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Bellevue and its new mayor: An era of calm and regional influence?

As Bellevue grows, Claudia Balducci wants to drop hot talk, create smarter progress and a stronger community.
A Bellevue office building.

A Bellevue office building. Photo: Flickr user Wonderlane

Bellevue Mayor Claudia Balducci, right, and Kevin Wallace, deputy mayor, after they were selected to the positions.

Bellevue Mayor Claudia Balducci, right, and Kevin Wallace, deputy mayor, after they were selected to the positions. City of Bellevue

In a YouTube video capturing the heat of Bellevue’s light rail talks in 2010, a city council meeting devolves into a shouting match between councilmembers Claudia Balducci and Kevin Wallace.

“You have time and again misled the public,” spits Wallace, insinuating that Balducci’s position as a Sound Transit board member posed a conflict of interest.

Momentarily speechless, she counters with her own allegations: “How many times are you going to put your personal and financial interests before the constituents of Bellevue?”

It wasn’t the first or last time council deliberations resembled a soap opera. But both insist it’s now water under the bridge.

In January, Balducci replaced Conrad Lee as mayor of Bellevue. Wallace was named deputy mayor.

Though the title of mayor is mostly ceremonial — Bellevue operates under a council-manager form of government — the position has begun to carry more clout in regional politics. As Bellevue emerges from Seattle's shadow, the city and its mayor are increasingly looked to as it as a center of economic develolpment, political power and even cultural diversity.

“Right after that vote, we stood up to take a picture together. I looked up at him and I said: ‘We’re partners now,’ remembers Balducci with a laugh.

The next two years will bring their own set of challenges. Will East Link advance on deadline and at budget? Will Bellevue foster the arts and culture hub it envisions? And can a city that insists its neighborhoods are still its heart avoid urban sprawl while growing its downtown skyline?

Balducci seems to think so. Soon after taking the helm, she stepped down from her three-year term as the King County Director of Youth and Juvenile Detention, to assume a new position as Strategy Section Manager for criminal justice in the county’s office of Performance Strategy and Budget. It's a job, she said, that will permit her more time for city responsibilities.

From Seattle’s vantage point, Bellevue may still be somewhat in its infancy, but the years ahead will represent a growth spurt — both developmentally and culturally. By the end of the year Sound Transit expects to move its East Link project to a construction timeline. Balducci insists the drama of city council meetings is behind them, but the contentious placement of a Sound Transit maintenance facility that has identified three sites in Bellevue and one in Lynwood, remains unresolved.

When the council first became aware of the facility in 2011, the members claimed Sound Transit had been duplicitous, negotiating details of the East Link alignment with the city, while omitting its search for a 20-acre-plus rail yard. Sound Transit expects to revisit conversations and ultimately select a site by the end of the year — either a plot near Lynwood’s transit center, two overlapping options in the Bel-Red neighborhood or a final site west of 140th Avenue.

The deepest irony, says Balducci, is that after the city carefully crafted land-use plans to allow for office towers, retail space, apartments and greater walkability in the corridor, a rail yard expected to park 80 cars a night could stifle transit-oriented development. “I definitely don’t know the end to this story yet," she said. "But the key will be to create multiple uses of the site, wherever it goes.”

Balducci, who has served on the Sound Transit Board since 2010 and been one of council’s most staunch supporters of light rail, is optimistic that if a Bellevue site is ultimately chosen, it could be creatively integrated into its surroundings. At her urging, Sound Transit last month convened a panel of the Urban Land Institute, a transit-development think tank.

In many ways, East Link’s maintenance facility is an easy issue for Bellevue, because the key decision on the location rests out of the council’s hands. At the other end of the spectrum are efforts to cultivate an arts scene in the city to match its growing metropolitan status.

“As a city we’ve got a great bone structure, but arts and culture, that’s our soul,” said Balducci.

Past projects have launched to a tepid reception. The most notable is the downtown Tateuchi Center, by now an almost cautionary tale among arts venturists. What was to be a 2,000 seat concert hall — with world-class performers, a cabaret venue and state-of-the-art acoustics — is still largely a vision. Its only notable footprint is a small presentation spot in the Hyatt Hotel. When the recession hit donations had crested at $60 million, leaving a remaining $100 million to be raised.

