North Bend is a city of contrasts, holding the enviable position of being home to many recreational opportunities and just off an interstate highway that drives both retail and tourism business, while also being home to thousands of residents already frustrated with the city’s traffic, growth and more on the horizon.
Candidates for two seats on the North Bend City Council, Ross Loudenback and Rich Wiltshire for Position 4, and Alan Gothelf for Position 2, discussed how they might strike balance within the competing demands on the city at a Snoqualmie Valley Chamber of Commerce forum, Wednesday, Oct. 18 at the Mount Si Senior Center in North Bend. That balance, they all agreed would improve with North Bend having a greater say on issues through regional partnerships.
“We have very little control of things that happen outside our community,” said Alan Gothelf, whose opponent, Ryan Stothers, did not attend the event. “The only way we can mitigate it would be to get involved very early and make sure we’re communicating with our regional partners,” including King County.
It’s also proactive, he said, adding that one of the greatest benefits of regional collaboration to the city has been its relationship with Eastside Fire and Rescue, an eight-community partnership on fire protection. Gothelf currently serves as the Eastside Fire and Rescue board chairperson.
“The services we get from that are probably the lowest cost and best services we can get for a rural community. You don’t get the response times we get from Eastside Fire & Rescue in any other community.”
Gothelf said he’d like local agencies in Snoqualmie and Fall City to join the partnership, and would like to see a similar partnership form for police services.
Wiltshire, who is challenging incumbent Loudenback for Position 4, agreed, saying “We do need to have that connection between all the cities, because we’re all in the same Valley, we’re all in the same family, we’re all trying to do the same things… we’re trying to keep our towns small.” He also noted that “we have a lot of county surrounding us, so there are things we can’t control and things we can… we need their involvement.”
“It’s very important that we have representation and good working relationships with everyone up and down the Valley,” said Loudenback, who is currently representing the city on the Public Issues Committee of the Sound Cities Association. “It’s essential that you listen and work together…. there are real opportunities for us to work together and get even closer to our partner governments here in the Valley.”
Moderator William Shaw, general manager of the Snoqualmie Valley Record, led the candidates through a series of questions on traffic congestion solutions and the city’s accelerating growth, from economic development to infrastructure needs, plus a few “curveball” questions about their own growth in office and on the campaign trail.
They agreed, at a high level, on issues of city infrastructure, business development, the North Bend Downtown Foundation and the city’s continuing need to connect with citizens through more venues such as social media. The candidates split, though, on the issue of trucking, raised by a question about the proposed relocation of a Washington State Patrol weigh station from a spot on Interstate-90 outside Snoqualmie to a spot outside North Bend.
“Do you support this change, and since the new location is outside city limits should you, or the city, even have a say,” Shaw asked.
“Of course we should have a say,” Loudenback said, on anything affecting traffic patterns around the city, and particularly freight trucks, “because those trucks are not just going to be on the highway, they’re going to come onto North Bend streets and north Bend streets are heavily impacted… we need trucks, we need truckers, we appreciate the trucking industry… but at the same time, the impacts on our roads are significant, and we need to be able to address that.”
Wiltshire said “I don’t have a problem with the trucking industry, or this weigh station.” He did have a problem with the trucks lining up along the freeway and off-ramps during unsafe winter weather, though, saying it was hazardous for truck drivers and passenger vehicles alike, trying to navigate the narrow corridors created by all the parked semis. “If this is going to get those trucks off the highway, and they’re going to be safe, and we’re going to be safe, I’m all for it,” he said.
Gothelf cited the same concerns about trucks parked on the freeway and trucks affecting city streets. He also emphasized that trucking both benefited and created problems for more than just the North Bend area, so the city should be alone in finding a solution to where trucks can park.
“There needs to be a regional solution to the trucking issue…let’s try to talk regionally, not only with the city people but the people outside in King County, to make sure our concerns are heard and this is developed in a manner that will least impact us and also give us some money, the dollars that we need to solve the issues that are important to the community.”
Incumbents Gothelf and Loudenback both praised city staff for finding significant grant funding ($1.4 million) to pay for the $1.6 million downtown plaza project, when asked how they’d fund city infrastructure projects. They also talked about some of the complaints from businesses during the now nearly complete project, and noted that the city responded to their complaints by providing a parking map and hiring a sign spinner to direct people to the businesses that were open.
Wiltshire also approved of the sign spinner but not the downtown plaza project itself, saying “I still don’t understand the value of the project.”
They also were divided on the proposed new city hall. Loudenback and Gothelf described the deteriorating condition of the existing building and said the city would use savings and proceeds from selling other properties to fund the project. Wiltshire didn’t see the need for a new city hall, and noted that the current building on Main Avenue, would soon have a winery and restaurant as tenants, as well.
