full of neither drama nor large policy differences, the campaigns unfolded civilly.
Butler, raised more than five times the votes Forkner did, almost 75 percent of the vote. During his campaign, he vowed to continue the work established by outgoing-Mayor Ava Frisinger. He said he would work on promoting the goals of the Central Issaquah Plan, finding transportation solutions and growing the city’s regional influence.
Additionally, the Issaquah School District saw a turnover in its superintendent. After six years in the position and 40 years in public schools, Steve Rasmussen retired June 30. A month after his announcement, the school district found a replacement in Ron Thiele, the former associate superintendent.
City voters approved a $10 million parks bond measure in the Nov. 5 election with 77 percent of the vote. Half of the large sum will go toward the Julius Boehm Pool.
The city’s Parks & Recreation Department spent much of the year trying to engage citizens to determine what improvements were desired. The department set up a parks bond commission and several public hearings to gauge interest.
The year 2013 also saw the opening of Confluence Park along Rainier Boulevard North. Nearly 20 years in the making, the area runs along Issaquah Creek and features new bathrooms and a new picnic area. Park of the approved park bond will be spent on the next phase of the park, including additional landscaping and a possible footbridge over the creek.
County residents also passed a King County park bond in the Aug. 6 election. The bond will raise $60.7 million in 2014, to be used for open space preservation, trail building and park improvements.
Plastic bag ban
Though the 2012 approved ban on plastic bags took affect March 1, the story continued well after that. Nonprofit group Save Our Choice had complained about the ban after it passed, but once the large-volume stores put away their plastic, the group launched a full-scale effort to collect enough signatures to petition the City Council for an end to the ordinance.
Though missing the deadline for the November election, Save Our Choice managed to gather enough signatures in the waning days of summer to officially challenge the measure. Approved by King County, the petition left the City Council with the choice to either repeal the ban or let voters decide. The council called a Feb. 11 vote for residents to choose the fate of the ban, but the story did not end there. Save Our Choice founder Craig Keller challenged Issaquah’s ballot language in King County Superior Court in November, claiming it misinformed voters. Judge Catherine Shaffer ruled in Keller’s favor. The Feb. 11 vote will decide whether the ban stays.
Grand opening for Grand Ridge
After years of very little happening, the stores of Grand Ridge Plaza were built seemingly overnight. Long lines and scarce parking greeted the grand opening of the plaza Oct. 25. More than 50 shops, services and restaurants are currently open and more are expected in 2014.
As Dick’s Sporting Goods, Home Goods, Marshall’s, Ulta Beauty Supply and the long-awaited Safeway opened to ribbon cuttings and crowds of people, Twitter was abuzz with expectant shoppers welcoming the Issaquah Highlands additions, while scorning the lack of parking.
After the opening flurry passed, parking was no easier in the 320,000-square-foot retail expanse that includes Regal Theaters, BevMo, Jos. A Bank and others. Still, those who made their way down from the highlands or up from the valley were glad to have the new shops in the $70 million complex.
Squak Mountain remains unlogged
Only four days after the state approved Erikson Logging’s application to clear-cut sections of a Squak Mountain parcel, King County announced concrete plans to purchase it from developers.
After the January announcement of the company’s intention to harvest old-growth trees in the area in, concerted efforts were made by King County and local group Save Squak to find a way to protect the land. On May 8, the county announced it had struck a deal with the Trust for Public Land, which agreed to buy the 220-acre parcel and accept payment from the county over time.
The county explored a number of possibilities to fund buying the, included the Conservation Futures Fund. Then, seeing the necessity for quick action after the logging rights were acquired, the Trust for Public Land stepped in to loan King County the money.
Design standards passed
The vision established in the Central Issaquah Plan in 2012 officially took the first steps toward realization this year as the City Council approved design and development standards for future development April 15.
Many city officials described the Central Issaquah Plan as an unclear idea of how the central area of the city should redevelop. The design standards give developers specific guidelines for how to turn that into a reality.
The many standards include key provisions, such as reduced minimum parking requirements, new community space stipulations and a focus on density that allows buildings up to 125 feet in certain areas. The document has 17 chapters of comprehensive rules; the council expects to adapt it to the changing face of Issaquah’s future.
The first redevelopment done under the new standards also entered the application phase this year as Lennar Multifamily Investors looks to put 340 residences in Gilman Square.
Students work to dispel May Madness uproar
Issaquah High School was thrust into the national spotlight, after the school’s May Madness competition received significant media attention.
The object of the underground competition is to determine the best-looking, or “hottest,” girls in school, an annual rite that administrators, teachers and many students were eager to stamp it out.
Anonymous promoters of May Madness posted 64 yearbook-style photos of girls on a Facebook page for one-on-one matchups in brackets patterned after sports tournaments.
In an effort to combat the negative attention the contest brought, Issaquah juniors Olivia Marcus and Keegan Holden created a video highlighting the school’s giving nature and providing insight into how the school’s students felt about May Madness.
“I hope that as a school we are confident in our own abilities enough to not give into what May Madness stands for,” Marcus said.