Candidates vying for city council Position 3 are incumbent Wendy Weiker and Jon Hanlon. Weiker has served on the council since 2016 and is a public relations professional, working on community engagement for both private companies and nonprofit organizations. Hanlon works in aviation and technology sectors, managing projects and teams to deliver complex, and often safety critical, products and services.
How would you look to preserve or enhance Mercerdale Park?
Wendy Weiker: Mercerdale Park at the south end of our Town Center is an Island treasure. It’s a critical, beloved cornerstone of our community’s parks and open space system. Enhancements in the park I would consider include improvements to the thrift store, upgrades to the train-park playground, removal of the closed recycling building, additional volunteer trail improvement projects, and seating or planting enhancements to the Bicentennial Park (flagpole) area.
Jon Hanlon: Mercerdale Park needs to be protected and I support placing the park in trust. There have been numerous attempts to develop the park in the past. Regional pressures will continue to mount over the coming years due to transit oriented development (TOD) and Growth Management Act (GMA) programs. Given the history, and knowing the future regional demands, Mercerdale, along with our other parks and open spaces, need our protection.
What would be your budget priorities and why?
Weiker: Suburban Mercer Island is a full service city with our own public safety, human services, parks and utility service providers. Property taxes and sales taxes on residential redevelopment are the primary sources of revenue for the about 200 city staff who provide those services to our residents and visitors. Given the rising costs of employee salaries and benefits compared to the 1 percent limited increase the city can collect above the almost 12 percent piece of an Islander’s annual property tax bill, we have a long term structural imbalance in our city budget. My priorities in the coming year are to identify internal cost and service delivery efficiencies we can achieve at the city, prioritize programs and services to restore after last year’s cuts, and work with Islanders, city staff and our community organizations to determine the potential feasibility of a property tax levy dedicated to specific programs and/or projects. My budget and community priorities are the same: public safety, utility infrastructure integrity, parks and open space preservation, youth and family service support, and economic development and mobility in our town center.
Hanlon: Proposition 1 failed (in the November 2018 General Election), in large part, because Mercer Island voters did not see the current city council take the necessary cost containment steps before asking for more revenue. On the council, I will support the city manager with implementing management and process techniques that will reduce cost, improve service delivery, and increase transparency into city operations. As an operations and project management leader with over 20 years of experience in aviation and technology industries, I have a track record of improving processes and delivering results on safety sensitive and mission critical programs.
This leads me to my second priority, the city has a moral obligation to ensure public safety. As a father of four, my wife and I moved to Mercer Island, in part, due to the low crime. The Mercer Island police and fire departments must have the staffing and equipment to be effective in their work. The highest levels of safety are best achieved by having robust mitigations at multiple points. I include our school resource officer (SRO) and Youth and Family Services (YFS) counselors as public safety programs for this reason. As the old adage goes, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” These programs are unique in their ability to help before a crisis occurs.
After public safety, the Island’s infrastructure maintenance is behind the curve and not keeping up with increasing needs to replace aging parts of the system. This requires establishing a long-range plan that eventually converges with a sustainable/ stable maintenance program.
How do you balance development and growth against maintaining the town’s current character?
Weiker: Given our unique and convenient position on an island in a beautiful lake between the first and third largest, fastest-growing cities in the state, Mercer Island has been and will continue to change, too. In my view, Mercer Island’s character is in our history, pride, people and connections to each other and this place we love and are lucky to call home. We have new families and third-generation Islanders in our community who are drawn here for our safe neighborhoods, easy access to work and play, beautiful natural environment, stellar school system, and endless clubs and organizations that make us all grateful, interconnected Islanders.
So, while our neighborhoods’ houses get remodeled or rebuilt and our town center buildings get taller as we embrace the value of our properties and prepare for our light rail station to open in 2023, I believe we are balancing the opportunities before us with the pressures that come with planning for growth in a booming economy. Regarding those opportunities and challenges, in addition to our local land use laws and building standards specific to Mercer Island home and business building construction, we also have other local, regional, state and federal rules and regulations regarding land use, environmental protection, building code and public safety that combine to help us all deliver that needed and delicate balance between preservation and innovation. For example, the state’s current and coming update to the Growth Management Act created an urban growth boundary and development guidelines that our region’s cities and counties must follow to protect our broader natural environment by consolidating job and population growth into the built environment
Hanlon: The zoning already exists for the number of housing units required to meet GMA targets through 2035. It is key to understand that the capacity does not have to be built, just that the zoning be in place to accommodate the growth targets. Mercer Island has consistently been increasing the number of new units for the past decade. Given our real progress against the housing targets, my focus on the council will be towards town center development that supports current and future businesses. This requires adjusting the approach from the recent developments that maximize residential capacity to ones that strike a greater balance with business needs. We can still achieve GMA targets while improving the business climate.
How would you support transit developments, and how/when would you push back?
Weiker: My professional work and personal commitments have me driving on, off and around Mercer Island several times a day. I know traffic everywhere is getting worse and travel times are getting longer and more stressful than ever before. Safety is my number-one priority in all our transit options on Mercer Island.
My focus in managing these transportation changes has been and will continue to be to work with our professional staff, traffic engineers, land use consultants, environmentalists, entrepreneurs, legal counsel, islanders and government transit authorities to get the best outcomes, innovations and ultimately transportation options for all Islanders. All the stakeholders involved doing this work on behalf of Islanders have to figure out: Last mile options so Islanders can get to light rail; MI resident parking alternatives at the north end; new hardscape infrastructure at the Park and Ride to accommodate all future drop offs including private cars, employer shuttles, ride share services, autonomous vehicles and public buses; evolving operations of public transit and private ride share or employer at light rail stations over time; improved safety and efficiency configuration of the entire north end bike route; investment of the $10 million settlement agreement in mobility and parking improvements before this MI-only funding opportunity expires; public safety improvements at our many growing intersections as traffic patterns change.
I have and will continue to push back to the legal and optimal extent possible with the many consultants, advisors, lawyers, and experts available to support our city staff and council. Anything less than the best, safest possible outcome for Islanders, our visitors and employees is not an option.
Hanlon: The “bus intercept” is a non-starter and I will push back against it on the city council. The current settlement agreement (SA) is clear about what is allowed in terms of bus operations. The recent efforts by Sound Transit to make changes without actually following the amendment process in the SA must be halted by the city council. The changes and proposed configurations being forwarded by Sound Transit offer no benefit to Mercer Island. Once allowed, extensive bus operations on Mercer Island will continue to grow with the population in surrounding communities. This will bring increased crime and traffic with no recompense from Sound Transit and for no additional benefit to island mobility.
As a region, we are investing heavily in fixed infrastructure that does not offer the flexibility for the impending electric/autonomous revolution in transportation. Self-driving features are already becoming common. Just think, the original iPhone is only 12 years old. The next decade will see massive changes in the calculus of transit networks driven by improved electric technology and greater autonomy. This will enable more efficient energy and road capacity utilization. Multi-modal investment is required, with a focus on facilitating the integration of these new technologies. On the council, I will look for opportunities to make Mercer Island a model city for future-oriented transportation.
The General Election is Nov. 5.