Council to take another look at light rail appointments

Sloppy process, possible conflicts of interest cited

The Bellevue City Council has admitted to a sloppy selection process and possible conflicts of interest on the East Link Citizen Advisory Committee (CAC), appointed unanimously last month. A well attended council meeting Tuesday night opened with comments from a number of concerned neighbors who outlined their apprehensions about the lack of neighborhood representation and the appointment of at least two individuals thought to pose partiality.

“I have to say some criticism is justified,” said Mayor Conrad Lee after a string of neighbor testimony. “We probably didn’t do as good of a job as we should have…There’s an opportunity to make the proper adjustments and corrections and we of course will.”

Sixty people applied to be on the committee, of which nine were selected. They are intended to represent a range of experience as engineers, property owners, urban planners, business owners and artists. Approved at the Aug. 5 meeting were Erin Derrington, Clay Wallace, Richard Line, Don Miles, Ming-Fang Chang, Susan Rakow Anderson, Marcelle Lynde, Joel Glass and Doug Mathews, though as councilmember Kevin Wallace noted, the agenda item was voted on only at the last minute, during the final council meeting of the summer.

“Regardless of the cause, the important thing is to correct this situation in an open, transparent manner that is sensitive to the two people who – through no fault of their own – were wrongly appointed to the CAC,” said Renay Bennett, a resident and president of the Bel-Crest Community Association, during public comment Tuesday night. “Failure to abide by the city’s adopted codes will erode the public’s confidence and trust.”

Of the nine selected, only one lived or worked within a two mile “vicinity” of the alignment, said Bennett. But residents were most worried about two immediate conflicts of interest, an individual with past work experience with Sound Transit and a property owner immediately abutting the light rail line.

“I think there are some good people [on the list],” said Bennett, who was quick to point out that while there were evident conflicts of interest, she didn’t think it was the fault of applicants. “But there are people on there with a clear agenda toward transit oriented development…and it’s pretty worrisome that all along the transit alignment there are no neighborhood folks.”

The CAC is intended to represent the interests of the city, community and neighborhoods impacted by East Link during the permit review process. Logistics like station location and project alignment don’t fall under that umbrella of responsibility, said Mike Brennan director of the Development Services department for the city of Bellevue, though the hope is that the CAC will serve as “the eyes of the public” and ensure that design is context sensitive.

But some neighbors complained of a vague set of criteria that stated only that individuals have a breadth of experience and live within the city limits. Property owners living near the alignment were particularly encouraged, though those immediately abutting it were told not to apply because of a possible conflict of interest. For that reason the appointment of Clay Wallace whose home address is listed along 112th, in the Carriage Hills condos facing condemnation by Sound Transit raised eyebrows. Others suggested that there may be additional conflicts of interest.

Applications opened in June and the deadline was extended through the end of the month.

“Having been involved in big projects before – even light rail projects – there’s always a lot of confusion and a lack of clarity sometimes for the community,” explained Susan Rakow Anderson, who said she’d retired shortly before the CAC applications opened and noted that it was her husband who pointed out the announcement in the paper and suggested she apply with her qualifications. A retired civil engineer her past work includes serving as the project manager for BergerABAM, which was selected as the primary consultant by Sound Transit to lead civil and structural design of the Mount Baker station and other corridors along ST’s Central Link alignment.

“I’m hoping this is an opportunity to clarify what the design does…It should be a tremendous opportunity,” she added.

Anderson said she offers an objective voice: “I’m in a different role, rather than working directly for Sound Transit, I’m on the other side working for the city to ensure that Sound Transit designers do the right thing and understand the process.”

As the meeting came to a close, the council passed a motion to reevaluate the CAC appointees, agreeing that some valid concerns had been raised.

“This was served in the last meeting of the summer,” said councilmember Wallace. “We didn’t think through the appointments…as it turns out, in addition to the conflicts of interest, the [CAC] is devoid of representation of any community leaders from Surrey Downs, Enatai or Lake Bellevue and I think these communities are bearing the brunt of the project.”

Councilmember Don Davidson said he had a map of appointees’ home addresses and would hang it in the Council Chambers for review.

Based on Tuesday’s conversation, changes would likely be modest, said Brennan and applicants would be pulled from the current pool. The council indicated that it would move quickly to ensure that a selection was made in time to impact the permit review process. Brennan explained that because of the volume of applications and the limited time before break, appointments had been made based on information available in the applications, with the intent of further vetting them after the fact.

“[On Tuesday] the city council restated its desire to give people who are impacted by the project an opportunity to weigh in either through appointment of the CAC or through other means,” said Brennan. “We’re going to work very hard to ensure that direction is brought to reality.”