State lawmakers aim to dismantle ‘NIMBY at its core’ by ending community councils

Jan 17, 2022, 3:19 PM | Updated: Jan 18, 2022, 7:27 am
Community councils...
Bellevue, Washington. (Joe Mabel, Wikimedia Commons)
(Joe Mabel, Wikimedia Commons)

Years ago, whenever an unincorporated neighborhood in Washington was being annexed into a city, something known as a “community council” would be formed to ensure that the newly-added area was adequately represented in the transition. Nowadays, only two such councils exist, viewed today as more of a hindrance than a help by many.

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Washington’s two remaining community councils are located in East King County — one in Kirkland, and the other in East Bellevue. Today, they hold very little power in most facets of local government, but as some have pointed out, they maintain one key function: to veto the expansion of dense housing.

“Community councils exist only to veto certain zoning or land use decisions of their city councils,” King County Councilmember Claudia Balducci said in a recent Facebook post. “That’s all they can legally do. They are fundamentally exclusionary.”

“Unlike city councils, community councils have no affirmative responsibilities,” she continued. “They don’t have to provide for housing, utilities, public safety, or any of the basics of life. They only have the power to say, ‘Nope, put that somewhere else!’ That’s not local control. That is NIMBY – ‘Not in My Back Yard’ – at its core.”

As Balducci pointed out, those exclusionary powers can also lead to unnecessary — and sometimes harmful — delays on key projects.

“More recently, the East Bellevue Community Council succeeded in delaying the opening of a rebuilt elementary school in our neighborhood,” she described. “Young students and their families will have to wait another year in an outdated school building that was built in the late 1950s.”

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That same community council also recently vetoed a city code that Balducci says would have “allowed and set standards for emergency homeless shelters,” while frequently blocking zoning changes intended to allow for more affordable housing.

A push to sunset these councils is already underway in the state Legislature in the form of HB 1769, which would seek to amend existing state laws to phase them out. All seven members of Kirkland City Council have expressed their support for the legislation, as well as Kirkland Mayor Penny Sweet.

The bill was referred to the Local Government committee in the state House, but has yet to get on the calendar for a hearing.

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State lawmakers aim to dismantle ‘NIMBY at its core’ by ending community councils