The Mayor and Council of the City of Redmond talk a lot about how successful the “Budget by Priorities” method has been.
I attended one of the “Budget by Priorities” meetings held by the City a few years ago. I feel now, as I felt then that these meetings are more ‘lip-service’ to communication and connection with the citizens, than actually a way for those citizens to have input on actual priorities for the City.
Since the meeting I attended in March of 2012, Redmond has become a place that most long-time residents no longer recognize. Many of our roads are jammed with traffic at peak times as people attempt to get their kids to school, get to and from work and attend various activities located in and around Redmond. Buildings are being torn down and replaced with mid-rise apartment complexes that add even more people to our roads. These new buildings bring with them families and children who are attending schools in overcrowded buildings. Small businesses and buildings have had to make way for downtown parks while attempting to survive through long-term construction projects.
The City of Redmond apparently has many priorities; but they don’t seem to align with the priorities of the citizens and businesses that make up the tax base for the City. It’s also concerning that there seems to be no documented long-term planning or ‘Master Plan’ for the growth, infrastructure and future of Redmond.
I’d like to address today in my blog a few of my priorities as a taxpayer and resident of Redmond since 1987.
Parks vs. History:
The City of Redmond is spending $30 MILLION DOLLARS (taxpayer dollars) for a park that benefits a limited portion of residents. Unlike Hartman, Perrigo or Ferrell McWhirter parks, the “Downtown Park” has no parking and a hefty price tag for future projects including a pavilion, water feature and ‘great landscaping’ (p5. Focus on Redmond, Fall 2015).
However, the City is unwilling to spend any funds at all on saving a historic building and property that is recognized as one of only 3 buildings in Washington State funded by and built through a women’s organization. The City has discussed that the building could be moved; but made it clear they would not pay for any costs associated with it. Moving the building would destroy the historic value of the building and property the Nokomis Building is located on. The building needs minimal maintenance, and could be used as a history museum or small meeting space for many in the community. It also could be updated with ‘great landscaping’, and is accessible via parking and walking.
Walking vs. Getting there:
Redmond wants to be a ‘vibrant and desirable place for people to come to live, work and play.’ (Focus on Redmond, Fall 2015). Redmond crows about its ‘Walkability Ratings’ bicycle friendliness. These seem to benefit mainly the downtown corridor residents and businesses. Although walking or biking to work and play are a plus to the environment, these benefits are less than attractive to people who do not live in the exploding downtown corridor. If there are limited parking spaces or traffic is too dense, businesses will have fewer patrons and will suffer economically or close altogether.
As a parent and a nanny, I travel up and down 166th Ave NE several times every day dropping kids at schools, picking them up and driving them to activities. I have timed the ‘commute’ from 108th and 166th to 97th and 166th at 9:10 AM in the morning to be 16 minutes to travel 11 blocks. There are also the safety concerns of turning into or out of side streets and attempting to cross the lanes to the center median areas to consider. The City’s original plan to reduce a 4 lane road down to 2 lanes, install sidewalks, bike lanes and median/barriers with turning lanes down the center has turned into rush-hour traffic for those commuters driving in, around or through Redmond .
The cross walk at the TOP of the hill at 95th Ave. NE has very limited visibility to drivers coming up the hill. It’s no wonder the Council recently voted to remove the concrete medians down the center of 166th because they presented a safety hazard. In addition to the safety concerns involved with more construction and the additional cost; how will the removal of medians resolve the issue of traffic congestion, visibility or safety for those of us that use the road every day?
Getting to and from and around Redmond or shopping downtown during peak hours has become a nightmare. If you’ve driving on 166th, Hwy. 202 (Redmond-Woodinville Road) or Avondale any weekday morning or evening, you know that your commute gets longer and longer every day. These transportation issues are not slated to be projects for at least 5 years, if not longer. Are the residents of Redmond supposed to wait for Sound Transit/Light Rail to solve these problems? And, as the railway will only run parallel to I-520, how will this obviate the problems commuters are facing RIGHT NOW?
I’m wondering how many businesses will be able to survive another season of road construction, as the City is planning on renovating Cleveland Street again to create two-way traffic flow beginning in 2016. I say again as the construction of the Cleveland Street / Downtown corridor roadway just finished a few months ago.
