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City Council Votes to Remove Fire Hydrant Visibility Requirements

After receiving 56 petition signatures in opposition, on 3/14/23 the Clyde Hill City Council voted to remove the 150-foot visibility requirements from the city code, ceding more of our city autonomy to Bellevue.

During the public comment period, in which no one spoke in support of removing the visibility requirement, it was asked who was sponsoring this change and why. We hope to answer those questions with this article.

Why the Council removed the fire hydrant visibility requirement.

The city previously denied Dean Hachamovitch a gate permit. One of the reasons for the denial was the 150-foot hydrant visibility requirement. Hachamovitch sued the city, then withdrew his lawsuit, but not before making the city rack up thousands in legal bills paid for by taxpayers. The city billed him for those legal bills when he dropped his appeal, but he failed to disclose this debt when running for city council. This resulted in the State Public Disclosure Commission (PDC) giving him a formal written warning.  The PDC finding said:

However, pursuant to WAC 390-37-060(1)(d), Mr. Hachamovitch will receive a formal written warning concerning his failure to timely and accurately disclose reportable ownership and directorship interests in a Limited Liability Company and two tax-advantaged 529 Plans and for his failure to disclose disputed debt that had not been formally dismissed [the attorney fee bill to the city], on his Personal Financial Affairs Statement for 2021 activity. The formal written warning will include staff’s expectation that Mr. Hachamovitch include all reportable entities and debt on future F-1 reports. The Commission will consider the formal written warning in deciding on further Commission action if there are future violations of PDC laws or rules.

(emphasis added). 

Since being elected, Councilmember Hachamovitch has been systematically trying to use his power to remove the code standing in the way of obtaining his gate permit. When his permit was denied, the city gave him alternative options to get his gate, including creating a turn-around before the gate and moving the fire hydrant to the front of the gate. These options could cost Councilmember Hachamovitch a significant amount of money. Councilmember Hachamovitch’s removal of the code blocking his gate permit would be worth a substantial amount of money to him — both in construction savings to comply with city code and in increased home value.

Councilmember Dean Hachamovitch effectively admitted his financial interest.

Spencer Nurse sent an email request, with facts and evidence, demanding that Councilmember Hachamovitch recuse himself from this vote because of his clear financial motivations and conflict of interest. Nurse’s letter points to the permit denial and letter from the city attorney, which references the very hydrant code Councilmember Hachamovitch pushed to have removed.

Ultimately, Councilmember Dean Hachamovitch recused himself from the vote, effectively admitting to his financial motivations and conflict of interest. The council made no moves to investigate whether Hachamovitch has behaved unethically and the extent of unethical activities.

Councilmembers incorrectly claim the visibility requirement was not enforced.

Multiple times throughout this process, councilmembers have claimed that they are just attempting to clean up old code that wasn’t enforced by the city. 

Councilmember Friedman said, “It’s been made clear to me from staff. There’s no intention to enforce the 150 feet. They’ve made that clear. If that’s not going to be done, let’s go and align our code to what the practice is.”

They are not correct. The code was enforced when Councilmember Dean Hachamovitch tried to get his gate permit. That’s the entire reason why Hachamovitch has been spearheading the removal of this code, and subsequently recused himself when he was exposed for having a financial interest in the motion.

Councilmembers vote 4-0 to remove the visibility requirement.

When the Councilmembers voted on 3/14/23 to remove the hydrant visibility requirement they ignored the 56 petition signers who asked to keep the visibility requirement, ignored the city’s recent enforcement of that requirement in denying Councilmember Hachamovitch his gate permit, and turned a blind eye to the conflicts of interest in and impropriety of Councilmember Hachamovitch pushing for the change when he had a personal financial interest in its passage.

The Bellevue fire chief stated that each municipality has the power to have requirements above the minimum. We at the Coalition believe our city council should not lower resident safety to minimum standards. However, councilmembers leaned on the testimony of the fire chief, who said he did not see any danger in going to minimum requirements. One of his reassurances was that fire trucks arrive on the scene with 500 gallons of water. It should be noted that amount of water will last about five minutes. 

During discussion, multiple councilmembers brushed aside concerns and lamented the fact that the community was pushing back against the change. Some even called concerns about safety and conflicts of interest lies. 

Councilmember Muromoto said, “The current citizen’s concern is nothing more than a political hatchet job sadly. Anything less is purely politically motivated neighbor-against-neighbor vendetta. And I think you should all be ashamed of yourself for bringing this political agenda and posing it as a city crisis.”

Councilmember Friedman piled on saying, “I think we’ve been experiencing some really tough bullying tactics and they’ve been coming from one individual who I think we’ve heard statements from. He’s using some lies, he’s using misrepresentations to scare residents into a discussion of the real facts here and I don’t appreciate that.”

Councilmembers should welcome public input and work through concerns to find workable, compromise solutions. Instead, they called one resident a liar and the act of residents speaking out in opposition to council action “bullying.” 

During the council meeting, firefighters had trouble locating a hydrant.

Councilmembers tried to assuage concerns by pointing out that firefighters know the location of all the fire hydrants and don’t need to be able to see them from any distance. They pointed to the fact that blue reflectors are placed in the middle of the street in front of hydrants and that all the hydrants are mapped out and can be located by the trucks using GPS. 

One resident who works in the tech industry expressed concern that technology could malfunction and that those reflectors could be missing or covered by snow or leaves. If all else fails, the firefighters can use their eyes — so long as the hydrants are visible.

In another testimony, long-time resident Lyn Adams spoke about a neighbor’s house fire in the 1980s that took someone’s life. She mentioned that the hydrant serving her house was challenging to see and that the blue street reflector that should be there was missing. Surprisingly, during the same council meeting, a Bellevue fire truck rolled by her house—missing the hydrant entirely—then circled the block before finding the hydrant to replace the missing blue reflector.

We’re thankful that the fire department took quick action to replace a blue reflector, but troubled by the fact that within an hour of being told we don’t need hydrant visibility requirements, the Bellevue Fire Department demonstrated the exact reason we needed it!

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