Here is what I have submitted to the Houghton Community Council and Kirkland City Council. Please note that only residents of the Houghton neighborhood will see this on their ballot.
Houghton Community Council
City of Kirkland Councilmembers
Honorable Houghton Community Councilmembers:
Thank you very much for your many years of service to Houghton and to all of Kirkland. In my time as a Kirkland City Councilmember, Mayor and state legislator, I have seen first-hand your commitment to truly have the best interests of our entire community at heart. That commitment has clearly been demonstrated in many ways over the years, including the countless hours you have dedicated to understanding and acting on land-use codes, regulations and master plans. Thank you!
But in these difficult and challenging times, when housing and services for the most vulnerable in our communities are at stake and the need for equity and justice are daily conversations, it seems to me it is in the best interests of the city today for all elected and appointed officials to examine all the systems and norms within which we operate. Our collective goal must be to ensure we are doing our best to create the most welcoming and inclusive communities in Washington and remove any barriers to opportunity.
With this in mind I respectfully ask for you to join me in sunsetting the Houghton Community Council. The Houghton Community Council (HCC) was created when Houghton, a small town, merged with the city of Kirkland in 1968. The fundamental authority of the Community Council under state law is as a “disapproval jurisdiction” with unique ability to veto City land-use decisions. While Community Councils past and present have been thoughtful, collaborative and rarely exercised this authority, the veto has been used, and it is difficult to achieve inclusion when a jurisdiction’s primary power is to exclude. Our Mayor at the time, Bill Woods, tells me that the HCC was intended to sunset at some time, not continue in perpetuity. However, in the documents creating the Council a sunset date was not included. We know from members of our community who were there, that was always the intent. It has been more than half a century since the creation of the Houghton Community Council. The HCC has now been in existence much longer than the actual town of Houghton was incorporated. It is time to acknowledge that a community council does not advance the interests of all of the people we serve in Kirkland.
Since the Council was created much has changed. The Houghton neighborhood is no longer a blue collar bedroom community with maritime industries providing good jobs and affordable housing opportunities. Houghton, like much of the Eastside, has evolved to become a neighborhood highly sought after by those who have prospered from the high tech boom and has Google as the primary employer. This prosperity has many advantages, but the primarily single-family nature of Houghton has resulted in skyrocketing home prices and limited supply. Housing affordable to teachers, nurses, police, grocery store workers or coffee shop baristas is almost non-existent. This lack of affordability has also had the unintended consequence of excluding new immigrants and communities of color. Housing affordability is a problem for all of Kirkland, and all of Kirkland must participate in the solutions.
The interests of this high-tech, urbanized neighborhood are now thoroughly and properly represented by the City Council of Kirkland. I believe that if any resident believes his or her interests are not represented on their City Council they should have the same rights as every other resident. They should run for office, support candidates who are of like-mind, or to advocate for their ideas directly to the City Council. Houghton is one of the last two Community Councils that exist in Washington State. I live in the jurisdiction of the Houghton Community Council, I served on the Kirkland City Council and the HCC is in the 48th Legislative District I represent. Therefore I feel that it is my responsibility to make this request of you.
The land use veto authority held by the Community Council within its jurisdiction has resulted in disparate rules and requirements within the city limits of Kirkland. Solutions to affordable housing found in other parts of the City are not present in Houghton.
• There is no mandatory inclusion of affordable housing within Houghton as there is in the rest of Kirkland.
• The “missing middle” housing solution, allowing duplex and triplex homes within single family neighborhoods does not apply in Houghton like the rest of Kirkland.
• Any updates to the Master Plan at Northwest University or the International Community School requires extra expense and effort to comply with a completely separate land use process under the HCC’s veto authority. Institutions of such regional importance should be able to rely upon a transparent and predictable Master Planning process.
• The discussion of the up-zone of the Metropolitan Market site for expanded affordable housing and retail opportunities near transit service created an untenable dual process for properties across the street from one another, and conflict between the Community Council and City Council members.
• The tree code is more permissive than it is in the rest of Kirkland, so neighbors may have different rules applying to their property even though they are within yards of each other’s homes.
We have all dedicated time and effort to represent our communities and the neighborhoods we love. I believe it is time, and I hope that you will agree, to sunset the Community Council. This action will create a more equitable city, a more just city, and a more inclusive city, a city that upholds the fundamental concept of one person/one vote. No person should have more rights than another in Kirkland. Good governance principles require that one predictable and transparent process be used for all land use decisions within a city.
I am proposing the HCC sunset by a date certain. I will personally be advocating that voters in Houghton do not reauthorize the Houghton Community Council this November for all the reasons I have highlighted. However, if the ballot measure is approved, I would ask the newly elected Community Councilmembers to pass a resolution in December or January stating that they will not place any further renewal of the HCC on future ballots. A determination by Houghton Community Councilmembers that the purpose of the HCC has run its course would be an important and unifying action for the entire City. But as the creation of the Councils was by state legislation, another alternative would be to approve state legislation to sunset them. If that is the preferred choice of the Community Council, it is my hope the Council will work with me, the Kirkland City Council, and city staff to prepare the appropriate legislation to do so.
I am more than willing to attend an upcoming Houghton Community Council meeting and take any questions. I think it is appropriate for the greater community to be informed of this conversation. In that regard I feel it is important to share this letter with our entire community but believe you should see it first.
State Representative, 48th Legislative District
City council members answering the question “Do you support the continued existence of the Houghton Community Council?” at the Kirkland Alliance of Neighborhoods Candidate Forum, Sept 30, 2021.
At the September 30 KAN forum (above), all four incumbent city council members present declared that they did not support the continuation of the HCC.
Below are quotes at the forum from two of those members — Neal Black and Jay Arnold.
Below them are 2012 and 2011 statements on the HCC from now-Mayor Penny Sweet and from Rep. Larry Springer, who previously introduced legislation to facilitate the dissolution of the HCC.
❝ For me it’s an issue of equity and inclusivity.
When the Houghton community, through its council, takes steps that are inconsistent with some of the growth and planning we’re trying to do city-wide, it pushes that growth to other neighborhoods who don’t have a veto right. ...
Equity is important, and we need equity among all of our neighborhoods. ❞
at the Kirkland Alliance of Neighborhoods (KAN) Candidate Forum, Sept. 30, 2021.
❝ The Houghton community council has gone well beyond its original purpose as a transition tool from the 1968 merger of the city of Kirkland and the town of Houghton.
The council has vetoed the ‘missing middle’ housing strategy, which would impact my ability to have accessory dwelling units for aging parents, young kids or additional rental income.
The Houghton Community Council is against me putting additional height on my home to have rooftop solar panels.
Actions like this are why the legislature is taking away authority from cities and setting standards around transit stations that allow us to have the flexible solutions that Kirkland’s really good at.
And so for that reason I would not support the continuation of Houghton Community Council if I had a vote there. ❞
at the Kirkland Alliance of Neighborhoods Candidate Forum, Sept. 30, 2021
❝ Every land-use issue that the Planning Commission or the Planning Department comes up with is subject to review not only by the City Council, which costs money anyway, but FIRST by the HCC and then again finally by the HCC after the City Council makes its decision.
It adds significantly to the cost of doing government and that cost is not borne by the 6,000 or so it represents, but by the full 81,000 Kirkland residents.
I believe that the HCC, given the expense and redundancy, is not a practice of good, efficient government.
I believe strongly that all the citizens of Kirkland should enjoy equal representation. ❞
❝ The existence of these councils is poor public policy and violates the basic democratic principle of one person, one vote. ❞