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Four candidates vie for two spots on the Nov. ballot for City Council position No. 3
Mercer Island Reporter staff and two members of the Reporter editorial board, Jason King and Le Xuan Hy, sat down with City Council Pos. 3 candidates: Bob Bersos, Mike Cero, Jon Friedman and Maureen Judge to talk about what they have to offer Islanders as members of the City Council. Candidates were asked about their positions on key issues such as the PEAK project, Town Center development and parking, emergency preparedness and parks. We also asked what their approach would be to regional issues such as transportation and their view as to the role of Mercer Island leaders in the greater Puget Sound Region.
Why are you running for City Council? All candidates cite their love of the Island and a need to preserve its character. All are motivated by a sense of public service and giving to others.
Bersos: I know this city’s past. I know this community, I’ve lived here all my life. I know the goods and bads. And I know the people. I think we need a good representative of the people who responds to the community and we need someone who knows this place and wants to stay here. Everybody I talk to says were losing community. We’re becoming a bus stop for Seattle.
Cero: It’s another form of public service and I have a long record of serving the community. I’m active with the school district and enjoy that. The school district and the City Council are so complementary of each other, this helped introduced me to city politics and issues. I became interested in those issues and sensitive to them. It’s one way for me to help the community with my leadership and my experience, I feel I could be a benefit to the community.
Friedman: I was a political science major in college. I have always wanted to serve the public and I found no better place to do it than the place I love very much. I am a third-generation Mercer Islander and I always knew I wanted to come back here and raise a family. And I would credit my drive to come back to Mercer Island with my success in business. I wanted to be on Mercer Island and I did what I could to get back here, forming my own business niche. I would bring that same drive to the Council.
Judge: I want to balance the growth on Mercer Island. We need fresh ideas and we need ways to tackle issues that have been haunting Mercer Island forever, for instance, parking. My experience in product management has taught me to be a consensus builder and work together with people to get things done. You can’t launch a product when everyone has a different idea how to do it without making some compromises. I am a consensus builder and will bring that to the Council.
If elected, what would be your top three priorities:
All of the candidates stated emergency preparedness as a top priority. Other than that, the candidates differed on what they thought was most pressing for the city. Here’s what they stated as their top three priorities.
Bersos: My biggest priority is preparing for a disaster. We have two bridges, one water line and four lines for power. When something happens, we’re on our own. We’ve got to build up the neighborhood [groups] so everyone knows each other. [We need to] get them to plan and organize and keep everyone safe.
Public safety is another priority. We’ve got to keep our crime down. Emergency services are also important.
We’ve also got to maintain our infrastructure and get better transportation, like an Island shuttle. We all drive but there’s nowhere to park.
Cero: The Renton Airport is a big issue that will affect our quality of life that we have here on the Island. This is a regional issue and we will have to work with Renton, Boeing Field and the FAA. I want to work with them so we can be proactive. Once they start moving dirt it’s too late.
Emergency preparedness is also an important issue. [Part of that is that]first responders are only going to be effective if they have peace of mind. That their families, most of which don’t live on the Island, have to be taken care of. [They need a way to] communicate with their families off Island so they can be 100 percent focused on the job they are inevitably going to be called upon to do.
Council meetings should be televised. Folks have kids in school and right when those Council meetings happen that’s when they’re getting them from soccer practice or whatever. On the other end, we have a large senior citizen group who are very active in politics but it is difficult for them to get around.
Friedman: I plan to revise the affordable housing program to tailor it to our community. I want to provide alternative living spaces for people who have raised their families here and want to stay on the Island. There’s very little housing for that segment of the population. We need some sort of lower density multi-family townhome-type housing in the downtown periphery. That would at least have some impact on stabilizing prices and providing more homes on the Island for more kids to go to school. Affordable housing or work force housing for public safety officials by providing indistinguishable homes spread throughout the Island.
Maintain the character of Mercer Island. Bringing back historical perspective. There are things like connectivity and open space that we would like to add to that development. As a builder I understand how to get those spaces.
Judge: I want to continue funding the amazing programs like Mercer Island Youth and Family Services and our Senior Services. The work they do with the school district and through their alcohol and drug prevention program is phenomenal. And we have a large senior population here that these city programs really provide assistance to.
I also have learned from talking with residents that many feel the growth here has gone unplanned. I want to see better growth management coming from the City Council.
Bringing more bike paths and pedestrian connections to the Island is another priority. While we move forward with these new developments we need to make sure the plans are in place to make sure there are public spaces built.
Do you support the Boys and Girls Club PEAK project? What actions would you propose to mitigate its impacts on the neighborhood:
Three out of four candidates did not support the PEAK project to be located at the high school location. Here’s what they said.
