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 year, the Reporter reflects on the news that occurred in Bellevue. From a mosque fire to a ban on safe injection sites, here’s a look at some of the important issues that impacted us in 2017.
A man thought to be homeless and possibly suffering from mental illness was charged for setting fire to Islamic Center of the Eastside on Jan. 14. Isaac Wayne Wilson was arrested after police found him laying in the mosque’s parking lot, watching the fire. He told arresting officers, “I did it,” according to charging documents. The Islamic Center of the Eastside later held a fundraiser in February to help rebuild the mosque. Wayne pleaded guilty in September and was sentenced to 14 months in prison in October.
An email may have cost current Bellevue City Councilmember Janice Zahn her chance at being a council member in February. To fill Rep. Vandana Slatter’s seat after she took office in the Washington state Legislature, the council was tasked with appointing an applicant. After they had narrowed the search to eight candidates, a former candidate for the spot sent the council an email about Zahn that accused her of taking an illegal payment from her employer, the Port of Seattle. Zahn said she did not ask for the payment and was as surprised as everybody else of the investigation, which ultimately found that the onus of the improper payments rested on the Port’s upper managment — not with the employees. Later that month, Zahn was also accused of misusing public resources for her council campaign. The Public Disclosure Commission dismissed that complaint.
Hundreds in the South Asian community in Bellevue gathered to condemn hate crimes after the murder of an Indian-born man in Kansas. Representatives from the offices of Gov. Jay Inslee and U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell were on hand along with King County Executive Dow Constantine at the gathering. Speakers mentioned the rise in bias-related incidents after recent national rhetoric that appeared to embolden white nationalists. Between the election in November 2016 and Feb. 7, there had been 1,372 reported “bias incidents” ranging from murder to threats.
After being selected to the Bellevue City Council in March, Ernie Simas withdrew his running for a permanent spot in the council in the November election days later. He cited a family emergency and said he didn’t believe he could give the position the attention it deserved given his new situation. Simas endorsed Zahn to take his spot in the November election, which she would go on to win.
The Bellevue City Council voted 4-3 to work with King County on the implementation of a permanent men’s homeless shelter in Bellevue by signing a letter of agreement. Nearly 300 community members packed the council chambers to support and oppose the letter, which continued to promote the Eastgate neighborhood as the shelter’s preferred location. Members of the Eastgate neighborhood claim putting a homeless shelter near residences would increase crime in the area while those in support of the location say it’s a great example to show how caring the Bellevue community can be. The proposed shelter plans call for 100 emergency beds, 60 affordable housing units, medical, dental and case management services.
Bellevue parents protested the Bellevue School Board’s decision to apply an artificial turf infill for school playfields that supposedly comes with “questionable” chemicals and carcinogens. The board had voted on May 2 to implement the polyurethane-coated crumb rubber infill on the turfs, which is made of recycled items. But more than 400 parents signed a petition asking the board to reconsider the decision due to concerns their children’s health would be impacted. The state of California is expected to complete a study on the effects of crumb rubber by early 2018 and some parents had hoped the board would wait until its results before voting. However, board President Christine Chew said her research backed up claims coated crumb rubber was safe and had an environmental benefit.
Overlake Medical Center nurses rallied on an Interstate-405 overpass in Bellevue to spread awareness of “unsafe management proposals” that they said could impact patient care. The Washington State Nurses Association represents the nurses, who had been in negotiations with the hospital for three months. Overlake could not be reached for comment at the time of the rally.
The Bellevue School District was under fire after 9-year-old Nasir Andrews, a student at the time of Ardmore Elementary, went to YouTube to tell the world she had been bullied by her peers. A black student, Andrews said she was called “Nutella” and was “choked, hit, punched in the face and pushed.” Her parents subsequently went to the school board to propose a change in the district’s Harassment, Intimidation and Bullying policy, as they felt it was inadequate. The Andrews later filed a torte claim for hundreds of thousands of dollars against the school district.
The Bellevue City Council unanimously voted to ban Community Health Engagement Locations, also known as safe injection sites, through enacting an emergency ordinance. King County had indicated they would put one in Seattle and another elsewhere in the county. Although there was no indication a safe injection site was coming to Bellevue, council members said they didn’t believe opening a site in Bellevue would lead to actual help for people struggling with addiction but instead do the opposite. The ban occurred as several other city governments also took action against the sites.
Bellevue police arrested more than 100 men in an undercover prostitution sting that ended in the beginning of September. Working with the King County Sheriff’s Office, law enforcement officials posed as prostitutes. Online buyers of sex then agreed to meet the officers at a specific location in Bellevue but were instead met with handcuffs. Dubbed Operation On Demand, the sting was a part of a larger effort eradicate human trafficking crimes. Months later, more than half of the cases were thrown out because of an error that caused law enforcement to illegally obtain audio.
U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos came to Bellevue for a Washington Policy Center annual dinner at the Hyatt Regency. Her controversial ideas on public education, including support of charter schools, provoked hundreds to protest outside of the Hyatt before and during the dinner. Among the protesters was Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson, King County Executive Dow Constantine and Bellevue Mayor John Stokes. The dinner, however, fed 1,500 and garnered some support from government officials, such as King County Councilmember Kathy Lambert.
Voters chose Conrad Lee, Lynne Robinson, Janice Zahn and Jared Nieuwenhuis as their Bellevue City Council members; Erica Melief and My-Linh Thai as their Bellevue School Board members, and Rep. Vandana Slatter and Sen. Patty Kuderer, both Democrats, as their state legislators in the November 2017 general election.
The Bellevue School Board voted to put three levies on the ballot for the February 2018 special election. If approved by voters, the Education and Operations Levy, now called the Enrichment Levy, will collect $304 million over four years between 2019-22, a Capital and Technology Levy would collect $163 million over four years and a new one-year School Busy Levy would collect $8 million in 2019.