Letters to the Editor

Reader responds to school agreement

I am writing in response to the recent article regarding approval the tri-party school agreement between the Enumclaw School District, Black Diamond and YarrowBay Development. I will disclose that I am one of the appellants in the appeal of the Environmental Impact Statement and Master Planned Developments in Black Diamond. I have been labeled opposed to development in general and that this somehow changes facts to opinions.

This is simply a false statement. We have never opposed the development; we just want slow, incremental growth that is fully mitigated. The impacts of a development of this size (6,050 homes and 1 million square feet of commercial space; 15,000 to 20,000 additional cars and seven new schools) go beyond YarrowBay’s property lines. Their property rights end where mine, yours, the county’s and surrounding homeowners and jurisdictions’ property lines and rights begin. They can build their development, but they cannot and should not be allowed to adversely impact our property, our health, our community and our environment, and they must mitigate their development without passing on the mitigation cost to local, county and state taxpayers.

The tri-party agreement is an example of the failure of elected officials in Black Diamond to hold the developer responsible for school mitigation and pushes a disproportionate share of the tax burden to taxpayers in the ESD that will see no financial benefit from this development.

Seven new schools need to be built to accommodate full build-out. The present cost of seven schools, based on the ESD and other local school districts’ capital facilities plans, is approximately $275 million. This doesn’t even include bond cost needed to maintain or build a new school within Enumclaw to support our own development growth. This is strictly the cost of Black Diamond’s new schools.

Your first response is most likely, “I won’t vote to approve bonds in Black Diamond” but the ESD and developer have already acknowledged this will be a problem and their solution is startling. The ESD is intentionally taking lower impact fees in the first five years to induce development so that there would rapid growth, thus providing voters more favorable to bond approval. In essence, the citizens in Black Diamond will outnumber the citizens in Enumclaw and have more control of bond approval. Furthermore, council member Hanson stated (audio at Black Diamond city webpage) that after speaking with a school board member she understood their plan is to take capital projects in Enumclaw that voters want and put them on a ballot with schools in BD to ensure that the Enumclaw voters would approve the bonds. Forcing approval does not build community or healthy schools. Any transfer of wealth from our wallets to the developer profits for the benefit of the city of Black Diamond is simply wrong.

Black Diamond council members Saas and Goodwin both pointed out that the agreement was bad, that it front-loaded weak mitigation in years one through five for the benefit of the developer; that there would be overcrowding, busing and most likely bond failures. They didn’t understand why the ESD would want this deal and asked for it to be tabled for more research. The Enumclaw School Board position is that they are guaranteed land for the schools. Everyone understands the need for the school to be guaranteed land; in fact, it is a requirement in the MPD approval that school sites be identified. With that said, only one school site is conveyed at the beginning of the agreement (Elementary School A). The remaining six schools sites may be conveyed during the agreement after voter approval of school construction bonds when a specific number of dwelling permits are approved, yet there are several provisions that allow the developer to opt out. Additionally, three schools sites are in unincorporated King County and the county has already advised the ESD that they are opposed to any schools located outside the MPD footprint (public letter).

This agreement’s estimated value over 20 years is $35 million to $50 million. The total present value cost for seven new schools is about $275 million. Mitigation from the tri-party agreement offsets about 15 percent of the total costs at most (much less when accounting for inflation and school bond interest). The impact fees per dwelling are low due to the negotiated option for receiving school sites. Besides being low they are also vested for up to 20 years and their upper limit is capped without an adequate adjustment for inflation. The school impact fees proposed for the first five years are one-third of those recommended by the school district’s 2010 Capital Facilities Plan and the maximum impact fees for 20 years in the future can never be more than what was recommended for last year. Impact fees are returned to the developer up to the appraised value of school sites when school sites are conveyed.

The school district did not present an analysis showing the value of the impact fees compared to the value of the school land or for scenarios when one or the other would dominate to determine the actual dollar value of this agreement or how inflation would affect the agreement over its 15- to 20-year life.

Hanson stated, “Then tell me what you would change to make it better.” Many citizens did provide ideas such as: the easiest would have been to add a clause that ties mitigation credits to a Consumer Price Index rate; require mitigation credits be earned only when the land conveyance takes place; add a clause that states that if there is a material change in the way that school capital facilities can be financed the agreement can be revisited; collect impact fees at least at the minimum amount collected by King County under the ESD CFP; why should a homeowner just outside the Enumclaw city limits be required to pay $7,789 but a large developer only has to pay $4,670 years one through five?

The agreement is now structured as an all-or-nothing for the delivery of sites; incentivize the developer to deliver the correct number of units.

Allow the agreement to be reviewed at each phase of development; an irrevocable 20-year agreement is foolish.

In closing, for me, the real travesty, the real failure, is that not a single taxpayer in unincorporated King County and the city of Enumclaw who are in the Enumclaw School District was provided a public notice of this agreement or the process for commenting under the SEPA rules. This was compounded by the lack of independent media; The Courier Herald’s related paper The Covington Reporter covered this story, even though no ESD taxpayers live in Maple Valley and Covington.

This travesty was further compounded by the fact that the Black Diamond mayor and council did not have a public hearing on this important issue. Councilmember Goodwin underscores this lack of public process and asks his fellow council members at the council meeting to at least extend the public comment period to five minutes, from the usual three minutes, due to this lack of public hearing. (Again, the full audio file of the Jan. 6, 2011, council meeting is online at the Black Diamond website. I encourage you to listen and learn.)

Whether the tri-party agreement is good, bad or inadequate is not the only issue here; it is the fact that true citizen participation cannot take place and democracy cannot flourish without true journalism. 

Cindy Proctor


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