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Coffee with... Snoqualmie Mayor Matt Larson
By Dan Catchpole
To the casual observer, Matt Larson's professional life might not make much sense. He earned a degree in theology degree, ran a youth group ministry in Renton, became a graphic designer, transitioned into house design, and today, is Snoqualmie's mayor. It is not a typical career trajectory, consisting of seemingly disparate strands. But that is Larson. He pulls together different elements to construct a whole product or idea.
Larson combines a love for the big picture with an appreciation of practical matters. He chose to go to St. John's in Minnesota over the University of San Diego because he figured he'd get a better education for his money (and spend less time at the beach) in Minnesota.
But it was a road trip as a teenager that brought him to Washington state. He'd fallen in love with the Northwest's natural beauty. Neither he nor his wife, Jennifer, had real hometowns, so with no jobs, they moved to Mercer Island in the mid-1980s.
Another road trip in 1998 brought Larson and his family to Snoqualmie Valley. He drove his children up to Snoqualmie Falls on a summer afternoon, and on the way back, made a detour through Snoqualmie Ridge, which had just recently opened to the public.
Larson had been designing houses for nearly a decade, and was interested in community planning, especially “new urbanism,” which downplays cars and encourages interaction between people.
“This was the first community I had seen that had really done that,” Larson said.
He quickly drove his wife up through the Ridge's narrow, pedestrian-friendly streets. They quickly decided to move.
“We chose the most beautiful area in the most beautiful state,” he said.
Larson never intended to get involved in politics, but his belief in the Ridge's design concept prompted him to join the Parks Board and then the Planning Board. Finally he ran for Snoqualmie City Council becoming the first Ridge resident in the town's government.
The Ridge had become a popular whipping boy for some Snoqualmie residents. Larson wanted to defend what he thought was “one of the most carefully master-planned communities in the state, if not on the West Coast.”
Larson has tried to bring different sides together to find solutions to issues, but he often found himself serving as a lightning rod for issues between historic Snoqualmie and the Ridge.
“You often try to find the win-win in politics, and sometimes you can't do that – someone's going to lose,” he said.
He points to the city's fire station and library as examples of when practicality had to override consensus between historic Snoqualmie and the Ridge, where over 80 percent of the city's population lives.
“We can't just submit to historical sentiment. We have to make the right decision,” Larson said.
Running a Catholic youth ministry in Renton prepared him for public life.
“There's no more stressful politics than teenagers and people invested in an organization where changes have eternal implications,” Larson said.
Today, the city faces skyrocketing infrastructure costs, the disappearance of state and federal money and a steep drop off in local revenue, due to the weak real estate market and economic recession.
“I think we're going to be looking at a couple of years...when things are going to be tough,” Larson said.