YarrowBay hot topic for Black Diamond mayoral candidates

Three candidates, incumbent Mayor Rebecca Olness, Keith Watson, and Dave Gordon, will be on the ballot in the August primary, two of whom will go on to the general election in November.

As the Black Diamond mayoral race kicks off, YarrowBay’s master planned developments and the city’s survival are hot topics for the candidates.

Three candidates, incumbent Mayor Rebecca Olness, Keith Watson, and Dave Gordon, will be on the ballot in the August primary, two of whom will go on to the general election in November.


Rebecca Olness

Olness, who remained in office after a change of government measure was rejected in November, feels that the city needs someone with experience in government and familiarity with the MPDs to see them through.

“Knowing what could happen I just decided I couldn’t live with myself if Ididn’t try to see everything through and stop what I’m afraid could happen,” Olness said of why she decided to run for re-election. “I’m worried about continued stalling on YarrowBay’s project. I’m worried that if we don’t get some businesses in town and some tax revenue that the city is going to die.”

Olness has lived on Lake Sawyer for nearly 40 years, has a masters degree in education from the University of Washington, and worked for the Kent School District for more than 30 years. She was first elected to the Black Diamond City Council in 2005 and was elected to her first term as mayor in 2009.

“I really want to see this thing through and I believe that the city needs somebody with my experience to carry it through because I was there when the MPDs were going on and I feel I’ve been through all of this,” Olness said.

Should she be re-elected, the top three issues Olness would focus on are community safety, seeing that the MPDs are carried out, and continuing to provide services to residents despite the city’s tight budget.

“Funding police and fire is number one,” Olness said. “You can only do that out of the general fund and until we get a tax base we are in big trouble.”

Olness expects that long term the influx of residents from the MPDs and the resulting commercial growth will solve the city’s revenue and budget problems. In the short term she is working with city staff to pursue grants to help fill the vital services funding gap.

“What usually happens with those grants is they usually happen for three years and then the city is obligated to take over and I do believe that if YarrowBay breaks ground, and if we start having some construction, that within three years we will be able to be OK financially and we will be able to take that over because we do desperately need police and firefighters.”

As for YarrowBay, Olness feels that making sure the growth is done according to the development plans will be a key concern for the city.

“The thing that I think people don’t realize is that everything is incremental,” Olness said about the MPDs. “They build a certain number of houses and there’s a checklist that if this impacts traffic more than they said it would, or whatever, or if they don’t use the design guidelines then the city issues no more permits until they fix everything. It’s really a safeguard.”

Providing services for residents now is something Olness sees as a major challenge for the city in the short term.

“Again, I think we’ll be OK in two or three years,” Olness said. “I believe that if we are very, very careful we can maybe tread water for two or three years until we get some revenue. And that has to be through businesses and through growth.”

The city is currently engaged in a funding agreement with YarrowBay which should help the city stay afloat until the growth materializes.

“YarrowBay decided to do that (the funding agreement) so that when they were doing they’re applications there would be adequate staff to take care of things,” Olness said. “Now YarrowBay funds, I believe, 19 out of 21 (city staff positions).

When it comes to the city’s financial problems Olness said, “We don’t expect to really recover until we start to get some growth.”


Keith Watson

For candidate Keith Watson, YarrowBay is anecessity, not something to look forward to.

“Do I like having a whole bunch of growth here? Not really,” Watson said. “But as time goes on the city finds itself needing more funds and that (the MPDs) is the envisioned way to get them.”

Watson sees the bright side in the upgrades YarrowBay will do for the city.

“I think how the YarrowBay plan is different from some of the surrounding communities is in the plan they have to upgrade a lot of things outside of the property which I think is good for the city,” Watson said.

Watson has lived most of his life in Black Diamond, first coming to the city with his family when he was 2-years-old and, after moving away before he started school, he came back in the early ‘50s. He holds a degree in education from what was then Seattle Pacific College.

Currently Watson is the president of the Black Diamond Historical Society and the Black Diamond Community Center as well as chair of the Planning Commission.

“The last four years have been very tumultuous and in talking with citizens, both pro and con (growth), everything you can imagine — the unity just isn’t there.” Watson said of his decision to run. “My plan is to bring unity to the government so that we can set goals and plans that encourage people’s input.”

Watson said the top three issues he would focus on, should he be elected, would be unity, city finances, and leadership and vision related to the MPDs.

“Unifying the government itself is a huge task,” Watson said. “I think everybody needs to be heard and joint decisions made involving all of the government…that’s what I’ve done at the Historical Society and the Community Center. Bring people together with diverse ideas and come up with solutions that work.”

One area of concern for Watson in the city finances is rate hikes for utilities.

“We really need to examine that (the city’s financial situation) and recently we had to raise water fees by 15 percent this year and 15 percent next year,” Watson said. “The reason for that is that our projected budget, our five year budget, thought that we would have the build out for the (YarrowBay) project by now.”

Watson said the next key step for the city in the MPDs will be enforcing the comprehensive plan.

“The city is the authority as far as making sure they follow the comprehensive plan and we have the ability to stop it if they aren’t following the comprehensive plan and we can use that authority if need be,” Watson said.


Dave Gordon

Candidate Dave Gordon feels the city is relying too much on the YarrowBay projects and that more research needs to be completed.

“I don’t think the proper analysis has been done,” Gordon said. “I think it’s something that subject matter experts need to be listened to. I think that there’s a tremendous amount of resources willing to donate for free their time and the subject matter experts, from the council meetings I’ve been reviewing, don’t seem to be listened to.”

Gordon also feels that the environmental review that was done was inadequate and a critical review wasn’t completed.

Gordon spent most of his life in Kent and moved to Black Diamond about

seven years ago because he loved how peaceful the area was and the community. He holds a bachelor of science degree from ITT Seattle. Gordon designs and builds computers that monitor flight testing for Boeing.

He decided to run for mayor because he said his friends and neighbors asked him to.

“When so many people approached me, asking me, I felt obligated — that they feel I have the skills and could do a better job,” Gordon said.

For Gordon, the top three issues he would focus on, should he be elected, are safety, the budget, and the processes of city hall in managing the MPDs.

A top safety concern for Gordon is that in the last year the city laid off two police officers.

“As you delve deeper into this thing, safety is not the priority of the current administration,” Gordon said. “When you start laying off police officers, that’s the last thing that you should be doing. Public safety has to be number one.”

Gordon also feels that the city needs to review its budget and thinks that the city could better live within its means.

“I don’t think City Hall is run efficiently enough,” Gordon said. “It really comes down to stimulus versus austerity…I swing toward austerity. We need to live within our means. We need to stop the dependence on the developer growth. It’s great, it’s there, we’re gonna leverage it.However, we shouldn’t be dependent on it.”

Gordon thinks that the city could better support local businesses by cutting the red tape and could potentially implement things like temporary tax breaks to attract new business.

“We need to promote the current growth. We have this enormous amount of growth — that’s in the future. Between now and the future is a gap,” Gordon.

Gordon said it is important to him that the MPDs are handled well by the city government, something he believes he can help with.

“What I can bring to City Hall is an in-depth knowledge of technology…the sophisticated modeling for future risk, sophisticated modeling for growth, those types of tools just aren’t used.”


To find more information about the primary election visit the county’s elections website at www.kingcounty.gov/elections.