The last 12 months were busy for government officials, students, homeowners, fire and police crews, business owners and other citizens — it was also a busy time for the Bellevue Reporter staff. Each January, the Reporter reflects on the previous year. From the growing discussion on religious and racial issues to several major crimes committed in the city to the groundbreaking for Bellevue’s forthcoming light rail stations, here’s a look at some of the important issues that impacted us in 2016.
An association of men using brothels in Bellevue and the sex-trafficking site they frequented was broken up by the King County Sheriff’s Office and Bellevue Police Department after a nine month-long investigation. “The League” as the men referred to their club, would frequent brothels and then leave reviews on the sex workers. More than a dozen women, many of them transported from South Korea, were rescued by police. Bellevue Police Chief Steve Mylett said sex traffickers and brothel owners were not a new occurrence in Bellevue, but a challenging issue to tackle.
A Bellevue church sporting a Black Lives Matter banner was shocked to find that banner vandalized one morning. Someone defaced the sign at the First Congregational Church in Downtown Bellevue, crossing out the word black and spraying in the word blue, a gesture viewed as support for police. Black Lives Matter, a sometimes controversial social activist group, advocates for reform in policing and other social justice changes. The church left up the sign to “encourage a discussion in the community.”
Bellevue’s Democrats bucked a statewide trend in the Democratic Caucus as the 41st District was the only one in the state to vote for eventual Democratic Party nominee Hillary Clinton over Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. The 41st, which encompasses all of Mercer Island, most of Bellevue and Sammamish and parts of Renton and Newcastle, voted for Clinton by just 10 delegate votes, 355-345. Washington would be one of the most pro-Bernie states in the Democratic primaries.
Sound Transit broke ground in Bellevue on its EastLink Extension project, setting in motion construction for the next several years. Local leaders spoke about the $3.7 billion project, which reminded those in attendance the line would not see service until 2023. Light rail is currently being built across Mercer Island via Interstate 90, and will head up Bellevue Way to Downtown Bellevue near City Hall and then across I-405 and on to Bel-Red and downtown Redmond.
A withering response from neighbors to a potential rezoning project of the Newport Hills Shopping Center caused a developer to back down. Local residents cited the aging center as a gathering spot that made the largely-residential neighborhood feel more like a community. Traffic and school-crowdedness concerns were some of the major issues drawn with the project, which would have brought townhomes to the area while eliminating existing business spaces.
Two shocking sex-crime cases broke in June in the city. One involved a longtime Bellevue Christian teacher charged with inappropriately touching a young student on several occasions. The student’s complaints were “swept under the rug,” by school administration, the parents of the girl alleged. The other case involved a former Jubilee Reach employee allegedly committing a host of sex crimes against three females, one of whom was a minor. The women — co-workers and clients — claimed the man raped them, held them against their will and assaulted them.
Residents of the Highland Village Apartments were told that they would be evicted so that the property’s developer can turn it into higher-priced townhomes. Renters told the Reporter that they don’t live in the rundown apartments out of choice, but because they have no other options. All of the families live near or below the poverty level. The news caused an uproar among residents, organizations like Jubilee REACH and Eastside Pathways and other citizens. Mere weeks after the story broke, the City Council and the King County Housing Authority bought the property for $20 million, and the residents were allowed to stay.
A Bellevue police detective helped close the city’s first homicide and oldest cold case. Loren H. Sundholm was killed in December 1965 after a night of drinking with friend Bill Huff. Huff had long been a suspect in the murder, as many details of his story that the pair were victims of an escalated road rage incident didn’t add up to police. Though Huff was never charged with the crime and died in 2012, Loren’s brother Lee said the detective’s work and a special panel’s agreement that Huff was the murderer gave him closure. The Bellevue Police Department had announced earlier in 2016 that they were revisiting open homicides and missing persons cases, and closed another decades-old case in September.
Development and growth continued when REI announced they were moving their headquarters from Kent to Bellevue and the school district purchased property for another elementary school. The outdoor gear retailer announced they will move to the forthcoming Spring District neighborhood between Bel-Red Road and State Route 520. The headquarters are expected to open by 2020. Further, the school district purchased 8-acres of land nearby for Elementary 19.
Two people died in a two-alarm fire at The Chimneys Condominium in October. Approximately 25 fire department units responded to the late night fire on 100th Avenue Northeast. Around 40 residents were also displaced, and several had valuables stolen from their homes in the following month. The fire victims, 58-year-old Hueiming Hu and her son Steven Hu, 29, died from smoke inhalation. The cause of the fire is still under investigation.
Residents spoke out against a proposed homeless men’s shelter in the Eastgate neighborhood bordering Bellevue College. The proposed shelter would be located next to the Eastgate Park and Ride location, and would include 100 emergency beds and potential affordable housing for 60 more at a cost of $23 million in 2016 dollars. But locals cited concerns over crime at what would be a “low-barrier” shelter, meaning that only those who couldn’t behave appropriately would be excluded from the site. Police released data later that month and stated that neighborhoods near other shelters have not seen any rise in violent crime, but police do receive more calls for service with mental/emotional subjects in those areas.
A King County Superior Court judge dismissed a lawsuit filed by the Bellevue Wolverines Football Club and parents of two Bellevue High School students. Following the results of the WIAA’s investigation in April and two appeals by the school district to the KingCo conference, the football team was put on a two-year suspension, among other sanctions. The parents and booster club filed the lawsuit with the aim of dismissing the sanctions, but a judge determined that the plaintiffs did not have the grounds to file the lawsuit. Lawsuits filed by coach Butch Goncharoff and assistance coach Pat Jones are still pending.