A Citizen Activist on the 2017 election (Guest comments)

posted Oct 22, 2017, 1:11 AM by Stephen Barnes   [ updated Oct 22, 2017, 12:31 PM ]
Background on Len French
For twenty plus years, Leonard (Len) French has been a voice for the ordinary citizen.  When I met him in 2013 he had already ran for office, had a major hand in gathering a nearly 2000 signature effort to stymie more than three stories for downtown (he showed me some of the signature lists), pushed back against two overpriced versions of Mountlake Terrace City Hall at 37 and 25 million dollars.  When I decided to run for City Council that year, he joined me as a candidate.

While he is no longer the front and center voice of MLT citizen sentiment, below is a letter (which I have permission to air) he sent to MLT News chief Teresa Wippel for the 2017 MLT Candidate Night to ask her to be relevant for the voters, asking the tough questions for which we really need answers.  (In case you are wondering, she did not address the issues as he asked.) [NOTE: Comments in brackets below are my own as is the bolding. Candidates are bolded and in italics below]  He concluded his comments to her in a second letter which summarizes his concern and restates some burning issues, including a complicit news media.

I realize Len French has both friends and foes in our community, but the issues he raises are truly important for the future of our wonderful suburban town.
Stephen (Steve) Barnes, Candidate for MLT City Council, Position One

Len French to Teresa Wippel of MLT News on the eve of the MLT Candidate Night


As you will be MC tonight, I wondered if you might explore a couple of the issues upon which there seems to be clear differences among the candidates in order to clarify positions for voters.

The first is about the future of downtown and the efficacy of the Downtown Plan.  After attending a council presentation by staff concerning the future of downtown last Spring, I know current council members have differing ideas about what has happened so far and also about the "vision."  As Margaret [Loiseau] has mentioned in her campaign material, Laura asked that night about exactly "what is the vision?"  She and others are clearly troubled at the difference between what was promised and what has evolved.  Is it a function of what the citizenry, particularly those in neighborhoods around downtown, want or are we following the latest planning ideas suggested by staff?  Kyoko [M-Wright] even made that point.

In the video interviews [recorded prior to the meeting] you did and in various council statements at meetings, there is an obvious divide concerning a key variable of that plan - the height of buildings in the core.  Rick Ryan and Stephen Barnes said that 14 stories was not something council would support while Jerry Smith said what he has long believed - that 14 or even 15 stories is totally OK.  You framed it perfectly by asking Kyoko [Wright] and Seaun [Richards] about how they would respond to constituents who do not want such an obtrusive presence in their neighborhood.  They both demurred by saying that people "should keep an open mind" before then suggesting that their open mind thinks it has to eventually be OK.   That's trying to have it both ways which disrespects both your question and the people they represent.  Maybe you can flush that out.  Its important not only for this election but for our future.

The other issue is parking for the Sound Transit Station, which as you know has been contentious in the community and between council members - at least those who are listening to their constituents.  Although he has not really been asked directly, Jerry Smith is at one end of the spectrum in saying repeatedly that "we are holding them to their promises."  Followed by the rest of the sitting council, that is an opaque shorthand for 'we won't get an adequately parked station because it wasn't included in the 2008 promises made for ST 2'.  Kyoko [M-Wright] says what Stephen Barnes says - that we should be treated equally with other stations.  But her next comment is that we can't let them "cut corners" as if to say that if ST holds us to our own council's 2008 inattentiveness on this super-important detail that they (ST) are somehow cutting corners. 

Steven Barnes represents the other pole; it isn't fair to MLT to be treated any different than 145th, 185th or Lynnwood, who all will have 500 more spaces than they have today.  We will actually have less than we have today.  He and, I believe from listening, some responsible council members want the shortfall addressed now, no matter the previous negligence on whoever's part.  That is, by the way, the only way that parking around the downtown will not become a further Achilles heel of future development plans in the area.

From my perspective, these issues are conjoined around the bigger matter of accountability.  The Downtown Plan (DP) is now 10 years old, yet council still wonders what the vision is.  What they really want to know is why what was promised isn't actually happening.  Well, they are the council who voted in the Plan.  Rather than wasting more money on yet another Economic Development Coordinator (EDC), maybe they should revisit their expectations and their own implementation.  A new EDC cannot lure new businesses to the downtown any better than the previous one did if the basic layout of traffic and parking remains unaddressed (see above comment about ST parking).  For free, any leasing representative of retail or office spaces will tell them that.  The current council will at one venue extol the virtues of the DP while in another wonder why it isn't working.  Can you not tease out some answers?

The ST parking issue is also about accountability.  Why isn't the council that was sitting at the time responsible for explaining the lack of a parking promise to MLT when other stations got that promise?  That includes Kyoko [M-Wright], Rick [Ryan] and Jerry [Smith].  Claiming they are holding ST to a non-existent promise or that ST is now somehow "cutting corners" as Kyoko put it is disingenuous in the extreme.  It is also the height of irresponsibility to now act like they, who were on council at the time, aren't accountable for that failing.

The City Hall issue is a long running blood draw, also for which no one is held to account.   One comment I hear repeatedly, even from people who are now voting for it is, "why has it taken this long and so much wasted money to get to an affordable proposition?"  If allowed, I would ask each sitting council member if they have any remorse over the $5 million that has been wasted on rent and on the levy lid lift when an affordable plan was available to be put on the ballot in 2006, 2007 and again in 2008 before the old building was demolished?  They gleefully take credit for the $12.5 million idea, but they did the same for the $37 million and the two $25 million measures.  If they would have merely asked for $8-10 million in 2008, (the cost then in current dollars of $12.5 million), we would already have the building.  The answer to this puzzle is that our once swollen cash hoard has been squandered on their delusions of grandeur.  Now we need a levy lid lift just to survive.  Who is responsible?


Thx for the consideration, Teresa.  The essence of what I am saying is that allowing the candidates (or eventually council members) to frame the perspective from which these issues are viewed hasn't served us very well as regards either the Downtown Plan's realization or parking in and around downtown - including now the issue of ST making the parking shortage here much worse.  Doing it the way you suggest allows them to continue escaping accountability for the problems we now face, including the budgetary hole created by 10 years of unnecessary rent. 

Seaun [Richards] made a reference to "kicking the can down the road" in reference to the capital needs such as the Recreation Pavilion.  The city hall can has been kicked down the road for nearly ten years by continually asking more than citizens feel they can afford.  If they go about the Pavilion in the same take it or leave it manner, they shouldn't expect a short process there either.

Its OK for outsiders or even idealistic residents to idealize a future which requires fewer cars, but for the foreseeable future (our lifetimes), cars are integral to our lifestyles.  Anyone who doesn't believe that should simply look at the streets around downtown once the park'n'ride is full - or even before some days.  If MLTNEWS isn't going to ask questions directly enough to disallow candidates willful ignoring the crux of this matter, who will?