Myers and Khan seek Redmond City Council Pos. 1

Redmond City Council Pos. 1 answer the Reporter’s general election questionnaire.

Redmond City Council candidates vying for Pos. 1 are incumbent Hank Myers and challenger Varisha Khan. Myers has served on council since 2008 and represents the city on the Local Hazardous Waste Management Coordinating Committee and the Water Resource Inventory Area 8 Salmon Recovery council. Khan graduated from the University of Washington and has worked at numerous nonprofit organizations in King County.

How will you keep Redmond affordable to live in?

Hank Myers: For too many people, Redmond is not an affordable place to live right now. While housing is the most obvious example, the cost of doing business (reflected in consumer prices) and traffic congestion harm affordability. First we must clarify our codes to encourage mixed-use developments where residential, shopping, some entertainment and even jobs are within a 10 minute walking radius. OneRedmond proposed workforce rental housing in February and the administration has taken no action. Our zoning code is based on a post-WWII model that separates the various life activities such as sleeping, shopping and working into distinct single-use areas. We spend our days driving from place to place. Allowing multi-use zones increases efficiency and reduces car trips. Reduce the process requirements to speed development of new affordable housing. In single-family neighborhoods, make auxiliary dwelling units simple to permit and build. Allow duplexes on corner lots. Ultimately, we need to adopt modern zoning philosophies that allow mixed-use development. We also need to permit new construction techniques such as cross-laminated timber to create great looking buildings that are constructed faster and have a fraction of the carbon footprint of steel and concrete.

Varisha Khan: As we continue to grow in population across the Puget Sound region, adequate and affordable housing is in short supply. Redmond was one of the first cities in Washington state to implement an affordable housing policy but we still have work to do to make Redmond more affordable. If elected, I plan to 1) re-evaluate Redmond’s current policy that allocates 10 percent of housing units to be affordable for people who make 80 percent of the city’s median income, so that people of single, dual and multiple incomes working across labor sectors can be included and 2) raise awareness that Redmond allows residents to develop ADUs (accessible dwelling units, also known as backyard cottages) and make the process of permitting and development easier for residents, so as to increase affordable housing options in existing residential neighborhoods.

What are some solutions for controlling/bettering traffic? Especially in higher traffic areas like Avondale or Red-Wood Road?

Myers: A popular notion among some city planners is that we cannot build our way out of congestion. While increasing traffic efficiency is important, the city long ago recognized the need for strategic capacity increases. A previous council promised to extend 160th Avenue Northeast to meet Red-Wood Road at about 109th Street. We also have plans to add lanes to Red-Wood Road from the city limits most of the way to downtown. We have plans to widen West Lake Sammamish Parkway between Northeast 51st Street and Bel-Red Road. What has been missing is commitment by the administration to actually build these needed improvements. Another need is additional capacity on Willows Road. That corridor is already inadequate and set to grow particularly if multi-use development in allowed. Finally, an additional route off Education Hill south of 104th connecting to Avondale Road is needed. We have basic plans for all of these projects that are sitting on shelves gathering dust. When I managed the Microsoft commute program we provided personalized transportation support for individuals. As a result we dramatically increased the carpool and vanpool usage and got additional Metro and Sound Transit routes to campus.

Khan: The Puget Sound region is expected to see hundreds of thousands of new residents move in over the next decade due to economic opportunities and climate change. Cities around the world that have grown exponentially have also had to change their city layouts and transportation systems so as to reduce congestion caused by cars. In order to tackle traffic issues, we need to look at the root of the problem: how we live and how we get around.

Over the last few years, Redmond has changed zoning layouts so as to 1) condense where we live, work, go to school, shop, and play (called mixed-use zoning) so as to reduce the need to drive long distances between the various aspects of our life; and 2) create more mass transit opportunities like the light rail close by to further eliminate the reliance on cars.

To reduce traffic in the face of a growing region, I believe we need to 1) build well-planned, higher-density, mixed-use neighborhoods to increase walkability and access to mass transportation, and 2) invest in more and new mass transportation solutions. Redmond is lucky to have multiple light rail stations opening in the next few years, which means we will see a reduction in long-distance car trips between Redmond and neighboring cities. But it’s the “last mile” — the distance between home and public transportation — that sees more traffic on roads like Avondale and Red-Wood. I believe we can reduce the number of cars on the road and thereby decreasing traffic wait times, through our partnership with SoundTransit. Improving the timings and routes of our bus system and moving towards more inexpensive, accessible, electric mass transit options so more residents, especially seniors, are a few ways we can get around hassle-free.

