Letter | Legislature trying to quietly kill the Houghton Community Council?

Dear Editor:

At the Kirkland City Council meeting on Tuesday, March 1, the council received a Legislative Update (item 10(b) on the meeting agenda). During this segment, Councilmember Sternoff asked about a bill that he believed would have an impact on community councils, such as the Houghton Community Council, which he identified as House Bill 1812. The other councilmembers and staff indicated that they were unfamiliar with the bill. I decided to look into it.

HB 1812, “Changing provisions relating to community municipal corporations”, is sponsored by Rep. Steve Kirby (Tacoma), Rep. Ruth Kagi (Lake Forest Park), and Rep. Jim Moeller (Vancouver) – all of whom represent cities that do not have any community councils (one wonders what their interest might be). It was introduced on February 3, heard in the Local Government committee on February 16 and voted out of committee the same day, and passed on the floor of the House unanimously (97-0) on February 26.

The bill does three main things: (1) no new community councils can be created after January 1, 2012; (2) extending a community council’s existence must be approved by voters in the entire city, not just those in the council’s area; and (3) voters in the entire city vote for the community council members, not just those in the council’s area.

If the bill passes, it would mean that all voters in Kirkland would vote on members of the Houghton Community Council, and on whether or not to continue the existence of the Houghton Community Council. This seems as though it might be contrary to the principles of local control that the cities of Houghton and Kirkland agreed to when they merged. It would likely lead very quickly to the end of the Houghton Community Council.

When the bill was heard in committee, only one person testified in favor of it: Representative Larry Springer. The bill report summarizes Rep. Springer’s testimony as follows:

Community municipal corporations are throwbacks to 40 years ago; there are only two left in the state. Corporations have veto power over implementation of a city's land use decisions within the corporation's service area. As a result, they can force a city to have two land use policies: one for the service area, and one for the rest of the city. Administration of this kind of dual system is expensive and difficult. If a city and a corporation within its boundaries become embroiled in a lawsuit, the city must pay the costs for both sides. This bill does not do away with corporations; however, it allows the citizens of the greater city to have a voice in the corporation's governance and continued existence.

This testimony was recorded by TVW, and is available online. The relevant portion of the recording starts at 00:13:50, and lasts just over five minutes.

The bill was voted out of committee unanimously the same day it was heard, with no opportunity for any further input from citizens or local officials regarding the impact it would have. Rep. Springer voted for the bill in committee.

Several questions come to mind about all of this.

During his remarks on the bill, Rep. Springer said "Representative Kirby agreed to look into this issue". Who was it that asked Rep. Kirby to look into it and to sponsor the bill?

All four of the legislators who currently represent Kirkland – Reps. Springer, Goodman, Eddy, and Hunter – voted for the bill on the floor of the House. Did none of them realize the impact it would have on Houghton, and consult with Houghton community leaders before voting for it?

Five members of the city council – including council Legislative Committee members Asher, Marchione, and McBride, plus councilmembers Walen and Sweet – dined in Olympia with these legislators recently, to discuss legislation that impacts on Kirkland. Did this bill not come up for discussion during this dinner? If not, why not? If so, how is it that the councilmembers didn’t remember it at the council meeting on March 1?

How is it that a bill in the legislature that has such as significant impact on so many people in Kirkland and Houghton has gotten this far with so little attention?

What does the Houghton Community Council think about all this? Will they testify on the bill if it comes up for a hearing in the Senate?

Just wondering.

Toby Nixon