Bellevue City Council Candidates Wrestle With Light Rail, Traffic

Oct 2, 2013

Correction 10/10/2013: This story has been changed to clarify candidate Vandana Slatter’s position on light rail and differs from the audio.

Bellevue has three City Council races on the ballot this fall. The candidates for those races say they have ideas to help Bellevue manage future growth and to make the downtown feel less like “an airport terminal.” They spoke at a candidate forum yesterday hosted by the Bellevue Downtown Association.

The Bellevue Downtown Association hosted a forum for three City Council seats on the November ballot.
The Bellevue Downtown Association hosted a forum for three City Council seats on the November ballot.
Credit KUOW Photo/Amy Radil

Kevin Wallace is a Bellevue developer and incumbent City Council member. At the candidate forum, he said challenging Sound Transit over its planned light-rail route through Bellevue was one of the proudest accomplishments in his first term.

“We ended up creating a plan that has a light-rail line that works great for Sound Transit that they support and that has an alignment that will be entirely out of our road right-of-way so it won’t interfere with traffic,” Wallace said.

Wallace’s opponent is Steve Kasner. He said Wallace’s tactic was to spend money in support of another light-rail route that never had a chance.

“In the last four years, the council wasted a million dollars on a light-rail route that didn’t work that could have been put into other projects,” Kasner said.

During the light-rail controversy, the Bellevue City Council frequently split into a four-to-three voting pattern. The majority of more fiscally conservative members voted with Wallace to resist Sound Transit’s plans. But one of Wallace’s allies is leaving the council and that could shake up alliances. Don Davidson had health problems and lost in the August primary.

But Davidson came to watch the recent forum and predicted a more centrist council in his absence.  “I’m probably one of the more conservative members on the council, so I think it’s going to move toward the center, but how far I don’t know,” he said.

One of the candidates running to replace him is Lynne Robinson. She chairs the Bellevue Parks Board. Robinson said the compromise rail route between the city and Sound Transit is three blocks farther from downtown than it should be. But as the project enters its final design phase, she said the city needs to help it succeed.

“We need to make decisions on our stations that are going to encourage people to take light rail to work and walk three blocks and get to their job instead of just driving into an underground parking garage,” Robinson said.

Robinson said Bellevue needs to increase options for people to bike and walk. Her opponent, biotech employee Vandana Slatter, said the city also needs to address traffic and mobility in the decade it will take to build the light rail line. “The biggest issue for transportation people have said is light rail. But when I talk to people in Bellevue, what I actually hear is a different word. I hear the word traffic. There’s a lot of traffic congestion,” Slatter said. She said the city should ask people to vote on whether to fund traffic improvements.  

The final council race is between longtime member Conrad Lee and his challenger Lyndon Heywood.

Heywood said he’s excited for Bellevue’s new waterfront park which he said will bring more character to downtown. “Downtown here, you know, it’s perfectly fine. But to be honest it’s all nice and new and sparkly, but a lot of the time it feels like a bit of an airport terminal,” Heywood said.

But incumbent Councilmember Lee told the downtown audience that downtown is “the goose that lays the golden egg” in Bellevue. “And we need to make sure we have the appropriate resources and make sure we spend them correctly,” Lee said.

Lee is currently serving as Bellevue’s mayor. In Bellevue the post rotates among the City Council members. The city is in the process of hiring a manager who oversees the administration.