Op-Ed: In Bellevue, Some Residents are “More Equal”

A Mercer Slough flyer from years ago. Image from HistoryLink.org.

by JOAN DEVRAUN

I chose to live in Bellevue because of our beautiful park system. One of the city’s greatest park assets is the Mercer Slough Wetlands; when one experiences it, they understand why it was set aside for preservation. A B7 or B7 modified alignment would build light rail through these precious wetlands, which would be risky and could hurt East Link ridership.

Today’s Bellevue residents more closely resemble San Franciscans than those who resided in Bellevue 25 years ago, but modern practices of good local government lag behind the times. Despite owning a home in Bellevue, working here, and being a resident in every way, I realize that neither I nor the public interest are represented by our City Council. That is due to the conspicuous holes in local ethics laws that some self-interested parties have taken advantage of.

Since Kemper Freeman funded anti-rail candidates for the City Council last November, many misguided ideas have surfaced. One, a B7 modified option, was proposed without any consultation of neighbors in the Mercer Slough and Enatai neighborhoods. An on-going insult is the spurious aspersion often repeated by some council members that the residents along 118th Ave SE simply don’t exist. While our voices aren’t being heard, other neighborhoods are getting the attention of councilmembers.

Why is it that some neighborhoods “more equal” than others? It’s time to shine some light on the misguided private interests that have resulted in anti-transit proposals.

Why is it that one council member whose family owns approximately $50 million in real estate along the B3 alignment—the option he voted against—was not recused from that vote? The laws that exist across the lake in Seattle prevent council members with financial conflicts from participating in a vote. It’s also time strengthen our democracy in Bellevue and develop those same rules. Kevin Wallace and his ilk do not represent Bellevue residents, and their actions since being elected are contrary to the notion good government.

The op-ed continues after the jump…

• Light rail needs to serve the neighborhoods of Bellevue, and to do so it should serve downtown. There is no point of building a major transit system if it does not serve the most number of jobs and residents. The B3 alignment south of downtown accomplishes that purpose. Consider Vancouver’s SkyTrain, which has rail lines that go to stations located at “destinations” where there is pedestrian traffic and where people needed to go. The result was that drivers had ample motivation to get out of their cars and take transit. None of these factors apply the B7 or B7 modified alignments, which are the anti-transit options.

• The Mercer Slough Nature Park is beloved by the community as a pristine natural space for families to enjoy and recreate. This 320-acre wetland is Lake Washington’s largest and is home to several dozen mammal species and more than a hundred bird species, including the resident Rufous hummingbirds, a threatened species in North America.

Construction and operation of light rail through this pristine habitat will cause serious harm to these habitats. We should not be locating a major transit line through a nature park, we should be locating it where transit riders will use it. This is not about “protecting single-family neighborhoods” vs. protecting the slough. This is about situating transit where it is needed and making the most of a taxpayer investment. The better option is B3.

• Bellevue City Council picked the best alternative last year: B3. No new ridership or environmental data have emerged since then. Tax dollars have already been spent to study the alternatives and move forward with planning. In this tough economic environment, it’s wasteful for the council to continue spending taxpayer money in spite of a decision already being reached.

Alignment decisions should not be politically motivated, they should be based on sound planning, evaluation criteria, and public benefit. A single neighborhood should not trump the city’s long-term interests. Bellevue’s City Council is turning what should be a sound alignment decision process into a corrupt political circus. The Sound Transit board would be right to not respect the outcome of this cynical scheme.

Joan Devraun is a resident of Bellevue. She works for Microsoft and is involved in the Mercer Slough Neighborhood Association. For more background on the East Link alignment, read our open letter to the Bellevue City Council and the Sound Transit Board.

Comments

  1. Lightning says

    As much as the Eastside desperately needs light rail and as big a fan I am of rail, I’d rather it not be built at all than to cut through Mercer Slough. It’s like the Thompson Freeway (if it were) cutting through the Arboretum.

    • Charles says

      Which is exactly the outcome Freemanites want. Since Light Rail is critical to the Eastside’s long term development, lets not cave to the cavemen. Let’s insist on a viable alignment that serves the populations in downtown Bellevue and avoids encroaching on the important wetland preserves south of downtown.

