Newcomer takes on old hand in lone City Council race
October 12, 2013
By Ari Cetron
New: Oct. 12, 12:42 p.m.
Sammamish has only one contested city council race this year, pitting a longtime insider against a political newcomer.
Kathleen Huckabay had been on the original city council, and served until she left the council four years ago. Now she’s ready for a return.
One of the major things drawing her in, she said, was the process involved in the recent rewrite of the environmentally critical areas ordinance. She said the ordinance seemed originally tailored to favor a handful of property owners, to the detriment of the environment and the rest of the city.
Although she said the end result was better than what had originally come before the council, she said the process was flawed, and involved too many last-minute changes.
“I don’t think, in any sort of process, people should be surprised by the outcome,” she said.
She said her top priority if re-elected would be trying to find ways to build community and try to hold on to the small-town feel she said Sammamish is losing. She’d like to start holding more cultural events around town to bring people together and let them engage as a group.
“These things don’t cost a great deal of money, but they bring the community together,” she said.
That lack of togetherness plays into another issue: She says the community often feels like it’s not being heard on critical issues.
“I hear people say they haven’t been heard on the community center.”
The center, a $30 million project was approved by 54 percent of voters last year. Now it seems the project may go over budget.
She said she’d be willing to vote to cover the cost overruns this time, but first, she’d rather see the architect come back with a project a bit more stripped down.
“There’s a difference between functional and having a lot of bells and whistles,” she said.
As the community center takes shape, it could help provide an anchor for Town Center, another issue likely to come before the next council.
Huckabay said she’d want to hire a staff member to help bring people together – whether they’re property owners, investors or retailers – and who can work the various networks and try to help complete projects.
She also liked the idea of the city putting in some of the needed infrastructure to help take the burden off developers.
“If you want everybody to win, you’ve got to somehow shrink the costs,” she said.
In general, she said, the city needs to take more ownership of projects to try and get things done.
She also said it might be time to take ownership in a different area – fire service. She was part of the 2007 council that approved Sammamish staying in Eastside Fire and Rescue, but this time around may be different.
She’s a member of a city-appointed commission studying fire service in Sammamish. The group will be presenting its recommendation in the near future, she said.
Larry Wright said Sammamish might be well served looking at developing its own fire service. He said the city is part of a broader community, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they should be subsidizing other city’s fire departments.
He said he’d first like to see Sammamish move into a contractual agreement with EFR, at least as a stepping stone.
“If they (EFR) say they’re not interested, our options are limited to forming our own department,” he said.
Wright said he first came to Sammamish when his parents moved to the area in 1987. He moved around a bit before returning to the city in 2009.
“It’s been home to me for the last 25 years,” he said.
Wright points out that he’s a parent with young children, and he would like to bring that perspective to the council.
On the community center, Wright said he’d want to take a closer look at the financial details before committing to a position.
“If you start, early on, letting things slide, it’s a slippery slope,” he said.
First, he said he wants to find the reasons behind the cost overruns. If it turned out to be a one-time underestimate, then he might go along with the added costs, but if it was a structural problem, he’d be less inclined.
“If I knew for a fact that was the last (cost overrun), I’d say OK,” Wright said. “If it looked more like the first, I’d say no now.”
Wright also said the city should take some action on Town Center.
He said he understands developers believe the plan may not be economically feasible, but too many changes mean it’s no longer the plan residents spent years creating.
He said he might be willing to offer developers some relief, possibly in terms of parking requirements, to get some projects off the ground.
Like his opponent, Wright would also like to try and find ways to better engage with the community, such as finding ways to get them to meetings.
For now, his engagement is more about knocking on doors. Wright said he is not planning to raise any money for his campaign.
He said he realizes this may put him at a disadvantage, but he said he doesn’t see himself as a politician.
“I realize it’s a bit of a different way,” he said.