On November 22nd, 2021, the Kirkland City Council and the Houghton Community Council held a joint meeting to discuss the possibility of the city adding the sunsetting of the Houghton Community Council to the city’s legislative agenda. Marilynne Beard, a former deputy city manager, was brought in as a neutral facilitator. This is a partial transcript of that meeting, focusing on HCC comments.
Kurt Triplett, City Manager, announced that a lot of staff would be available as resources only. He gave a timeline, mostly skipped here:
- 8/2020 R-5434 “to ensure the safety and respect of Black people and dismantle structural racism in Kirkland”
- 5/2021 Chanin Kelly-Rae Consulting: equity gap assessment, roadmap includes “sunsetting the Houghton Community Council”
The main part of the meeting was an intended 5 minutes per person, alternating between KCC and HCC, but it was not timed. A few of Mayor Sweet’s comments and almost all of the HCC comments are transcribed here with very minor modifications such as eliminating “umm”s. Errors in transcription, of course, are mine. Most complaints about the timeline and procedure are omitted. Most praising of others and statements of gratitude are omitted. Some of the HCC comments are in response to comments made by KCC members. City video is at City Council Special Joint Meeting with Houghton Community Council (granicus.com) and timestamps are given into that video.
Penny Sweet, Kirkland Mayor – 15:40-18:42
“What I question is the fairness of the system that advantages 10% of our community over the whole population. Kirkland needs to be one Kirkland.”
“We have 14 neighborhoods in the city of Kirkland, and each one has a neighborhood association. Only Houghton has a neighborhood association and a community council. That’s a clear structural inequity. As most of you know, I have never supported the existence of the HCC. When I was made aware of it 20+ years ago, I considered the fact that the Houghton community had this extra level of representation to be unfair to the greater Kirkland population.”
“In two weeks, I hope that we will adjust our legislative agenda to include the original language about sunsetting Community Councils.”
“I truly believe that we must follow through with our commitment to eliminate systems that are inequitable in our community as this one surely is.”
Rick Whitney, Chair, HCC – 19:30-28:50
Explanation why HCC continuation vote wasn’t delayed
Complaint about communication
Timeline of recent events
“Blindsided by letter by Representative Walen” recommending sunsetting of HCC
“We have worked with great dedication and collaboration in the best interests of the entire Kirkland community, not just Houghton.”
“We challenge the assertion that our very existence makes Kirkland less equitable, just, and inclusive. Our actions and the outcomes contradict that assertion, and how can the Kirkland City Council profess inclusivity and not have the decency to include us in the discussion of the equity assessment, its conclusions, recommendations, and especially when it recommends our termination. We believe there needs to be an open, honest, fair process for that discussion and action. Anything of this import deserves our full participation.”
“We don’t understand the urgency of the action, particularly when our state, county, and city have such greater concerns to address. I’ve very disappointed in how heavy-handed the city council has been in this.”
Jay Arnold, Kirkland Deputy Mayor – 31:25-35:18
John Kappler, Vice Chair, HCC – 37:18-45:42
“… the equity report come out in its final draft, and in an early meeting to the City Council, and in their regular meeting some two and a half hours later there was already a resolution that included the city council working with the state legislature to sunset the Houghton Community Council. It happened very very quickly during that one evening. So I believe that this is really at the forefront of the Kirkland City Council’s agenda because of the equity study that came out.
The equity study was done by a single person. It was not done by a committee or a group, one person really had made the entire comments for a city the size of Kirkland. I found it very very interesting that in that report with many of the items that were listed as inequities that should be focused on, there’s only one place where the equity officer wrote that she directed the city council, the city staff, the city manager to work expeditiously with the state legislature to eliminate a community organization that serves thousands. That does not seem to me to be the words of an equity officer. Those words really should have been, even as Jay said, they should have been to review, to understand, to study. That’s what an equity officer does. It does not eliminate the voice of a community organization.
I believe this is somehow preordained or somehow. I actually feel set up by this, and I think even so much by the words of the city council when I listen to them talk about agreeing to meet with us, again after we asked, and for everyone to make the comment that this is not, we’re not being branded as some sort of racial issue. Make no mistake, this report was set up as a racial report. It’s a black and white report. And I think this is a horrible thing that has happened to us.