  2. Erik G. says

    Or the clear-cutting of a majestic beautiful forest to build Yesler’s Sawmill.

    Look, progress happens. We should save what we can, but not at the expense of not having the transportation alternatives to the car, which consumes great quantities of land and resources while polluting the air, the ground and the water. Do a chemical analysis of the Mercer Slough soil and water sometime; I am certain it is full of petroleum and rubber and their byproducts.

    Link is a regional system. If Bellevue wants a circulator or wnighborhood service it needs to invest in a Streetcar. Why the line is not routed on Bellevue Way or on 106th boggles me. But then, I am the guy who wants to run non-stop to Redmond.

    • alexjonlin says

      Why you would ever put a light rail line right next to Downtown Bellevue but not have it stop there boggles me.

      • Erik G. says

        I would of course have it stop there (not as many times as it does in the current proposal, but I digress), however the government of the City of Bellevue seems to not be intereted in Public Transport, thus I say skip Bellevue and service places that have been building for Light Rail since the late 1980′s!

      • says

        I’d modify that statement to say that a current majority of the council is not interested in Public Transport – not the whole council. I rode the 550 home this evening and sat next to John Chelminiak. Novel concept – politicians that actually *use* public transportation. Anybody know if Kevin Wallace rides the bus?

  3. Jessica and Adam Clark says

    Joan, a big thank you for this article.

    As fellow Bellevue residents (and me, Jessica, a fellow Softie who would benefit heavily from East Link), we agree that Wallace & Freeman do not represent us and that the only vision Wallace’s vision line will be is that of a vision of non-ridership.

    Jessica Clark & Adam Clark (brother & sister, and fellow Bellevue residents)

  4. says

    You’re analogy with San Francisco is correct. Bellevue has been bought and paid for. People have to face the fact that Puget Sound is now a zone of winners and losers.

    The winners have the money and the land and the power.

    The losers will talk about “what is fair”.

    The winners will win and the losers will lose — or they can move to somewhere else where housing is cheaper and the game has not yet been played.

    • Elbar says

      As a former Bay Area resident, I don’t quite get the San Francisco analogy. Southern California, LA, yes, but not SF.

  5. Susan B says

    As a fellow resident of Bellevue, I agree with Ms. Devraun wholeheartedly. Part of the problem is that the group of residents that oppose alternative B3 are far more vocal and organized that are the much larger group of citizens that would benefit from B3.

    Is there any well-organized group of residents FOR B3 and AGAINST B7? Are they attending the Council meetings where the alignments are being discussed in the same numbers as are the promoters of B7? If not, it sounds as there is some community organizing to do!

    • Jessica and Adam Clark says

      We would if we could (no can do – for now – for medical reasons).

      Believe me, we would love to be out speaking the pluses of B3

    • Bellevue Maven says

      Why not you? The city Council meets on Monday nights, starting at 6pm. City hall is located at NE 4th and 106th. Bring some friends – that’s community!

    • Sherwin Lee says

      Susan, there are actually residents organizing around it. If you want to get involved, feel free to contact us at our email (seen above) and we can refer you to some folks.

  6. says

    Demonizing and insulting Kemper Freeman, and the neighborhood Surrey Downs, only reflects poorly on the one doing the insulting. Debate the issues.

    • Erik G. says

      Kemper buys the seats for his politician-lackeys who will kowtow to his mindset. He is an issue here!

      The fact that he made his money to buy the lackeys on property acquired by his father and grandfather bought at dirt cheap prices after their original owners had been shipped off to the concentration camps that the Millers had advocated is also an issue to me and I would hope to anyone who values their liberty.

      • Erik G. says

        Please replace “Millers” above with “Freemans” Miller Freeman was Kemper’s anti-Asian (and pretty much anyone who wasn’t a WASP) grandfather.

      • says

        And you make your money in a land stolen from the Indians and built by slave labor. Don’t think you’re any better than the Freeman family, Eric. Your hands are just as dirty.

    • Sherwin Lee says

      That’s funny, Sam. Because Joan doesn’t mention Surrey Downs once in her Op-Ed. And all she said about Kemper Freeman was that he funded anti-rail candidates. Nothing about him having horns, or being an illegitimate child, or being ugly, or any of those nonsense ad-hominem attacks we don’t tolerate. So, I have to ask, Sam, how was anyone, as you say, “demonizing and insulting Kemper Freeman”?

