Candidates clash on youth issues in Sammamish Independent forum
Sammamish City Council candidates participated in the second forum of this election cycle on Oct. 6, going in depth on a wide range of issues facing the community ahead of the 2021 general election.
In the two-hour virtual event, hosted by the Sammamish Independent with support from the Kiwanis Club of Sammamish, five candidates debated issues ranging from climate change to public safety and law enforcement, drug overdoses in high schools, and the general complaint that there is a lack of things to do in Sammamish.
The candidates offered competing ideas on many of the priorities that young people in Sammamish care the most about.
With climate change being a top issue for youth — who will bear the brunt of the effects of a warming planet — candidates held different views on what the city can do.
Karen Howe, Josh Amato and Nazir Harb Michel agreed that breaking down the issue into smaller, more localized steps is important, because people can feel disempowered when faced with a problem that seems too big for individuals to make a difference in. They also emphasized that no local climate change policy can be fully successful without strong action from the federal government.
Kali Clark said she wants to start an environmental climate crisis committee to decide on the paths Sammamish can take to become more sustainable.
Meanwhile, Amy Lam advocated for a more aggressive approach by the city to adopt a climate action plan, borrowing ideas from similar plans in other cities.
“We don’t have to reinvent the wheel. We are already late to the game,” she said, adding that Sammamish needs to act now to achieve its climate goals, rather than still be discussing how to conduct surveys of the public.
Lam was especially critical of the city’s tree management practices, citing the lack of code enforcement for tree coverage, insufficient staffing and departmental coordination, and an ad hoc planting program as big areas for improvement.
This drew a rebuke from Amato, her opponent for position 1. Amato accused Lam of misleading the public into thinking that Sammamish has already failed, where the city has only just started implementing its Urban Forest Management Plan to correct these mistakes.
Amato and Lam clashed again when discussing law enforcement, a national issue that has gained traction in Sammamish after local youth organized a massive Black Lives Matter protest in June 2020, demanding police accountability and more community alternatives to policing.
Citing a police study from several years ago, Amato argued that Sammamish needs to increase the number of officers, police funding, and law enforcement coverage through greater use of technology. He is concerned that lack of enforcement will make property crimes permissible, “because they continue to expand, and then worse crimes happen.”
Lam countered that Sammamish does not need more police officers. Although the number of incidents per year has increased, she said that it has followed the corresponding population increase. On a per capita basis, the crime rate has actually decreased. To say otherwise, she said, is “fearmongering.”
Harb Michel agreed, adding that victims he talked to in his door knocking campaigns always admitted that they had forgotten to lock or close a door.
Howe and Clark, meanwhile, stressed the importance of neighbors looking out for each other to keep a community safe.
Part of forum focused on how to reduce drug use among youth, especially after two Skyline High School students died of drug overdoses in 2019. The candidates disagreed on what the city can do and who is ultimately responsible for keeping teens away from drugs.
Lam and Howe stressed the important role of parents, arguing that the city needs to promote parental engagement and education to recognize drug use. Clark countered that it cannot always be up to the parents, and that the city should reach out to high school students about the support they believe they need.
Harb Michel wanted to go to experts, instead of students, and advocated for hiring addiction specialists in schools.
Meanwhile, Amato said that the city’s role should be to coordinate between various nonprofit organizations in Sammamish dedicated to addressing the problem, and to ensure that there are measurable outcomes to these efforts.
The candidates also discussed the lack of things for students to do after school in Sammamish, a perennial problem for a city with three high schools, a satellite college campus, and very little commercial space.
All the candidates believed communicating directly with local youth, through advisory boards and youth ambassadors, would be most effective in finding programs to add.
Amato proposed that the city establish a thrift shop, similar to one in Mercer Island, whose proceeds can potentially fund more services for young people in Sammamish.
Howe, offering a contrarian view, said that she does not believe students in Sammamish are bored. She thinks they have too much to do, and too much pressure to be perfect in all that they do. In addition to asking youth what they would like in Sammamish, she wants to provide students with a good structure of support services.
A potential solution to youth boredom — the Sammamish Town Center — faced criticism from all five candidates. Not a single one agreed with the town center plans in their current form.
The candidates cited various areas they saw as lacking — among them a lack of environmental considerations, lack of affordable housing and affordable rent prices for smaller businesses, lack of information provided to the community and lack of ability to sustain increased commercial activity in Sammamish.
Mayor Karen Moran, Melanie Kelsey, and Richard Benack declined to participate in this youth-led forum. These three candidates also declined to participate in a forum hosted by the Sammamish Chamber of Commerce in September.