Perspectives: Don Gerend

This is the first of a 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.  

Don Gerend has lived on the plateau for 40 years. He served on the Sammamish City Council from incorporation in 1999 to the end of 2017, and was selected mayor four times by fellow council members.

What are the key issues facing the Sammamish business community and/or community as a whole?
The most important issue is to see that the town center is created as the community and as past councils envisioned and approved. I’m thrilled that someone aggregated the parcels to make a cohesive development consistent with community’s and council’s vision.

How would you describe your view of how Sammamish is dealing with that?
For the last year and a half, the new council has tried to shut down development in the city, first with the moratorium and then with concurrency. I don’t believe concurrency should be used for that purpose. The city has made decisions on land use, to push growth to the center to minimize disruptions in the neighborhoods and create a gathering place for the community.

We’re a commuter-oriented city. The bulk of people leave the city to work elsewhere, so we’re very dependent on regional highway infrastructure.

We need to focus inwardly with more support for local business. A facility that enables incubating businesses to work together would be a good step.

The new campus for Central Washington University is a great addition that allows our high school students to take classes without having to go to Bellevue, Kirkland or Bothell. It also provides opportunities for adult learning.

What’s the #1 positive thing going on?
Over the past 40 years I’ve seen us develop into a mixed culture here, and I think that’s delightful. I describe it as like a mixed salad with different ingredients — each have their own flavor but enhance the whole. This a great place to raise children, good schools, parks and trails. We do need more places for kids to hang out. The community center/Y has been a wonderful addition.

The old council has been criticized for not completing more lane miles, but in reality the city has built a lot of new miles with all the new home building and lane building that has come at no direct cost to the city. Growth paying for growth.

What's the #1 frustration?
My frustration is with the city council and their misguided vision of the future. They’ve diverted the city from what it should be doing, which is to support the town center.

The ransomware attack shut down permitting for several months — it shouldn’t have happened. There are ways to protect against that.

I’m frustrated that the community doesn’t have a newsletter anymore (used to come out monthly). The new council thinks we need to communicate with the city through social media, but if a citizen is not interested they are not going to seek it out. If it lands in the mailbox they will at least have to do something with it.

The dysfunctional council has to change. The city council functioned well over the previous 18 years.

This group has one message that resonates with everybody — congestion. Well, the central Puget Sound region is growing, and is projected to grow by 1.8 million people, a 50 percent increase, over the next 20 years. We all have to accept some growth. The Growth Management Act says we can’t just sprawl all the way to Snoqualmie Pass. We’re going to have to build, even if it’s less than other cities because we don’t have highways. Issaquah and Redmond are taking growth right and left, which will make it even harder to get out of this city. So it’s best to focus inward and improve what we have.

Some of the people making decisions are relative newcomers, some just want to raise their kids here and get out. I have been here 40 years and want to be here the rest of my life. I’m looking at the long term.

One thing the current council has done right is acquire more land near the town center. But what are they doing with it? Big Rock Park B is still not open to the public.

What do you think of the moratorium on new development?
The moratorium is gone, but has been replaced with a de facto moratorium with the new concurrency standards. That’s not what concurrency is for. You don’t overbuild for today’s congestion if there’s a vision for the future that you won’t need it.

A lot of cities are going in the opposite direction, cutting five lanes down to four or fewer, providing for transit, walking and biking and making the community more centrally focused and accessible. You don’t spend more than $50 million dollars for a few dozen cars. The goal is to design for maximum safety and multi-modal transportation.

How do you finance infrastructure?
One thing you don’t do is to give back to the state grants that you already have. But they are in danger of that, of cancelling the Issaquah-Fall City Road improvement. And not stepping up to complete SE 4th.

There are other grants that can be acquired and you go after those. And there are funding sources that haven’t been touched yet. We have no city utility tax; we have reserved that for future needs. And the city hasn’t taken the 1% property tax increase that’s available for the last 10 years. And with more development comes more impact fees and sales tax on construction.

Looking to the future, how do you think Sammamish will be operating a year from now — better or worse?
I’m always optimistic. I don’t think it can get much worse. I am totally thrilled that STCA came along and aggregated all the parcels for the town center.