  7. Bellevue Maven says

    Wanna know what’s really sad about this? For all intents and purposes, Bellevue does not have a newspaper, so Bellevue citizens are not reading this and being made aware of the issue. Please post this article to your facebook and twitter accounts, email to your friends who live in Bellevue. Clip it and send to the Seattle Times (Mike Lindblom), Seattle PI, Bellevue Reporter (Josh Hicks), Downtownbellevue.net, KOMO.com Bellevue Blog. Bellevue residents need to know what’s going on behind the scenes.

  8. Cindy says

    The pious good people of this blog act as if they are more significant than any others. You are fond of trotting out such words as nimby, equal and misguided and you tromp all over the very people who are trying to get some real information. I speak of the Surrey Downs committee (Oh I’m sorry, for you high intellectuals that have sunken to the low level of 2 year old behavior that would be Surrley Downs). Yes, they have a preference for where they would like to see light rail go, who among us doesn’t? The thing that you hear Surrey Downs ask for the most is FACTS. They are asking for independent studies so that the public has real information not the half assed “analysis” that Sound Transit offers as the DEIS. On more than one occasion they have publically stated that the facts will speak for the best alignment whatever that is. At least they are part of the process and not hiding behind an anonymous internet page taking cheap pot shots at everthing that moves.

    I have followed this issue closely, I have attended all city council meetings, I have watched all Sound Transit Board meetings (on TV because they are so afraid of input that they hold meetings during the day when people who work cannot attend) and attended all public meetings. Time and time again Surrey Downs has come to the City Council and Sound Transit Board with information and used this information as a basis for asking these elected and paid officials to use real information and real facts to provide all of us with real understanding.

    Not once have I EVER heard a council person refer to 118th residents as being unimportant or invisible. On many occasions I have seen and heard council defend 118th as a neighborhood just like any other.

    I am not sure what alignment I will support at this time. The thing I do know is that the hateful, drivel provided on this blog is shameful and does not add anything good to the issue. Your mothers must be shaking their heads.

    • Zed says

      “The thing that you hear Surrey Downs ask for the most is FACTS. They are asking for independent studies so that the public has real information not the half assed “analysis” that Sound Transit offers as the DEIS.”

      Oh, I see. Because the Surrey Downs folks don’t agree with what’s in the DEIS it must be “half-assed.” What happens when the independent study that the city is performing agrees with the information presented in the DEIS? The draft EIS is just that, a draft. There are still supplemental and final EIS reports in the process of being completed. The DEIS is not the end-all and be-all of environmental study done for the project, it is just the beginning. There will be many more rounds of public hearings before a federal record of decision is made on the final alignment.

      “At least they are part of the process and not hiding behind an anonymous internet page taking cheap pot shots at everthing that moves.”

      That’s a bit of the pot calling the kettle black, given that nobody knows which Cindy you are out of the millions of Cindy’s in the country. Did you not notice that the author of this opinion piece gave her full name, her employer’s name, and the name of an association she belongs too? While quite a few commenters on this blog are anonymous, and that’s there right, every article has an author who’s full name is given and whose contact info is available. Many of these authors also participate in public meetings, provide commentary that’s part of the public record and write articles for other media sources. Hardly an “anonymous internet page.”

      Joan Devraun is a resident of Bellevue. She works for Microsoft and is involved in the Mercer Slough Neighborhood Association.

      • Eastside Regionalist says

        Zed, the most popular tactic here in Bellevue is to blow a lot of smoke, play “Dueling Experts” and otherwise confuse the issues. And the good people of Bellevue (an unfortunate majority, anyway) don’t want to take the time to understand things or question them. They’re all too glad to have someone else tell them what to think. Seen it time and time again.

  9. Bellevue Soccer Dad says

    To the author, please ID exactly which Council member made that claim. Having watched the Council during this process I suspect that NO Council member claimed some neighborhoods are more equal than others, that instead this was something someone who is an advocate (and not on the Council) said.

    Please check your emotions and debate the facts.