What would be your budget priorities and why?

Myers: Over the past 12 years, the administration has spent most of the budget on expanding headcount and increasing regulations. Like it or not, our infrastructure is long overdue for upgrade and repairs. Rather than repair immediate problems, the administration undertook a multi-year examination of all facilities before working on any. Exhibit A is the senior center. I was warned in 2007 by senior councilmembers that there were water leaks in the walls and roof. While some repairs were made, we now know they were inadequate and that the senior center may be a total loss. Exhibit B is the Hartman Pool. We took the pool over about 12 years ago. While other cities upgraded and refurbished their Forward Thrust pools built at the same time, the administration chose to propose a series of $70-80 million aquatic centers. When that idea was rejected by council, nothing was done for several years until it was decided to refurbish the pool. After 10 years of degradation, we find ourselves three months into the refurbishment and three months behind schedule. Exhibit C is the pavement degradation of our roads. Over the first eight years of this administration, our pavement quality index dropped from 83 to 76, one whole grade level. It is cold comfort that the administration has set the minimum acceptable level at 70. Where is your favorite pothole?

Khan: Environmental sustainability: As we continue to experience the detrimental effects of climate change without action at the federal level, it’s up to state and local governments to enact environmental policies to cut carbon emissions to zero by 2030, when it’s estimated the effects will be irreversible. I plan to prioritize environmental policy and enact a Green New Deal in Redmond in partnership with cities across the region.

Affordable housing: In King County, 15,000 people are homeless on any given night. As enumerated earlier, I plan to make affordable housing more accessible and inclusive for residents, including seniors who need more adequate housing, young professionals looking to move out of their parents’ homes or to buy their first homes, empty-nester parents looking to downsize to a smaller home and single mothers who make less than 80 percent of the median income.

Transportation: As we’re tackling climate change and a growing region, I plan to move towards a greener, cleaner, and faster transportation environment. From electric cars, bikes, electric buses, Light Rail, to walking, I envision a future of transportation that needs to be planned now.

How do you balance development and growth against maintaining the town’s current character?

Myers: Forty-three years ago, when I moved to Redmond, it was a true commuter development. Virtually everybody who lived in Redmond worked in another city. Other than a few stores downtown and Sears in Overlake, residents had to shop or dine in another city. In the next 30 years, 520 was extended. Many thoroughfares were built or improved. New residential housing, a lot of new stores, restaurants and services came to support the new jobs and residents. Most said that the character of Redmond had improved. Since 2007, infrastructure improvement and repair has virtually ceased. Resulting congestion has called attention to our growth. Furthermore, development was centered in the middle of town, interfering with people who have to get from one part of Redmond to another. What has really changed is the amount of pain involved in everyday life. Looking ahead we need to diversify our zoning and offer our constituents more choices and solutions.

Khan: Growth, traffic, affordability, equity, and climate change are all interconnected. The question we need to ask ourselves is how do we envision an inclusive, sustainable, prosperous Redmond to look in 2050?

If that vision includes everyone having an affordable home, less commute, clean air and water, green spaces, top tier schools, medical care, and jobs with prevailing wages, then we need to plan now for a Redmond for the future.

But we also need elected leaders who are cognizant of the people for whom we’re planning our future.

I’ve worked in nonprofit organizations across King County and have seen firsthand the disastrous impact of developing at the expense of current residents; namely how unchecked development leads to gentrification.

While I believe development of mixed-use neighborhoods will help improve the quality of life and cost of living for many in our city, I understand the nuance of preserving affordability as well as our city’s history and strong sense of community. That’s why I want to help create more diverse affordable housing options, from ADUs to cottage communities.

As a candidate, I reject money from developers and corporations so I can stay accountable to the needs of the people. If elected to council, I will work for those who have historically been left out of the process. As a renter myself, I will work to protect renters and ensure people of various income levels can afford to live and stay in their homes here.

The general election is Nov. 5.