Thursday, August 24, 2006

The utter futility of opposing land use decisions in King County

I wanted to make one more comment about land use decisions in King County.

In 1994, virtually every citizen in the Bear Creek area knew that King County was full of it when they claimed that Novelty Hill Road could handle cars from 3,650 homes and a 1.7 million square foot business park, commercial and retail area. But in 1994, no one probably imagined the extent to which their government would cheat for a developer.

It wasn't until after Redmond Ridge and Trilogy had been approved in 1997 that one citizen decided to investigate whether the county had done an honest analysis of concurrency or not. And when this person discovered that the county hadn't even included the study in the record for Redmond Ridge or Trilogy, he knew something was going on that smelled really bad.

Only through Public Disclosure Requests and his willingness to go down to KCDOT and sort through boxes of unsorted materials related to the traffic study, the analysis - as best it could be put together - was revealed. That review of the analysis revealed nothing but distortions, unreasonable assumptions, and bogus data at every turn. If you want to call them "mistakes", every single mistake benefitted the development and the developer. Not a single mistake could be found that benefitted the communities that these projects have forever altered.

They were not mistakes!

It was too late to use this information to halt Redmond Ridge and Trilogy, because Ron Sims and KCDOT had no interest in reopening hearings or even correcting the data. Sims refused a Supplemental EIS and helped DOT cover-up its fatally flawed analysis by allowing them an eqaully flawed "do over" that the public was not allowed to even comment on. Those two projects exist today despite the only official traffic study being totally discredited by Sims himself in 1998, but never replaced with an honest one.

So this knowledge of how DOT "cooked the books" for developers was shared with other opponents of other irresponsible development, primarily on the Sammamish Plateau. In one instance, the data actually helped guide a paid consultant into convincing the hearing examiner that KCDOT had cheated for that developer. A settlement was reached in that instance, but ultimately the Sammamish Plateau incorporated itself; freeing itself from the county's regular "bait and switch" dollar flipping techniques used in the county's CIP projects.

Thousands of permits, many of them alleged to have been granted by King County using similar "arbitrary and capricious" means, were protected by the newly elected city council. Their elections occurred in a very ugly election where the builders on the Plateau worked to keep their county-approved permits in place. With the defeat of every one of the candidates interested in responsible growth, including review of the county's previous actions, the new city of Sammamish imposed a moritorium on new development. But no one can claim to recognize the existence of that moritorium given the non-stop construction in Sammamish since incorporation, based primarily on those thousands of county-approved permits. The roads are slowly being improved in Sammamish as the city's elected leaders focus on Sammamish and are held accountable by its voters.

King County learned a long time ago that by funding a critical road project in the 6-year CIP, they could approve a development despite the lack of capacity in the road network to support it. As soon as that development was approved, they could then yank those dollars out of the related road project and apply them to the next road project needed to justify the next development. The technique is one of most significant reasons growth has outpaced roads in King County, and it is a tactic that is still being used today.

That strategy was used with Redmond Ridge and Trilogy. CIP #100992 entered the books in 1992 to widen Novelty Hill Road and provide the capacity needed to support these two developments. But that project never happened. It still hasn't happened yet in 2006, but the same old game was played again in 2002 when Quadrant applied for a new 800-home development called Redmond Ridge East. The same CIP was used to justify Redmond Ridge East, and even though it still doesn't have a plan, EIS, full funding or approval, it is capacity on the books that DOT has given Quadrant.

The difference with Redmond Ridge East was that the opposition was onto both the tricks used by KCDOT, and the department's willingness to invent, distort, corrupt and cheat wherever needed to help Quadrant again. This time there were also DOT employees within the TFDM group that also stood up and objected to what the DOT concurrency group was doing. Through a series of alleged actions by DOT supervisors against these "whistleblowers", including DOT director Linda Dougherty as described in a Seattle Times, July 2005 article below, the objectors were removed from any involvement in the matter so Redmond Ridge East could get its concurrency certificate.
"Dougherty and Lindwall say that under a law that protects public employees, they should be given immunity in this case because they did not know they were violating anyone's civil rights by excluding Barahimi and Chen from meetings, putting their names to decisions they did not make, hiring an outside consultant to redo their work or by demoting them."
But in the public hearings for Redmond Ridge East in 2005, something truly miraculous occurred. With the knowledge of the Redmond Ridge and Trilogy manipulation, and with the help of the whistleblowers, the KCDOT concurrency group's analysis was ripped to shreds. So much so that the King County Hearing Examiner recommended denial of the application and rescinding of its ill-gotten concurrency certificate.

Last week the King County Council completely ignored that long fought battle and the examiner's findings. The recommendations were both ignored and the King County Council gave Quadrant its approval for Redmond Ridge East. The county called it phased, but with hundreds of homes approved before Quadrant has to do much of anything, it was just another wholesale sellout by the County Council.

A fight like this will likely never happen again in King County. Why would anyone attempt it? It started over a decade ago here, and if one lesson has been learned it is that in this county the entire land use process is only for show. Republicans and Democrats in leadership, with the possible exception of Kathy Lambert today, couldn't care less about concurrency, fairness, retaliation against employees, or certainly the communities they've sworn an oath to protect.

So with this said, I'll probably not talk about concurrency or land use in King County again (at least for a while). The reality I've come to accept is that there has never been a concurrency policy in King County, except perhaps for DOT to find ways to subvert it. The land use process in King County is nothing but a facade to suggest to the people that a process exists and big developers like Quadrant don't run the county's development machine. The truth is that for certain developers, the process works to simply drive out opposition so King County can give their friends in the industries of growth everything they wanted from the start.

A fantastic example of the collusion between the county and developers like Quadrant occurred last month, when Quadrant's lawyer Richard Wilson, was authroized to speak on behalf of King County's DOT and DDES in the Redmond Ridge East appeal hearing. The visual was so very appropriate, as Wilson argued the unfairness to Quadrant should Redmond Ridge East be denied, while speaking for Quadrant and for two King County agencies that are supposed to represent the interests of county citizens and the communities being overwhelmed by growth.

That's it. Thanks for reading.

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