Bellevue City Council candidates faced off at a forum sponsored by the Bellevue Downtown Association on Tuesday. From left, Randy Grein and incumbent Conrad Lee running for Position 2, Karol Brown and Jared Nieuwenhuis running for Position 4, Phillip Yin and Janice Zahn running for Position 5, and Steven Fricke and incumbent Lynne Robinson running for Position 6. Raechel Dawson/staff photo

Bellevue City Council candidates talk transportation, affordable housing at forum

Bellevue City Council candidates shared their ideas on traffic, affordable housing and diversity, among other issues, at a forum sponsored by the Bellevue Downtown Association on Tuesday.

About 150 packed the Olympic Ballroom of the Bellevue Club for the association’s September breakfast. The featured candidates included Randy Grein and incumbent Conrad Lee running for Position 2, Karol Brown and Jared Nieuwenhuis running for Position 4, Phillip Yin and Janice Zahn running for Position 5, and Steven Fricke and incumbent Lynne Robinson running for Position 6.

The community will have a chance to vote for these candidates during the Nov. 7 General Election. Ballots will be mailed Oct. 18.

Top two issues

Brown was quick to say she believes the top two issues facing the city include affordable housing and transportation.

Brown said there has been a 16 percent increase in the cost of living compared to last year, and noted only 10 percent of Bellevue firefighters live in city limits. The challenges that come from lack of affordable housing then lead to traffic congestion and transportation challenges, she added.

Zahn, Grein, Lee and Robinson also acknowledged transportation and affordable housing as two major issues. Zahn said creating better policies that worked to accommodate city’s growth would do more to help, while Robinson explained the city has spent considerable time on acquiring a federal Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) loan, just passed a transportation levy and has done considerable work on their Affordable Housing Strategic Action Plan.

Nieuwenhuis said his biggest issues included addressing homelessness and making sure safe injection sites stayed out of Bellevue. Yin said the city needs to take control over its own destiny, while Fricke said transparency within the council was paramount.

Transportation

When it came to exactly how each would each invest in solving the transportation issue, Fricke said a combination of high and low tech solutions were necessary. In addition to the TIFIA loan, Robinson said light rail, video analytics at intersections, Uber, buses biking, walking and welcoming electric cars was needed.

Grein, Brown and Zahn said the city needs more public transportation, specifically bus routes, and Yin and Nieuwenhuis said there should be a focus on light rail.

Affordable housing

Yin explained that when the Great Recession hit, housing development slowed down. And when the city experienced a burst in economic growth, there became a shortage of housing. Now, the city is faced with a lack of space for single family homes, so he believes it’s time to build upwards

Zahn echoed Yin in that the supply has not kept up with demand. She believes the city needs to look at different partnerships and come up with incentives, such as the Multifamily Tax Exemption program that Seattle has implemented.

Robinson reminded that the Affordable Housing Strategic Action Plan will bring 110 units a year for the next 10 years but Ficke pointed out that hasn’t been implemented yet.

Nieuwenhuis said he would double the funding for ARCH (A Regional Coalition for Housing), that seeks to preserve and increase the supply of housing for low and moderate income households. And Brown believes an increase of housing stock is needed at transit hubs, specifically.

Diversity

Every candidate was proud of Bellevue’s diversity and saw that as a strength not only socially, but economically as well.

Lee and Yin said some challenges immigrants face in moving to Bellevue include making connections. But it’s the city’s job to help them feel engaged and invited to the table. Zahn said 42 percent of Bellevue’s majority minority population speak a language other than English and noted it’s important to remember there are many language barriers people in the city face.

Brown said it’s important for the city to be welcoming during a time when President Donald Trump has incited fear over deportation. And Nieuwenhuis applauded the community when it wrapped its arms around members of the Islamic Center of the Eastside after it was burned down earlier this year.

To catch the entire forum, watch Bellevue Television or the Bellevue College channel on Wednesday.

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