Tag Archives: City Council

Mercer Island 2009 Budget and Our Property Tax

If you read the Mercer Island proposed budget for 2009-2010 (good times, I promise), you’ll see a 1% property tax increase planned in, as well as some other interesting nuggets. The Financial Forecast, page 14, is the best reading.

What were you expecting, a hockey dating controversy? Come on, it’s Mercer Island. Property tax increases are about as racy as we get.

Stars Avery Hockey

Never thought you’d see a hockey photo in the Mercer Island Blog, did ya?

The 1% Property Tax Increase

Is the maximum increase allowed by Washington state under Initiative 747. The City’s been applying that every year since 2001.

According to the city, the small increase in property taxes isn’t enough keep up with the increase in expenditures. “Throughout the past ten years the cost of basic services has increased an average of 5% per year.” The trend in spending is worth digging into, maybe in a later post.

What About The Parks? They’re Net Zero on Tax

The parks levy passed on Nov. 4. The parks bond did not. The levy will increase property taxes on a $1 million home by about $114 per year, but that’s offset by two other levies that are being sunsetted. The offsetting levies total $113, so the net effect will be just about zero.

Mercer Island Property Taxes, On the Whole

Are not unreasonable, given the area. I’m not blindly against taxes. They fund a lot of good things- schools, police, and roads, among other nice things. But I keep an eye on them because we’ve got to look at spending increases critically, like any of us would own household budget. Ironically, the less critically we look at public expenditures, the more critically we need to look at private spending, because we’ve got less money.

If you want to comment, December 8th is when the budget ordinance is scheduled for voting. Contact your councilperson if you want to get something done, or comment here if just you want to gripe.

Our Park & Ride: Why It’s a Little Screwed Up

Recently commenters on this blog have noted that the new Park and Ride is full by 9 am and suggested tactics for solving the problem, whether City-Council-approved or guerrilla.

The reigning theory is that folks from Issaquah, Bellevue and further reaches are coming to the closest P&R to the city– namely, ours. That becomes a problem for Island residents who can’t get a spot after 9 am. Get up and get to work earlier, you lazy bums, you think? Perhaps, but last Tuesday I worked from home til 11 and then couldn’t park to take the bus to work.

From Bruce Bassett, City Council

I emailed Bruce Bassett on the City Council for his thoughts on the problem. His remarks, which he didn’t mind me publishing, are:

The history of the park and ride is long and I don’t have all the details.  Here’s what I do know:

P&R was financed by Sound Transit, not by MI.  And Sound Transit has a hard and fast policy that all P&Rs are open to all.

MI had the option of adding additional levels to the P&R for MI only.  MI opted not to invest.

Citizen created signage saying ‘MI only’ would not be well received and would likely strain relations between the city and sound transit.

City staff and council are well aware of the problem, but good solutions are in short supply.  If you have thoughts, we’ll all be listening.

I’ve cc’ed Rich Conrad in hopes that he will correct me if I’ve misspoken here.

– Bruce Bassett, City Council, via email

From Rich Conrad, City Manager

Bruce did in fact cc Rich Conrad, City Manager, who further stated:

Bruce has stated the situation correctly. Sound Transit owns and operates the Lot and they will not set aside spaces for local residents anywhere in the ST boundaries. We have tried to make the case many times that MI is a unique location since we are the last stop before entering Seattle and are well-served by an Interstate hiway that simply queues up drivers for the eastside to use the MI P&R lot. They’re not convinced or concerned.

We are working at ideas to create additional spaces in the Town Center that would be MI-only spcaes (or at least much harder to get to for people coming off the freeway). If we are lucky and successful we would get the State or ST to fund the construction and we would include it in one of the future Town Center re-development projects. It would be considered “mitigation” for closing the center roadway to cars if/when light rail is added (or worse yet, if tolling is implemented). Unfortunately, at best, these ideas would come together 6 to 8 years from now. I’m sorry I don’t have a bette near-term solution for you. Yes, it is complex….

Lobbying Sound Transit Board members to consider “dedicated spaces” might help. Our eastside reps are Mary-Alice Burleigh, Councilmember at Kirkland, Fred Butler, Councilmember at Issaquah and John Marchione, Mayor of Redmond. Last time I talked to them, they at least listened closely – but no promises.

– Rich Conrad, City Manager, via email

So there you have it. We got our Park and Ride built for free by Sound Transit, but we have to play by their rules. Which, to be fair, seem to have been open and straightforward since the P&R was planned. We probably should have built another level for residents.

Now it seems like our best option is to lobby Sound Transit.  In the meantime it seems some additional parking at the Town Center is a decent option, if less convenient than the P&R itself.  So thanks to the City Council for working towards that. And here is:

Who to Call to Get a Spot at the P&R

Per our City Manager, call these folks and tell them we need to get to work. I looked up their emails:

  • Alice Burleigh, Councilmember at Kirkland- mburleigh@ci.kirkland.wa.us
  • Fred Butler, Councilmember at Issaquah- fredb@ci.issaquah.wa.us
  • John Marchione, Mayor of Redmond- mayor@redmond.gov

For the record, Sound Transit has done some great work in our mass-transit-challenged metro area, and I support them. But I’ll email and ask politely for a place to park.