A couple of the things that Jay said about the actual inequities themselves. He listed essentially our veto vote on the Houghton marketplace area because we did not allow higher density. He mentioned the inequity mentioned in the report by us not adopting the missing middle housing. He also mentioned solar panels, and maybe one other thing that I didn’t quite get written down. I don’t understand how solar panels makes us inequitable. Specifically, regarding the metropolitan market area, when our group studied the possibility of increasing the metropolitan market, we were given a traffic study of the intersection only. The traffic study showed that that intersection failed. It was given an F. We were not given any of the traffic information north from Kirkland urban area or from the Google site area because the city was working on it and had not concluded it. We were not given any information on the traffic studies south of the metropolitan market area because it was part of the college which was going to be a quasi-judicial process coming before us. I don’t know if the studies were done or just not given to us but we couldn’t see them anyway. All we had was the intersection where the Houghton market area is that was failing, and the request was to increase the density to a point to make it fail worse. We had testimony by the developer on the Houghton Community jurisdiction side that they had a long-term contract, and nothing would happen for 20 years. So we felt no pressure to create a carte blanche system where we did not understand how the systems could be fixed to allow for a more intensified use. The state department of transportation didn’t give us any information about the road. The transit people didn’t give any information about how they might change transit. We really had nothing, and it was really that decision that drove us to keep the density down in that area.
Specifically with regard to missing middle, missing middle is essentially a document prepared to densify neighborhoods, almost eliminate single family neighborhoods. In that document, they essentially want to infill neighborhoods with cottages, carriage [house]s, accessory dwelling units, small apartment buildings, and small commercial buildings. Houghton Community Council discussed this, and one of our charges early on, what Houghton is really all about is single family neighborhoods, and we’re supposed to protect those. So we felt that allowing small apartment buildings in terms of two-plexes and three-plexes that each could allow two accessory dwelling units each, so a three-plex could become a nine-plex apartment building. We didn’t think that was appropriate. We reached out to City Council and said if we remove the two-plex and three-plex with the ADUs, we would go along with this initiative, and we were told by you all, the City Council, it’s all or nothing. You gave us no choice because of how we wanted to protect our neighborhood but to veto that legislation, or that code. And I think that if weren’t there, our neighborhood would have gotten run over. I think so much so that over 75% of the constituents in our area have voted to renew us. They feel a need for us. If they really trusted that the City Council would follow through with what they desired, what was part of the neighborhood plan got pulled forward into the Comprehensive Plan, that they wouldn’t feel a need for our council.
And so with all of that, I think that the last thing is that this legislative session is very short. There’s a lot of very important things identified in this equity study going on in the city with staff, at the police department level, including sexual harassment that’s identified in the report. There is nothing really in this report that rises to the level that it does with the Houghton Community Council “I direct the City Council to”. That’s not the case on all these other issues. I do not understand why, and I’d really like to hear why, and I’d appreciate a response.”
Jon Pascal, KCC – 47:32-52:00
Betsy Pringle, HCC – 54:00-56:05
“There’s a lot of solar panels in Houghton. We did not outlaw solar panels. You will find many of them in Houghton; it was a specific measurement. The other thing is because there’s been a lot of streamlining over the last ten to twenty years on public process, right now we are the only elected body that listens to public testimony on land use public hearings, and that’s something that is of great concern to me, so it’s important to me that elected officials listen to people in their jurisdiction whether it’s the whole city or Houghton, that there is somebody who is an elected official listening to people’s concerns about land use, so that’s one of my concerns about sunsetting the council is losing that because we streamlined the public hearing process so much.”
Question about streamlined process
“Yes, process 1 is the planning official. Process 2 is the hearing examiner. 2b is planning commission and Houghton Community Council. And then it goes hearing examiner and then nope, no official. So yeah, I think we are the only ones who are elected that listen to public testimony and really are able to talk to both the developer and the people in the community on what these repercussions might be for this land use decision, so I feel like we have some very deep discussions that end up, as Jon said, sometimes creating meaningful and better solutions maybe than somebody walked into the room with.”
Amy Falcone, KCC – 58:25-1:02:57
Larry Toedtli, HCC – 1:04:34-1:12:35
“Marilynne asked the question earlier, “what is my understanding of what the Kirkland City Council wants”, basically to sunset the Houghton Community Council primarily based on the recommendations of the equity consultant. I don’t think that’s been well-documented in the equity consultant. So my focus tonight has really been to listen, to understand, on the proposal to sunset it even though we’ve had a fair and democratic election with 76% of the votes cast.” …
“So far, I’ve been able to hear how it came about, but not why – the basis of the equity consultant’s report findings and recommendations on sunsetting the Houghton Community Council and the urgency of this action in the state legislative process. I won’t go into a lot of detail on the communication process because it’s been discussed quite a bit, but its history does not come across as transparent or welcoming in the city that says it prides itself for many years now to be a welcoming community. The basis for the equity consultant’s finding, as Deputy Mayor Arnold said, “hey we all had access to it at the same time”. Having access to it is not the same as being at the table and getting a presentation and being able to have a discussion with it. I read those reports. I write many letters and emails to the city council, as many of you know. I get very little response back, like next to none except for maybe one or two councilmembers depending on the issue, and it’s not able to sit there and ask questions and/or ask for additional information. It’s just not allowed for somebody 3 minutes item from the audience or an email.
