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In 2011, Mercer Island reboots, rebuilds
Another wave of aftershocks of the national economic recession hit Island shores this past year. Islanders found themselves paying more than $4 at the gas pump and higher prices for everything from food to electricity and more. Adding insult to injury was seeing home values continue to fall.
According to recent property assessment data, the total value of Island property has fallen 20 percent from a high of more than $10 billion to around $8 billion. The change in value has implications for property owners as well as public entities who depend on taxpayer dollars.
For public schools here and across the state, fewer state dollars meant that communities needed to dig deeper to pay for key education resources. The Island community rallied and pledged $1.2 million through the Mercer Island Schools Foundation’s Bridge the Gap campaign.
But beyond basic education costs, Island schools are becoming obsolete and overcrowded. Just two weeks ago, the School Board approved a motion to ask voters, April 17, for millions to rebuild Island schools.
Amid the economic crises, some Island institutions have fallen away. Finders gift shop closed this past year. Alpenland is up for sale. Some space in new Island buildings has been slow to fill.
Yet established businesses carry on. Mercer Island Florist celebrated its 50th anniversary this year. YogaBliss moved to a larger space. Veloce Velo consolidated its Issaquah location into its Island shop on S.E. 77th Avenue.
Despite lingering doubts about the future, new businesses continue to come. At the South end there is a busy ‘Yo Mercer’ yogurt shop, and in the Town Center there is the Extra Mile store at the Chevron station on Sunset Highway just around the corner from Indulge, a new salon. The BLI music store and bike repair revamped with new owners. Foodies rejoiced with the opening of Stopsky’s Delicatessen, adjacent to Island Books; Zaw, a Canadian take home pizza shop, and Anise Thai restaurant, both in Tabit’s Square; and the first Tully’s drive-thru coffee kiosk opened near Rite Aid. A stone’s throw from Tully’s, a branch of the Defensive Driving School set up shop this past year. Former Islander Carly Burns opened C. Michele Interior Lifestyles in September.
2011 was the Chinese Year of the Rabbit, but for Mercer Island it was the year of the deer, who wander city streets and browse in Island gardens.
An annotated version of the year might include the following events.
In January, the Mercer Island High School Marching Band returned stateside after a triumphant appearance in the London New Year's Day parade. Mary Wayte Pool gained yet another life with new operators taking over for Northwest Center who said they could not longer manage the pool. The City Council and the School Board began considering partnering with the SJCC or private clubs for a pool.
The Council selected former Mercer Island Reporter editor, Jane Meyer Brahm, to fill the City Council seat vacated by Steve Litzow, who was elected to the State Senate in November 2010. Meyer Brahm was one of 17 who came forward to apply for the spot.
Anticipating a shortfall of some $400,000 at the beginning of the biennial budget cycle, city officials looked for ways to cut back, including trimming some seasonal events. City residents rallied and pledged funds to restore many activities including the fireworks at Summer Celebration!
However, budget cuts to the Parks & Rec. department meant that there were no lifeguards on duty this summer at Groveland or Clarke Beaches.
An emergency transport ordinance was approved to allow Island firefighters to transport patients to local hospitals if staffing on the Island was sufficient. The move allows the city to bill and collect for transporting patients that is ordinarily done by private ambulance carriers. Patients who cannot pay will not be billed.
The end of the nearly three-year lawsuit brought by former assistant city manager and city attorney Londi Lindell meant that the city had to pay more than $180,000 in penalties. The city’s insurance company brokered the settlement deal and paid for the $1 million in damages.
The city’s huge sewer lake line replacement project was completed on time and, notably, $2 million under budget. Those savings will be used to pay the Lindell lawsuit fines.
With City Council approval, the city completed a months-long process to submit a shoreline management plan to the state.
The city began construction of lighted crosswalks along Island Crest Way at two intersections where pedestrians had been hit. Traffic lights for two intersections in the Town Center were also approved and built — but as of this writing, are not yet functioning due to key equipment shortages.
Despite the community’s apparent discomfort with City Hall in the aftermath of the Lindell lawsuit, only one person came forward to run for one of the four open positions on the City Council. Ditto for the School Board, where all three members up for reelection ran without challengers. The two newly appointed members — one each for the School Board and the City Council— ran unopposed after serving just a few months on the governing boards. Earlier in 2011, Lisa Strauch Eggers resigned from School Board for a job in the private sector. Brian Emanuels, one of the major supporters of the Boys & Girls Peak project, was appointed.
In the November general election, longtime City Councilman El Jahncke was defeated by Debbie Bertlin. Islander Richard Mitchell, an attorney and former counsel to Gov. Christine Gregoire, ran unsuccessfully for a seat on the King County Council against incumbent Jane Hague.
Islanders celebrated the outdoors by building places for learning, growing and meditating. Volunteers built a Kesher Garden at the SJCC; others constructed a learning garden at the library, and a brick labyrinth at Emmanuel Episcopal Church.
After a years-long delay, construction began on the Aviara mixed-use project on the old Safeway site.
In the Town Center, the 7700 building’s condos sold out. City figures revealed that the thrift store brings in more than $800,000 annually for the city's Youth & Family Services.
Real estate news appeared all year in the Reporter.
The Island Crest Apartments sold for $3.6 million to King County Housing Authority, which will preserve it for moderate income residents. Interest in the property was intense, the agency said.
Lewis Stevenson Sr., owner of the stables on Island Crest Way, died March 16. Less than two weeks later, his heirs notified horse owners that they had to vacate the property by May 15. The five acres of land is considered the last and largest piece of developable land on the Island. The land is now listed for sale for $6 million. Meanwhile, other multimillion dollar homes languish.
In the spring, Northwest Yeshiva High School graduated 16. Eleven Islanders graduated from Eastside Catholic High School while 345 students graduated from Mercer Island High School.
The Mercer Island Farmer’s Market returned for a fourth season, branching into entertainment and cooking demonstrations.
A skull found in the surf on Whidbey by two Island residents who had stored it in their garage turned it over to police after reading about a skull in another Island garage just a few months before.
As the year draws to a close, the Mercer Island High School Marching band readies for an appearance in yet another world-famous parade, this time in Pasadena, Calif. Earlier in the year, the band’s 30-plus-year-old wool uniforms were ‘sold’ for $700 to the Daybreak Middle School’s new marching band in Battle Ground, Wash.
The Daybreak band proudly wore them still bearing the Mercer Island name, when they marched for the first time in another famous parade — Portland’s Rose Festival parade.