Bellevue’s other arts ventures have floundered or faced challenges, too. Ten20, a black box theatre built into an upscale apartment tower, struggled to lease its space. And this winter, Pacific Northwest Ballet’s Francia Russell Center in Bel-Red conceded that small changes to light rail’s alignment would effectively demolish its facility.


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Comments:

Posted Wed, Apr 9, 7:17 a.m. Inappropriate

1) Will East Link advance on deadline and at budget?

East Link does not have a budget. More significantly, the political appointees controlling the board of that oligarchy have limitless taxing and spending powers, so even if there was a budget for that capital project and they wanted to pay their contractor-cronies more they'd just do what they do on every one of their megaprojects -- increase the budget.

East Link does not have a deadline. The 2008 ballot proposition said that East Link would be in service in 2020. That date has slipped about a year every year since.

2. [C]an a city that insists its neighborhoods are still its heart avoid urban sprawl while growing its downtown skyline?

Please. The 1990 GMA enabling legislation and the subsequent King County GMA ordinances ENSURE there will not be urban sprawl beyond the designated boundaries. The Bellevue commercial property owners ensured their holdings would be scarce and increasing valuable by those legal limits. Wallace properties has recently-upzoned parcels along the Bel-Red Road that similarly won't face competition because of those "smart growth" legal limits. That's why Kevin Wallace's fake-opposition to Sound Transit's rail plans always were so transparently lame.

3. Freeman at one point accused [Balducci] of trading tax dollars for a government job and a seat on Sound Transit’s board.

Everybody gets how Kemper Freeman was a fake-opponent of Sound Transit's plans to build rail right to his commercial property developments in downtown Bellevue, right?

Freeman has been a key player in the propaganda efforts to make that oligarchy's abusive regressive taxing look good to the low-information public.

What Kemper Freeman actually did -- signing the lame Statement Against for the 2008 voters guide, arguing weakly in opposition to ST2 at the roadshow stops with Nickels during the run-up to that election, directing some money to get the purposefully-flawed I-1125 measure on the ballot, ignoring the legitimate legal claims that could derail Sound Transit (and East Link in particular), and prosecuting the bogus lawsuits -- does not come close to any kind of legitimate opposition.

Freeman always acted as a shill for Sound Transit. He was the face of the opposition that Sound Transit wanted. He never raised the good arguments against that municipality's structure, he didn't point out how the ballot propositions contained numerous lies by omission, he never described the abusive financing plan the appointees on that board were (and are) hiding from the public, etc. What he did say about Sound Transit was confusing and deliberately non-persuasive.

Of course he carefully avoided addressing the abusive aspects of what the appointive board intended to do for the financial beneficiaries of those grandiose taxing and spending plans.

Sound Transit's PR and legal teams used Freeman to raise stupid arguments to further their causes for years. Those PR and legal campaigns were designed to obtain both the right kinds of press, and unjustified case law.

The second writ action Freeman and his lawyer Phil Talmadge filed in 2011 is a real piece of work. They brought what only can be described as idiotic claims to try to get a veneer of legal cover for WSDOT's plan to transfer vast amounts of I-90 corridor highway infrastructure to Sound Transit. The justices got the case and as is their bent they played along by handing WSDOT exactly the “cover” it desired. You can read about that flagrantly abusive legal proceeding here:

http://freeman2lawsuit.webs.com/

Hey Claudia Balducci – you are a lawyer. Disagree with anything in that essay? Log in here and respond. It is free. The log-in process is not difficult. Get one of your staffers to help you if you can't figure it out.

crossrip

Posted Wed, Apr 9, 10:23 a.m. Inappropriate

Any lawyers or judges read Crosscut?

There are 36,000 WSBA members.

Let's discuss whether or not Sound Transit's structure complies with what the 14th Amendment demands in terms of Americans' rights to vote for and against the members of a local legislative body. Hint: it does not.

This shouldn't come as any surprise. The last time our state's legislature set up a regional transit municipality for the greater Seattle area it was old-Metro. That entity was structured in a way that violated the 14th Amendment because of how it did not respect voters' rights, and it existed here for over thirty years. A court struck old-Metro down in 1990. Washington's state legislature has a thing about acting with deliberate indifference to the rights to vote for local legislators that the 14th Amendment affords us.

Maybe Claudia Balducci wants to log in and mount a spirited defense of Sound Transit's appointive-board structure? Just kidding . . . she's WAY too compromised to try that.

