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2010: Resolve turns to action
From the surprising to the mundane, small town news often follows a familiar pattern from month to month and year to year. However, the year 2010 brought a series of events and actions that may be more revealing when sorted by a different set of metrics. So in the spirit of brevity and austerity, the news of this past year is presented in short form using talking points familiar to most.
In January, Islanders were still talking about the homeless encampment, Tent City 4, which had left the United Methodist Church parking lot more than a year earlier. The City Council was putting final touches to the new temporary encampment ordinance to deal with any future homeless encampment visits. At the same time, a lawsuit filed by a handful of Island citizens — about how the city announced its intent to allow the Tent City 4 encampment to come — was working its way through the courts. It was finally dismissed later in the year.
In another case, a group of citizens that included Islanders went to court to challenge the legality of the use of gas tax money to fund light rail.
School districts statewide have been challenging the state funding of public education and the increasing burden of special education needs in the courts. The MISD was victorious in one such case in which the district was sued to pay for out of district education for the former student.
The lawsuit brought by former Assistant City Manager Londi Lindell against the city, was still in process at year’s end.
As the Boys and Girls Club’s new PEAK facility was completed at summer’s end, the school district began the process to look at replacing or re-ordering classroom facilities across the Island. District planners informed the community that it is considering taking back land leased to others near the high school and building space to move middle school students there.
The most poignant example of aging facilities is Mary Wayte Pool. The 40-year-old pool needs extensive repairs while it is still widely used. In November, the non-profit Northwest Center, who had been operating the pool abruptly ended its contract early.
After a long delay, the five story mixed use development ‘Arterra’ to be built on the old Safeway site, finally has its permits to being construction.
Just as many local businesses are struggling, others are bucking the recessionary trend and flourishing. The newer apartments and condos in the Town Center are filling in. There are nearly a dozen new businesses here that include a fresh fish market, a high-end bike store, a medical imaging company and a clutch of new places to eat or find fine wine. Interest and participation in the Island arts community is flourishing. Third Thursday events showcasing arts and business have continued despite the lean times.
As the Reporter goes to press, the Mercer Island High School Marching band is on their way to London for the New Years Day parade. The band and an army of parent volunteers have been fundraising for more than a year.
The Mercer Island Rotary Run raised fitness and funds for colon cancer research. Other Island organizations and individuals climbed stairs in office towers, walked and ran for cancer awareness and research, sold fireworks and Christmas trees for scholarships and collected food to help others in need.
The recycling center at Mercerdale Park was finally closed. Allied Waste that picks up trash and recycling here obtained new more efficient trucks. The revelation that at least 500 hundred Islanders opt out of garbage pick up here caused little concern. City workers verify that many Islanders feel entitled to use city receptacles for their trash. Despite early worries about cell towers along Island corridors five or six years ago, there are now 29 such towers here. The number of electric cars driven here continues to grow; even the Mercer Island Police Department has an electric vehicle. The volunteer Green Ribbon Commission sponsored events to encourage biking and walking. Sightings of deer, owls and raccoons and even a bobcat footprint brought both delight and chagrin to Island residents.
The city turned 50 years old on July 5. Members of Emmanuel Episcopal Church marked its centennial year. Dale Sewall retired after more than 20 years of leading the Mercer Island Presbyterian Church. Shorewood Heights, also 50 years old, sold for the second time in five years at a price nearly 20 percent less than it sold for in early 2006. Farmers New World Life Insurance company turned 100 this year, but the venerable company laid off nearly 10 percent of its workforce in the fall. The VFW’s 80-year-old Keewaydin Clubhouse was named one of 25 historic places selected to participate in the Partners in Preservation initiative by The National Trust for Historic Preservation. It competed for money to pay for a new roof, but they were not successful. The 5-year-old CCMV is well used and well liked but as yet, does not pay for itself. After 50 years as a broadsheet newspaper, the Mercer Island Reporter went to a tabloid format in May.
The Mercer Island real estate market still defies convention. Multi-million dollar waterfront mansions sold for much less than their asking price. A $40 million luxury waterfront home eventually sold for “just” $12 million. A growing number of Island homes are in foreclosure or are listed as short sales. But the numbers are easily skewed. The median sales price of Island homes sold in November was $743,750, up by 16.03 percent from November of last year when the median sales price was $641,000.
Recent data indicates that the Mercer Island Park and Ride is one of the most heavily used in the region. Construction for the new light rail corridor along I-90 continues. The configuration and safety of Island Crest Way remains an issue. Money set aside for changes for the corridor was unexpectedly shifted by a split vote of the City Council at the last minute to repave city streets instead. Four Island high school students were hit by cars this past year — two as they were crossing S.E. 42nd Street, and another two while crossing Island Crest Way south of 40th Street. Tensions between cyclists and drivers continue.
Under the radar
The multimillion dollar sewer lake line replacement project is virtually complete. Twenty percent of Mercer Island High School upperclassmen donated blood this fall. The emergency well at Rotary Park was completed. The city and citizen volunteers made further strides in emergency preparedness by holding drills and distributing information. The Mercer Island Thrift Store pulled in $800,000.
Car prowls continue to be a problem. Islanders learned that car windows can be broken with the end of a spark plug. Cool weather caused fewer problems and arrests in and around the lake during Seafair. The Island was shocked by hate graffiti that appeared at Northwest Yeshiva High School, a public elementary school and St. Monica School in September. Three young Island men were arrested. The city still has one of the lowest crime rates of all Eastside cities with virtually no violent crime.
Kela Harrington, a seventh-grader at Islander Middle School, became a regional spelling champion on her first try and made it to the third round at a national competition. Mercer Island High School senior Harry Bolson spearheaded the effort to install the first solar panels on the roof of the high school. Islander grad and former state champion in men’s diving, Beau Riebe, was selected for the Air Force Academy’s Parachute Team, “Wings of Blue.”
The Mercer Island Schools Foundation raised record amounts of money, bringing in nearly $500,000 during its annual fundraising breakfast alone. The final tally for the year, that included the “Bridge the Gap” campaign — to make up for lack of state school funding, was $800,000. Community members continued to give both time and dollars to community organizations such as PEAK, MIYFS and the MI Community Fund and many others.
Islanders Ken and Sandy Glass were recognized for their “unwavering support of public schools,” over the years.
The Friends of the Mercer Island Library purchased a print by late artist Ted Rand to hang in the library.
Islanders contributed to relief efforts in Haiti and around the world.
The year has come to a close with much relief that the contentious election season has finally passed.
The highlight of 41st Legislative District contests was the recount between state senator Randy Gordon, appointed to his post last January, and Island City Councilman Steve Litzow. Litzow won by less than 200 votes.