Bersos: I live in the neighborhood and went to the Boys and Girls club when I was a kid. The school district is essentially paying millions of dollars for a facility they really can’t use except for wrestling at a location people can’t really get to. There’s lots of other things going on there, the current facilities are constantly being used. PEAK is supposed to be a community center for Island youth but at that size it’s not. It’s a regional facility and I would like to see the Boys and Girls Club at West Mercer Elementary.
Cero: I do support PEAK but I don’t support PEAK at the [school] district site. I’ve visited the Federal Way center twice that they use as the example. I haven’t deviated from my position on PEAK — that it is better situated at the existing [East Seattle] site. That’s a lot of money being spent on PEAK from a school board that is looking for money, hurting for money and has to bring on additional students from off the Island because of financial issues. I just don’t see the district getting the bang for the buck for just finding the money to accommodate PEAK. I would like to see it at the existing [East Seattle] site because that continues to maintain the charm and character of Mercer Island.
Friedman: I do support the PEAK project [at the new site]. I understand the concern about where it is. It is a residential neighborhood but I went to Mercer Crest Elementary school and North Mercer Junior High there. So there have been facilities in that location that historically provided places for kids. I live in the neighborhood and what I see as the problem is the increase of traffic in the area. There’s a parking and traffic problem at the high school. I think we need to encourage more carpooling, increase bus services or provide bike paths.
Judge: I have always had trouble with the proposed site of PEAK and I think it needs to be revisited. That’s an enormous facility on a small piece of land. It’s not just a parking issue and there’s no meaningful way to mitigate the traffic. There’s a lot of people that feel the West Mercer location would be the best site for that project. I would like to see it re-examined. There’s a lot of work that can be done about PEAK that needs to be addressed.
How would you fix the parking woes in Town Center:
Three of the candidates suggested the city should consider buying property in the Town Center for either a city parking lot, public plaza or both. Suggestions included a residential parking pass for Islanders or a downtown bus shuttle service.
Bersos: I’d like to see the city buy a parking lot down there. Or, I think we should provide off-sight parking and a shuttle system like the city’s senior center transportation that takes them down there to run errands. We do need parking. It’s a mess and I think we lost an opportunity to do something 20 years ago with I-90; we could have made better parking areas. We also need to do something about the delivery trucks that use the center [of the streets] and block traffic.
Cero: It’s unfortunate that the city is working with property owners on the parking issue this late in the ball game. [Solving the issue] is going to cost the city a lot of money. We need to look at traffic and transit or shuttle service options so the Town Center is usable for every resident. Right now, it is developing as a place for people who live there, not the rest of the Island. The assumptions we have for Town Center with reference to traffic and parking also need to be reevaluated. If the assumption is that traffic at 27th Street [and 77th Avenue S.E.] will increase about 30 percent and won’t be that big of a deal, then that is a bad assumption.
Friedman: To get people to change their behaviors we need to provide alternatives and incentives to do that. If that means we need to provide a parking garage or facility then I would support that. There are a lot of competing interests. The businesses want the people here but we don’t want the cars. I would not be in favor of a Mercer Island parking pass because of unintended consequences. I would like to look at what other cities, like Redmond, have done to solve these downtown parking problems.
Judge: I am in favor of an Islander-only parking sticker good for parking around transit facilities and the Town Center. I think people want to get out of their cars but we need to make it easier for them. I would also be in favor of looking into acquiring land in the Town Center for parking.
What additional actions do think are needed to obtain the public plazas and amenities sought in the Town Center?
Three candidates suggested they would support buying land for a public plaza. Other suggestions included better enforcement of the development codes and the necessity of further code revisions.
Bersos: Short of buying land for the plazas or parking, there’s not much you can do. If you own the land, you can do what you want with it.
Cero: Enforcing the rules we have in the first place. I propose that we require developers to provide the “wills” in the code. We can negotiate the “shalls” but not the “wills.”
Friedman: We need to be clear about what the city wants and write those into the code. A lot coverage restriction on Town Center development would require an open space, some pavers and a nice courtyard with some commercial space around it.
Judge: I want to make sure [public and open spaces] are being built. We can take a cooperative stance to make sure of that. And taking [buying] land when it becomes available.
What are your top three priority park projects for the Parks levy planned for the 2008 ballot:
The candidates have ideas for Luther Burbank park and want to add more bike paths to the Island.
Bersos: I want to utilize Luther Burbank. That does not mean developing it with affordable housing but we do have a nice dock down there. It would be the perfect place for a small sailboat or kayak operation. I’d also [suggest] a small restaurant down there. Just a little hamburger stand where you can get some water or candy or a sandwich, which would offset some of the park costs. I’d also like to see the community center charge more for nonresidents and less for Islanders. If you’re paying taxes here, it should be free to use.
