Perspectives: Julio Richburg

This is part of our continuing series of interviews with people who live in and/or are connected to Sammamish, providing their perspective on what is happening on key issues in the community.  Responses may be edited for length and flow.

Julio Richburg is president & co-founder of Ironclad Technologies, a cyber security software firm, INTECO USA Energy, an energy consulting firm and a senior partner in Mobile Clinics International. He grew up in Sammamish, is a graduate of Redmond High School, attended the UW, left for military service but always returned — “This is my home.”

What are the key issues facing the Sammamish business community and/or community as a whole?

Traffic, accessibility to services, affordable housing – all these things go into quality of life. Sammamish is experiencing growing pains that are not unique to this city. What is unique is the City’s decision makers are not capable or are not interested in solving these issues. Taxation in the state is an issue for all, businesses and individuals alike, as it is a regressive system and makes it difficult for Washington businesses to compete nationally and internationally.

One thing the community desperately needs is transit. Sammamish might not get a light rail line running down the spine of the city but having transit options that we can easily connect to right outside the City are important to get people to and from work and other destinations. Our local leaders need to work together with leaders in Redmond, Kirkland, Issaquah, Bellevue and the County to develop solutions.

You don’t have to remove 20 percent of the cars to alleviate traffic.  Studies done in US cities have shown that a targeted reduction of only one or two percent of car traffic in designated zones significantly decreases commute times in the entire metro area. If you do not want to use the transit option, that is fine, allow others in the community access and eliminate a car trip.  Building more roads is not a solution — we’ll never put down enough pavement. 

How would you describe your view of how Sammamish is dealing with those issues?

The City Council has its head in the sand as far as actually looking at the problem. We need to be building more density, building higher, and stop clearing all the land for more houses. The City would not get a good grade — I’d give them an F — for not providing transportation options. There are no places to shop, housing is unaffordable and that’s only going to get worse. We’re not bringing in any commercial revenue to the city; we’re stifling it. Property tax is the only tax. Teachers, firemen, police, and many workers can’t live here. They really can’t afford it or even get here.

What's the #1 positive thing going on?

It’s a safe community; I like that. We don’t have to stress if we leave and forget to lock the door; we can walk out to the mailbox and feel safe. I hope we can hold on to that.

What's the #1 frustration?

It’s difficult to pick just one. On the development side, not bringing in services and more multi-family affordable housing. That would help alleviate a lot of the problems we’re experiencing.

How do people in Sammamish get their news about what's going on in the community, and how is that working?

My neighbors don’t know what’s going on. We don’t have a local newspaper any longer. We used to get two circulars, one thrown on the driveway and one in the mailbox, and I used to read and get a lot of information from the one in the mailbox.

I don’t think people are getting local news, just a lot of rumor mill, word of mouth. When my neighbors get together over coffee and talk about what’s going on, someone will mention that every time they go into the city to get a permit, for example, there’s a new person who doesn’t know what’s going on. A lot of turnover.  But they don’t know what the cause of this has been. Neighborhood web sites are rumor mill central. Sammamish Comment, from what I’ve seen and heard from others, it’s even worse than misrepresentation, it’s propaganda.

What do you think of the moratorium on new development?

It’s shortsighted and serving a special purpose, but none of them are coming out and admitting it. It’s morally bankrupt. Playing on the fear of development is making the situation even worse, without having the vision to plan for proper development. I think the people in Sammamish generally don’t have any idea how it works and how bad it is. Having some way to explain it and why it’s bad is important.

Projects like the town center and similar proposals would relieve the very issue about which they have concern.  Certain individuals on the City Council have an agenda and they aren’t honest about that agenda. The average citizen doesn’t realize that the complete lack of action will just make the problems worse.

Looking to the future, how do you think Sammamish will be operating a year from now?  Better or worse?

Tough question.  A lot really depends on the upcoming election. It is critical that residents of Sammamish really investigate the candidates on these issues and vote accordingly.  If we continue the same course, I believe the situation will only get worse.  We actually have a Council member who phones in council meetings because he is living and working in California — how does that happen?  We have Council members who say they are pro-business and stand for the community; however their voting record shows they are against both.

If there’s not a change in course, a year from now we’ll be in a world of hurt. Doing nothing never got anybody out of trouble.

What are your thoughts about the Sammamish Town Center project?
I’m a big fan of that project. Our city needs this project. Other than the plaza at Met Market, which is relatively new, there is no place for people to come together and congregate. The responsibility of “smart” urban planning is creating those spaces for people. You shouldn’t have to drive to it either. The town center will give the city an identity, a place to congregate and enjoy each other. More density brings transit options, gives businesses more staying power. This is how communities are built. Look at other communities across the US that have gotten this right, look at Europe.

We have what I call a transient community, meaning as soon as kids who grow up here leave their parents’ home, they cannot come back to their hometown because they can’t afford it.  Retired folks can’t downsize and stay in the community where they raised their families, spent their lives.  I believe this is detrimental to our community because Sammamish becomes a layover stop on the journey and residents are not truly vested in the city. We are forced to leave Sammamish to do almost everything.  Recreation, entertainment, shopping, you can’t even get a tire here; people don’t dine here, see a movie. It’s not surprising 75 percent of the population arrived in the last 10 years. 

Do you believe Sammamish is capable or should be capable of effectively tackling transportation issues without a moratorium?

Absolutely, the moratorium hurts the transportation issue. We’ve had people from Sound Transit reach out to us and say they’d like to make this a model city for transit. Citizens like Peyton Stever and city staff, Cheryl Paston, have come up with great ideas on how to solve these problems, but they are ignored.  The moratorium is not doing anything at all to solve the problem, it’s making it worse. Sammamish must coordinate with Redmond, Issaquah and the County otherwise we are not going to solve anything. Current, and past City Council members have shown they’re not capable or willing to do that.