Monday, August 08, 2005

DOT Whistleblowers strike back at alleged wrongdoing in DOT - Part 1

King County DOT and DDES perform the technical reviews on development applications. The fees and mitigation the county obtains as a result of approving permits funds DOT, DOT projects, and DDES. This revenue source is so critical to these departments, that I've been told that memos are actually circulated throughout these agencies warning employees of the impacts to their departments, including layoffs if permits are denied.

In 2002, 5 years after Redmond Ridge had been approved - and another long story I'll save for some other time, King County received a subdivision application from a private landowner with a 20-acre parcel wishing to subdivide it into 4 5-acre lots (you'll have to excuse me if these numbers are not exactly correct, but they are somewhat irrelevant to my point, except for their relative small size).

The county denied this guy's application on the basis that Novelty Hill Road could not handle one single more car. (All of this development is occurring in the rural area 3 miles east of Redmond.) He appealed and was denied again. He was only trying to add, something like 1.1 car trips to the Novelty Hill Road PM commute, but the road was already well over capacity as a result of Redmond Ridge and Trilogy, so King County DOT denied his application on the basis that he could not obtain a concurrency certificate to allow a single car added to the road.

Later that year, Quadrant Homes submitted an 800-home application for Redmond Ridge East, the last phase of their urbanization project. King County denied their application, but then suddenly approved their traffic concurrency certificate. The concurrency process is not a public one, but an application cannot be even submitted unless a traffic concurrency certificate is approved. No one would know this had been granted until October 2003 when events would make documents available to the public - outside the normal process.

In DOT there are 2 camps of traffic planners. There is the TFDM group that is responsible for building the current road model, and their is the TFM group that takes their model, updates it for future projects and impacts, and determines whether a new development proposal can be supported by the road network. TFM is more regularly called the Concurrency Group.

So in 2002 when the Concurrency Group granted Quadrant Homes a concurrency certificate, without requiring any additional road funds to improve area roads like Novelty Hill road, 5 members of the TFDM group objected, stating an assortment of improper and illegal actions committed by the Concurrency group to help Quadrant win their certificate. It's quite a list and documented very well in their complaint.

The certificate did not require Quadrant to pay for any road improvements to support their 800-home project, continuing a secret policy within DOT to help Quadrant avoid the hundreds of millions of dollars the taxpayers are now on the hook to pay to support Redmond Ridge and Trilogy, approved in 1997 and 1996, respectively.

The supervisor of the TFDM group, Ho-Chuan Chen, PHD, was asked repeatedly to endorse decisions made by the Concurrency group that he disagreed with and he refused. Chen and the TFDM group repeatedly refused to endorse the Concurrency group's actions until they were simply no longer allowed to participate in meetings related to Redmond Ridge East or reviews of concurrency group actions.

They went to their own management and could not get their support. They filed a Whistleblower complaint in February 2003 against the Concurrency Group alleging a myriad of wrongdoing by their KCDOT colleagues for Redmond Ridge East, as well as other development, including false testimony by the Concurrency Group made before the King County Council on road ordinances.

In October 2003, an anonymous tip was mailed to several activists and others in the Bear Creek area. Its attachments were not included, but since it had been emailed months earlier to members of the King County Council, District 3 Council representative Kathy Lambert emailed me the other 3 document attachments. They included email threads requesting an Ombudsman investigation, another addressing retaliation, and another challenging the hand-picked investigator who was to investigate their allegations.

After receiving the tip and other documentation myself, I made a request of the Sheriff's Office to launch a criminal investigation of the Concurrency Group based on the allegations of the whistleblowers. Their response was:

November 24, 2003

RE: Request for Criminal Investigation

Dear Mr. Costello,

Thank you for your email letter dated November 12, 2003. My staff has completed a review of the information that you have provided to us and we have contacted Director Amy Calderwood of the King County Ombudsman Office (Ombudsman case number 2003-00303). The Office of the Ombudsman has assured us that a thorough investigation of this complaint is under way.

The Ombudsman Office may make a referral or recommendation to the appropriate law enforcement agency at the conclusion of their investigation. If the assistance of the King County Sheriff’s Office is sought, we will certainly assist them in this process.



Fabienne L. Brooks,
Criminal Investigations Division

I laughed out loud at the deferring of a criminal investigation from the Sheriff's Office to the hired defender of the county's growth machine. As I saw it, Reichert was willfully failing to perform his duty as sheriff, but public officials failing to perform their duty had become more the standard surrounding these developments, so I didn't get overly excited about it.

The Ombudsman allowed DOT to hand-pick the firm that would perform the "independent investigation". The whistleblowers objected to no avail. David Evans & Associates was doing the EIS for another controversial Weyerhaeuser project called Grouse Ridge, and it was totally inappropriate for DOT to hire them as an" independent" judge of the Concurrency group's actions, especially with Weyerhaeuser the developer involved in both projects . The whistleblowers listed their own reasons DEA was the wrong choice based on their expertise and ability to perform such a complex review, but the fix was in. DOT got their "independent" investigator, and the whitewash started.

Then things got really interesting. See Part 2 coming soon.

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