Candidates for Sammamish City Council came together for the first forum of the 2021 election on Sept. 28, diving into a host of issues facing the city including growth, housing affordability, traffic and transparency at city hall.
Out of eight candidates in this year’s race, five attended the one-hour event at Eastside Catholic School, which was hosted by the Sammamish Chamber of Commerce. Missing from the event were Mayor Karen Moran, Melanie Kelsey and Richard Benack.
Josh Amato and Amy Lam were the only two candidates vying for the same council seat in attendance. With the other three candidates not facing their opposition at the forum, the participants found areas of agreement on many issues.
On affordable housing, there was unanimous agreement that Sammamish is falling short.
Nazir Harb Michel criticized the current city council for not taking any action to address the affordability crisis.
“Digging our heels in or burying our heads in the sand, and saying that you don’t want any more growth. It’s just not really an option,” Harb Michel said. “I think what makes sense is to examine the data to survey and talk to residents and figure out land use.”
Each candidate offered different ideas to address housing affordability.
Amato proposed adding cottage housing for seniors and empty nesters, while Kali Clark said she wants to see “workforce housing,” which is diversified housing choices that are reserved for teachers, city staff, firefighters and police.
Karen Howe went a bit further, advocating for the city to purchase “land and gifting it to a low-income housing developer” to lower the cost.
When asked about the city’s string of legal losses — including being found noncompliant with the Growth Management Act — four of the candidates agreed that this problem must be resolved immediately.
“We have just spent way too much money, fighting these lawsuits, and there’s just a better use for this, for these dollars,” said Lam.
Amato believes the city council serves residents, and that it should be up to the voters in this election on whether they want to continue the city’s legal actions against growth and development.
Traffic was an area of disagreement among the candidates. They could not agree on whether congestion is even a serious problem.
Amato believes it is, and supports a transportation benefit district by taxing Sammamish residents through an extra car tab fee. This creates a dedicated source of funding to improve infrastructure, including adding sidewalks and bike lanes to city streets. Amato would like such a proposal to go on a ballot and get voter approval.
Clark said her focus is on transit. She wants to implement a transportation master plan that promotes alternative modes of transportation to “discontinue use of single-occupancy vehicles when we can.”
Lam, who is running against Amato, did not think traffic is a top issue, especially with more people choosing to work from home and keeping traffic lighter compared to pre-COVID times.
Howe also said that traffic is not as bad as Amato describes, and that congestion happens only during school pickup and drop-off hours. She believes we should encourage more kids to walk to school.
All the candidates agreed that government transparency has been a significant problem with the current city council, especially after COVID-19 closed the council chambers to the public.
Amato, Harb Michel, Clark and Howe all said they want to minimize closed-door executive sessions at council meetings, which have increased noticeably with the current council, to ensure the public is aware of the decision-making process and reasons behind policies.
Citing how difficult it is to sort through all the city’s plans, budgets, and hundreds of pages of documents on its website, Lam called on the city to release an annual strategy with a set of top goals, how the city will achieve those goals, and timelines for achieving them. She highlighted corporate strategic plans as a model to follow.
Sensing the community may be tired of the constant bickering at city council meetings, the candidates for the most part struck a more collaborative and conciliatory tone.
“I know the only way to accomplish these goals is by listening to fellow council members working together where we agree and finding compromises where we do not,” Amato said.
The candidates also discussed assistance to small businesses, the city budget, and diversity & inclusion. You can watch the full video recording of the forum here.
CORRECTIONS (Oct. 5, 2021):
- In the original article, we wrote that Josh Amato proposed adding “public housing” for seniors and empty nesters. This has been corrected to “cottage housing” and now links to a page that defines what this is.
- In the original article, we wrote that on the city’s string of legal losses, “the candidates all agreed that this problem must be resolved immediately.” We’ve corrected this to “four of the candidates agreed…” and added Amato’s position that it should be up to voters in this election on whether the city should continue to take legal action against growth and development.
- We clarified Amato’s position that although he supports creating a transportation benefit district that is paid for by an additional car tab fee, he would like such a proposal to go on a ballot and get voter approval.