So we’ve talked about how it’s inequitable for the Houghton Community, which is really two and a half neighborhoods, to here and how the city came about. In 1968 there was the original city of Kirkland. They chose to merge with the original town of Houghton. There was an agreement. Both parties, both councils and communities voted to bring together with the rules in place. The other annexation areas such as Juanita, Finn Hill, North Kirkland, Rose Hill, others that have come on have all done it under rules that were in places for them. Those rules sunset in some of those areas sooner than others. They were very specific. People still voted to say “yes, we want to be annexed, be part of Kirkland under these rules”. So I think there is a difference between the area covered by the Houghton Community Council and the rest of Kirkland. Hasn’t been discussed at all in the equity report. It’s discussed how Houghton came about, how the Houghton Community Council came about, but not how it compares to the other parts of the city, and why it’s different.
I also believe the equity consultant’s reports could have, should have at least tried to show the specifics on how the Houghton Community Council’s actions have resulted in actual equity issues and concerns vs simply proceed that I’ve heard about tonight. Duplex, triplex data. That very same meeting, October 19th, that the equity consultant presented at, the staff presented at the study session, the executive summary, that same meeting, the City Council received a packet on missing middle housing, how many units there were. There’s very few actually applied over 18 months city-wide. Three units have building permits. Doesn’t say there won’t be more later. Only two have ADUs on them, but there’s no trying to actually show the impact. Census data, 2010 and 2020 census readily available to be able to show housing type, income, population, race, diversity, within both the Houghton Community Council and the rest of the city. Show us the data, and if it shows there’s inequity in Houghton’s … getting away from being more equitable on some of those factors, I’ll be the first to say, “hey this isn’t right”. There’s nothing been shown. Nothing’s been tried to been shown.
Then the urgency. The state legislature meets every year, yet this rose to the top as the directive from the equity consultant. The continuance of the Houghton Community Council passed with a 76% yes vote. This was a fair and democratic election. Are you guys saying you are looking to overturn the vote by having the state legislature erase the Houghton Community Council out of existence? That’s part of the message that I’ve been hearing from the community. So, I really want to understand those types of items. To me, the question should be how does the city propose to increase the input from the broader community and actually implement those in their neighborhoods instead of trying to disenfranchise this last vote?”
Toby Nixon, KCC – 1:14:44-1:20:08
Bill Goggin, HCC – 1:21:53-1:26:22
“I appreciate the dialog, but I feel like we’re going through the motions here. The City Council’s already decided what they’re going to do, and just throwing us a bone by letting us have this meeting, and you know that’s something I do appreciate that. I feel like we are one city, and I think that what Houghton brings to the table is making Kirkland a better city. Our collaboration with the planning commission, the hearing examiner always is very productive, and I think there’s better outcomes from the recommendations that are made to City Council as a result.
You want to talk about inequity? Let’s talk about neighborhood plans. We have these neighborhood plans. We have three neighborhoods in Houghton, and the City Council comes in, and they just want to forget what’s in the neighborhood plans, forget that the neighborhood plans basically state that our neighborhoods are single family in character, and they want to make these radical changes by having nine units on a lot if you have a triplex with two ADUs per unit, you basically have nine units on a 8500 square foot lot, and the people of Houghton have said “no, we don’t want that”, and the city doesn’t listen to their own neighborhood plans. So the Houghton Council’s providing a valuable service in showing the city how governance really works. Governance is when you listen to people and follow what’s been documented by listening to those people via the neighborhood plans. That’s a part of the Comprehensive Plan. That’s not happening here.