The three concurred on the need for the sewer plant improvements, estimated at $27 million to be funded by a series of sewer rate and connection fee increases approved by the council last year.
The biggest issue of the evening, by far, was growth, both residential and commercial, and the candidates had mixed praise for the city’s work on slowing growth, preserving open spaces and fostering businesses to date.
“I believe the city is doing a really good job on the open spaces,” said Wiltshire. “As far as development, I think we need to slow it… if I had it my way, we’d just stop it for a bit, fix what we need to fix, and then let it go on.”
Realistically, though, he said he knew it wasn’t possible to stop growth, “but I think we need to do it smart,” by making developers pay for the growth they are bringing. He noted that housing developers don’t pay some impact fees until their houses are sold, but they should be paying once they start having an impact on the community.
Loudenback agreed that the city was doing well preserving open spaces but added that more could be done.
“In terms of the growth and the impact fees, we here in the city of North Bend have gone from a $1,000 traffic impact fee to an $11,000 impact fee. We’re the second highest in the state. We have other significant impact fees. And the GFC charges to the developers are collected up front.”
It’s a state law that delays payment of impact fees until a home is occupied, he added, and it “is not anything we can change.”
“We’ve done a good job of significantly slowing the growth in the city of North Bend. We have several temporary moratoriums in place right now,” he added, to give the council time to reconsider density and dimensional standards and other issues.
Gothelf circled back to the sewer plant issue during his response to a question on how to mitigate the city’s rapid growth, emphasizing that the plant updates were not growth related, but were necessary because “we were in moratorium for 10 years, and we deferred a lot of (maintenance) on that sewer plant. By law, we cannot pass on deferred maintenance, or maintenance, to new residents coming in.”
He added that “it has always been a focus of the city council, growth paying for growth,” and listed several actions the city has taken in recent years to reduce density and to purchase open spaces to preserve it from future development, “where economically feasible.”
Business growth was a high-demand item for each of the candidates. Asked what businesses the city had enough of and which he’d like to see more of, Loudenback said he was reluctant to discourage any building from coming to North Bend.
“Any business that can sustain itself and can move forward and add to the community … those people are in business and staying in business and they’re producing for the community, so to discourage them by category is not something I’m going to do. If they’re a quality business and want to come to North Bend and want to participate, and want to contribute, I’d like to see them.”
That included “job-producing businesses that can get as close to a living wage as we can,” such as distribution and retail, and outdoor recreation.
Gothelf hoped to see additional restaurants in the city and was excited to see the planned growth of local lumberyard Chinook Lumber.
Wiltshire said “I get very excited when I see local businesses starting up,” and hoped to see retail shops similar to Birches, and outdoor recreation shops like Pro Ski.
Supporting businesses, they agreed, was a responsibility, not only for the city, but also for individual residents. Gothelf said that more than 70 percent of the city’s tax revenue came from its businesses, so it was in the city’s interests to make doing business there easy, to not over-regulate, and to do “anything we can do to encourage local businesses.”
Loudenback added that “there’s a lot we can do,” thanks in part to the city’s proximity to Interstate 90, a huge economic driver for the region.
The candidates shared some personal insights, too, when Shaw asked them about what they’ve learned about themselves while serving in office or on the campaign trail.
Loudenback learned “You have to apply yourself,” he said, and be open to new ideas, even when that results in abandoning old ideas and what some would call flip-flopping. It’s not, he said. “A lot of times you evolve your position based on the information you receive.”
Wiltshire had similar revelations. “You have to go in open minded…” he said, “You can’t go in and say this is the way it’s going to be,” because “If you’re stuck that way, you’re not going to be successful and the city’s not going to be successful.”
Gothelf’s lessons included showing solidarity with a council vote, even when it doesn’t go his way.
“Sometimes you might not be on the right side of an issue, but it’s important for you to pivot as a councilman, to support what we chose as a council.” He offered as an example, his vote in 2012 against contracting with Snoqualmie for police services, “but the minute that vote was done, it was my job to make sure that vote was implemented the best possible way for our citizens. And sometimes, down the line, you realize it was a better decision than you thought.”
In their closing statements, each candidate emphasized his love for the city and his desire to serve it.
The final Snoqualmie Valley Chamber of Commerce forum is 11:30 a.m. Wednesday, Oct. 25, at The Club at Snoqualmie Ridge, featuring Snoqualmie mayoral candidates Matt Larson and Fuzzy Fletcher. Make reservations at www.snovalley.org.