The Bob Young era: a retrospective
April 30, 2009 · Updated 1:02 PM
The city ‘grows up'
By Brian Beckley
On Dec. 30, his last work day in office, former Mayor Bob Young sat in his City Hall office, which was nearly empty of personal effects, and finished some last-minute staff evaluations.
After eight years, the Bob Young era in Bonney Lake was about to come to an end.
“I walked through here last night and thought, ‘It's amazing I've been here eight years,'” he said. “It's a day of change. It's time to move on and I'm excited about that.”
During his tenure in office, the city of Bonney Lake underwent a transformation of major proportions. From a small bedroom community of approximately 9,500 with a budget of $20 million, the city has become a growing commercial center with a population nearing 14,000 and a budget that has topped $70 million.
During that time, the city's tax rate also fell from $3.06 to $1.94 while sales tax revenues increased each year. The number of employees on the city payroll also jumped from 64 to more than 100 during his tenure and several new schools opened within city limits, including Bonney Lake High School last fall.
They are statistics of which Young is proud. He tells a story about a man looking to rent an apartment from Young's son, when the prospective renters realized who their landlord's father was.
“They said, ‘Oh, your dad's the guy who built Bonney Lake!'” he said with a laugh.
“Look at what we have,” he said. “I'm proud of the results after eight years.”
Young's time in office, however, was an often contentious one during which he publicly clashed with the City Council and staff and was accused of running the city with an iron fist while giving away the city to developers.
Young also saw his popularity drop from almost 70 percent during his first campaign to only 18 percent in September's primary, even among those who first asked Young to run.
In the beginning
Bob Young, a pastor and insurance salesman, first arrived on the Bonney Lake political scene in 1997 when he was appointed to the Planning Commission. Soon after, Young was appointed to fill an open spot on the City Council.
Due to distrust of then-Mayor Rex Pulfrey's administration, several council members got together and asked if Young would consider making a run for mayor.
“There was a real dissatisfaction in the city with Rex,” Young remembered. “There was a change needed, so I ran.”
“It was a difficult environment to work in,” remembered former Police Chief Bryan Jeter, who at the time was a lieutenant on the force.
Among his supporters was Councilman Phil DeLeo, who is again a member of the council and now one of Young's most vocal opponents.
“I was enthused about Bob,” DeLeo said. “We worked pretty hard to get him in office.”
Young beat Pulfrey handily and swept into city hall with the backing of the council, though the honeymoon would not last long.
During the beginning of his first term, Young said he did “quiet things” around the city.
“I felt there was a lack of leadership, a lack of cohesiveness in the city,” he said, adding that he started to get the city “on track, administratively.”
At the time, there wasn't much to the city. Instead of the thriving commercial center it is today, Bonney Lake in the late 1990s consisted mainly of the Bonney Lake Supermarket, Bonney Lake Tavern, Dairy Queen, the Safeway store near the city line at 214th Avenue and a recently built Fred Meyer.
The Market at Lake Tapps was also open, though it was not the shopping center we know today.
“When I came in we had two empty buildings (in the plaza),” Young said. “We had this empty shopping center in a growing city and that was stupid.”
“There wasn't much up here,” agreed Jeter.
Jeter said the city had no real identity at the time, a sentiment DeLeo echoed.
“We were kind of looked upon as the fools on the hill,” DeLeo said.
Opening the door
Soon after taking office, Young said he pulled together developers and business leaders to find out what the city could do to ease development.
“We were doing horrible,” Young said of their response and the city's permit process. “There was no cohesion.”
“Development started to hit us and we weren't really ready for it,” DeLeo agrees.
“When Young came in, it was already in motion and he just grabbed hold of it and went with it,” said activist, planning commissioner and 2005 mayoral candidate Quinn Dahlstrom.
Dahlstrom was an early supporter of Young as well, but like DeLeo, became an outspoken opponent.
Soon after, the mayor and council decided to encourage development along the state Route 410 corridor, instead of allowing growth to spread through residential neighborhoods.