Cero: To preserve the resources we have. The Island is not going to get more land. We also need to retain [our] quality parks staff. The folks on Mercer Island use the parks and the Council needs to maintain the parks adequately. I want that to continue. But it’s also in my nature to do things better. The best of the best organizations always have room for improvement.
Friedman: I want to make the parks as user-friendly as possible with bike trails and connectivity between them and the schools. I have talked with many people about this. The Mercer Island Preschool Association told me their most pressing concerns were bike paths, trails and bathroom facilities. I want to take input from all users.
Judge: Luther Burbank is such a great gift. I’d like to see wetland education center there. It is the Island’s only wetland and what a good idea to use it as an outdoor classroom for the kids to learn about the place they live. I would want to expand the parks, making them accessible to educators. I also love the [lakefront] landings here. I remember playing around them when I was a little girl. I would make sure that those are maintained and preserved because so much of the waterfront is privately owned.
What is your stance on preserving the Island SOV access in I-90 HOV lanes?
Three of the candidates stated their plan would be to preserve the SOV access as it is today. Judge and Cero stated that things will have to change regarding the new outer HOV lanes planned to be added in the next decade. Friedman stated he wanted things to remain the same until tolling is instituted. Bersos would like to see the center roadway preserved without the proposed light rail.
Bersos: I hope the Nov. measure fails. I want to see light rail on both sides of the lake going north to south. I don’t think we need it across I-90. We have buses that do a great job of doing that while light rail won’t do a thing for Mercer Island but take up parking spots. I’d rather see the money for east-west light rail go into replacing the 520 bridge.
Cero: I’ll do whatever I can to keep [SOV access]. What happens in November will determine whether the SOV access remains where it is now or on the outside lanes. If it’s on the outside lanes we’re going to need some ingenious enforcement methods. Otherwise that SOV[access] will be abused.
Friedman: We already signed an agreement that we are going to have access to those outside lanes. It is an open-ended agreement until the tolling situation plays itself out. I support very much the right of Mercer Islanders to use the HOV lane with their single occupancy vehicle.
Judge: For traffic and long-term growth and the new outer HOV lanes that are going to be built, with the trade-off being able to use the HOV lanes that go into Seattle and Bellevue and not one or the other, I would be able to support that as an Islander.
We are part of a larger community represented by Seattle and the Eastside. How would you be a regional leader?
Bersos: [The city already] participates with other groups like the Renton Airport committee. Parks and Rec. works with other cities as partners for the regional parks Web site. These are examples of people in different communities working together to find solutions for a greater cause. I would continue to support those and look for others.
Cero: [We need] continued participation in [regional ventures such as ] ARCH (A Regional Coalition for Housing). That’s a win-win for the region and for Mercer Island. The Renton Airport will give us the opportunity to be good neighbors. Inter-island transportation and preserving open spaces [help us move toward] sustainability. The fire department [cooperates with] Bellevue’s department. They may begin training together. We also work with NORCOMM.
Friedman: First and foremost, City Council is responsible to the citizens of Mercer Island. We need to get along because we have a significant highway that connects us to the rest of the region and the state. We’re talking about the transit through the center lanes... and the Park and Ride. [These things] are going to service not only the citizens of Mercer Island, but people coming from other areas. A good citizen is connected with other cities, being constantly aware of what they’re doing and what works for them, coordinating with them but in the end [the City Council] responsible to the citizens of Mercer Island.
Judge: We need to be apart of the upcoming transit changes. We need to look at it from the standpoint of the long term impacts. This whole package is one that is inter-tied. What happens on 520 affects I-90 immediately and vice versa. [We need to] keep our government about openness and about protecting the interest of Islanders but be comfortable working with others.
Occupation: retired firefighter, MISD bus driver.
Education: Seattle University - B.A. public administration. Olympic College - A.A. management and general studies. Bellevue Community College - A.A. media technology.
Public service experience: volunteer fire fighter, union representative.
Island resident since 1970
Occupation: former PACCAAR manager, Army engineer.
Education: West Point Military Academy - B.S. civil engineering. Seattle University - MBA accounting.
Public service experience: PTA, VFW, Boys and Girls Club, U.S. Army.
Island resident since 1996
Occupation: Self employed single-family home builder
Education: University of Washington - B.A. in political science.
Public service experience: JCC Board of Directors, member AIPAC.
Island resident since 1967
Occupation: Self-employed consultant.
Education: Boston University - B.A. in political science and English.
Public service experience: MIYFS board member, Girls Scout leader, Children’s Foundation boardmember.
Island resident since 2006