Ear­li­er this week, I met up with  Belle­vue City Coun­cil can­di­date John Stokes in a Red­mond cof­fee shop.  John and I are con­nect­ed through our edu­ca­tion advo­ca­cy work and I know him to be a deep thinker and a ded­i­cat­ed advo­cate for chil­dren.  I want­ed to find out more about his deci­sion to run for office and what he hopes to do for Belle­vue.  It turns out that John’s school advo­ca­cy has led to him to greater involve­ment in city activ­i­ties where he’s dis­cov­ered that Bellevue’s lead­ers are defi­cient in pro­gres­sive values.

Here are some high­lights from our conversation:

KATHLEEN: Hi John. So tell me, why are you run­ning for Belle­vue City Council?

JOHN: It was a cul­mi­na­tion of work done in the past with edu­ca­tion and parks—I’m on the parks and com­mu­ni­ty ser­vices board—and I’m very inter­est­ed in see­ing light rail come through Bellevue.

I’ve been in Belle­vue for twen­ty years and real­ly want to see Belle­vue con­tin­ue with smart growth and do things in a more pro­gres­sive way so that we con­tin­ue to have a liv­able city that is also eco­nom­i­cal­ly vital.

We have chang­ing demo­graph­ics.  We have a much more diverse city and I’m con­cerned that a lot of the cur­rent poli­cies are not direct­ed towards the whole city but are more focused on cer­tain parts of downtown.

KATHLEEN: What areas of the city do you feel are being neglected?

JOHN: There’s a down­town-cen­tric view by some devel­op­ers and some peo­ple.  There are oth­er devel­op­ers look­ing at growth areas in the Bel-Red cor­ri­dor and the I‑90/Eastgate cor­ri­dor.  Cross­roads and some neigh­bor­hood cen­ters are in decline.  A lot of lead­ers don’t think about the fact that Belle­vue is a large city and most of it lies east of Inter­state 405, and a lot of things need to be done to that part of the city as well as downtown.

KATHLEEN: What skills or expe­ri­ences will you bring to the city coun­cil that make you bet­ter suit­ed to rep­re­sent Belle­vue cit­i­zens than your oppo­nent Aaron Laing?

JOHN: First, I bring 20 years of direct involve­ment in the com­mu­ni­ty, work­ing in the schools.  I’ve been a leader in every [school] bond and levy cam­paign, active as a PTA leader, and in the Belle­vue Schools Foun­da­tion for nine years, and as head of the Belle­vue Bridg­ing the Achieve­ment Gap com­mit­tee.   I’ve been on the school dis­trict fis­cal advi­so­ry and instruc­tion­al mate­ri­als com­mit­tees and on the Parks and Com­mu­ni­ty Ser­vices Board.  I’ve been involved in the plan­ning and imple­men­ta­tion of park lands.

The oth­er dif­fer­ence is I’m not sup­port­ed by Kem­per Free­man and cer­tain nar­row inter­ests down­town.  I have a broad range of sup­port.  And I’m part of and sup­port­ed by Move Belle­vue For­ward, a group that is very inter­est­ed in see­ing light rail come to down­town, through the city and not bypass the city.

KATHLEEN: What val­ues will you use to guide your deci­sion-mak­ing on the council?

JOHN: I think the over­all val­ue is what is best to keep Belle­vue a vibrant, grow­ing city that encom­pass­es all the diver­si­ty in Belle­vue and that works to see that all of our cit­i­zens have oppor­tu­ni­ty and access to ser­vices, and that we pro­mote job growth with­out sac­ri­fic­ing envi­ron­men­tal con­cerns or just build­ing more roads and big piles of concrete.

KATHLEEN: What are the cit­i­zens of Belle­vue con­cerned about?

JOHN: They’re con­cerned about spe­cif­ic things in their neigh­bor­hood and light rail.  But what has been over­ar­ch­ing, has been a desire for sol­id, strong lead­er­ship with a vision for mov­ing for­ward and not want­i­ng to just keep sta­tus quo.  I’ve been pleas­ant­ly sur­prised with that.

KATHLEEN: So, John, because of the reces­sion, the most recent­ly passed city bud­get, for 2011–2012, devi­at­ed from Bellevue’s typ­i­cal long-term plan­ning approach.  Would you have allo­cat­ed funds dif­fer­ent­ly in this budget?

JOHN: I can’t specif­i­cal­ly say that I would have real­lo­cat­ed funds unless I was involved in the process, but I do think that it is a mis­take to not keep plan­ning for the future.  I believe that there is a future and that we are going to get out of the reces­sion and that to me, peo­ple are using the reces­sion as an excuse for a dif­fer­ent agen­da of low­er­ing tax­es and cut­ting back peo­ple’s expec­ta­tions of ser­vices, so that in the end it ben­e­fits peo­ple who don’t want to pay impact fees. We have a real prob­lem of prop­er­ty own­ers and devel­op­ers who don’t want to pay their share of growth that will ulti­mate­ly ben­e­fit them enormously.

It’s a real neg­a­tive that peo­ple are using the cur­rent finan­cial sit­u­a­tion to project out very decreased gov­ern­ment activ­i­ty over a long time.  I think that is wrong.  I think we can be fru­gal.  We have to always try to use our resources the best way pos­si­ble, but if it takes going out to the cit­i­zens and ask­ing for resources then I think that we ought to be able to do that.  We’ve done it with bonds and levies for schools. We did a half a bil­lion bond for school con­struc­tion.  That took vision, and that took guts.  We did a parks levy that peo­ple vot­ed 67% for.

So I believe that if we talked to peo­ple about what’s at stake, and we have a good track record, that peo­ple will do it. I think that it’s part of the com­pact between peo­ple and their gov­ern­ment.  That it’s just a way to make things hap­pen for peo­ple.  It’s not gov­ern­ment grab­bing tax­es, tak­ing from peo­ple, it’s peo­ple con­tribut­ing to their benefit.

Please return next week for part two of my vis­it with John Stokes and find out what John is “absolute­ly, unal­ter­ably, unequiv­o­cal­ly opposed to” as we look at trans­porta­tion and plan­ning for growth in Belle­vue. (Hint: NPI does­n’t like it either.)

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