Decisions were also made to streamline the permit process and Planning Director Bob Leedy was hired after Leedy led a review of the department.
“Bob has done an incredible job with the city,” Young said.
Among the development at the time was Panorama Heights, which Young called “the gorilla.” The city later hosted the Street of Dreams in the development, one of Young's proudest moments.
“(It said) Bonney Lake had grown up,” he said. “That was a benchmark for our city.”
DeLeo, however, said the council did not know about the Street of Dreams and said Young promised the developer he would get the necessary permits in time for the event.
Young also cites the opening of the Regal Cinema as a turning point.
“The dramatic social change came to Bonney Lake with the theater,” he said. “It said to me we can have a viable economic base.”
Many of Young's critics accuse him of giving away the city to developers.
“I think he said ‘Our gates are open, come on in,'” DeLeo said. “I don't think as a mayor he did a good job administering the Planning Department to protect the city.”
“We did not give the keys away,” Young counters. “We worked with people to develop a community that people can be proud of.”
Young also says the increased development led directly to lowered tax rates and an increase in services.
“The services people want, you can't do that on residential (taxes),” he said. “You have to have commercial for that.”
Trouble in the trenches
DeLeo doesn't disagree that the new business heightened Bonney Lake's status and helped improve tax rates and services, but DeLeo's complaint, like that of many in the city, is that the proper planning was not done, including frontage roads and other traffic mitigation techniques.
“What he brought to the city, more than anything, was congestion,” Dahlstrom said. “(State Route) 410 has become a parking lot.”
Young was more concerned with getting things done quickly and helping out developers, who were major contributors to Young's re-election campaigns, DeLeo said.
“Look at the campaign contributions. What does that tell you?” DeLeo said.
The vast majority of Young's 2005 campaign was financed by developers.
“Not only was he pro-development,” said Dahlstrom, calling it his biggest flaw, “he said that over and over.”
Young does not shy away from accusations that he is a friend of developers.
“They built our city,” he said, adding “People wanted this. People wanted to be able to shop at home and I heard that.”
Jeter agreed that more could have been done in the interim, calling the city's expansion “growth without vision.”
“We didn't expect South Hill, we didn't want South Hill,” Dahlstrom agreed.
New developments, both commercial and residential, also brought increased crime to the city.
“For every positive, there is going to be a negative,” said Jeter, who was appointed chief in February 2001. “With an increase in growth comes an increase in crime.
“People came to Bonney Lake to shop, criminals came to Bonney Lake to commit their crimes,” he said.
According to Jeter, the police department and its budget sometimes had trouble keeping pace with the expansion of the city's population and area, through annexation.
“We were increasing our area, but not increasing our force,” he said, though he admits there was no big spike in crime, but a steady increase that came with the growth.
Statistics show that in 1997, Bonney Lake experienced 119 aggravated assaults, 83 burglaries, 10 robberies and 289 reports of theft or larceny.
By 2005, the numbers had risen to 185 assaults, 98 burglaries and 412 thefts or larceny.
During Young's administration, the Police Department grew from 15 officers to 22, though Jeter said he often had to fight to increase his budget and his staffing levels.
In the end, however, the city of Bonney Lake not only survived, but thrived through the Bob Young years with lower taxes than any of it's neighboring cities and increased shopping opportunities that draw shoppers not just from Bonney Lake, but from all over the Plateau and even from the valley below.
Young takes pride in his achievements, though he said he regrets not being able to fix the traffic situation at South Prairie Road, near the Albertson's plaza that was a wrecking yard when he came into office (an intersection and development that DeLeo called “a fiasco”).
All things said, Young is proud of his time at City Hall and the changes his administration helped shepherd through Bonney Lake.
“I think we've changed definitely for the better,” he said. “I think we've grown up.
“There's not a lot I would go back and change,” he said. “I look at it and I think ‘This is my city.'”
Next week: Bob Young's relationships with the council and members of his staff deteriorate, allies become adversaries and he is “blindsided” in the September 2005 primary.
Brian Beckley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.