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Reporter Q&A with Don Davidson
Earlier this month, Bellevue City Council member Don Davidson, who has served the city in one form or another since the early 1980s, conceded the primary race for the Position No. 6 seat. He leaves newcomers Lynne Robinson and Vandana Slatter to battle it out in the general elections. But Davidson vows that his service is far from over. Below he talks about his future plans and the “shake up” that is this election cycle.
Reporter: In your day job as a dentist, you must hear from Bellevue residents on a near daily basis.
Don Davidson: I have my little public meetings every day. If there’s something in the news, they want to talk about it. If I want them to shut up, I just put my drill in their mouth. [Laughs]. Actually they’re pretty used to me being in politics. Though I still have trouble thinking of myself as a politician.
Reporter: You recently conceded. How are you feeling coming out of the primaries?
Davidson: You always like to win, but I tell a lot of people, you shouldn’t play the game unless you can handle losing. It doesn’t mean you have to like it, but you have to be able to deal with it. I’m pursuing two of my big interests: one is salmon recovery and the other is possibly the Cascade Water Alliance –something might come out of that. I’m not going away, as I tell everybody. I might redefine “lame-duck” because I don’t plan to just pack it up. We still have three more months and a lot of big issues on our plate.
Reporter: Why and how did you become such an environmental advocate?
Davidson: It was growing up in the Northwest. I was also a canoeing instructor for several years at camp, and so was on the water all the time, and enjoyed fishing and the wildlife finds on the water. Basically I just want to have my grandchildren see salmon. There were 200 up by Microsoft a couple of years ago.
Reporter: Does Bellevue’s rapid growth – in areas such as Bel-Red near Lake Bellevue – pose a serious threat then to the environment?
Davidson: Well it compounds it because of run-off and all those issues, but I think we all want clean water and clean air. And I think managed growth is the way to go otherwise we’ll have sprawl.
Reporter: What are the agenda items facing the council in these coming months and in the next term?
Davidson: Well we haven’t done the Shoreline Expansion package. That’s one we’re working on. First there’s comprehensive planning and zoning. A lot of that’s before us. The budget is always there. It appears because of growth. We need infrastructure done. If development is too soon, you don’t grow and...if there’s growth and building at the time, there are impact fees and things like that. It’s a timing issue. I’m very conservative from that standpoint. Well, from a lot of standpoints.
Reporter: What do you make of people saying that your concession is part of a council “shake-up”?
Davidson: Well I don’t think Lynne or Vandana is as conservative as I am. It wasn’t too long ago that “liberals” was a bad word. And now “conservative” is a bad word. That’s politics; it tends to wander back and forth.
Reporter: What were some of the issues brought before council in your early days and how do they compare with those now?
Davidson: In the early years [the discussion] was all about growth vs. no growth.
You asked the question earlier: Doesn’t growth cause these problems? It creates interesting problems, but if you have sprawled growth, it’s harder to manage…If you plan growth, you can determine where you want it. Let me tell you an interesting story about Microsoft. It was originally looking at the hillside across from Burgermaster on 520, on that little patch of land. And they got mad at us because they complained of over-regulating. But at that time they had no idea how big they’d be, thought they’d fit perfectly on that patch.
Reporter: Bellevue’s skyline is often the focus of the headlines. What do you say of residents and their neighborhoods who complain that they don’t garner as much attention?
Davidson: Well I’d say to not allow Sound Transit to run through it. For the life of me I can’t figure out why everybody is running on protecting neighborhoods. We had the opportunity to do it, and didn’t do it. It drives me crazy. We could have either done B7 and taken it across and down the railroad or built a deep-bore tunnel under Surrey Downs, along 108th basically. They’re doing it all over Seattle. I don’t know why it’s cost-effective in Seattle and cost-prohibitive in Bellevue. It looks like the same dirt to me. I’m not opposed to light rail, I’m opposed to where it’s going – in my wetlands, in my single family neighborhoods...You couldn’t have found a worse place to put this thing.
Reporter: Anything you would have done differently with hindsight?
Davidson: The worst [mistake] I tell everybody is the $30 per sq. foot I didn’t buy that used to be a women’s clinic in the Downtown Park. We’re now selling downtown for $500 a sq. foot., so that wasn’t one of my bigger hours. There’s a lot of stuff I’d do differently, but politics is timing. Something can be successful at one point in time and a total disaster at another. I do know that I don’t always vote the same as I did before. I’m sure other people would criticize things.
Note: The interview that appeared in the Aug. 30, 2013 issue was edited for size and clarity.