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Gold Coast cities prefer to leave politics aside
Seattle Times Eastside bureau
It's hard to see much of anything in Hunts Point. Most of the homes, with an average value of $3.3 million, are hidden behind long driveways, ornate fences or firs that loom over the city's one major road.
The state's richest city comes together each year for Clean-Up Day, when the residents grab weed whackers to spruce up the landscaping and later sip cocktails at a lakeside estate. City Hall is tucked in next to a nature preserve, and the town council meets just once a month.
"It's more like a country club than a town," Mayor Fred McConkey said. "There's not a lot of government stuff going on."
Hunts Point is one of three small, wealthy and private towns on the eastern edge of Lake Washington that share a similar philosophy: live well and don't fight about politics. All 12 City Council candidates this fall in Hunts Point, Yarrow Point and Clyde Hill are running unopposed and are expected to easily win election.
A lack of political competition is the norm in the three "Points" cities. Elected officials often stay in office for several years and when they leave, the mayor or other city leaders usually recruit successors from the planning commission or other city groups.
Two years ago, when a homemaker and a retired airline pilot ran against each other for a council job in Yarrow Point, "it was shocking that we had two people interested," Mayor Jeanne Berry said.
The pilot, Curtis Calhoun, won but moved away a year later. The homemaker, Janine Silvernale, was appointed to replace him and is now running unopposed this fall.
Median household income: $132,468 (third-highest in state)
Average home value: $960,000
Median household income: $117,940 (fourth-highest in state)
Average home value:
Median household income: $179,898
(highest in state)
Average home value:
Sources: Office of Financial Management, King County assessor, U.S. Census Bureau
The reasons for the political peace are numerous, city officials said. The cities are all small — Hunts Point has 450 people, Yarrow Point has nearly 1,000 and Clyde Hill about 2,800 — and many of the residents have high-powered jobs, such as software executive, doctor or attorney, that give them little time for city politics.
Some of the residents just aren't interested. City officials say this is because the cities are well-run with very few public controversies that could compel residents to run for office. Indeed, a low-maintenance government seems to appeal to the moneyed clientele.
"They can go home and do what they need to do without problems," said Berry, sitting in her office at Yarrow Point City Hall. "If they don't have to come in here, great."
Todd Donovan, a political-science professor at Western Washington University, said the lack of political activity is not always about how well the cities' governments are run, or about the wealth of the residents. Small cities usually have problems finding people interested in public office, he said, and the Points cities have a relatively homogeneous population without divisive issues.
In Clyde Hill, the only major issue in recent years was when some neighbors became upset in 2003 about the noise and littering from Little League games.
"That's as contentious as it gets," said Clyde Hill Mayor George Martin.
Yarrow Point just finished a two-year project to build walkways and move power lines underground on part of Yarrow Point Road. A few neighbors were angry because they wanted the project extended for the entire road, though the rest of the project still is in the planning stages, Berry said.
In Yarrow Point, residents have voted several times against joining the King County Library System because, they say, the tax bill would be too high for expensive properties. Hunts Point residents also have declined to join.
"What we see here as big challenges, most communities just giggle at, and we know it," Berry said. "We're just a little sleepy place here and we're fine."
The cities have no growing pains, outside of older homes that get torn down and replaced with larger ones. All the land is developed, and the population in each of the cities has remained stable for several decades.
Yarrow Point and Hunts Point sit on peninsulas that jut out into Lake Washington and include lines of palatial lakeside homes. Clyde Hill has no lakeside property but part of the city is perched on a hill with sweeping views of Lake Washington and the Seattle skyline.
Most of the neighborhoods in Clyde Hill are more traditional, with homes sitting closer to the street without fences or other barriers to the public.
Houses on large lots
All three cities have homes on large lots, no apartments and little or no retail. A Tully's coffee shop on the north edge of Clyde Hill serves as the only official gathering spot.
The cities' neighbor to the south, Medina, is much more volatile politically, city officials said.
In this other small, wealthy city on the lake, open council positions usually draw at least two candidates, and residents have sparred recently over a new grocery store and whether to build more sidewalks or allow unleashed dogs in part of Medina Park.
Medina has 2,900 people, but it has a post office, country club and the well-used park where people can meet and discuss city issues, Mayor Mary Odermat said.
The political contests are healthy, she said, because "it is good to have choices."
But the other three cities are doing just fine. "They feel happy with the people who serve them," Odermat said. "They've indicated their faith by allowing them to continue on."
Ashley Bach: 206-464-2567 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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