Seattle developer opens wallet to unseat Snohomish councilman
A Seattle developer has launched a campaign to unseat Snohomish County Council member Dave Somers from office because of Somers' opposition to development in the county's rural area.
Times Snohomish County Reporter
A Seattle developer who wants to build thousands of homes near Lake Roesiger has launched a campaign to unseat Snohomish County Councilman Dave Somers because of Somers' opposition to development in the county's rural area.
David Barnett hopes to develop as many as 6,000 homes west of Lake Roesiger, a sparsely populated area about 10 miles from Monroe and Snohomish. He has hired a Seattle public-relations firm, Strategies 360, which in the past several weeks has sent four oversized, glossy postcards to residents of Somers' council district. The mailings accuse Somers of being against affordable homes and jobs, and for sprawl and global warming.
Somers has proposed a moratorium on developments like the one Barnett has proposed, which are known as fully contained communities, because the councilman believes county ordinances do not provide enough protection against the potential impacts on the environment and public services. The County Council is scheduled to vote on the yearlong moratorium Wednesday.
Somers and his legislative aide, Eric Parks, said they met with Barnett at an Everett restaurant on Sept. 19. Both Somers and Parks said Barnett told them he was prepared to spend $2.5 million to unseat Somers if he continued his opposition to Barnett's proposed development.
Somers reported the conversation to Snohomish County Prosecutor Janice Ellis, who is looking into whether the remarks constitute intimidating a public servant, a Class B felony.
Barnett did not respond to repeated requests for an interview.
Somers, a fish biologist by training, won election to the County Council in 2005 on a platform of reversing the pro-growth policies of a Republican-led council.
Clark County battle
Barnett, 48, also is at the center of a fight by the Cowlitz Tribe, of which he is a member, to bring a $510 million casino to property he purchased outside of Vancouver, Wash. Barnett is the son of the former Cowlitz tribal chairman, John Barnett, who died earlier this year.
David Barnett has targeted a politician there who opposed his plans, and spent heavily to help defeat him, according to campaign records. He also allegedly threatened a citizen activist who also fought the casino, according to court documents.
Under his father's leadership, the Cowlitz Tribe won federal recognition in 2002 after a 24-year fight. It is one of only two federally recognized tribes in the state without land, and in 2002 David Barnett purchased 150 acres along Interstate 5 to become the tribe's first reservation.
The Cowlitz have applied for trust status on the land, which would allow the property also to be the site of the proposed casino. Barnett formed a partnership with the Mohegan Tribe of Connecticut and the Cowlitz Tribe to build and operate the casino for seven years, said Philip Harju, tribal attorney and vice chairman.
"Dave Barnett has worked tirelessly for the economic well-being of the Cowlitz Tribe," Harju said.
But the proposed casino has polarized Clark County residents and touched off heated political battles.
In 2005, Barnett, his former wife and his Seattle business donated $100,000 to a political-action committee (PAC) to help re-elect a Democrat to the Clark County Council, according to state Public Disclosure Commission records. The Republican challenger in the race, Tom Mielke, was an outspoken opponent of the casino.
Mielke said Barnett confronted him at a Vancouver City Council meeting before the election and said he was prepared to spend "five figures" to defeat him.
Mielke, who served in the state Legislature from 1996 to 2004, said the PAC, Progressive Majority, sent out seven mailers in the 15 days before the election. According to state public-disclosure records, Progressive Majority spent $86,562 between Oct. 15 and the election Nov. 8.
Public-disclosure records show that Barnett and his former wife each donated $25,000 to the PAC. Barnett's company donated $50,000 more.
Mielke received 48 percent of the vote and lost.
"You could handle two or three," he said about the negative fliers, "but they kept coming and coming."
Clark County court records also indicate that Barnett threatened the chairwoman of a local citizens group opposing the casino. Kamie Biehl was granted a protection order against Barnett in February 2006. She said Barnett called her at 6 a.m. and said he would expose her as an alcoholic and her 15-year-old son as a drug user if she didn't immediately stop opposing the proposed casino.
Barnett told The Vancouver Columbian newspaper, "I would never do anything of that sort."
But Biehl had taped the conversation. A reporter for The Daily News, in Longview, listened to the tape and confirmed that it was Barnett's voice and phone number. The Daily News' story about the incident ran on Feb. 16, 2006. A Clark County District Court commissioner granted a one-year protection order based on Biehl's allegations.
Connections with county
In Snohomish County, consultants to Barnett worked with county officials beginning in November 2002 as the county considered adoption of new provisions that allow for fully contained communities in the county's rural areas, said Jim Nyberg, who helped develop Snoqualmie Ridge, Northwest Landing in DuPont, Pierce County, and now works with Barnett on the Lake Roesiger project. The rules call for a minimum of 2,000 acres of land and require jobs, shops and open spaces. The ordinance also requires developers to dedicate 30 percent of the residential units to affordable housing.
The communities are intended to concentrate growth and attract new employers so that residents work in the same neighborhoods where they live, reducing commutes and greenhouse gases. But the Puget Sound Regional Council earlier this year recommended that counties avoid creating new fully contained communities "because of their potential to create sprawl and undermine state and regional growth-management goals."
Snohomish County planning officials defend the ordinance and say it requires a developer to make improvements to roads, sewers and utilities whose costs would otherwise be born by taxpayers. And they say that several sites in the county could be suitable for fully contained communities, so the moratorium is not only about Barnett's proposed development at Lake Roesiger, which is in Somers' council district, but other potential developments as well.
Somers said the county's fully contained-communities ordinance doesn't provide strong enough protections for the environment and doesn't require a developer to pay the full costs of public services such as schools, roads and police and fire protection. He argues that a one-year moratorium would allow the council to revise the ordinance or scrap it altogether.
He said the mailers attacking his position against fully contained communities won't affect his vote.
"I won't be bought and I won't be bullied," he said.
Lynn Thompson: 206-464-8305 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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