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Government bureaucracy prevails when good men [and women] do nothing.
The Highlands Community Association was incorporated in 1997; and it's first righteous cause in 1999 was very successful. The HCA still exists today with that same motivation--working to make the neighborhood a safer place and a better neighborhood in which to live, work, and play.
A porn store was the original catalyst for the group, the threat of eminent domain as provided by a Declaration of Blight under the State's Community Renewal Act is the group's most pressing issue in 2006.
At the end of this page is a map of the area threatened by Mayor Koelker's "vision for an urban village" in the Renton Highlands, the last bastion really for affordable housing for the low income, disabled, and elderly. Our remaining WWII widows and widowers who depend on the income from their rentals to survive do not deserve the emotional strain from the threat of eminent domain.
The Highlands is a place where People still believe in the private property rights and protections of our US and State Constitutions. The People of the Highlands (as should all Renton citizens) expect their elected officials at the state, county, and city levels to honor their Oaths to uphold Constitutional rights of the People and to have the integrity to pass by the "green stuff" facilitated by the US Supreme Court's terrible decision in Kelo v New London.
The Highlands "study area" sits on the top of hill with a 360-degree view of the area: Mount Rainier, Lake Washington, the Olympics, and cityscapes of nearby areas such as Seattle and Bellevue. This is a "ripe plum" for the greedy developers and bureaucrats, but it is "home" to the People who live there.
Mayor Koelker's vision puts Kelo into action; but just because it is legal doesn't make it right. Morally, she cannot justify taking the private property of one citizen to pass onto a private developer for his own financial enhancement--and the city's. Just imagine how property tax incomes will increase when the land where several duplexes now exist can be converted into 80 units per acre.
It was in December 2005 that certain members of the HCA Board began to suspect that that eminent domain was going to be used in the Highlands. The term "blighted" was being used too often as a "talking point" by members of the mayor's staff. Board members attended a March 8, 2006, City Council Offsite and received a handout there that clearly showed plans for a Declaration of Blight in the Highlands Study Area. Some weeks later, quite by accident, the HCA secretary found an actual implementation schedule with completion dates and estimated completions dates.
This blew the lid right off what is called the mayor's "vision for an urban" village in the Renton Highlands. Needlesstosay, Alex Pietsch, the head of the mayor's Economic Development Neighborhoods and Strategic Planning (EDNSP) group, immediately pulled the webpage from the City's website. But the damage had been done. "The cat" was out of the bag.
This prompted a great political cartoon which the mayor and her loyal city councilmembers did not like; but it is still popular with everyone else. "IKEA" on her shirt is so fitting, since she tried to get the street name changed, and failing that, she declared the area around IKEA to be a recreational zone, so that signs could be erected to that effect. Also, the city's motto is "Ahead of the Curve," so this lent itself well to "Ahead of the Curb" in this instance.
Four public hearings have been held to date, the highest attended in the history of the City of Renton. But the message is still not clear to the mayor and several of her loyal council members. Fifty property owners/residents attended the first hearing, approx 100 the second, approx 300 at the third, and almost 400 people attended the last public hearing. The outgrowth of these public meetings is the HCA's "14 points," a wonderful compromise proposal that the mayor will not consider, but it is the City Council who decide, so we hope they are driven by something other than visions of dollar signs dancing in their heads.
But that isn't enough for Mayor Koelker to get direction from the People she is supposed to be serving. She is starting her own Highlands Advisory Board and has instituted neighborhood association rules which make the HCA ineligible to be recognized as an "official" city neighborhood association. This denies our members the right to participate in the Neighborhood Grant Program--the mayor forgets it's their money too. But that has not stopped us. We fight on because our cause is righteous, and hers is not.
Those who spoke at these city council meetings were sent letters like this one, assuring them that there would plenty of time to comment later. Later? Like after the zoning was adopted and it was too late? Zoning is the baseline for all that follows, and the mayor knew that when she sent these letters.
At the third public hearing, the mayor treated the People so badly that a fourth public hearing had to be scheduled to allow citizens a fair opportunity to speak. Someone wrote "bitch" on the mayor's private bathroom mirror that night. Most people believe that the mayor did it herself to deflect attention from her own atrocious behavior, and in the police report, she targets none other than the HCA secretary as the likely suspect, although the newspapers focused on City Council President Randy Corman because he had tried to get the mayor to let the people speak, and she accused him of breaking the law. We still don't know what law that was, but Randy has been cleared. The police did not consider the HCA secretary as a serious possibility, and she was on camera most of the time anyway. The best recap of this ridiculous lipstick case is found on Randy Corman's website. The case has been closed without the true "Lipstick Zorro" being identified.
Thirty minutes before the deadline on proposed upzoning, the HCA secretary filed a SEPA Appeal regarding the determination of non-significance regarding impacts from the upzoning. Keep in mind that the Environmental Review Board (ERC) is comprised of the mayor's department heads, so how impartial is any ruling from this committee going to be? Take a look at the proposed zoning and see if you believe there are no environmental impacts from as many as 80 units per acre. No impacts? No way!
The HCA secretary was busy studying how to make motions and wondering how she was going to defend her Appeal, when Providence smiled upon her and Brent Carson of Buck & Gordon agreed to represent the HCA.
Today, this is the area threatened by the mayor's "vision for an urban village." BUT if a Declaration of Blight is used in the Highlands today, what other Renton neighborhood will be threatened tomorrow?
You can read this Newsweek article about the Kelo decision here and
the Castle Coalition website has up-to-date information on
eminent domain abuses all over the country, facilitated by the Kelo decision.
On Friday, June 23, 2006, the HCA held a rally at the corner of Grady Way South and Talbot Road South to commemorate the one year anniversay since the Kelo decision. There was coverage by several of the media. Here's the story.
In light of the bad press from this newspaper article (mayor involved in trying to use eminent domain to take the city council president's home for developer gain), Mayor Koelker presented this letter to the City Council on Monday, June 26th. No HCA members were in attendance that night. City Council President Randy Corman indicated he had no idea the mayor was going to make these proposals.
The HCA's response to Mayor Koelker's letter of June 26, 2006, was hand delivered to City Hall on June 28, 2006. Copies were also provided to all councilmembers and to the local press.
On June 29, 2006, the Institute for Justice had a guest editorial in the Seattle PI.
On July 17, 2006, City Council President Randy Corman presented a Motion to eliminate use of the Community Renewal Act in the Highlands, and the rest of the City Council supported him.
Dan Clawson commented after the vote that they could always put it back on the table later if needed. And the HCA learned that Rebecca Lind was at the King County Council with her presentation on the success of "urbanization through zoning." Will the mayor and her staff ever get the message?
The HCA thanks City Council President Randy Corman for taking the lead on July 17th in the effort to get the Highlands Redevelopment Project on "the right track." Please visit Randy's BLOG for late breaking news.