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Choosing guardians of Island values
150 Islanders attend Voters Forum to hear candidates’ views
By J. Jacob Edel
Mercer Island Reporter
City Council and School Board candidates up for election in November spoke before an audience of about 150 at Islander Middle School at the League of Women Voters’ and Mercer Island Reporter’s annual voters’ forum last Wednesday night.
Five candidates are running unopposed: three for the School Board and two incumbents are looking to retain their seats on the City Council. Two council races are contested and feature four well-qualified candidates.
Councilmembers El Jahncke and Steve Litzow are running unopposed for another term on the council.
Mayor Bryan Cairns and Sven Goldmanis did not seek re-election this year. The vacancies attracted several residents to make a run for public office. For Position 3, four candidates ran in the primary. As the top two vote-getters in August, Maureen Judge, an independent business owner and single mom, is up against Mike Cero, a man with a notable public service record and father of three.
Position 5, the seat being opened by the mayor, has Bruce Bassett, an engineer and father of young children, running against Patti Darling, a registered nurse and Rotarian.
The candidates introduced themselves and answered questions prepared by the league and from the audience.
Questions centered around parking and public space in the Town Center, transportation and housing, and how to fund the upkeep of Luther Burbank Park. Fixing the parking shortage in the Center was one of the issues discussed. Darling said she wanted to see more public transportation to take people into the Town Center.
“We are major players in this region,” she said. “Much of our property taxes go to Metro, and they’re not using it for us. We need better public transportation.”
Bassett suggested educating the public about how they can park in the new parking garages and how to make the Town Center easier for pedestrians and bikes to get around so “people aren’t forced to take their car as they come into town.”
Litzow said the parking problems have been discussed and as the Island grows, the council will have to work to find a “broader parking area” within the limited space. Jahncke took a different take, stating the lack of space and high property costs would probably prevent adding a city-owned public parking lot.
“The best way to do it is to put up a central parking garage funded by the city,” Jahncke said. “The problem is which parcel would you put it [in]? The solutions are difficult and probably cost prohibitive.”
Judge suggested stronger enforcement in the design process to make sure the city gets public plazas.
“If we have those, the Town Center becomes more pedestrian friendly,” she said.
The audience asked the candidates about affordable housing, or “workforce housing,” on the Island. The City Council recently amended its Town Center development codes so future builders would bring some workforce housing. Judge suggested working with developers to create incentives for them to build or add affordable housing to their developments on the Island. Cero said he did not support affordable or workforce housing because it had negative impacts on the Island’s neighborhoods.
“It’s an affluent Island and I am not going to apologize for that,” Cero said. “It’s tough to maintain the charm of our neighborhoods and get affordable housing.”
Darling said she was interested in programs that help long-time residents continue affording their homes after they retire. She said she would support reducing or subsidizing utility bills or taxes to aid those under pressure from the rising costs of housing.
“I support helping those afford the house they’ve always lived in,” she said.
“I am passionate about common sense,” he said. “I try to bring it to all our deliberations so we can come up with coalescent solutions.”
Steve Litzow, who is seeking his second term on the council, opened the introductions of the four council positions up for election with a summary of his interpretation of the job a victory this November entails.
“We spend a lot of time on the pothole issues,” he said. “This year we talked about trapping raccoons and last year it was off-leash areas and leash laws. These things aren’t always that glamorous, but that’s what it is.”
Former teacher Pat Braman and Island attorney Lisa Strauch Eggers are both seeking a second term on the Mercer Island School District Board of Directors. Janet Frohnmayer, long-time PTA officer and school advocate, is running unopposed for the seat vacated by Leslie Ferrell.
Frohnmayer said that she viewed the role of the board as “setting goals for the future — not where we have been, but where we are going.”
The trio was asked to respond to a question (referring to PEAK) about how the board decides if a public-private partnership is a good idea for the district.
“As long as we look at the interest the partnership is serving to the community,” Eggers said. “We have to ask ourselves, ‘What is the benefit to our children?’ Today’s funding challenges make public-private partnerships necessary.”
Prop. 1 Roads & Transit
Supporters and opponents of the regional Roads and Transit package, Prop. 1, also appeared in the forum. Island residents and state representatives Judy Clibborn, D-41, and Fred Jarrett, R-41, spoke in favor of the regional Roads and Transit proposition. A local representative from the Sierra Club and Eastside lawyer who works with Bellevue developer Kemper Freeman explained their dislike of the measure.
Clibborn and Jarrett urged a “yes” vote on the measure because the state needs a transportation plan and this is the one leaders from the Puget Sound region devised. Clibborn also said the region had a chance to get federal funds in the late 1960s for mass transportation projects but without local support those funds went to Atlanta. She said such support from the federal government for transportation is history and it is up to local governments to fund transportation projects.
“This is a generational decision, and it’s not too often we get to make a decision this big,” Clibborn said.
Critics of the proposition claimed there was too much to dislike about the measure and asked voters to turn down the measure. Speaking in opposition to the proposition, Doug Simpson said that the road projects approved by a “yes” vote would not reduce congestion in the area or complete needed road projects. Jarrett said that the proposal was a product of years of work and negotiation between regional stakeholders. Yet he did concur that there were certainly parts included in the measure to dislike.
“It is in a sense. an ugly baby,” Jarrett said of the ballot measure but added that the region cannot wait any longer to address these issues.
While Simpson criticized the funding plans and the emphasis on mass transit, Jack Whisner from the local chapter of the Sierra Club said the roads package would contribute more to global warming and encourage suburban sprawl.
“We cannot pay as we go anymore,” Jarrett countered as he emphasized the need for a “yes” vote. “We are late.”