When I moved to Bellevue after college in 1983, the city had half the population that it has today. I had taken a programming job at a small tech startup with around 300 people. When I left 10 years later to raise my daughter, that company (Microsoft) had 15,000 employees. Bellevue and the entire Eastside was quickly changing from a sleepy residential suburb into a nexus of technology jobs with a vibrant core and regional influence.
My husband and I decided to move from unincorporated King County back to Bellevue because we wanted to live in an area with great schools, where we would know our neighbors, and where we’d be conveniently close to the activities of a larger city. We found a neighborhood we loved so much that after 25 years, we recently moved next door.
When my daughter started school, I looked for ways to get involved locally. I volunteered at her school and joined our homeowners’ association board. I donated my tech skills with organizations working in different issue areas and served on several nonprofit boards. I learned how to navigate complex systems and I became more interested in understanding the upstream causes of problems, for instance how our tax system led to underfunded education in our state. The more I saw, the more supercharged was my desire to solve big problems, so I helped co-found a statewide advocacy organization and got more involved in national groups.
One of the traits that led me to a career in engineering is my analytical mindset. I dive into data, read all the background information I can find, look for patterns, and try to find leverage points where relatively small amounts of effort can lead to big changes. In 2015 I began a personal journey to understand our country’s racist past and enduring systemic inequities. From stacks of reading, many workshops and learning groups, and lots of introspection, I felt like I was gaining some insights and applying what I was learning to my approach to community involvement.
Then last year happened. The pandemic and the racial justice protests brought my focus back closer to home. While I had the resources to treat the lockdown as a comfortable “staycation,” I became painfully aware of the hardships of my Bellevue neighbors. I realized that as Bellevue had grown, so had the scope of its problems, yet the city was not effectively addressing them.
We have homeless people living in our greenbelt areas, yet the city is still dragging its feet on providing shelter beds and incentivizing more affordable housing options across all areas of the city. Older adults are isolated in houses that are larger than they want, but they have no options to remain in the micro-communities that they call home. Our children and our essential workers are leaving because they can’t afford to live close to work, or they endure long commutes. Our criminal legal services are pressed to resolve mental health crises that should receive professional mental health response. Smoke-filled summers show that damage to our climate is accelerating, yet the city still prioritizes cars over transit, safe biking routes, and walkable neighborhoods. Racial disparities are obscured by a bureaucracy that shares little of its data and curates what is published so as to never shine a negative light. Community and even the council have scant oversight and even less accountability over many areas of city government.
We as individuals did not create the unjust systems that have locked so many into places of little opportunity, but we are responsible for examining and correcting those that are hiding in plain sight. Between job losses, business closures, remote schooling challenges, and unequal health care, our neighbors who were on the edge have moved even closer to it or been pushed off. Bellevue, more than any city in the state, has the expertise and capacity to ensure that every resident thrives.
I hope you will join me in shaping a new vision for Bellevue, together.