Year in Review: Mercer Island sees major changes locally and nationally

2017 brought a new city manager, schools superintendent, residential code, I-90 lawsuit and more.

The big stories of 2017 spanned multiple categories, from political (President Donald Trump) to cultural (the #MeToo movement), from sports (the Houston Astros winning their first World Series) to business (Amazon), and from local (Interstate 90) to international (North Korea).

Education was a big topic in Washington state this year, as lawmakers worked on a funding fix. Mercer Island schools also made the news. Students showed compassion, raising money for hurricane relief efforts, and initiative, as two high schoolers secured an interview with U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis. Lakeridge Elementary was honored for its environmental programs, and its student raised money for cancer research in honor of a second-grader battling leukemia.

For the first half of 2017, Islanders were focused on I-90, as the city battled in court for mobility and access. The community also welcomed a new city manager, prepared to say goodbye to a longtime schools superintendent and chamber director and celebrated traditions like the Rotary half marathon and the 10th anniversary of the Farmers Market.

The second half of 2017, like 2016, was marked by a contentious election season. Islanders struggled to defend themselves from allegations involving educational credentials and sexual assault. The city also prepared to update its residential code and address impending budget deficits. Islanders fought to make their voices heard, from teachers planning to strike without a new contract, to employees of a local labor union company walking out of work. A new superintendent came on board, as long serving volunteers for the city and schools prepared to retire.

Along with controversy came moments of wonder. A total solar eclipse spanned the country for the first time in a century. Islanders showed the strength of community with massive clothing and food drives during the holiday season. A visitor wrote to the Mercer Island Reporter about local heroes that had saved her young sons from choking, twice. Inspirational authors shared their stories at Island Books, which was named the best bookstore in Western Washington. A dahlia farmer brightened up the campus of one of Mercer Island’s retirement communities, and a new therapy dog at the high school started helping kids and adults cope with stress and anxiety. In 2017, when “the silence breakers” were selected as Time’s Person of the year, Seattle experienced the Women’s March in January and the election of its first female mayor in almost 100 years in November.

In other business news, the Island saw the opening of Mioposto, Freshy’s Local Market and Caruccio’s, to name a few, and the closing of Roberto’s/Dalhousie Square and Anthophiles. The Town Center will welcome two new cafes in early 2018.

That’s one of many things to look forward to next year, but first, here’s a look back at 2017:


Mercer Island’s annual Polar Plunge at Clarke Beach on New Year’s Day marked its 50th anniversary, as new City Manager Julie Underwood — the first woman and person of color to serve in the role — plunged into city operations. Mercer Island School District (MISD) Superintendent Gary Plano announced that he would retire in June. The Mercer Island City Council established its legislative priorities for the 2016 session, including fully funding education and addressing light rail plans and vehicle access to I-90. President Donald Trump was inaugurated on Jan. 20, and about 200,000 people took to the streets of Seattle and other cities the next day for the Women’s March. Citizens petitioned the council to fight harder for mobility.


The council voted unanimously to sue Sound Transit and the Washington State Department of Transportation, to temporarily halt the closure of the I-90 center roadway. The Sound Transit Board then voted to countersue, to keep East Link light rail’s timeline and budget on track. City planners and volunteers continued their work on the residential code update, to address “the rapidly changing character of Mercer Island’s neighborhoods.” Terry Moreman, the director of the Mercer Island Chamber of Commerce, announced that she would retire after almost 26 years on the job, and would be succeeded by Laurie Givan. The Stroum Jewish Community Center, also under new leadership after the hiring of new CEO Amy Lavin, received a telephone bomb threat. The community responded with an outpouring of compassion, solidarity and support. Another cause received support earlier in the month, as the Youth and Family Services annual breakfast was the biggest fundraiser in the YFS Foundation’s history, bringing in over $345,000.


The Legislature approved a one-year delay on the “levy cliff” in a bill sponsored by freshman Sen. Lisa Wellman (D-Mercer Island). The Rotary’s 45th annual half marathon hit the streets and trails of Mercer Island, and the city headed to court with Sound Transit, expecting multiple hearings on the three separate lawsuits that were underway. As the Trump administration issued travel bans and threatened DREAMers, Islanders joined Police Chief Ed Holmes for a community meeting on immigration. MISD announced the recipients of its 2016 Pathfinder awards: Patricia Coffey, Leslie Hendricks Fall and Adrian Hanauer.