Small vs. Big:
The City is proud to announce all their achievements, awards, recognitions and advancements highlighting the economic prosperity and growth of Redmond. It’s curious to me that while the Redmond Chamber of Commerce (now disbanded) supported many of the small businesses in Redmond; the current OneRedmond organization is made up of large corporations, developers and financiers that are in many cases not even locally owned.
Our current Mayor and a sitting council member are on the Board of Directors of OneRedmond; along with business people representing Banner Bank, Microsoft, Marriott, Group Health and NBE, among others. The list of investors is impressive as well with names such as Frontier, BJ’s Brewhouse, AT&T, Puget Sound Energy and Redmond Reporter.
Housing prices have sky-rocketed around the Puget Sound and Redmond is no different. Taxes continue to rise which increases rents and leases in kind. Affordability and environmental sustainability are two of the most recent buzz words the City is using to promote growth.
In addition to cost, value and being green, it’s important that residents of all economic levels can enjoy Redmond. This is a difficult task to accomplish by increasing population in neighborhoods and communities without including planning for parking and traffic considerations as well as parks, retail, and housing.
The City recently approved the sale of a property near the Downtown Park; with plans to build a 96-unit apartment complex. The “162Ten” complex is multi-level “green” building; allowing up to 2 resident’s per unit. With less than 30 parking spaces for the entire building; and the prospect of up to 192 residents in a limited area; the negative impact to the neighborhood could be disastrous.
Connections vs. relationships:
Redmond states they “connect with citizens through council meetings, neighborhood and community events.’ Council meetings are minimally attended, although televised on cable. Certain issues are recognized through articles in the Redmond Reporter or local blogs. However, citizens seem to be unhappy with the actual decisions made by council.
It’s clear to me that the council and Mayor believe they are connecting with the citizenry or Redmond; but also clear is that the actual needs and priorities of these citizens are either overlooked or misunderstood.
It’s been suggested in The Redmond Neighborhood blog that Neighborhood Associations have worked in other communities; a concept our council and Mayor have ignored. Without the recognition of citizen’s needs, desires and priorities the administration of our City is able to focus on the needs and desires of larger businesses and developers.
This leads me to the issue of “Economic Development” that the City is so busy promoting. Again, it is clear that the economy the City wants to develop is large and booming. Although the City posts their budget online, those without a calculator and a lot of paper may find themselves overwhelmed at the information and how it is presented.
I did a search on developer NBE (Natural and Built Environments); owned by Robert Pantley, a developer and a board member of OneRedmond. NBE is the developer who purchased the 162Ten property and plans to build a 96-unit residential complex there.
The online City of Redmond Budget Data (Check Register) lists that The City of Redmond has written checks for invoices totaling $309,050.77 of $315,229.09 ($300,000 for ‘Economic Development Support’, $15,229.09 for ‘Professional Services’) to NBE. The City continues to subsidize NBE with $100,000 per year of City funds.
It’s unclear (and eye-straining) to locate exactly how many other businesses in Redmond that the City supports ‘economically’ with annual installments of $100,000. It’s also unclear why not every business is receiving equal amounts of economic support from the City.
Just because you can:
Just because the City wants to add another 20,000 people to our locale, doesn’t mean we should. Residential levels that are calculated based on infrastructure proportions including transportation, services, schools and environmental stability. Our roads are strained and jammed; our schools are over-crowded and we’ve lost the friendly feel of Redmond by cramming buildings everywhere possible with a park, tree, statue or fountain thrown in for beauty.
How can the City continue to issue permits for building of single- and multi-level residential buildings with the knowledge that there are no classrooms, let alone seats or teachers for the incoming school age children that come with the families moving in? How can designs and permits continue to be approved for schools that are undersized for the residential areas they are located in? And how can the permits be continuously accepted for temporary classrooms (portables) that have shorter life-spans than permanent buildings? These aren’t just issued for the school district to face, but the responsibility of the City as well.
It’s certain that every one of us in Redmond have priorities that we value. What’s not so certain is that we’re willing to stand up and voice our values to the council and Mayor that represent us. If we don’t, we’re certain to live in a city that we no longer recognize.