Candidates for King County Council, District 3, John Murphy and incumbent Kathy Lambert, took part in a candidate forum Sept. 27 at the Snoqualmie Valley Chamber of Commerce luncheon at The Club at Snoqualmie Ridge. (Carol Ladwig/Staff Photo)

County Council candidates prioritize traffic in Snoqualmie forum

What mattered most to the two candidates for the District 3 seat on the Metropolitan King County Council last week was how county residents get around. They just approached the issue from different angles.

At the Sept. 27 Snoqualmie Valley Chamber of Commerce luncheon, both candidates took part in a round of questioning led by moderator Earl Bell, and for their final question, they were asked to name the one priority they’d choose to focus on, “to bring about positive change.”

“There’s no doubt, it would be roads. I’m very concerned about roads,” said King County Councilman Kathy Lambert. She explained that roads and traffic affect how people get home, and how they feel when they get home. She noted that the county’s roads and bridges task force was working on a solution. “And I hope something will be on the November ballot next year, and I hope people will support it. I know people are getting so frustrated by tax increases, but this is the one that I think is really important. We have a $40 billion asset and it is not being taken care of.”

“For me, it’s bus service. I’ve talked to the mayors, they’ve struggled long and hard to get adequate bus service out here,” said Lambert’s challenger, John Murphy. He noted that area traffic is regularly gridlocked as close by as Issaquah, “so bus service will be especially important to my agenda, and restoring bus service to the Valley, in a meaningful way, probably a little bit on an accelerated basis.”

Lambert, a Redmond resident, is seeking a third term representing District 3. She has previously served as a 45th District Representative, owned a business and taught school. She mentioned her years of experience in her introduction, adding, “I am the grandmother of 17, so I have lots of experience with negotiating.”

It was a guaranteed laugh line, but also something Lambert wanted to emphasize, about her work. “That’s a very important part of being a legislator, getting people to work together, making sure everyone’s views get heard.”

Murphy, a North Bend resident since 1988 is, an attorney, holds physician’s assistant credentials and is a retired EF&R firefighter and Navy corpsman.

“I’m running for King County Council District 3 to provide the voters an Eastside representative to improve outcomes on issues that are important to us on the Eastside,” he said in his introduction. “I’ve dedicated my life to public service.”

Murphy also said he was accustomed to working with many elected officials, and it’s from the mayors he’s spoken to that he learned that “a major problem was the reduction of bus service out here, especially express bus service into Bellevue and Seattle.”

Bus service

On how to improve bus service to the area, Murphy said, ”Part of it has to do with funding,” including property taxes residents pay here and the sales taxes they pay in larger retail centers, which don’t necessarily benefit them.

Lambert noted that while King County Metro has cut service hours to the area, “there will be some more hours coming in three different waves.” The county will also receive federal funding to buy more buses. She added, though, that “the most important thing for us here is alternative services… because for most of us, it’s how do we get that last mile.” Alternative services include the Snoqualmie Valley Shuttle, and “We have to build up our ridership out here.”

“The thing that concerns me the most is the roads,” Lambert continued, and roads was the topic of the next question.

Bell then asked the candidates how to keep our rural roads maintained.

“It is the one problem that makes me stay up at night,” Lambert answered. “Most everything else has a solution, this one doesn’t.”

The problem is the funding formula, Lambert said. Only 200,000 unincorporated property owners in King County are paying to maintain the county’s 1,500 miles of rural roads, “and that is not OK; 2.1 million people use those roads, and 2.1 million people need to pay for those roads.”

The tax base of unincorporated King County generates only $96 million for road maintenance annually, she added, while the actual cost is closer to $500 million.

“Roads were a huge issue when I moved here,” recalled Murphy, particularly as the area grew and his department’s fire and emergency vehicles needed to get down increasingly narrow streets and roads.

More studies are not the solution, Murphy said. “We’ve been throwing these technical solutions at these problems… we need to bring in some different ways to think about the problem and solutions.”

He suggested one.

Take a look at some of these big businesses we give significant tax breaks to; can we do some sort of public-private partnership in order to make a big impact on the roads that their employees use.”

