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Houghton Community Council debate back in Olympia

Twenty-two year Houghton Community Council vice chair Elsie Weber testifies in Olympia against Senate Bill 1812 last March. The measure failed and a new bill - House Bill 2610 - was introduced in Olympia on Jan. 18. The new measure would end community councils statewide. Joining Weber is Ken Seal, left, and Steve Kasner, of the East Bellevue Community Council, the only other community council in the state. - File photo
Twenty-two year Houghton Community Council vice chair Elsie Weber testifies in Olympia against Senate Bill 1812 last March. The measure failed and a new bill - House Bill 2610 - was introduced in Olympia on Jan. 18. The new measure would end community councils statewide. Joining Weber is Ken Seal, left, and Steve Kasner, of the East Bellevue Community Council, the only other community council in the state.
— image credit: File photo

The debate of whether or not the nearly 50-year-old Houghton Community Council should cease to exist is back in Olympia.

House Bill 2610, which aims to end the HCC and the East Bellevue Community Council, was introduced in the Legislature on Jan. 18. Kirkland and Bellevue have the only two community councils in the state.

But unlike last year’s contested HB 1812, the new bill would not require a citywide vote to end the municipal corporations.

“As I thought more about it and talked to people in Houghton, that (the citywide vote) was a bit of a contrivance,” said 45th District Rep. Larry Springer, who is sponsoring the bill, along with 45th District Rep. Roger Goodman and 48th District Rep. Deb Eddy. Other bill sponsors include Reps. Derek Stanford, D-Bothell, Luis Moscoso, D-Mountlake Terrace, and Ruth Kagi, D-Lake Forest Park.

“The difference is this year’s bill says when HCC’s current term expires, they are simply disbanded. So there wouldn’t be a vote, they would just cease to exist – period.”

The community councils’ terms would expire on Dec. 31, 2013.

Springer added a citywide vote would be contrary to the HCC statute that currently exists and believes that eliminating the vote is a “more honest way of approaching it now.” He also said he doesn’t want to put cities through the expense of a vote.

And saving cities money is one of the main reasons why he is sponsoring the bill.

“Part of the rationale behind this was the same as last year, we the Legislature are tasked with coming up with a number of suggestions to reduce the burden on local governments by giving them more revenue flexibility or by reducing the number of things they have to do to lessen their costs,” said Springer. “We are looking at a number of ways of streamlining government and getting rid of a number of afflictive functions and this falls in that category.”

The HCC’s total estimated expenses cost the city nearly $70,000 a year, according to a Finance Committee meeting report on Oct. 26, 2010.

Springer said the Legislature is currently reviewing several “junior governments,” such as cemetery and library districts.

“I could easily have let this (the HCC) be thrown in the mix with these districts,” said Springer. “If I did that, I thought it would look like I’m trying to bury it again and sneak the bill through. I’m not going through that argument again.”

He is also sponsoring HB 2610 because the HCC gives the 6,300 residents within its boundaries the authority to make land-use decisions.

“It’s no secret to anybody - I said the same thing when I was mayor 10 years ago,” said Springer. “I  don’t believe the HCC should exist because it fundamentally violates the democratic principle of one person, one vote. In Houghton, they get two votes.”

However, many in the Houghton area disagree.

A group of residents launched an online petition this week to “Save Houghton Community Municipal Corporation and Defeat HB 2610.”

The petition urges state representatives to defeat the measure and claims “we should not be legislating away something that is a prior agreement between two former cities, particularly when neither party to the agreement has asked for its termination.”

The group also noted that no notice was given to Houghton citizens about the measure, and enacting the bill would “deprive property owners of a right previously enjoyed.”

The Kirkland Council has not formally taken a position on the measure, though individual council members have expressed their own opinions, including Councilwoman Penny Sweet, who called the HCC a “costly redundancy."

A public hearing on the measure was held in the House Committee on Local Government on Tuesday.

Houghton was the first community in the state to have its own neighborhood council, which was established in 1968 after a new state law allowed for the smaller of two merging cities to form its own community council.

Houghton and Kirkland agreed to consolidate, with the caveat that a community council would be established to review the city’s land-use decisions that related to the Houghton area. This gave the HCC the authority to veto those decisions, if necessary.

Houghton’s boundaries include the central Houghton and Lakeview neighborhoods, and a section of Bridle Trails.

 

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