  10. GandolfST says

    Joan
    You’d better do some homework and get your facts right. The Bellevue City Council policy, adopted roughly a year ago was that the B3 Modified alignment was their preferred alternative, with B7 as their back-up to also be studied in the event that Sound Transit failed to follow the B3 Modified option (in a 4-3 decision, by the way). ST has not met the B3 modified request and has stayed with their desire to channel Light Rail right through the heart of an 8 Acre wetland at the head of the Sturtevant Creek drainage – core salmonid wetlands, and right on thru the parking lot of the Bellevue Club.
    The real “South Bellevue”, by the way, is South of I-90, not Enatai. These folks have no way of making it to the South Bellevue P&R today without lining up on I-90 and hoping to get there – at that point, they might as well drive into Seattle or go to the Mercer Island P&R. Here’s a novel idea, how about constructing a P&R incorporated right into a light rail station and the I-90 intersection with Bellevue Way SE and thereby allow the train to continue Eastward alongside or above I-90 following the B7 alignment, thereby insuring that the train will be fast, efficient and have minimal impact on Bellevue traffic, wetlands & neighborhoods? This facility could provide access from I-90 (both directions) and Bellevue Way SE to the multi-story P&R facility as well as flyover access to E/W bus traffic like that found at the Eastgate P&R.

    In any case, cut out the ridiculous diatribes and whining about Bellevue business people – it adds nothing to the discussion. Let’s make sure that Light Rail and its alignment does what it’s supposed to do – move people quickly and efficiently with little variation in schedules (must be grade separated) and anticipates where Bellevue will be in 50 years, not be hamstrung by shortsighted planning.

    • Zed says

      “ST has not met the B3 modified request and has stayed with their desire to channel Light Rail right through the heart of an 8 Acre wetland at the head of the Sturtevant Creek drainage – core salmonid wetlands, and right on thru the parking lot of the Bellevue Club.”

      You mean the wetland that Bellevue keeps filling in with new hotels and business parks?

      The more likely path that light rail will take is in the median of 112th between SE 8th and Main Street. This would save close to $30 million and avoid impacts to businesses on SE 8th and the Sturtevant Creek watershed.

      “These folks have no way of making it to the South Bellevue P&R today without lining up on I-90 and hoping to get there”

      Not true. The westbound ramp from Richards Road continues to Bellevue Way without entering the I-90 mainline. You can also get there pretty easily from Coal Creek Parkway by using the I-405 to I-90 collector / distributor lane, which rarely gets backed up. Metro’s study of park and ride usage showed that a majority of South Bellevue P&R users were coming from the Factoria and Newport area.

      “thereby allow the train to continue Eastward alongside or above I-90 following the B7 alignment, thereby insuring that the train will be fast, efficient and have minimal impact on Bellevue traffic, wetlands & neighborhoods?”

      B3 and B7 would have comparable travel times and reliability. The B3 side-running alignment would be completely separated from traffic in a dedicated ROW. B7 offers no improvement in travel time or reliability over B3, but does limit access to light rail for several neighborhoods. Not a fair trade-off in my opinion.

      • GandolfST says

        To Zed
        The C/D option? This is still a single point of entry for South Bellevue that gets ridiculously backed up (and dangerously, I might add).

        You are right, to a point, on the wetland in question. It did take the underlying landowner almost 15 years in litigation to get approval for the hotel – this is not “the City filling in the wetland.” Nice hyperbole!

      • Zed says

        “Nice hyperbole!”

        Thanks. I try.

        FWIW I used to live on the “wrong side” of I-90 and used South Bellevue P&R while Eastgate was being rebuilt.

      • ericn says

        The collector distributor lanes are fairly clear, especially since they were re-striped to have two through lanes in addition to the Bellevue Way exit lane. In any case, all bus transfers from South Bellevue to South Bellevue P&R will be coming from the Richards Road onramp, which really does turn directly into the Bellevue Way offramp.

    • ericn says

      There’s no easy way to put a light rail station directly at the I-90/Bellevue Way intersection. I-90 at that point is elevated above the lake, and a light rail station would have to be elevated above all that. Plus, there’s no place for buses to stop for transfers until they get onto Bellevue Way. South Bellevue P&R is as close to I-90 as you can reasonably get without removing a bunch of houses, which isn’t going to happen.

