Candidates for executive discuss transportation, land use
July 1, 2009
By Michael Rowe
About 100 voters had their first glimpse of the King County Executive candidates at a forum June 25 at Twin Falls Middle School in North Bend.
The questions ranged from transportation and land use issues to concerns over a recent state audit of the county’s construction projects management.
All six major candidates participated in the event: King County Councilmen Dow Constantine and Larry Phillips, former TV news anchor Susan Hutchinson, State Senator Fred Jarrett, State Representative Ross Hunter, and engineer and businessman Alan Lobdell. The candidates face an Aug. 18 primary in which voters will select the top two candidates who will go on the ballot in the Nov. 3 general election.
Constantine and Phillips tried to distance themselves from former King County Executive Ron Sims. Hunter and Jarrett said that they would bring their combination of business and political experience to county government. Hutchinson and Lobdell touted their outsider status, each saying they were running because residents outside Seattle are frustrated with the county.
Hutchinson, a Seattle resident, noted that many landowners chafe under the county’s land use regulations and it is time to go back to the drawing board.
Lobdell, who lives in Covington, agreed.
“You deserve the right to make a profit with the property you bought,” Lobdell said.
Phillips, of Seattle, said that the county has an obligation to change the way it handles land use issues. He said the state needs to clarify how counties should use the best available science to make land use decisions. He also pledged that the county would work better with rural landowners.
Constantine, of Seattle, said that he would streamline some environmental regulations rather than forcing landowners to pay for expensive and time-consuming environmental impact studies.
Hunter, of Medina, also said the county’s inflexibility in the way it regulates land uses should be changed. He said he would look at changing some systems to reduce the expense and time required for getting land use permits.
On transportation, Jarrett, of Mercer Island, said there needs to be a holistic approach to transportation. He would focus on improving the transportation system, not the individual modes of transport.
Lobdell said that transportation issues were daunting, and not something that can be fixed quickly. He said emphasis should be placed on roads, because many commuters have to rely on their own vehicles to get to and from work. He said he would push for a new north-south bypass on the Eastside.
Constantine also said that he would use transportation to bring new investments to the community.
Hunter said that he would try to make the various transportation agencies in the county coordinate their activities better. He would consider offering more transit to cities as an incentive for them to increase the density of residential developments.
Hutchinson said that transportation was the number one issue facing the county.
On the issue of government accountability, Jarrett said that the current system of measuring performance by the efforts of county employees should be changed to measure the results.
Hunter said that the current council and administration “owned” the negative audit that the county recently received from the state. He criticized the county for giving 4 percent raises during the worst recession in 80 years.
Hutchinson also said it was time for the county to tighten its belt.
Jarrett faulted the executive’s office for fostering an environment of unaccountability by filtering the information the county executive receives.
“We need to hold the council and the executive accountable for what we deliver and what it costs to deliver,” Jarrett said.
Lobdell said that he would reduce salaries from the top-down to have the credibility to approach labor unions and ask for a 2.5 percent cut for union employees.
As a final question, the candidates were asked to respond to the recent state audit of the county’s construction project management.
Almost all of the candidates voiced their frustration with the lack of accountability indicated by the audit. However, Lobdell took a different tack on the issue of the audit, saying that overall the problems weren’t that bad and that fixing construction management would be easy for him given his own project management experience.
Forum organizer Gary Fancher, of North Bend, developed the questions, in cooperation with 5th District Democratic and Republican representatives and the King County Municipal League.