The Snoqualmie Casino Ballroom was the center of discussion on Tuesday, Oct. 17, as the Snoqualmie Tribe held a forum for candidates in the running for Snoqualmie City Council seats.
Candidates for both the city council and mayoral races were invited to the event to answer questions about the tribe’s relationship with the city in the future, environmental stewardship of the Valley, and their visions for the future of the city.
Only eight of the 14 candidates attended the forum. The candidates were Fuzzy Fletcher for mayor; Bob Jeans and Cristie Coffing for Position 1; Lesley Sheppard for Position 2; Tom Wood for Position 3; Matt Laase for Position 5; Monica Lowney for Position 6; and Peggy Shepard for Position 7.
Snoqualmie incumbents Matt Larson, Katherine Ross, Bryan Holloway, Sean Sundwall, and Kathi Prewitt did not attend; Larson previously announced his reasons on Facebook for not attending the forum.
Position 5 has no incumbent on the ballot. Laase participated in the forum but challenger Terry Sorenson did not attend.
Current council member Jeans, the city council’s liaison with the Snoqualmie Tribal Council, was the only incumbent at the event.
Snoqualmie YMCA Executive Director Nate Smith, Snoqualmie Watershed Forum Project Coordinator Perry Falcone, and Professor of Journalism and Political Economy at Highline College Dr. T.M. Sell served as the forum moderators.
Each moderator asked prepared questions and audience-submitted questions of the candidates, who had 90 seconds to respond.
On the topic of the relationship between the city and the Tribe, all of the candidates agreed that in the past few years, communication between the two entities had deteriorated and should be addressed.
Each candidate said there are ways to repair the strained relationship, including finding common ground and working on projects collaboratively.
Coffing, running for position 1, said that she had seen city administrators act condescendingly toward tribal members at council meetings, which embarrassed her.
“What would I do, more informal meetings, more discussion, more dialogue.” Coffing said. “There is a multitude of projects that we can team up with the tribe and find a way to serve our youth and some really great cultural projects. One of my dreams is to have some sort of tribal cultural center down in the Valley, in downtown Snoqualmie, that not only educated the public on the tribe and their customs but also provided educational opportunities.”
Her opponent, Jeans, said he has seen the relationship get worse over the years, but in his role of city liaison to the Tribal Council he has been working all year to repair the relationship and increase communication.
“For years and years we could not talk to each other, there was a breakthrough in 2017 in a mediation trying to resolve issues of sewers and it got to the point where finally at the end of the mediation, city people were talking to tribal council people,” Jeans said. “Since then we’ve been having coffee meetings on a regular basis and it continues to improve.”
Growth, infrastructure, and sustainability were major themes throughout the night as the city is about to see a slowing in residential growth
Fletcher said that he has been characterized as a “no-growth candidate,” but he actually describes himself as a “slow growth candidate,” and wants to listen to the concerns of the citizens so he can best represent them.
He mentioned the mill site project, a proposed retail and warehouse development on the former Weyerhaeuser lumber mill and an EPA-designated Brownfield site due to chemical contamination, and said he was not comfortable with letting that development proceed without a thorough investigation of the contamination by the state.
“I am not a fan of the mill site project, I think environmentally it’s a disaster,” Fletcher said. “I would ask that the state come in and… look at it. If there is a space that can’t be built on we are not going to build on it. If it can be built on, we want to know about it. We want to know what the plot for the site looks like before we take any further action on it.”
Fletcher’s comments about slowing growth were echoed by all of the challengers, and Wood, who said he would like to see a pause in development to make sure the council was on the right path as to what the citizens want in their community. Wood cited a 2017 city survey in which 68 percent of respondents said the city was growing too fast.
“They were concerned about the rate of growth in the city. On the other hand, when you stop growing, you start dying,” Wood said. “We are looking for responsible, well reasoned, transparent growth from the city of Snoqualmie.”
Laase said that truly affordable housing was an important goal for the city in the future along with finding ways to move away from a reliance on property taxes. Both Laase, who is a member of the planning commission, and Jeans said the city has their comprehensive plan in place to guide development in a positive way.
“As it relates to constituents concerns it’s really important to address, as a member of the planning commission, we signed off on a comprehensive plan in 2015 that addressed many of those issues,” Laase said. “We need to give that a chance, the growth issues related around current discussions were projects that have been in the pipeline for a long time. Future projects, those need to have a close look at what the issue is and as we move forward, let’s make some solid choices and decide revenue for the sake of revenue is not good for the city.”
Inseparable from the question of development were discussions of conservation and land stewardship.
Lowney said the city’s water availability was her top priority when it came to conservation. She believed the rate of development would outpace the city’s water availability in the future, creating serious problems.
“The rate of development that the city of Snoqualmie is considering and not having the water capacity available for future development, is something I believe we need to consider heavily before moving forward with additional development projects,” she said. “As far as land stewardship. Just about everybody that lives in Snoqualmie moved here to cohabitate with nature. I believe our wildlife needs to be considered whether its a 5,000-seat outdoor amphitheater or a trucking distribution center or fires.”
Shepard also discussed the impacts of the mill site in relation to possible adverse effects on the environment. One of her biggest issues, she said, is conservation and she wanted to make sure thorough studies have been on the site.
“I think before you start lighting up all the things you can do with that property, it’s time for us to assess the property, including Borst Lake,” she said. “Borst Lake is really something we cannot turn our backs on. It’s in a flood area and we don’t know what it’s doing to all our water tables.”
Sheppard also brought up Snoqualmie’s role in the region and the unique situation the city finds itself in, making conservation and land stewardship even more important.
“We are in a floodplain and we are also at the top of a watershed that provides clean water to the entire Puget Sound,” she said. “So whatever issues other cities have, I feel ours are even more challenging and that much more important and that knowledge is going to be my lens through which I see every single development going forward.”
In their closing statements, the candidates reiterated their desire to serve the citizens and to continue maintaining Snoqualmie’s reputation as a great place to live.