  11. Joan Devraun says

    Kemper Freeman’s campaign contributions to the candidates in the November election are a matter of public record. I for one wonder why this unelected individual is heavily influencing public transportation policy to the detriment of the public good. Oh, I forgot, Bellevue doesn’t have an ethics law. So “his” candidates get to vote on city business even when there is a clear conflict of interest. Only the cat is now out of the bag. Oops!

    Kevin Wallace, as president of Wallace Properties, reportedly heads new business for the company in the area of “transit-oriented” development (or so I’m told by people who are in that area). He apparently makes money creating communities around train systems and by selling or leasing the commercial space in the area. Wallace Properties has a reported $50 million in property in downtown Bellevue and the value of that property will be impacted by light rail siting. Given those facts it is surely excruciatingly difficult for any impartial observer to see how this vote would not be a conflict of interest on some level for Kevin Wallace. Plain and simple; where light rail goes in Bellevue will affect the monetary value of the properties he owns and develops.

    Long after Kemper Freeman has left this region and retired to Miami Beach (or Hawaii, or wherever) I’m going to have to cope with the traffic to get to the site of one of the Puget Sound’s two major employers. This new Kemper Freeman-backed majority on the Bellevue City Council does not represent me and my transportation needs. Nor do they represent my friends and colleagues, nor the throngs of people who haven’t moved here yet and are going to need viable transportation choices. Judging from the comments to my post I am not alone. So who exactly do they represent? Hmm, there’s an interesting thought.

    Re “The real “South Bellevue”, by the way, is South of I-90, not Enatai,” Yep, you hit the nail on the head. And guess where those Enatai residents are going to have to go to pick up transit when their transit options are limited by B7 with the absence of a South Bellevue P&R? Yep, you guessed it, to Mercer Island. According to someone with Mercer Island friends, they (the Mercer Island folk) constantly gripe that out-of-town people clog their P&R. So presumably they are going to be pretty upset about the loss of the South Bellevue P&R.

    Re the absence of a South Bellevue P&R that B7 would entail, I quote:

    For a number of Enatai residents, the nearby convenience of the South Bellevue Park and Ride makes it a key access node for light rail. The park and ride is the second largest in Bellevue and one of the busiest in city, with more than 90% parking capacity filled by the end of morning rush hour. Regular transit commuters have said that such demand is an indication that “ease of use” will be a major factor in having “successful light rail.”

    “The B3 line offers us that in its use of existing transportation infrastructure, including the South Bellevue Park & Ride,” says Michael Marchand, an Enatai resident who regularly uses the 550 express bus.

    Marchand has also expressed concern about increased traffic gridlock and bottlenecks on local streets if B7 is chosen, especially if bus routes are redirected to the proposed Wilburton Park and Ride. Major streets leading up to the park and ride could possibly require greater traffic mitigation due to limited road capacity, in comparison to Bellevue Way which terminates at the I-90 ramps. (source: http://blog.seattlepi.com/bellevuecitynews/archives/195755.asp).

    Re the siting of the B7 LR station as the present site of the Wilburton P&R:

    The City of Bellevue cannot mitigate current traffic problems on 118th Ave SE, much less if there were a station constructed on the site of the Wilburton P&R, as proposed by B7. That station would be too far away from we 118th Ave SE residents to be useful. And there’s nothing there – it’s a freakish 1.5 mile hike uphill to Bellevue Square! Because there’s nothing there it’s a station that anyone wanting to use would have to drive to. The station would be really perched out in the middle of nowhere – and beside a major (unwalkable) multi lane highway no less. If you have not read “Rule #1: Don’t Put a Light Rail Station Next to a Freeway by Dan Bertolet” on Publicola (http://www.publicola.net/2010/01/25/rule-1-dont-put-a-light-rail-station-next-to-a-freeway/), then I suggest you do so.

    If anyone wants transit to fail, B7 in Bellevue is the sure way to go. I return to my original comments about Kemper Freeman interfering with the November election .

  12. Joan Devraun says

    The bill is SB 6344 – 2009-10
    Establishing contribution limits for city council campaigns.
    Revised for 1st Substitute: Concerning campaign contribution limits.

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