Last 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. In part one of our conversation, posted last week, we discussed John’s background and vision. Part two continues the series with a discussion of light rail and city growth.
Here are some conversation highlights:
KATHLEEN: John, what do you think about Tim Eyman’s anti-transportation initiative, I‑1125?
JOHN: I am absolutely, unalterably, unequivocally opposed to I‑1125.
I just read the Seattle PI article this morning, and as much as I don’t agree with Slade Gorton on a lot of things, I think that he’s absolutely right that the prior decision to not put light rail in was stupid, and this is really not only stupid, but it’s a destructive effort to undermine transportation and, I think, progressive ideas.
At the worst, it’s going to cost us a lot in legal fees and even if the legislature ignores it in two years, we will have lost two years, and it will have cost us billions of dollars that could have been spent actually doing something for people.
So, I think the idea that Kemper Freeman and Tim Eyman have teamed up, I hope that it is so awful, so repulsive to people that maybe they will light up and finally start seeing Tim Eyman for what he is.
KATHLEEN: What distinguishes your light rail vision from your opponent, Aaron Laing’s?
JOHN: I think it’s really a stark contrast. In the first place, Laing lives off of Bellevue Way and he’s been engaged in this for some time. He’s made public comments against it coming down to his house and he’s threatened legal action, and he’s also said that if they want, they can buy him out. See, he’s been inconsistent in terms of protecting the neighborhood. He’s basically interested in how it affects him. He’s a land use attorney who sues governments, so he’s threatened that.
I think they’re trying to pile on so many costs and so many problems that they hope that Sound Transit will just go away and I don’t think that’s going to happen. I think that Sound Transit is going to bring it through on the current route and the issue is, do we do rational mitigation? Do we alleviate traffic concerns as much as possible, and do we build a tunnel or not? And if we want to do it, it’s not as complicated as people think it is.
On the tunnel there are land swaps, there are a number of things that would end up with us only having to pay a relatively small amount some years down the line. So it’s not impossible at all.
But I think the difference is I have a vision and my whole approach on this is that Bellevue, for a long time, has had leaders with vision. Regardless of their party, regardless of anything, when something needs to be done that benefits the city and helps it grow, we figure out how to do it and we make it happen. What we have now is a group of people who, unless it directly benefits them, they act to protect certain personal interests and they don’t want to make changes, to pay more taxes, even though we have the lowest property taxes of any city in the area, including Seattle. And they seem to have a “something for nothing” attitude. Somehow by magic they can deliver all these services that people want, but not raise taxes.
KATHLEEN: And you’re talking about a group on the council?
JOHN: Yeah. About the council majority and the people running against Claudia [Balducci] and John [Chelminiak].
KATHLEEN: And your opponent?
JOHN: Yes. So, it’s clearly a division in that sense. I mean, John Chelminiak, Claudia Balducci and Grant Degginger, who has stepped aside, have been a minority trying to keep pushing on what I think are these more progressive areas. The other side really espouses an anti-tax, low cost, kind of protecting interests and they’re very vague in what they are trying to do. They’re focused on building more sidewalks, as opposed to actually resolving traffic problems.
I truly believe that it’s time to step out of the current Bellevue model which has all major development focused on downtown. It was a smart plan at the beginning and it kept Bellevue from just having big buildings here and there, but Belleuve downtown has reached its infrastructure capacity. It’s gridlocked now, but it still has capacity to grow. The figures are something like 50% growth in thirty years, but at the same time, we have two corridors, the Bel-Red corridor and the I‑90 corridor, that also have great growth potential.
There are developers and people who want to see concentrated growth, smart growth, in those areas that would bring employment and housing, that would bring amenities, open space and parks to those areas. And the Kemper interests simply want to keep that from happening. Aaron Laing said at the last forum that the 50% capacity in thirty years was as a reason to not build anything outside of downtown until that’s finished. Again, it won’t happen, because there isn’t the transportation capacity and if you kill light rail you could really mess it up.
If we develop those other corridors that really does more to one, protect single family neighborhoods and two, to provide better amenities for those neighborhoods, better shopping, better opportunities for employment and living close to employment, and better multi-use housing. Is Bellevue going to be a progressive city in these next thirty years or is it going into decline? Because other areas, like Redmond, Kirkland, north and south Renton, and Newcastle, are maturing and will capture a lot of Bellevue’s growth potential if it doesn’t move forward.
Please return later in the week for the conclusion of my visit with John Stokes when we discuss how Bellevue’s schools have gone from good to great.