David Kappler

Picture of David Kappler

“I’m not always in agreement with everybody on everything. But they understand what my position is, and why. Yes, I might have a particular political bent or slant on an issue, but I’m still a reliable source: They know I’m not lying.”

Bio/Background

David Kappler was a member of the Issaquah City Council between 1991 and 1998. In October 2018, Washington state’s Issaquah Alps Trails Club inducted him into its Hall of Fame. In addition to having served twice as the group’s president, he is its sitting Vice President of Issues and Advocacy. In addition to his passion for environmental conservation, he maintains interests in ceramics and glasswork.

Work with Local News Media

Among the most important lessons Kappler learned as an advocate was the immense sway local media held over popular opinion. Because of this, he always went out of his way to build cordial working relationships with journalists covering him and his work:

“You could say that my career as an environmental activist started in this local rock quarry, which was responsible for significant environmental damage. It was also a danger to the community: there was a history of big rocks falling out of trucks and nearly hitting children who were waiting for their school bus. I was instrumental in getting petitions going to change how the quarry was run. And because of the risks it posed to their children, a lot of moms were willing to sign my petitions. This eventually caught the attention of a local paper, which then interviewed me.

“That early media exposure was really eye-opening. I learned quickly to do what you can to feed the press and help it do its job, because there’s way too much news for these reporters to cover. So, if you can make it easy for them—if you give them a story which is already half written—it substantially increases your chances of getting quality media coverage. I became pretty good, for example, at writing up stories for the Seattle Times. I’d give its reporters the names and numbers of people who were supporting my activism, along with anything else which would make it easier for reporters to interview them. I helped the reporters, and they helped us.”

Balance Development and Conservation Goals

Kappler believes that sustainable environmental practices need not be antithetical to further urban development. What is important, he says, is to strike a balance between the competing interests of stakeholders.

“When I was on the Issaquah City Council, we pushed for these things called ‘Urban Villages’ to be built. The plans for these developments were zoned in such a way that the surrounding forests were protected, and they ensured that lots of parkland would be preserved within the Villages themselves.

“Now, there was a faction of people who were opposed to these developments, because they would still cut into forest land. They wanted to keep everything as rural as possible. But many other people saw this as a good opportunity. In addition to giving people new places to live, it looked like it would create new employment opportunities—and not just for service work.

“A lot of us in the environmental community recognized there was going to be economic growth and development regardless, so we might as well figure out how to do it more efficiently: using some woodland, while saving other forests or protecting more wetlands. You can plan these things so that they end up built in places where you really don’t want high-impact hiking trails anyway. And the commercial developers were happy to work with us since they knew that, as long as they didn’t start trying to build really large/industrial types of things, they would eventually turn a profit.

“I saw that as a success story. The desires of environmentalists and developers were balanced in a way which benefitted the community and nature.”

Draw on Past Goodwill to Create Alliances

Kappler feels that the success of the Urban Villages project was also due to Issaquah City Council’s historical reputation as an influential and trustworthy political player. This made it vastly easier to build an alliance with its neighbor, King County Council.

“The Issaquah City Council and the King County Council were allied on the Urban Villages issue. This is another reason I think the project was a success: we were recognized as important regional players, and we approached this development as a county-wide issue as opposed to one which just impacted Issaquah.

“In this regard, Issaquah benefited from the fact that it had a history of being way more involved in regional affairs than might be expected considering its small size. Issaquah had also built good working relationships with groups like Forterra and Trust for Public Land, non-profits which do a lot of great work on behalf of land conservation and sustainability. Because we went into the Urban Villages project with a good reputation, and strong relationships with different organizations and partners, we had an easier time forging political alliances than we might have had otherwise.”

Combine Experience in Governmental and Nongovernmental Roles

Because Kappler has successfully filled prominent roles both inside and outside the government, his opinion and insights are considered highly valuable by many players in environmental politics. He believes this has improved his ability to function effectively as an activist.

“I was president of the Issaquah Alps Trails Club when I first got elected to the Issaquah City Council. I resigned position that in order to be a councilmember. But eighteen years later, I became president of the Trails Club again! And I can say, with confidence, that my advocacy work is stronger now that I’ve served as an elected official.

“I know a lot of history and that enables me to speak authoritatively on certain issues, which is helpful. Some of the councilmembers are pretty new—both to the city of Issaquah and to government work in general. They don’t know, for example, the backstory on how Urban Villages came to be. The councilmembers really need to get educated about that, not to mention the many other major things which the city’s been doing. My attempts at educating them come from a ‘green perspective,’ of course, and I’m not always in agreement with everybody on everything. But they understand what my position is, and why. Yes, I might have a particular political bent or slant on an issue, but I’m still a reliable source: They know I’m not lying.”

Garner the Right Kind of Public Support

Finally, Kappler stresses that all support is not good support. To effectively persuade others, activists must articulate well-educated opinions and engage respectfully with their political opponents.

“When a new city policy is being formed, you need to get some people who know what they’re talking about to speak at meetings, and you need to have some intelligent folks write e-mails and send letters. If you want the policy to succeed, that’s really important. It’s extra great if you can get experts or well-recognized people involved.

“That being said, it can hurt you if the people you’re bringing in are seen to be one-sided, or ‘pandering,’ or extreme in some way. Those people might strike the council as threatening. So be careful. What you actually need are people who can speak to your issue in a generally positive way; you want people who—even if they say ‘no’ to something—will still come across reasonably positive. It’s not going to be productive to bring in speakers who will accuse other people of ‘being in the pocket of the developers,’ and that kind of stuff. When I was a councilmember, I was always glad when the ‘nut-jobs’ came in to argue in favor of a position I opposed. You want people who are accusatory to be on a side other than yours, because nobody likes that kind of behavior.

“It’s critical to remember that the position of ‘city councilmember’ is, in many places, very much a part-time job. Which means that if really thoughtful, well-educated citizens come in and speak on behalf of a position, they take a load off the city councilmember’s shoulders. You can make a huge difference that way.”