What's really interesting is that NO lawyer is willing to try arguing Sound Transit has a constitutional structure in comments sections, even anonymously. THAT shows how far from the controlling precedents the state legislators veered in 1992 when they adopted ch. 81.112 RCW.

Can anyone think of a single other legal issue no lawyer in this state is willing to argue in public?

crossrip

Posted Wed, Apr 9, 8:09 p.m. Inappropriate

So Claudia, you know Crosscut is running this piece.

I'd like to interact with you here. We can exchange ideas, ask each other questions, that sort of thing. Log in and chat.

You heard Tony Benn passed last month, right? What a statesman! A top drawer political leader in my book. Of course I've got no idea what you think about his positions on government.

Here's an excerpt from Benn's speech to the House of Commons in March, 2001:

If one meets a powerful person--Adolf Hitler, Joe Stalin or Bill Gates--ask them five questions: "What power have you got? Where did you get it from? In whose interests do you exercise it? To whom are you accountable? And how can we get rid of you?" If you cannot get rid of the people who govern you, you do not live in a democratic system.

http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Tony_Benn

Obviously you were appointed to Sound Transit's legislating body. That's how you got your power. Your powers include creating new local laws to which the millions of people around here immediately become subject. Some of those ordinances are meant to impact everyone here for the rest of our lives.

Sound Transit's legislative body is exceedingly powerful. The unchecked powers that board possesses to set taxing, spending, budgeting, train line and station siting, long-term bond selling, and innumerable other major governmental policies are vast. No other municipality in the country is structured as it is.

You and the other political appointees on that board rely on state enabling legislation to create local laws that impact every one of the three million people in this region. For example, those taxes you and your colleagues chose to impose are nasty and heavy. Those new legal policies for taxing you adopted in September, 2009 will result in billions of dollars of sales tax confiscations. Those are designed to adversely impact those with the least the hardest, and take food off the tables of families who can least afford that.

We the people obviously did not choose you to set that law, or any of Sound Transit's other laws.

What may be even worse though is that no political means are available to the millions of people here for getting rid of you.

Maybe you take lots of pleasure from not being subject to removal from Sound Transit's board by any democratic political means.

My neighbors (and all of their neighbors, and all of their neighbors) have no way to get rid of you via political processes! That sucks, and it plainly is unconstitutional. Don't tell us you are ignorant of the 1967 US Supreme Court opinion that controls on this issue.

Should we try to get rid of you by other than political means? Maybe people could send e-mails suggesting you step down.

crossrip

Posted Thu, Apr 10, 5:18 p.m. Inappropriate

Take 'em to court if you think you have a case. Or are the triple posts on the internets more productive and will solve the issue? Same 'ol same 'ol.

Treker

Posted Thu, Apr 10, 6:37 p.m. Inappropriate

Heh.

This is an excellent forum for discussing whether Sound Transit's board has a constitutional structure.

Obviously you are incapable of arguing the 1967 _Sailors_ opinion isn't controlling precedent that forbade the state legislature from delegating all those governmental powers to the RTA's appointive board.

Go ahead -- explain to everyone why no lawyer will try arguing this issue here. All they'd have to do is post a couple of paragraphs along the following lines: "_Sailors_ does not control because [X]. The opinions from the US Supreme Court that justify our state legislature's delegation of all those governmental powers to the RTA's appointive board in 1992 are these -- [Y] and [Z]."

If such opinions existed there would be absolutely no downside to anyone if they were identified here. You understand that, right?

crossrip

Posted Thu, Apr 10, 9:52 p.m. Inappropriate

Claudia Balducci:

If you aren't reading this you are clueless.

I asked you a very reasonable question: how can the Americans here get rid of you from Sound Transit's board via political means?

If you can't answer that, then we have to discuss non-political means of eliminating you from that municipality's board.

It's up to you. Either you like Americans controlling whether you sit on that local government's board by voting, or you want Americans using other methods to get rid of you. Your choice.

crossrip

Posted Sat, Apr 12, 2:31 a.m. Inappropriate

Take them to court. Sue them. If you live within the Sound Transit boundaries, sue Sound Transit and the state to recover the portion of your car tabs which goes to Sound Transit.

Sue them. Sue them all.

simorgh

Posted Sat, Apr 12, 9:17 a.m. Inappropriate

Thx for the suggestion!

crossrip

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