BELLEVUE — While Amazon has been a hot topic among candidates for Seattle City Council seats, the company is also frequently cited – though often in quieter, more excited tones – by candidates running for Bellevue City Council.
Amazon plans to build a 43-story tower in Bellevue as part of its goal to have “several thousand” employees in the Eastside city by 2024. The tower and several other existing or planned offices will total about 1.8 million square feet in Bellevue.
How the city responds to the influx of workers will be a significant responsibility of the Bellevue City Council, which has four seats on the ballot in the November election.
Three of the four races have an incumbent. Councilmembers Janice Zahn, John Stokes and Jennifer Robertson are running for their second, third and fourth terms, respectively. The Position 3 seat is being vacated by Mayor John Chelminiak, who was selected as mayor in 2018 and isn’t running for City Council re-election.
Here’s a look at the Position 3 and Position 5 seats. Read about the races for the Position 1 and 7 seat seats here.
Jeremy Barksdale is facing Stephanie Walter in the race for the Position 3 seat.
Barksdale moved to Washington from Virginia six years ago to work at Microsoft and is now a user experience researcher at Unity Technologies. He is a former chair of the Bellevue Planning Commission and a board member of Fuse Washington, a left-leaning advocacy organization.
He’s lived in a range of communities, which he says makes him familiar with the changes the city faces as it becomes a larger urban area. The common thread, he said, is that people should feel like they are a part of a community.
One of his priorities is taking steps to make Bellevue more affordable for those below the city’s median household income of $105,000. One step would be to lessen the day-to-day expenses for those who need it most, he said, citing the Bellevue Urban Garden, where produce is grown and then donated to local food banks.
If elected, he would focus on how Bellevue can improve and expand the ways city officials use data and technology. One idea is to survey residents who are moving away from Bellevue to find out their reasons for leaving and what suggestions they have to improve the city. One example of new technology, he said, is the Vision Zero initiative, a national movement adopted in Bellevue that aims to eliminate traffic injuries and deaths by using technology to predict where collisions are most likely to occur.
Barksdale is the frontrunner going into the November election, having received 59% of the vote in the primary, compared with Walter’s 36%. Walter, however, has nearly caught up with Barksdale in contributions; Barksdale has raised $79,862 and Walter has raised $71,901 as of Oct. 25.
Walter is a finance professional at Overlake Hospital, a vice chair of the East Bellevue Community Council and former Planning Commission chair. She has lived in Bellevue for more than 30 years.
She pointed to her work on the planning commission and how Bellevue has concentrated its growth in two spots: downtown, where Amazon will build its towers, and the Bel-Red Corridor, an area that’s rapidly been redeveloped from an industrial site to a mixed-use neighborhood to be eventually served by light rail. Those changes, she said, add density without impacting the surrounding neighborhoods.
“When I look at what is coming up in our city, I see great excitement over the changes, and trepidation related to taxes and housing affordability, and I see how all those connections may be concerning, but I also see an opportunity to be innovative,” she said.
If elected, she would want to bring her finance and economics background to the council, and look for ways to reduce costs for residents. One concern she has is making sure that seniors are able to stay in their houses amid rising property taxes. A possible option is figuring out a budget-neutral way to have tax forgiveness for some senior residents, taking into account what they paid for their house, how long they have lived there, their ability to pay the total and where the lost revenue could be made up.
She praised the City Council’s work to keep a men’s shelter open year-round while a permanent, new building is built to house men experiencing homelessness. She would like to explore collecting anonymized data from the shelter users to better understand the reasons why they become homeless.
Walter said she is “100% against” heroin-injection sites and would work to make sure the current ban on the sites remains. The City Council voted in 2017 to prohibit any sites from being built in the city, though none had been proposed.
Incumbent Janice Zahn is facing a challenge from J.D. (Jingdong) Yu for the Position 5 seat. Zahn was elected to the City Council in the 2017 midterm election to fill the seat vacated by Vandana Slatter, who now represents the 48th District in the state House of Representatives. Zahn is also a Port of Seattle public works construction manager. She immigrated to the U.S. from Hong Kong when she was 10 and has lived in Bellevue for 25 years.
She says she has a pragmatic approach and brings a sense of urgency to the City Council that’s influenced by her experience in the private sector prior to her roles in government. She’s proud of what she’s accomplished over the past two years, specifically her time representing Bellevue on transportation committees, like the Interstate 405/State Route 167 Advisory Group. That work is important, she said, especially as the city gears up for the arrival of light rail in four years.
“We’ve had a couple of years of planning really well for when 2023 comes and trying to have transit-oriented development and affordable housing,” she said. “With Amazon coming, we’re asking, ‘What are the things we are doing now and how do we move faster?’ Time is absolutely of the essence.”
She supported the plans for the men’s shelter in Bellevue and said she doesn’t shy away from the “sticky issues.” She met with residents on both sides of the debate and “explained what we were and weren’t trying to do,” she added.
Zahn nabbed nearly every key endorsement and received 68 percent of the primary vote. She’s raised $60,721, with about two-thirds from individuals and the rest from businesses and seven political-action committees.
Yu is an engineer at T-Mobile and member of the Bellevue Diversity Advisory Network. He moved to the U.S. from China originally to pursue his master’s degree and has lived in Bellevue since 2000.
One of his top priorities, he said, is public safety in the city’s neighborhoods. He criticized the City Council’s decision to build a permanent men’s shelter in the Eastgate neighborhood, which he said is too close to homes and schools. He said there should be a greater focus on reducing the number of people who experience homelessness by partnering with more private companies and nonprofits to help those facing drug addiction.
Amazon’s move to Belleve could serve as an opportunity to tap into the company’s funds for homeless services, he said.
“If we don’t have a clear goal or a clear approach we don’t really help them for a long run,” he said.
The most common concern he’s heard from residents relates to transportation, including the increased congestion on residential streets and the noise from traffic and light rail construction. If elected, he would like to see the city deploy new technology, such as autonomous electric vehicles, which he envisions as a way to take residents from their homes to public-transit stations.
Though he has far fewer endorsements, he’s outspent Zahn and raised more than $66,000, with half coming from Bellevue and the rest from relatives, friends and supporters elsewhere.