View of Bellevue City Hall from NE 4th St. (Christopher Rendels)

At Monday’s Bellevue City Council meeting, Councilmembers voted to approve over $1.7 million in funding for crosswalk improvements, approved further work on a city-sponsored apprenticeship utilization program, and discussed priorities in the city’s Curb Management Plan.

Like most fields, city government develops its own jargon and procedures that can be daunting for outside observers. Although process is essential to ensure all people and issues are treated fairly, they often carry the downside of increasing complexity and reducing the accessibility for everyday people who want to stay informed in their local government. Discussing the events of council meetings, therefore, occasionally requires diving into these rules to understand the dynamics at play and why certain decisions occur the way they do.

The council’s consent calendar is one such procedure that’s meant to streamline the body’s meetings. Items of a noncontroversial nature, such as the awarding of contracts, the approval of previous meetings’ minutes, and items that have already been discussed at previous meetings, can be placed on a meeting’s consent calendar, which is then voted on all at once instead of by individual item. At Monday’s meeting, for example, council was able to approve eight items simultaneously with one unanimous vote instead of by lengthy individual motions.

Because these items are noncontroversial by nature, it’s easy to overlook them, but there are occasional noteworthy things that pop out. One such item was the $1.76 million contract awarded to Kamins Construction for crosswalk projects in the Lake Hills, Eastgate, and Somerset neighborhoods. This funding will go towards improvements (such as flashing beacons, LED streetlights, and new curb ramps) at seven existing crosswalks and the creation of three entirely new crosswalks. All funding comes from the Neighborhood Safety, Connectivity, and Congestion Levy that Bellevue voters passed in 2016.

A map of the crosswalk improvement locations. Both locations on 140th Place SE and the location at Forest Dr SE & 152nd Avenue SE represent areas that previously did not have crosswalks. (Credit: City of Bellevue)

Further study to come on Apprenticeship Utilization Program

Council action on a newly-proposed apprenticeship utilization program was also centered around a key (but unintuitive) council provision known as the eight-hour rule. As defined in council procedure, “special staff work on a particular project for an individual councilmember may not exceed eight hours without authorization from the City Council.” Effectively, this means that if a councilmember wants staff to examine the implications of a particular action or program that hasn’t already been listed as a council priority, any work from staff beyond eight hours total will require approval from the wider body.

Introduction of an apprenticeship utilization program has been a priority of Councilmember Jeremy Barksdale’s since last fall, when he approached his colleagues for their input on what information staff should prioritize gathering within their allotted eight hours. In Monday’s meeting, Barksdale returned with those findings, sought wider council approval for staff to continue work beyond eight hours, and included draft language around what such a program could look like in Bellevue. His draft proposal would:

  • Require public works projects within Bellevue over $1 million to have 15% of their labor hours be from apprentices;
  • Levy a fee of $10 per unmet labor hour, with collected funds utilized to support pre-apprenticeship and training programs;
  • Include a provision for quarterly reporting to council;
  • Carve out exceptions for contractors who have undergone “best efforts” to meet the requirements but have still been unable to.

In addition to highlighting other cities with similar programs, Councilmember Barksdale pointed to the role of government in providing educational opportunities to advance equity outcomes. He also noted the ability for apprenticeships to provide well-paying jobs for local residents who might otherwise get priced out of the city.

“The need for steel construction workers is only going to increase over the next decade. Our hope is that the city of Bellevue and this council continue to look at apprenticeship utilization and adopt a policy in the near-future to provide a greater opportunity for our youth and those looking at a career transition into the building trades.”

Billy Hetherington, LiUNA! Local 242 member speaking in support of the proposal

All councilmembers were supportive of the proposal, but conservative colleagues expressed concerns about the impact that authorizing further staff time on the issue would have on other priorities; some members instead suggested that the issue be brought up during the council’s annual retreat in March. Ultimately, a compromise motion was reached, directing staff to examine the fiscal and legal implications of the program proposal, as well as what impact further research and policy language drafting would have on other council priorities, with further discussion about those impacts to occur during council’s retreat. The program is therefore still a long way from potential implementation, but with support from both the community and councilmembers, its future has promise.

Feedback on Curb Management Plan, Public Outreach to begin soon

The final public portion of the meeting featured an informational presentation from transportation staff on the city’s curb management program. Historically reserved for vehicle parking and throughput, staff note that several factors (such as the emergence of ride-hailing services, transit/bike lanes, increased demand for deliveries from e-commerce services, and curbside dining during COVID-19) have highlighted the need for a more comprehensive curb management plan. Importantly, this plan will feature a “contextualized prioritization framework for curb spaces”: in plainspeak, this plan will dictate what amenities and infrastructure will be prioritized given certain roadways. A choice to prioritize transit and bicycle mobility in policy language, for example, would go a long way towards supporting more multimodal investments in the city.

Staff’s images provide a bold vision for how curb space in Bellevue can be utilized (right) compared to how it’s often currently used (left). (Credit: City of Bellevue)

Public outreach on the plan is slated to begin later this month at the Transportation Commission’s next meeting; interested residents and organizations can provide their feedback at these meetings or via a survey that is soon to launch on the city’s public engagement website Engaging Bellevue.

Council’s meeting wouldn’t be complete without one more jargon-related happening. For the second week in a row, the body’s meeting was adjourned from executive session – a closed-door meeting segment allowed by state law when council is discussing “issues concerning the buying and selling of real property, certain personnel issues, and litigation.” In May 2021, council met in executive session before allotting $40,000 in legal funds for the East Bellevue Community Council after they voted to reject a required land use code amendment related to parking spaces. Here’s hoping that these executive sessions don’t forebode any additional costs to Bellevue residents.

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Chris is a UW Environmental Sciences graduate who moved to Bellevue in 2015. When he's not busy being an urbanist fox on the internet, he's working on the Eastside to support efforts reducing greenhouse gas emissions and going to city council meetings to denounce the hegemony of automobile infrastructure. Follow him on Twitter at @Deutski1.