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Eastside Mayors Talk About Business Development, Transit

The mayors of Bellevue, Kirkland, Mercer Island, Sammamish and Bothell talked at a forum before the Bellevue Downtown Association Thursday morning.

Eastside mayors talked about efforts to spur business development and differences of opinion on transportation at the second annual Eastside Mayors Forum Thursday morning.

Mayors Don Davidson of Bellevue, Mark Lamb of Bothell, Joan McBride of Kirkland, Jim Pearman of Mercer Island and Don Gerend of Sammamish discussed the shared interests and unique problems of the Eastside cities.

In response to a question about competition with other cities, Kirkland's McBride said that the cities have been more cooperative and dependent on each other than in past years.

"Our boundaries are much more flexible now as far as the way we work together," McBride said. "The city of Kirkland thrives and doesn't thrive depending on the cities around us. We're sort of all in this together."

"With Kirkland, what do we want to be now and in the next 20-30 years? We want to be the most progressive, we want to be the most inclusive, welcoming and safe city on the Eastside. That's our goal, and we can't be that without the robust business environment and all those other things you put in place," McBride said.

Sammamish's Gerend agreed.

"We actually compete with Seattle and sometimes King County. We have our issues with the state and with the federal government, but none of us ourselves," Gerend said.

Gerend said that the city of Sammamish does not have many businesses yet, but that the city has been working on plans to spur more business and creating a gathering center close to downtown Sammamish.

"I think urban planners many years ago made the mistake of deciding to zone one area of town for manufacturing, one area for residential, one area for retail and depending on the automobile to get you from one place to the other. We are now going back to the more traditional--what you see in Europe--with the mixed use gathering center in downtown," he said, describing properties acquired in the center of Sammamish that will be for public use.

Bellevue mayor Davidson was put in the hot seat when asked about the city's independent study of an alternative light rail route for Sound Transit's plan for the East Link portion of light rail.

The Bellevue City Council, in split decisions, has put $670,000 behind an independent study of a light rail route that would take the trains away from a path that roughly follows Bellevue Way Southeast--which is Sound Transit's preferred route--and put them on a BNSF rail line that roughly follows Interstate 405. The decision on the path is set to be made later this summer.

The council and local residents have been split over the issue.

"I swore to protect single-family neighborhoods. I think that's a mainstay of the city of Bellevue. And I continue to say that Surrey Downs and Enatai deserve to be protected," Davidson said. He criticized Sound Transit's preference as something that would disrupt wetlands and create traffic tie-ups along Bellevue Way Southeast.

He said the majority of the council wanted to explore an alternative option to get the trains away from Bellevue Way Southeast, he said.

"It could be a mitigation in itself for all the issues I've just raised," Davidson said.

Davidson added that the Bellevue council is unanimous over wanting a tunnel through downtown Bellevue, and council members want to start the conversation on covering that $150 million cost.

Lamb, of Bothell, said it was important to note that transportation issues in the region historically have been bogged down in disputes, such as the dispute over the Alaskan Way Viaduct in Seattle, and he argued that the Eastside cities actually resolve those differences faster than officials in Seattle do.

"The Puget Sound region has something of an endemic problem of having a problem coming to a resolution on decisions," Lamb said. "At the end of the day, any transportation decision, not everyone is going to be happy."

The other mayors said that transit is an important factor in economic development, though Gerend added that Sammamish residents have contributed $10 million a year toward Sound Transit, despite the lack of light rail in Sammamish in the foreseeable future and the lack of buses now.

"We're not too enthused about Sound Transit's long-term plans," Gerend said.

But Pearman, whose city is located between the Eastside and Seattle, said Mercer Island has long backed light rail.

"Mercer Island is the only city in the entire Sound Transit governing area that has voted for every single ballot measure of Sound Transit," even knowing that Mercer Island motorists would be inconvenienced by the addition of rail on Interstate 90, Pearman said.

"We are committed and we are fully supportive of the rail across I-90 to get to Mercer Island and we hope that this issue can get resolved effectively for everyone, and not delay this," he said. "We think it's vital to the health and vitality in the region."

Thursday's forum was moderated by Leadership Eastside's James Whitfield in front of the Bellevue Downtown Association members at the Bellevue Club. Bellevue TV plans to broadcast the forum. Patch will link to the video when it becomes available.

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