He acknowledged that “we do have an issue with money,” and said that transferring money away from roads and into police services is not a solution.

Housing

Bell noted that the county has experienced tremendous population growth, without a corresponding housing supply increase. He asked the candidates their thoughts on both increasing the availability and affordability of housing.

Both candidates mentioned the less than successful Growth Management Act and its aim to create density within city limits to preserve more open spaces. And both agreed that people were moving out of the area for the lack of housing.

“People are living out of the jurisdiction… in order to find affordable housing,” said Murphy.

“People are migrating. They’re driving until they can afford to buy,” said Lambert.

Murphy drew a distinction between available an affordable housing, though, and said, “We need to create the sort of environment… where we can have a certain percentage of new housing that’s being built … that affords someone an opportunity to live and work in the community, who may not be at the highest echelon of salary.”

Lambert saw the county’s role in solving the problem to be changing its zoning and simplifying permitting processes to allow homes to be built. That included diverse housing types, for singles, families and seniors. Of the county’s current housing projects, she said, 78 percent of them were for multi-family projects, which did not appeal to everyone. “It’s important you have a variety of housing types.”

She also said the region needed to plan better for the people that were expected to come, which included roughly 48,000 people last year alone.

Land use

Asked for a specific instance of when the county should move the boundary lines, Lambert answered “There are 14 specifications in the law… that tell you when the Growth Management Act is working, and one of them is you have affordable housing, and one is you have good transportation.” Since those conditions aren’t met, she said, the line should be moved, but through a consensus between cities and county about where growth and roads should go.

Murphy said the question indicated that growth has already exceeded the area’s ability to absorb it, and that any boundary adjustment should call for citizen input and education. “Do we want a lot of growth in our back yard or do we want to make sure it’s equally distributed…. The way it all comes down is ‘how am I going to be affected by this new growth that’s coming into the community?’” he said, which emphasized the importance of “getting the citizens involved, and getting them educated as to what the urban growth boundary is all about, how can we do the expansion without adversely impacting the infrastructure…”

Another question was “Should cities in rural East King County be concerned about the county’s land conservation initiative?”

“Yes, you should be concerned, and my feeling is you should vote no,” said Lambert. The county is already responsible for maintaining 62 percent of the area’s open space, she said, and not doing a very good job of that, based on the annual noxious weeds report, she noted, and the county bought more land to protect each year.

“We already have a Conservation Futures fund with which we buy thousands and thousands of acres every year,” she said, adding that she was opposed to buying more land with a new tax revenue source, without actually knowing how much land to buy and when to stop, because roads and other infrastructure also needed funding.

“It depends,” said Murphy. “I think the issue is we don’t want to be landlords of the county, but there are good reasons we are the landlords.”

He proposed looking at how to “meter out” the land currently owned into uses that the county needs, such as affordable housing and farmland or maintaining it as open space.

“I think the property the county owns was purchased for a very good reason,” he said. “We need to have another metering control in place to make sure we’re doing the right thing at the right time, and for the right reasons.”

A final question for each candidate was to talk about mistakes they’ve learned from.

Murphy said he could be impatient, wanting to work on solutions before fully understanding the issue, but that he has learned to slow down and give issues the deliberation they need. However, he added, that 20 years of deliberating on transportation issues was long enough.

Lambert said her challenge was managing the size of the job and the volume of information that came with it. She said she’d learned from a few surprises in how past votes went that “you need to be very specific about what you want to happen,” and to make sure that all voices are heard in the process.

Lambert’s campaign website is http://www.kathylambert.com.

Murphy’s campaign website is https://johnmurphy.nationbuilder.com.

Moderator Earl Bell thanks candidates Kathy Lambert and John Murphy for attending the Sept. 27 Snoqualmie Valley Chamber of Commerce luncheon and candidate forum for King County Council, District 3. (Carol Ladwig/Staff Photo)

Kathy Lambert said roads and maintenance would be her top priority if she is re-elected to the King County Council, District 3. (Carol Ladwig/Staff Photo)

John Murphy said improving bus service throughout the county, but especially in the Valley, would be his top priority if he’s elected to the King County Council. (Carol Ladwig/Staff Photo)

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