Wednesday, March 20, 1991 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Crazy-Quilt County Government -- Land Use And Transportation Didn't Mesh In Klahanie

ISSAQUAH - As Klahanie Boulevard winds through the huge ``planned community'' on the Sammamish Plateau that is its namesake, it bulges at a half-dozen intersections, like a snake swallowing a squirrel.

The wide spots in the road are turnouts - but turnouts for what? It's a mystery to many Klahanie residents. ``People who live here wonder what they're there for,'' says Waller Taylor, an attorney who moved to the development five years ago.

They're there for buses - buses that never come. Lowe Enterprises, Klahanie's developer, installed the turnouts when it started building the roads seven years ago. It has plans to erect bus shelters. It has agreed to build a park-and-ride lot.

Those plans are on hold. The streets of Klahanie, a community that one day will be home to more than 7,000 people, have yet to feel the tread of a Metro bus tire.

``It's been a frustration for Lowe,'' says company vice president Linda Stalzer. ``We've done everything we could to get bus service up there.''

But Metro officials say the sad truth is that Klahanie and surrounding neighborhoods wouldn't generate enough ridership to pay for even a fraction of the cost of service.

What's the problem at Klahanie? An unresponsive transit agency? Bad county land-use planning?

Some elected officials will tell you the real problem at Klahanie is governance - the Balkanized, crazy-quilt structure of local government in King County that includes the county itself, and Metro, plus Seattle, 30 suburban cities, a dizzying array of water, sewer, fire and other special-purpose governments.

They say the unused bus turnouts at Klahanie are symbols of why that structure is in need of an overhaul.

A dozen miles west of Klahanie, in a big conference room in downtown Bellevue, two dozen elected officials from Seattle, King County and suburban cities have been talking about that overhaul for two months.

They call themselves the Regional Governance Summit. Their goal: A new framework for local government, one that will produce an elected body with some power to transcend city limits and bureaucratic barriers.

They have scheduled a marathon session Friday that could be the final attempt to resolve their remaining differences.

Their talk is of structure and process, accountability and efficiency. It's abstract, arcane stuff that doesn't interest most of their constituents in the least, the participants agree.

County Councilman Paul Barden, R-Normandy Park, included a question about regional governance in a poll he commissioned recently. ``This is an issue with 4 percent of the people,'' Barden says.

``I'm surprised it's that many,'' says Mercer Island Councilman Fred Jarrett.

It isn't easy to see a governance problem, or touch one. Ask the summit participants just what they're trying to solve, and you'll get a half-dozen different answers.

``Different people are trying to solve different problems,'' says Seattle City Councilman Jim Street.

Some talk of rebuilding the Metro Council, the federated body that sets regional transit and water-quality policy, to make it more accountable to the electorate. U.S. District Judge William Dwyer ruled last year that its present makeup violated the one-person, one-vote rule.

Others talk of doing something about King County's dual role: regional decision-maker on some issues, fixer of potholes and provider of other local services in unincorporated areas.

Some talk of fairness, of equalizing voices and votes on regional decisions and financial burdens for regional services. There's water supply, for instance, now provided by Seattle to 30 suburban cities and water districts.

And the Seattle Center, used by people from throughout the county but supported financially only by Seattle tax dollars.

Still more talk of streamlining the decision-making process, removing some of the governmental obstacles that stall or prevent action on LULUs - ``locally unwanted land uses'' - such as the proposed suburban county jail.

But when they are asked what problem they're trying to solve, the answer the summit participants give most often is growth - and the widely perceived inability of the county's present labyrinth of 150 local governments to deal with it.

``The government is not functioning as effectively or efficiently as it should,'' says William Anderson, a University of Washington law professor, Municipal League activist and supporter of a new political order.

But just how would a more efficient, more effective government make life better? ``It's hard to put that in concrete terms,'' Anderson answers.

It isn't easy for most of the summit participants, either. But if you ask them to show you a place where governance problems are reflected in something tangible, there's a good chance they will send you to Klahanie.

There's no single interpretation of what happened at Klahanie, or who is at fault. Some King County Council members blame Metro. Some Metro Council members blame the County Council.

What you have at Klahanie, three miles from downtown Issaquah, is the largest development in the county's history - 1,400 homes so far, 3,200 when construction is complete. There's no bus service, and Metro has no plans to provide any anytime soon.

Besides the unused bus turnouts, the only evidence of ride-sharing is a small lot for car poolers that gets little, if any, use.

It wasn't supposed to be this way.

A decade ago, when Lowe Enterprises unveiled the master plan for Klahanie, it said this development would be a beachhead against the automobile's ongoing onslaught on suburbia.

County officials lauded the Klahanie plan as ``a conscious effort to avoid land-use and development patterns which would undermine cost-effective transit service.''

At least 70 percent of Klahanie's homes and apartments, clustered along Klahanie Boulevard at densities of about seven units per acre, would be a short walk from a bus stop.

Environmental studies predicted that 15 percent of Klahanie's commuters would take the bus or car pool to work, a high percentage for suburbia.

Planners spoke of providing bus service early in the evolution of the development, to build strong transit-riding habits from the start. Lowe talked of marketing the new homes to people looking for alternatives to the car.

The County Council approved Klahanie in 1983, imposing several conditions to encourage ride-sharing - a temporary park-and-pool lot for now, a park-and-ride lot later.

But the County Council doesn't decide where buses run; Metro does.

``We had no ability to implement'' bus service to Klahanie, says County Councilman Barden, one of Metro's harshest critics. ``It was a nice idea, but it really wasn't much more than a dream. . . . Metro didn't take cognizance of what we had done.''

Metro's defenders say Barden has it backward.

Metro warned from the beginning that regular bus service just wasn't in the cards for Klahanie. In a 1981 letter to King County, it said its policies called for most new or expanded routes to serve ``activity centers'' such as Issaquah, where transit could be provided at lower cost to taxpayers.

Those policies followed a growth plan for the county developed by the four-county Puget Sound Council of Governments, a plan that called for concentration of development in those ``activity centers.''

A development like Klahanie, miles from the nearest ``activity center,'' would be too expensive to serve, Metro said.

That's where matters still stand, according to Jim Jacobson, Metro's manager of service development. Klahanie may be a higher-density development, but it's still an island in a sea of sprawling mini-estates on the Sammamish Plateau, an area where bus service still wouldn't meet the Metro Council's modest goal of recouping 25 percent of operating costs from fare-box revenues.

``With the resources we have right now,'' Jacobson says, ``the service we can offer to those people is to go to Issaquah and catch a bus at the park-and-ride lot.''

Jarrett, who represents Mercer Island on the Metro Council, says he suspects the County Council would have made the same decision if it was responsible for transit service and faced the same economic realities.

County Councilman Bruce Laing, R-Bellevue, whose district includes Klahanie, says the county is the culprit.

The underlying problem is low-density development on the Sammamish Plateau, Laing says - the County Council could have allowed more houses, closer together, when it approved a community plan for the area in 1982, promoting transit in the process.

At Klahanie, the process produced a community that now is home to about 3,000, a community that presents few alternatives to the automobile.

Metro didn't make the land-use decisions. King County didn't make the transit decisions. Some summit participants say a different structure might have produced a different result.

``There's a growing perception among people that there's no control over what's going on,'' says Auburn Mayor Bob Roegner, another participant in the Regional Governance Summit. ``These traffic jams keep getting worse. Growth is out of their control. . . .

``They don't know who's responsible. When they try to ask who's responsible, no one knows.''

Copyright (c) 1991 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.


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