If you want equity for the rest of the city, I suggest you take those 13 other neighborhoods, and give them the same power that the Houghton Community Council has. Allow them to veto decisions that you make in their neighborhoods. What we’re hearing is that you guys don’t listen at all to them, is what they’re saying. I’m hearing from the Everest neighborhood that decisions that you make in the Everest neighborhood, the comments that they make just you don’t pay any attention at all. Talk about the Houghton Everest Neighborhood Center. We had 300 comments from people on that. We had hearings with 100 people in the room, and the vast majority were for keeping three stories, so as a result, the Houghton side kept the three stories, but on the Everest side they got five stories, and they’re very unhappy about it. This is good governance. This is listening to the citizens. The Houghton Council provides a valuable service and leadership to the neighborhood of Houghton. It’s just a crime what you guys are trying to do here.
The five original community councils in the state of Washington, there’s only two remaining: Houghton Council and East Bellevue Community Council. The other three were voted out by their residents. Their residents no longer saw value. This is what was envisioned in that agreement in 1968. The residents of those neighborhoods got to decide when it was time to sunset. It isn’t the City Council that oversees these community councils. It isn’t the state legislature that should be making the decision. It’s that area that decided it in the first place of merging with the city of Kirkland, the Houghton Community Council. If I was a cynic, I would say that identity politics in this equity study are being used to rapidly dismantle a popularly elected body in the Houghton area that was clearly voted with a majority of 76%. This is just outrageous.
In my eyes, Kirkland City Council has been deceptive, opaque, untruthful, uncollaborative, uninclusive, disrespectful to the Houghton Community Council members, and to the residents of Houghton. You know, we take great pride whenever we have a meeting where there’s stuff that’s involving the public, we always ask the question, “Was the public noticed? Did the public have notice to this before we start talking about it?” None of that’s followed by the city council in trying to dismantle the Houghton Community Council.
My position goes back to Winston Churchill, 1940, in his speech to the House of Commons, he said, “We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets. We shall fight in the hills. We shall never surrender. That’s my position on the Houghton Community Council.”
Kelli Curtis, KCC – 1:27:20-1:31:50
Ruth Wright, HCC – 1:33:02-1:33:35
Happy with others’ statements
“I’ve very curious why the Kirkland City Council wants to sunset the HCC because Kirkland residents voted overwhelmingly for the HCC for another 4 years. So why are you trying to undo the will of the voters who are also your constituents?”
Neal Black, KCC – 1:34:20-1:45:23
Brian Gawthrop, HCC – 1:46:47-1:56:20
I’d like to state, first of all, that this, that I will no longer be a Houghton Community Council member as of the end of the year. I have decided to not run and of course I have, in the election there is a replacement that will be coming. The reason I say that is I think this is such a hot topic because it is human nature to vote towards self-preservation, whether that is for yourself, for your family, your loved ones, for any power you may hold, in whatever way you hold it. I see that in my children, you know, if they get some kind of edge, they want to hold it. I see that in adults as well. I see it in organizations. I think we’re seeing it here.
When I was appointed to the Houghton Community Council 9 years ago, I had never been involved in politics. I’d always wanted to do something, but I didn’t have the energy or the knowhow or the time to run a campaign, to start and get into city council. I’ve since learned that it probably takes roughly $40,000-$50,000 just to be elected to the Kirkland City Council, which, in my opinion, definitely is not equitable. I think many citizens that were so concerned about being represented, that’s out of their reach, and that’s something we should consider in a city as a whole. I think that many, at least two, councilmembers on the Kirkland City Council got their start in politics on the Houghton Community Council, and there’s been many others that have done the same thing. It’s been kind of like training wheels for many politicians that have risen all the way up to the state legislature. I think it has really served, aside from representing the citizens of Houghton, it served a valuable springboard for many people.
That being said, I can understand why some people outside of Houghton, and even inside of Houghton, feel like the community council should not exist. I can see their perspective, but I can also see the perspective of keeping it and how that, we’ve heard several people comment on the timing just seemed suspicious. Now, I’m not saying that it was contrived beforehand, and that the stars were aligned, and so it’s the perfect time to do it, but that’s what it felt like for some, and I think everyone can appreciate that. Again, referring to my kids, they often say “why didn’t you give us a warning before sending us to bed”, and I tell them, “I told you three times, for the past hour”, but they didn’t hear me. Someone made a comment that it was in the packets. Well those packets are hundreds of pages, and we have a hard enough time I think reading our own packets and our full-time jobs and leading our families. So I think everyone has the best intentions here, and again I think it’s a self-preservation instinct as to why this is such a hot issue.