No One Could Seriously Believe That 4 Lanes on ICW are Better than 3, Right?

If you’ve driven regularly past Island Crest Way and Merrimount lately, you’ve seen the temporary traffic control. The stakes that protect right turns have improved matters (earlier accidents in the area made it the worst accident location on the Island) but the dented and somewhat run-over appearance of the stakes leads you to believe that work is still needed.

The problem intersection:

The question I pose: how could any but a three-lane solution make sense? The heart of the argument is that where ICW is four lanes, north of 53rd St, it’s an uninviting highway. Where it’s three lanes (two driving lanes, plus a turn lane with islands in between) it’s a relaxing boulevard.

As evidence, I present photos. Three lanes: pretty.

Four lanes: ugly. Not the house, the street.

There are reasons beyond aesthetics. Sometimes I run in the mornings, and ICW is virtually impossible to cross where it’s four lanes. Even my husband, who is almost universally in favor of faster traffic, all the time, thinks that the speed should be lower. Drivers don’t gain much time from a driving faster on ICW, and the speed creates a lot of danger in a residential community such as the Island.

The City Council has done research and held hearings on the subject. You have to applaud the City Council for being open enough to include, in the notes, this comment: “probably the worst traffic management scheme I have ever seen.” In general the comments included a mix of articulation of problems, like “there’s too much last minute lane shifting/merging” and solutions, such as “Just make ICW a 3 lane roadway.” The only obvious solution, of course.

Ironically, the decision had been made in favor of three lanes, and according to the Reporter, is being reconsidered.

My certainty aside, your comments are welcome. What do you think?

Mercer Island’s Permit for Tent City: Not All Sausage is Good Sausage

Update: Yesterday (July 28th) the Mercer Island Reporter reported that the restraining order against Tent City had been denied.

I’ve been writing about Tent City and trying to put on this blog relevant information, like posting the website on all the fliers up around town, or a video of images from a former encampment.

But some of our neighbors have been much more involved than I. They’ve been to the City Council planning meetings and researched past encampments. They’re saying it’s the process as much as the concept of Tent City that riles them: that the Temporary Use Permit (TUP) was drafted in private and doesn’t include necessary safeguards.

Whatever your thoughts on Tent City, we’ve got to decide issues like this openly. Like any public act- building a highway, for example- people need to have a say early enough to influence the outcome.

So I’m going to turn over this blog to one of those neighbors. This was written by Tara Johnson, apparently to the City Council. The chart below is hers also.

Click for pdf

Please see the below examples. There are many more requirements that are discussed in the spreadsheet that I provided to you last night [MI blogger: at the City Council Meeting on July 7; see the minutes] but here are a few I would like to touch on:

Zoning Code Supports Permit- In all of the other Cities they have specific code or ordinances that support a Temporary Use Agreement for an encampment. We clearly know that Mercer Island does NOT have anything in our municipal code to support this agreement. Why is this critical? Our Municipal code protects our City and our Residents. If we don’t follow the rules there our financial and criminal implications. What happens if Tent City doesn’t follow the agreement? Nothing. That brings me to the next point…

Penalties for Violating the Code or Agreement-

  • Bellevue- Misdemeanor and civil violation LUC 20.40.460.
  • Issaquah- Misdemeanor-$5K Fine and up to 1 Year in prison IMC5.14.090. Kirkland- Civil Infraction- KZC 170.40.
  • Mercer Island- 14 days notice so they can correct their mistakes? No Financial or Criminal implications?

Liability Insurance-

  • Bellevue required liability Insurance between St. Luke and SHARE/WHEEL- 20.30U121.A.2,
  • Bothell required it under the director’s Discretion Municipal Code 12.06.160 (B)(3)(f2),
  • Issaquah required it under their special event permit condition #7 5.14.050(8)&(10).
  • Mercer Island-No requirement. Our agreement has a “hold harmless clause” for the City however, you left the Church and the neighbors hung out to dry. How thoughtful.

Security log or local police involvement-

  • Bellevue- Pastor Kidd (St. Luke’s) required to keep overnight resident log per the permit LUC 20.30U.121.A.1#5.
  • Bothell-Applicant shall keep log of all individuals who stay overnight-Transitory Accommodations.
  • Redmond- All background checks for new residents of TC shall be processed by Redmond Police-St. Jude’s Permit 12.21.2006 approval conditions #8.
  • Woodinville-Warrant checks shall include a record that lists the case identification number and time of a call-Ordinance 417 21.08.030B.
  • Mercer Island-Nothing.

