Amy Lam does not see herself as a politician.
Unlike most political candidates, whose backgrounds are in political science, law, or finance, Lam is a designer. Citing her success in the August primary election, where she finished first in a three-way race for a city council seat, Lam believes that her non-traditional background resonates with voters.
“I do think that people are tired of seeing politicians, who accept donations and are in, like, the back pockets of developers,” she said in an interview with the Sammamish Independent. “I am coming from an angle that is completely independent.”
True to her background, Lam, 56, is running a change campaign. She is very critical of the mistakes the current city council has made in its approach to solving the city’s problems. She wants to bring in not only fresh ideas, but also a diverse perspective by representing Sammamish’s large Asian population, a contrast from the current all-white council. The latest release from the U.S. Census shows Sammamish’s Asian population now makes up 36% of the city’s total count.
“I firmly believe that people of different cultures and different races bring more to the table than just the way we look,” Lam, a first-generation Asian American, said. “We have different backgrounds. And when you have everyone that comes from similar backgrounds and similar races, it doesn’t bring a different perspective.”
Lam sees the council’s approach to climate change and forestry as emblematic of its shortcomings. Despite years of resident concerns over clearcutting, she said, it was not until 2018 that a consulting firm was hired to assess the state of the greenery, resulting in Sammamish putting in place an urban forest management plan.
The current council is “reactive,” Lam said. It waits for problems to arise before sending an insufficient number of staff to fix them. For example, she cites that developers are required to retain 30% of trees on a site, but no one is ever sent by the city to enforce those codes.
The city’s approach to traffic problems is also a huge issue for Lam.
“The current traffic model doesn’t account for the driver experience, it doesn’t account for congestion,” she said. “So I don’t, clearly, understand why they’re using that model.”
She sees new technology as key to addressing poor traffic. She prefers solutions such as putting sensors in traffic lights to adjust a light’s length based on congestion, instead of increasing or expanding roads.
Although Lam is passionate about environmental protection, she does not see environmental priorities as being at odds with her support for affordable housing, or the goal of making Sammamish more diverse. Housing units that are high-density will be important to those goals, she said.
That is one of the reasons why Lam supports the Sammamish Town Center development. Provided that the new housing will come with more frequent buses and traffic mitigation methods, she said, she supports building 1,300 housing units in the town center because it will keep Sammamish affordable.
Unlike Redmond Town Center’s outdoor mall model, the Sammamish Town Center will be a mixed-use development area, which Lam thinks will help keep the area from becoming abandoned. She believes the plans to host restaurants, movie theaters, grocery stores, bars and other commercial activity will make Sammamish more livable.
Lam believes that a lot of Sammamish’s problems could be solved if the city only had revenue to do it. For her, increasing city revenue is a must. On its current path, she said Sammamish will be deficit-spending within the next few years.
“We can increase property tax by 1% every year, which is what the law allows,” Lam said. “But, you know, is that what people want?”
Growing the tax base is another reason why Lam wants the town center. By increasing the number of businesses in Sammamish, the city can broaden its economic base and collect more in sales tax, which in turn provides city hall with more revenue to spend.
One of her big-ticket priorities is implementing municipal broadband, or broadband internet that is owned by public entities. To Lam, the COVID-19 pandemic has proved that high-speed internet access is essential for modern life. Not only will municipal broadband make studying and working from home more effective, she said, but it will also attract businesses and create more jobs.
Overall, Lam believes the current council is too focused on the small details, and not thinking about how the problems that affect Sammamish are connected to a larger community.
She contrasts this with her own background in design, which has taught her to think big, then pull in close.
Currently the creative director at the Museum of History and Industry (MOHAI) in Seattle, Lam said that her career has also given her experience on how to work well in teams. Given the in-fighting that is plaguing the current council, she sees that skill as an important asset.
The past year has made Lam take a hard look at her own career and what she wants to be doing with her time. Lam was the creative director for a management group of luxury hotels until August 2021, when she decided that she could have a greater impact working at MOHAI to preserve our local history.
“It kind of took me down this path of increasing diversity on city council,” Lam said. “I think I have some pretty good ideas, and I really want to see if I can make this happen.”
Amy Lam is currently running for Sammamish City Council, Position 1, against Josh Amato.