To that end, though, I would, again, I don’t have skin in the game now because I am going to be exiting the Houghton Community Council. I do live in the former city of Houghton within the boundaries, so obviously it impacts me, but I would challenge everyone here on this call to think about what sunsetting means for the Houghton Community Council and how that impacts equity. Think about that and why the Houghton Community Council you feel shouldn’t exist because it happened a long time ago, and it’s not fair to the others. Now think about term limits. Term limits for the Houghton Community Council, term limits for Kirkland City Council, and think how that impacts equity as well. If you get on a seat, it’s pretty hard to dethrone that incumbent, right, but if you have term limits, you can give more people a chance. Something to consider. I don’t know that it would be perfect, but it goes in line with the sunsetting idea and the arguments that I’ve heard this evening. So I would just really urge everyone to consider that.
Also, I wanted to just comment. I realize that many of you had this idea before the report that Chanin Kelly-Rae came out with. I appreciate those of you who actually said that. I think most people had that idea already. One thing I would like to put on the record. I was disappointed. I really had high hopes in my interview with her, and she actually told me during our interview that going into the interview that she thought that the Houghton Community Council should be eliminated before even getting my opinion. By the end of our conversation, she said that I completely changed her mind. She thought it was a great idea for the city of Kirkland, yet it didn’t show up in the report. So I would just like to add that, that I think she has the best intentions, but I also think that she’s doing a lot for a lot of cities, a lot of companies, and that it should be taken, I don’t think it should have the weight that it actually seems to be carrying.
And then, lastly, what I wanted to comment on, is my understanding is there’s other places in Kirkland that also have limitations. I believe that Kingsgate 3 and 4 requires single-family homes, which seems to be limiting to me. I believe there’s an overlay in Holmes Point maybe. I could be wrong; it’s out of my jurisdiction so I’m not an expert. But maybe, I don’t know if this could happen or not, but maybe a way to solve this would be to put it to a vote for all of the city of Kirkland. So, of course people in Houghton are going to vote to keep the Houghton Community Council. It’s in their interest. It’s self-preservation. Why not put it to all of the citizens of Kirkland, and let both sides campaign on the pros and cons, and have time to build their cases and illustrate the advantages and disadvantages. Like Jon Pascal said, there’s a lot of things that Houghton Community Council has added value to in the process. Lots of things even in the nine years that I’ve been on the council where we made impact on Kirkland in a very positive way. I can recall many many times that Neal Black, when he was on the community council, it was almost 20 minutes, almost every session, of him finding things that “Well, did you mean to say it this way or that way? Well, the way that it’s written, let’s change it a little bit, and that’s what we really meant to say it for the city. Otherwise, it means something different. Or a comma should be different; it changes the whole meaning of the sentence.” So it really helped the city of Kirkland, all of Kirkland”.
Mayor/Chair were asked to give a few keys points from the other group. Omitted here.
Larry Toedtli, HCC – 2:03:46-2:05:24
“… that’s the process that I’m most concerned about in this dialog is that the neighborhoods, and the existing people here are also welcomed, not just the future people coming in. I really do believe that the existing people, who have made this city what it is through our taxes, our participation, through our volunteer work, through other types of stuff, is what makes Kirkland Kirkland. We can be welcoming to new people, but we also have to be welcoming to the people that still are here.”
John Kappler, Vice Chair, HCC – 2:07:44-2:09:39
I think my parting comment is, we heard an awful lot about the pros and cons about should we or should we not have a neighborhood council. We’ve also heard a lot of comments about neighborhood planning and densification to meet growth management goals and objectives. For all the years that I’ve lived in Kirkland and been on this council, it’s been the position of the city of Kirkland that we have the capacity to meet the requirements of the Growth Management Act, in terms of infill of housing, that’s never been a question. Kirkland has the capacity to meet its fiduciary responsibility to meet the goals of Growth Management Act. I think the real question is, and as a practicing architect, owning an architectural firm, participating in housing projects, we need to ask with the densification of the existing neighborhoods that we all live in, do we want our neighborhoods to become so dense that they turn into Green Lake? I really think that’s the question. And we can say this is about equity and adding lower income housing and that sort of thing in our neighborhood. Kirkland is a very expensive place to live, some places more expensive than others, but I think to simply allow the state to make legislation at a local level, which is what the state wants to do, that’s what they’re pushing, we heard Neal Black talk about it, that the state wants state legislation and regional planning, not at the city level, and I think this might be the first eroding of local representation of all of the citizens in Kirkland. If you allow one thing to happen, then pretty soon the state is going to take over regional and local planning, and I think that would be a shame for all of us.”