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Eastside mayors hold forum in Bellevue
(Originally posted May 26)
Budgets, development and transportation were key topics as the mayors of Bellevue, Redmond and Kirkland discussed the future of their Eastside cities during a Tuesday forum hosted by the Bellevue Downtown Association.
Issaquah Mayor Ava Frisinger did not participate in the event due to a family emergency.
The forum began with a discussion about finances.
Kirkland Mayor Joan McBride said her city is making progress ironing out problems from its past budget, which forced the city to tap reserves, lay off 10 percent of its employees, and cut back on parks spending.
“We’re lean, we’re mean, and we’ll still be able to provide the fundamental services our citizens,” she said. “We think things are getting better.”
Bellevue Mayor Don Davidson said his city is trying to make up for a $10-million operating-budget deficit and a shortfall of more than $90 million for its seven-year capital-improvement plan – all with revenues declining from the recent economic recession.
Adding another layer of complication to that puzzle is the expectation for continued development in the city, which would require significant infrastructure investments.
Davidson said other cities shouldn’t necessarily covet Bellevue’s growth in recent years.
“Be careful what you ask for, because the investment in infrastructure is tremendous,” he said.
Redmond Mayor John Marchione was all smiles as he talked about his city’s ability to maintain sound fiscal policy with a “tight definition of operating revenues” and by avoiding the temptation to balance its budget with one-time revenues.
Both Marchione and McBride called for better transportation connections between neighborhoods with the greatest density and business activity, especially Kirkland’s Totem Lake neighborhood, which is due for significant growth in coming years.
“I can walk to Totem Lake faster than I can take a bus,” Marchione said. “That’s why we need to connect our urban centers.”
McBride noted that Lake Washington Technical College, located in the Totem Lake, is slated to become the state’s first technical college to offer four-year degrees and student housing.
“The seven mayors on the Eastside that all touch 520 really hung together as a team,” he said. “It was a 10-year effort, and the cities hanging together and being very clear on what we needed gave us a lot of credibility.”
Marchione also talked about Redmond’s local transportation plans, noting that the city just completed Bear Creek Parkway – a new a new east-west thoroughfare for the downtown area – and is set to begin work on 161st Avenue, which will serve as a north-south connection.
The city also plans to create a new bridge crossing 520 at 36th Street.
Marchione stressed the importance of Eastside cities working together, saying competition could become their downfall.
Friendly competition did arise, however, as the mayors discussed their respective downtown areas.
McBride mentioned a United Nations delegation that made a stop in Kirkland during a tour of waterfront cities.
Davidson joked that the group was actually scheduled to visit Bellevue, but its translator botched the directions.
McBride shot back with a suggestion that Bellevue hasn’t featured its waterfront prominently enough.
“They just couldn’t find your waterfront,” she said.
Davidson and Marchione both touted cultural diversity as a positive trend in their cities. Redmond’s population is 20-percent ethnic minorities, while 33 percent of Bellevue residents were born outside the U.S.
“There’s just a whole series of different folks from different cultures serving us on a daily basis,” Davidson said. “We’re very proud of that.”