MISD celebrated students and honored its 2016 Pathfinders at the Breakfast of Champions. The city hosted its annual Leap for Green Sustainability Fair, and announced that it would run exclusively on wind power starting in 2019. The campaign season kicked off, as Councilmember Benson Wong announced he would seek re-election, while Dan Grausz said he would retire after 18 years of service. Sound Transit and WSDOT issued new studies about East Link, and found that “there is no loss of mobility to or from Mercer Island,” though leaders still worried about the impacts of the I-90 changes on local streets and safety. Money was reallocated to turf the north field at Island Crest Park in a “win-win solution” for sports groups.


Island schools earned Washington Achievement Awards, and Lakeridge was honored for its environmental education programs. Other Islanders were also going green, cycling to work and school for Bike Everywhere Month. The community celebrated women, hosting the annual Stanley Ann Dunham scholarship award ceremony and the Run Like a Girl 5k. On May 31, the council voted 5-1 to approve a $10 million settlement agreement that would end its I-90 lawsuit.


The Mercer Island Farmers Market opened June 4 for its 10th season, with new manager Lora Liegel. Mercer Island High School celebrated the graduation of 328 students, as MISD announced that Donna Colosky will take over as superintendent. Her plate was full, as the Legislature passed an education funding plan that raised property taxes, especially in wealthier districts, and Island teachers said they would strike without a new contract by September.


Construction on light rail and the I-90 bridge began. Jeff Sanderson resigned from the council, and Salim Nice was appointed to fill his seat. The Mercer Island Center for the Arts was being studied for most of the year at its planned location in Mercerdale Park, and the Concerned Citizens for Mercer Island Parks (CCMIP) continued to oppose the location. Mercer Island held its annual Summer Celebration in Mercerdale and surrounding areas, with an “out of this world” theme.


Islanders voted in the primary election, and were wowed by the solar eclipse. Smoke rolled in from fires in Eastern Washington and Canada over Seafair weekend, though spectators still flocked to the Island to watch the Blue Angels through the haze. The community celebrated Women’s Equality Day, commemorating the passage of the 19th Amendment, while an Islander born before that law was ratified celebrated her 100th birthday. MISD reached an agreement with teachers, while employees at Island-based Welfare and Pension Administration Service went on strike.


NFL anthem protests and the residential code review divided the nation and community. After a white nationalist rally in Virginia, the council spoke out against hate groups and defending fundamental rights. King County sheriff candidates John Urquhart and Mitzi Johanknecht were invited to debate at a Mercer Island Rotary meeting, discussing issues like officer-involved shootings and safe injection sites. Eastside mayors also discussed the opioid epidemic, along with affordable housing. The council voted 5-1 to adopt a new residential development code that reduced home size but kept incentives for mother-in-law units and increased tree protections. Dahlia farmer John Willson started a garden at Covenant Shores, and the MIHS Marching Band was selected to participate in the Tournament of Roses Parade on New Year’s Day 2019. Amazon announced bidding for a second headquarters, and Ed Murray resigned as mayor of Seattle.


MIHS celebrated homecoming and All Island Band Night. The city of Mercer Island requested that MICA consider other locations besides the park, and the owner of the historic East Seattle School submitted a demolition permit application. Shortly before the election, Islanders questioned council candidate Joy Langley’s bachelor’s degree from Cornell. She ended up losing the election to Tom Acker by 10 points.


In other election results, voters chose to return Wong to the council, elect Deborah Schneider Lurie and Brian Giannini Upton to the school board, and flip a seat in the 45th District, along with control of the state Senate, from red to blue. Urquhart lost his re-election bid. The city announced the appointees to its budget Community Advisory Group, and kicked off a planning process for Aubrey Davis Park. Some residents rallied to save an eagle tree in the East Mercer Highlands neighborhood, while another, four-time cancer survivor Julie Negrin, embarked on a journey to save the Affordable Care Act. A group of Islanders launched the “Campaign for MercerIsland’s 100% Clean Energy Future.” Mercer Island hosted a special meeting with members of the 41st District delegation to talk about legislative priorities for 2018, who warned about upcoming tax increases, while Congress debated a sweeping tax bill.


A local student raised over $16,000 for Hurricane Harvey relief efforts, while a notorious Islander nicknamed “mini Madoff” escaped from prison. The city continued to debate how to spend its mobility settlement money, as residents studied electric shuttles and autonomous vehicles, and an Amtrak train derailed. Residents planned clothing and food drives to help those in need while Mercer Island hosted its annual holiday events, including the Mercerdale tree lighting, Firehouse Munch, the Argosy ships and Island Youth Ballet’s performance of “Excerpts from the Nutcracker.”