Mayor, Deputy Mayor see opportunities, challenges for Bellevue ahead

Bellevue remains a city in motion, which looks to continue well into the 2020s, according to the “State of the City” address at the Bellevue Downtown Association monthly meeting Tuesday morning.

Mayor John Stokes and Deputy Mayor John Chelminiak spoke about the opportunities and growing pains the city of Bellevue is and will be facing as it becomes more and more a global business and tech destination.

“We’re living for today, we’re ready for tomorrow,” Stokes said.

Part of living for today meant embracing a minority community when confusion and anger hit it. In mid-January Isaac Wayne Wilson was charged with arson for a fire he allegedly caused at the Islamic Center of the Eastside.

In the following weeks, outpouring of support from the religious community and others overwhelmed the Muslim community.

“At Sammamish High School, more than 500 people came out in support and to offer help,” Stokes continued. “That house of worship will rise from the ashes and be better for it.”

In other good news for the city, Stokes thanked residents for “overwhelmingly” passing two levies meant to support fire and transportation. He cited the pro-business climate for helping to lure Amazon and REI to Bellevue.

Chelminiak spoke of the massive projects on the city’s slate, including the tunnel underneath Bellevue for light rail, the Eastside Rail Corridor, Meydenbauer Bay Park and a city-wide project.

“The Grand Connection will stretch from Meydenbauer Bay to the Eastside Rail Corridor — a trail stretching from Renton to Snohomish County — and the Connection is the heart of that,” he said.

The rail corridor could have people running, walking and rolling on it by as soon as 2020.

But with all the attractive outdoor possibilities and business opportunities, the elected officials acknowledged issues Bellevue will have to tackle in the near future.

Chelminiak said electrical reliability was a major issue, and that the city was working with Puget Sound Energy, citizen groups and other municipalities to try to improve what he said was an approaching ceiling with current infrastructure.

“There has been a deep amount of controversy about this,” he said, referring to the Energize Eastside project, a controversial infrastructure plan which has run into opposition from Eastside residents. “It’s our job to make sure we have electrical reliability.”

Affordable housing was also at the forefront of the city council’s staff. Chelminiak said the city needed to move and make it quick.

“If we are serious about housing, simply allowing the market to work, especially at the lower end, is not going to work,” he said.

With average rents and housing costs on the Eastside and especially in Bellevue continuing to surge, lower-paying jobs such as those in the service industry, custodial employment and teachers will continue to struggle to find places near work to live, increasing commutes and lowering quality of life.

“It’s all a piece of cake, right?” Stokes joked. “Change is hard. Growth is hard for people. How do we engage the community with its needs while moving in a reasonable time frame?”

Chelminiak mentioned the proposed Eastgate permanent men’s homeless shelter which has landed smack into a hailstorm of controversy from some residents of the area. He said the perception of that facility was not the correct one.

Stokes added, “We’re not going to be Seattle. We’re going to do it the Bellevue way, the right way. It’s going to be safe and effective.”

Additionally, closing Park and Rides for Sound Transit were going to create significant congestion on city streets and “hike and ride” situations with commuters parking on surface streets and walking to bus/light rail stops.

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