Fresh in her second week as mayor of Issaquah, Mary Lou Pauly took the opportunity to engage with the local business community at the Issaquah Chamber of Commerce’s first luncheon of the year on Jan. 11.
“I’m so excited to serve as mayor of Issaquah for the next four years, and I hope you can tell by the ridiculous grin I cannot wipe off my face,” Pauly told the sold-out house. “I think it’s gonna be a great 2018.”
Pauly started off proceedings by addressing what she has called the area’s most important issues — growth and traffic. She explained that Issaquah had a set of targets established for growth and jobs between 2006-2030. By next year, that growth target will have already been met — but only 25 percent of the jobs will have been created.
“The more jobs we have in town help with our transportation issues,” Pauly said, emphasizing the need for job creation. She pointed to the city’s current development agreement with Issaquah-based Costco, which adds up to 1.5 million square feet to the corporate giant’s headquarters, as one way to bring a mass of jobs to the city.
When it comes to traffic, Pauly said much of the problem comes from drivers outside of Issaquah’s borders.
“We are a crossroads … we receive more than our fair share of regional pass-through traffic,” Pauly said.
She wants to work with other cities in the region, the county and the state to fix roads that run through the entire area, yet affect Issaquah the most.
“The improvements we need — the ones at the top of my list — aren’t in Issaquah, they’re outside,” she said.
Pauly also hopes to partner with other cities to analyze and discuss growth and affordable housing “so we can be articulate and effective and a passionate voice.”
The city is currently working very hard to bring more badly-needed affordable homes for its present and future residents, Pauly said. The moratorium, extended in December to go through June at the latest, was lengthened so that the administration can fully address affordable housing standards in Central Issaquah.
Pauly also pointed to the transit-oriented development project, a development agreement made possible by $10 million in grants from King County that is set to bring 176 units of affordable housing to Newport Way Northwest.
“It would be very unique not only in Issaquah but on the Eastside,” she said. “It’s a fantastic proposal.”
As one might expect at a chamber of commerce luncheon, a major discussion centered around the topic of how the city can help its businesses to stay strong. Pauly is excited about working with Issaquah’s Lodging Tax Advisory Committee and with the chamber to bring more visitors to town.
“It’s an amazing place to live — we should share this with others,” she said.
Pauly met with many small business owners throughout her campaign, including businesses that have just one or two employees. She said that she has heard concerns that the city is not doing enough to ease the burden on mom-n-pop shops, and in some cases, is, with ordinances and taxes, actually acting as a hindrance to their success.
While Pauly said that she did not yet have a concrete plan in place, she is committed to finding solutions. For starters, Pauly plans to “touch back to see how they are doing” and maintain an active presence in the local business scene.
“What makes Issaquah uniquely special is those small businesses that add character and give that feel of being in a small town,” she said. “We hear you. We know we need to do better.”
During a question-and-answer period, local developer Skip Rowley asked Pauly what it would take “to kill safe injection sites” in Issaquah. The idea of establishing locations where users of illicit drugs could access sanitary needles and rehabilitation information has come up at King County Council meetings, and the Issaquah City Council, unlike cities around the area, has not yet voted to ban the sites outright.
“I’d like to have the community stand up and say, ‘This is not what we want,’” he said.
King County Councilmember Kathy Lambert, who was sitting at Rowley’s table, chimed in, describing how she visited Insite, the safe injection site in Vancouver, B.C., and stepped over heroin addicts passed out on the sidewalk.
“That is not what we want in Issaquah,” she said.
Pauly reminded everyone that injection sites are currently not allowed in Issaquah (a six-month moratorium was put on them in October) and said that even if they do come to King County, they would likely be in a place that has a higher need for them.