Council Letter in Support of Sunsetting the Houghton Community Council
Dear Kirkland Community,
As your Kirkland City Council, we are publishing this letter to explain why we unanimously support sunsetting the Houghton Community Council (HCC) as one item on our list of annual state legislative priorities.
The HCC and the Kirkland City Council have had a long, collaborative history, and we value current and past HCC members and their commitment to our community. But the Town of Houghton only existed for 20 years, from 1948 to 1968. During the 1968 merger with Kirkland, the community municipal corporation known as the Houghton Community Council was formed. The HCC has now existed for 53 years. State law gives the HCC the ability to veto City land-use decisions on behalf of approximately 10% of Kirkland’s residents. The community council may have served a role decades ago, but that role now adversely affects the ability of today’s Kirkland to be an inclusive and equitable community where everyone belongs and where each resident has an equal voice and an equal vote.
The State Legislature created community municipal corporations in the 1960s. Since then, numerous Federal and State housing, land use, civil rights, and environmental laws have passed that render these bodies obsolete. Now it is time for the state legislature to end them.
In 2021, the City undertook a nine-month analysis of our systems, procedures, and community involvement. We contracted with an equity expert who conducted extensive internal and community-wide outreach and strategic document review. The consultant also held one-on-one interviews with every City Councilmember and five Houghton Community Councilmembers. The resulting draft equity report was presented to the City Council on October 18, 2021. One of the 67 recommendations in the draft equity report called for the City to support state legislation to sunset the HCC.
On December 14, 2021, we voted unanimously to do so, for several fundamental reasons:
First, as your City Council, we believe strongly that we are one community, and that we need to be one Kirkland. We should be a Kirkland where all community voices matter and all votes have equal representation. The HCC creates two Kirklands: one within the HCC jurisdiction where voices have more say and votes carry more weight, and the other comprising everyone else in Kirkland. No single neighborhood should have the ability to unilaterally say city-wide policies do not apply to them. No single neighborhood should have the ability to shift the burden of compliance with state growth targets onto other parts of the city. No single neighborhood should have more rights and privileges than others. It’s time for us to become one Kirkland.
This decision reflects the Council’s clear commitment to fairness and equity. In early 2021, the Council adopted a new Council Goal: “Inclusive and Equitable Community.” This goal calls for the City to “strive for equitable access to justice and eliminate systemic barriers to equality.” The authority of the HCC is an unfair system that clearly treats similarly-situated residents of Kirkland differently, giving an advantage to those living within the HCC and creating an inherent disadvantage for the rest. The HCC presents a structural inequity, where some Kirkland residents have power and influence that other residents do not.
Second, sunsetting the HCC creates accountability in decision making. The HCC’s authority grants it a veto on land use, but simply the threat of the veto has given the HCC influence held by no other neighborhood. Resultant policy changes wield impact beyond Houghton’s boundaries and beyond the scope of the HCC’s disapproval jurisdiction over land use, affecting people of our community that may have little understanding of the HCC, and no vote regarding leadership or continuation of the HCC. Our community deserves the right for a transparent process and to hold decision makers accountable—their City Councilmembers who are elected city-wide.
Over the past several weeks, we heard concerns from Houghton-area residents regarding our stance. Allegations have been made that our actions are somehow illegal, that our position undermines democracy in the face of the recent election to preserve the Community Council for another four years, and that we are reneging on a long-standing policy agreement between residents of Houghton and Kirkland 53 years ago. We would like to address each of these concerns.
Including our position as part of the City’s legislative priorities is fully within the law and provides much needed transparency to our community and our State Legislators on this important policy question. It should surprise no one that the Community Council was reauthorized. HCC residents receive all the benefits and the rest of Kirkland receives the adverse effects. Notably, the HCC election is limited only to voters that reside in the HCC’s jurisdiction. No other Kirkland voters are allowed to decide. We do not share this vision of limited democracy.
Finally, much has changed since 1968 when Houghton and Kirkland merged. The circumstances that supported the governance structure and authority of a community council are no longer present. Rose Hill, Kingsgate, Juanita, and Finn Hill have all successfully joined Kirkland without a community council. Kirkland is not breaking any contract. We have no authority to end the HCC. We are simply asking the State Legislature that authorized community municipal corporations to sunset that authority, using the same rules and public process that allowed for the creation of the HCC by the Legislature over five decades ago.
Legislation on this subject has been introduced. It is important for the City Council to have a position on this proposed legislation. We will be asked. The appropriate venue for the community discussion is now the State Legislature in Olympia. The Legislature may or may not act on a bill during the short session this year and will decide any details of when or how sunsetting would happen. We have sent the public comments that we received from our community as of 12/14 to our State Representatives for their consideration. If the Legislature considers this topic, it will have committee hearings, including public hearings in both the House and the Senate. Due to the continuing pandemic, legislative hearings will once again be conducted online using Zoom; everyone in Kirkland will have an equal opportunity to address the legislature without needing to travel to Olympia.
We appreciate all the public feedback we have heard on this issue. We have listened and read all the comments, reviewed the petitions, and discussed this with many of you. After considering the arguments on both sides, we remain resolute in our position. The HCC creates a structural inequity by providing some Kirkland residents with more power and influence than others. We do not believe such disparities should exist in our tightly-knit, welcoming, and equitable community.
The Kirkland City Council