Specific Health and Safety Requirements-

  • Yes, Mercer Island does mention in their Temporary Use Agreement that Tent City needs to allow for inspections by King County Health Department but I am talking about SPECIFICS.
  • Bellevue- Sewage and Waste Water Disposal, Hand washing and bathing requirements, specific disease prevention, refuse requirement and toilet requirements- 20.30U124.A.11.A-J.
  • Bothell- Showers or other bathing facilities shall be provided where warranted based on duration of operation of the transitory accommodation. Drinking water and solid waste requirements. An adequate supply of portable water shall be available on-site at all times. Adequate toilet facilities shall be provided on-site. Trash requirements- Trans. Accommodation Health and Safety Criteria iv & v.,
  • Issaquah- garbage/recycling should be stored 30ft. from Tent City or Canopy SPE07-000322 Public Works Operating Conditions k. Kirkland- No animals shall be permitted in encampment except service animals- KZC Section 127.25.2 #10. Redmond- Dumpsters are to be emptied twice a week and portable toilets 3 times a week RCDG 20F.40.170-040-Decision Criteria C.
  • Woodinville- Specific health requirements-ordinance 417 21.08.030B Development conditions h & i.
  • Mercer Island- No Specific Requirements.

The specific health and safety requirements that other Cities have included in their permits and ordinances are designed to prevent the spread of disease. They are designed to protect the homeless and the neighbors.

Stated Process for People Evicted or Turned away from Tent City-

  • Bellevue, Bothell, Kirkland and Woodinville all have written processes in their agreements or ordinances.
  • Mercer Island has nothing. Issaquah also does not have a stated process and at the Council meeting last night you were able hear of the crimes that were committed when individuals with lengthy criminal records were turned loose into the neighborhoods. What makes you think that Tent City will follow their policy for escorting people to the bus? They obviously didn’t in Issaquah or Kirkland.

Based on the police reports we have gathered (another 24 police reports were picked up from Redmond yesterday) unless a City has a stated policy in their permit or ordinance and repercussions for not following the stated policy, Tent City does not follow their own rules. I urge you to look at the binders we provided to you last night with the police reports and criminal records of the suspects. The crimes are shocking and the criminal records are frightening. Our Temporary Use Agreement has major holes and does nothing to protect the neighbors that elected YOU to look after our best interests.

I spoke with Chief Holmes last night and he acknowledged that the crime statistics the Kirkland Police Chief provided him were not correct. He at least will acknowledge a mistake was made. You have put our Police department in a difficult position. You are setting them up to fail. Our City is much smaller than Bellevue, Bothell, Issaquah, Kirkland, Redmond and Woodinville. We don’t have the police force that these other Cities have. At the very LEAST you could have approved a Temporary Use Agreement that made the job of Chief Holmes and his staff a little easier. You could have given your community Due Process and allowed us to help construct an ordinance that protects the best interests of the Mercer Island residents, our Churches, and the homeless people living in Tent City.

The saddest part about the way you and the other Councilmen have handled this process is that NO one has benefited from your actions. The Churches and neighbors are divided and the homeless have lost out. The homeless in Tent City are pawns for SHARE’s political agenda. At least other Cities have recognized this and fought this organization. When Tent City did come to their City they tried to offer protection for the homeless through their health and fire regulations and provide safety and accountability to the neighbors with their liability and police requirements. Drafting an ordinance after the fact is pointless. Let’s be pro-active and amend the Temporary Use Agreement before a tragedy happens in our City.

Thank you,

Tara Johnson

Not all sausage is good sausage..

Mercer Island City Council Says No Fireworks For You

Last night, along with about 50 people including parents with little kids, my husband and I got kicked out of Luther Burbank Park to prevent us all from watching the fireworks.

Let me back up. Last night was the 4th of July. My husband and I, two friends, and the visiting parents of one of our friends went down to Luther Burbank Park because I had surmised you can see the Bellevue fireworks from there. You can, but you’re not allowed.

We had walked to the tip of the park when the two cops arrived. They told us the park closes at 10 (that’s when the fireworks start) and we have to be back at the parking lot by then. We weren’t allowed to stay on this nice grassy area right on the water. As you can imagine, several people told the cops that was ridiculous. One of the cops said, “It’s not us, it’s what the City Council wants.” Someone responded they had called the police that day to find out if the park would be open, and the police dept. said it would.

We walked back to the car along with a nice couple and their baby in a stroller. We watched from the parking lot until someone found a hill that had a better view.

So I have a question for the City Council: Why would taxpayers and their families be prevented from watching fireworks in a public park?

“Every other town around here supports the Fourth of July, and puts on a big display. Mercer Island can’t even let us watch fireworks in our own parks,” my husband said. “Why do they spend all this time and money kicking people out instead of supporting it?” Fourth of July is a event that brings families in a community together, and Mercer Island squashed it.

But lighting off fireworks is legal. Somebody was setting off fireworks in the parking lot of the Mercer Island Community Center, with cars and people all around, and the cops didn’t care. But we can’t sit in a public park and watch fireworks over the lake.

Back when I lived in Capitol Hill, thousands of people would come down to Melrose Street to watch the fireworks over Lake Union. There were never any problems. The Mercer Island violent crime rate is one of the lowest of any place around, so why would the City Council think we can’t peacefully watch fireworks in our own town?

Next year, City Council members, we want to be able to watch fireworks in our own community.