Council addresses top public worries
May 20, 2014
By Peter Clark
The Issaquah City Council has chosen to concentrate on transportation and Olde Town issues in the future.
Senior city administration met with the council during the 122nd-annual goal setting retreat at the Mercer Slough Environmental Center in Bellevue and spent a solid eight hours debating Issaquah’s next steps.
The council members began the day with 17 goals, submitted by council after it asked for citizen input. The day ended with five: Transportation Master Plan, Affordable Housing, Enhance Olde Town Vitality, Central Issaquah Plan Anchor Project and to promote a Safe/Drug-Free Community.
“Why do we have goals?” Council President Paul Winterstein asked rhetorically at the beginning of the meeting. “Why do we raise our hands to represent the public? We love the place where we live.”
He said goals set the course for where the council should lead the city.
“Here’s an opportunity to steer the place where we live in the direction we think will be best to help it achieve its vision,” he said. “I consider this process the very highest definition of what I wanted to do in representing the place that I live.”
Sponsors of proposed goals were not only responsible for defending why the city should adopt a goal, but also how the city would fund it and how the council would know when it had reached success.
“There will likely be fewer goals, but they should be achievable and understandable,” City Project Oversight Manager Christopher Wright, serving as the main meeting facilitator, said.
The five approved goals were less than half of the 11 approved last year. During breakout sessions and full council deliberation, council members put emphasis on creating goals that the city could accomplish.
“Are we going to have paper or projects?” Mayor Fred Butler asked. “Paper equals study, or projects, which means something that we actually accomplish.”
Many of the proposed goals were condensed together while others were voted down. The two most referenced issues revolved around transportation and Olde Town.
Councilwoman Stacy Goodman said a goal to establish a transportation master plan would assist in collecting and prioritizing one of the city’s biggest concerns.
“There is a lot of transportation planning in our city, but I think we need a plan that is an action-oriented implementation plan rather than reactionary,” she said.
Winterstein agreed as he supported passing the goal.
“The master plan would allow us to have more of an intentional view looking forward,” he said.
The council also spent a great deal of time talking about Olde Town, Issaquah’s neighborhood that includes the retail district around Front Street North and the Issaquah Salmon Hatchery. Through the public input process, council members heard many concerns about the neighborhood’s future and the wish to maintain it as a unique part of Issaquah’s shifting identity. In response, four goals surrounding Olde Town were initially proposed.
“After an hour and a half discussion, we boiled four goals down into one: Enhance Olde Town vitality,” Councilwoman Mary Lou Pauly said. “Success would be a commission, appointed next year and we would expect that they would look at the Olde Town plan and update it. We’d also like to find an economic project right now that demonstrates the council’s commitment to enhancing Olde Town.”
Council members addressed the need to focus on affordable housing to ensure people who work in the city could afford to live here as well. They proposed creating a report card for the city to monitor its progress and to adopt incentives for developers to include affordable housing in future building plans.
Approval of a goal for a Central Issaquah Plan anchor project perhaps proved the most vague. Council members said they desired to showcase their vision for Central Issaquah with a landmark idea that would draw developers to the region and bring its guiding document to life.
Promoting a safe and drug-free community provided a great deal of discussion as Councilwoman Eileen Barber expressed her own dismay at seeing heroin usage in the community.
After testimony from Police Chief Scott Behrbaum and other members of city staff, city leaders gave full support to addressing drug usage in Issaquah.
“This is the most important goal of the day to me,” Councilman Tola Marts said, mentioning his roles as a father, as a homeowner and as a council member. “I think we have a history of getting ahead of emergent issues. I’m confident that if we take this issue on, we’ll be successful.”
The five selected goals will still need the approval of the full council in an upcoming regular City Council meeting.