Bellevue, Medina candidates tackle the issues
October 5, 2009 · 11:13 AM
The election cycle is in full swing, with candidate forums occurring regularly throughout the area in recent weeks. Bellevue City Council candidates have already squared off in four events, while nominees for Medina City Council met on Wednesday to tackle the issues.
The Reporter attended two of these meetings, one a forum on Tuesday with new challengers for the open Bellevue City Council seats, and the other a discussion with each of the six Medina contestants.
One of the hotter topics discussed at the Bellevue forum was helicopters, and all of the candidates agreed that the city should complete a comprehensive study of the issue before allowing a new helistop to be established.
The Kemper Development company has applied for a conditional-use permit to operate a private helicopter landing pad on the Bank of America building downtown. The Bellevue hearing examiner approved that permit, but an appeal is pending with the City Council.
Michael Marchand, who is competing against longtime councilmember Don Davidson, said it would be a bad idea to allow a helistop while the city is still wrestling with the issue.
“If you let it happen before you look at it comprehensively, you have a big problem when you try to correct it later,” he said.
Betina Finley, who is in a three-way race with Jennifer Robertson and former Bellevue Mayor Michael Creighton to replace the late Phil Noble, suggested the city should follow the lead of Vancouver, B.C., by considering zoning that would limit helistops to industrial areas and locations near large bodies of water.
Another issue the candidates addressed was how to fund a light-rail tunnel for downtown Bellevue.
The Sound Transit board has identified a preliminary preferred alternative that would run East Link on surface streets through the heart of the city’s central business district. The agency has agreed to consider a tunnel route, but is also asking the city to come up with a funding strategy for that option.
Several candidates suggested the city should work more with its various stakeholders to come up with a a workable alternative and present it with a unified voice.
Vicki Orrico, chair of the Bellevue Planning Commission, said the city should leverage its Bel-Red corridor plan – considered by many to be a poster child for transit-oriented development – to lobby for federal funding. She is taking on council veteran Conrad Lee.
Robertson, also a member of the Bellevue Planning Commission, said Sound Transit should be open to new alternatives if a tunnel option is not feasible. She cited an independent proposal being developed that would run East Link through along the BNSF right-of-way through south Bellevue, and then along elevated tracks near Interstate 405 for the downtown portion.
Robertson said the city should not feel subjugated by Sound Transit if the agency settles on a surface route for downtown.
“We’re not the transit authority, but we do have permitting authority,” she said. “I’d be willing to use that on the council.”
Candidate Kevin Wallace, who is running against councilmember Patsy Bonincontri, has lead the effort to develop the alternative routing option Robertson referred to. He did not attend the forum, reportedly because he was celebrating his birthday.
Air traffic was a hot topic at the Medina forum just as it was in Bellevue, although jet noise was the primary concern in this case. Many residents are dismayed about flyovers from planes approaching Sea-Tac and other nearby airports.
All candidates agreed that Medina should band together with neighboring “points communities” to pressure the Federal Aviation Administration to practice stricter enforcement and develop new regulations on airspace.
“It’s a huge interference on our quality of life, and the city needs to make a stand,” said Katie Phelps, who is competing with Pete Vall-Spinosa for a seat on the council.
Each of the candidates expressed similar thoughts about coming together on the issue of mitigation for traffic impacts from the proposed SR-520 renovation.
Janie Lee, who is running against Roger Ngouenet, went a step further, suggesting Medina residents should pressure Bellevue to approve plans for a second driveway at Bellevue High School when the campus is renovated. She said the new entrance would help alleviate traffic congestion on Bellevue Way.
Many residents living near the school are contesting the second driveway, which is proposed for 108th Avenue Northeast.
Patrick Boyd, who is running unopposed, made a case for updating Medina’s communications infrastructure, noting that the city hasn’t looked at that issue comprehensively in over a decade. He specifically said the council should consider a citywide wireless network.
All of the candidates said they would be open to allowing new equipment to improve cell-phone reception, which is known to be spotty in the city.
Phelps suggested some renovations of her own, saying the city should consider “undergrounding” its utility wires in more neighborhoods.
Vall-Spinosa – who spoke like a budget hawk through most of the forum, noting that the city is likely to face a $600,000 deficit for the upcoming year – said the public had already decided against that idea.
Candidate Doug Dicharry, who is running unopposed, said he thinks residents are evenly divided, and the issue should be explored.
Dicharry also suggested the city should set up an online community forum, similar to the Medina Matters network he established independently.
Lee agreed with that idea, stressing repeatedly that the city needs to engage more with its citizens.
“We need to be more collaborative when we come up with solutions,” she said.
The candidates at one point were asked about land-use, which has become a nagging issue for residents looking to remodel their homes.
Ngouenet suggested the city’s planning commission should be more flexible about non-conforming uses. He said most residents’ requests are reasonable.