‘Annexation veterans’ – plus a few ‘new faces’ – fill annexation-info meeting
By Tracy Record
White Center Now editor
With two and a half months to go until the annexation vote, there was something of a “let’s get it over with already” mood to tonight’s informational meeting, the latest in a series of monthly gatherings.
“Annexation veterans,” as Burien city manager Mike Martin called them -half-filled the room at the White Center Food Bank. Martin said he noticed only two faces at the meeting that weren’t people “intimately familiar” with the details of the proposal, and admitted he was a little disconcerted about that.
Nonetheless, forward the meeting went, though Martin first warned that he wouldn’t stand for the supporters and opponents trying to turn it into “a debate.”
Burien management analyst Nhan Nguyen then offered some information about the WC Food Bank itself. He’s on the board, and pointed out that it served 66,000 people last year alone.
Martin then launched into his opening remarks. Burien will grow to 65,000 from 47,000 if the annexation goes forward, making it the 15th largest city in the state – “a major, major city.”
Taxes will go up about $140 a year for the “average, average citizen” under annexation, Martin said. Zoning will not change – immediately, anyway.
The FAQ/info sheet (see the long version here on the city website) has a new addition – “Code Enforcement.” Martin described the city’s policy as “reactive” – summarized in the new FAQ line as “we don’t go looking for violations but will prioritize and respond swiftly to complaints.”
Regarding police services, he reiterated what’s been said before – the White Center storefront will stay. And the last FAQ highlight – “will my address change?” – as long as the zip code is correct, Martin said, you can use Burien or Seattle, though “the correct address will be a Burien address.”
He described Burien’s government – city manager who “run(s) the daily operations of the city,” 70 full-time-equivalent staff members, and an elected City Council. (At that point, he mentioned that Deputy Mayor Rose Clark was on hand.)
When he handed the figurative baton to Police Chief Scott Kimerer, the chief also acknowledged the room’s domination by those who have long been vocal on the issue. Nonetheless, at least in honor of those two people who hadn’t been seen at meetings before, he too recapped his department’s key points, and plans for annexation.
While the King County Sheriff’s Office “has gotten a lot smaller,” Burien itself has not
“B.J. Myers worked for me in Burien before he came (to White Center), and I would love to work with him again… he’s an outstanding young officer,” said Chief Kimerer of the White Center storefront deputy.
Asked if Burien has a gang unit, Kimerer mentioned a two-person team that works as part of a team with the county’s gang specialists.
Traffic enforcement came up as a question – speeding, in particular. One attendee asked if anything “technological” could be done.
“Let’s talk about red light cameras,” joked the two leaders at the head of the room. “No, let’s NOT talk about red light cameras.” Martin then explained why that was a sore spot – Burien had installed three, and “people hated it, hated it, hated it. … It signaled to us that people are kind of all right with people sliding through intersections.”
Overall, though, Martin acknowledged that it sounded as if many things would stay the same for the unincorporated area – same policing level, same school district, etc. “So, you might wonder, what’s the point?” Martin asked rhetorically, and answered with an explanation of how the state expected the counties to eventually no longer have to provide urban services.
And, he said, “what local government brings, whether it’s Burien or anybody else, is people who will stand up for the things that people in the community want.” As an example of that, Martin recounted some of the advocacy that the city had engaged in – remembering the controversies over Puget Sound Park, for example.
He also listed some of Burien’s achievements, such as its vision for property near Sea-Tac Airport, with an offramp and relocated auto dealerships, freeing up space on 1st Avenue South. “It’s a big vision, it’s going to take years, but that’s what we do. … If I was going to explain what changes because of annexation, that’s what changes” – somebody to stand up for a vision. Martin said he wasn’t clear about that before the first annexation vote.
Asked next about the county-owned White Center bog/pond area, Martin said there would be talks to resolve status and responsibility after “a successful annexation vote.” Same for the county-owned parks, most of which, Martin said, would become city-owned.
Some history came into play there: Clark told the story of Seahurst Park in Burien and how it had been a county park, and how the city was adamant about bringing funding into the city as well as the land, when the city first incorporated. The park previously was unsafe, she said.
What about people who don’t want to be annexed to Seattle or Burien? Martin then was asked. What about a study, as a comparison, how much would taxes go up under Seattle vs. under Burien? North Burien resident Greg Duff asked.
“Seattle’s not on the ballot,” Martin said. “And we really don’t want to be the least of two evils based on taxes. … We believe there are other good reasons to want to annex to Burien.”
Burien resident Chestine Edgar brought up the Hicklin Lake area in the potential annexation zone and concerns about how much the cleanup of its polluted water might cost. Would it become part of the city? she asked. Yes, said Martin. Edgar then went on to say she disagreed that taxes would only go up $140 under Burien annexation. “We disagree,” Martin said.
Another attendee brought up a reservoir under a park along SW 112th, returning the discussion to parks. Martin eventually acknowledged that the city never has as much as it would like to spend on parks. “We’re not a rich city. We’re not a poor city. We’re a good city,” he said.
In response to another concern voiced by an “annexation veteran,” Martin stated flatly that the city has enough money to cover annexation-related expenses for many years ahead, “period, end of story. … Ask yourself, why in the world would we want to go forward with an annexation that was not revenue neutral?”
One of the non-veterans then asked a question, and Martin all but fell on a knee to thank her. She wondered about a vacant parcel of land in her neighborhood and what its future might be under Burien governance. Someone else in the room said they believe that site belongs to the King County Housing Authority. Martin said it would remain in their control – annexation wouldn’t change that. “They would continue to own that property, just like any private (owner).” That segued into a discussion of overall land-use strategy, big picture.
Then suddenly, about 50 minutes into the meeting, a woman who didn’t even know the city manager’s name asked a question, wondering about the situation in Burien with unfinished development in the city center, and gentrification. She was referring to the Town Square development, though she didn’t know its name, and Martin went into a thumbnail retelling of its story and how it fell apart in the 2008 crash. “Everybody in this room owns 60 percent of those, because the U.S. government bought 60 percent of it” he noted, also saying that 16 of the 124 units have finally sold, and 16 more are under contract.
One hour in – as Martin told this story – people continued to arrive, and the room continued to fill. He promised that wouldn’t happen here because “we would ask people” what kind of development they wanted to see, balancing the need for “upscale” development with “workforce housing … The trick is having diversified housing stock. The council would go berserk if I said let’s make this Bellevue. It ain’t gonna happen. It’s not our culture.”
Would the City Council grow in size under annexation? Martin then was asked. No, he said, unless there was a proposal to change the form of government.
Another question went to a member of that current council, Deputy Mayor Clark. What does the city as the benefit of annexation? “We will all be what we used to be – one community,” said Clark, noting that the area is all part of the same school district, for example, and saying that there would be a loss of control if for example the potential annexation area became part of Seattle, while staying in the Highline district. Burien would benefit by being in control of this area “on its border,” she also said.
Martin then picked up the fact that the annexation area is so close to so many important parts of the area, that “it MUST change, it cannot stay the same.” He also brought up the hot-button issue of what happens if it stays unincorporated – “will low-income housing be dumped (there)?”
That veered into a way to encourage even more community involvement, though as Martin noted, “this community is about pulling yourself up by your bootstraps, and they’ve been doing that so long …”
At that point, Boulevard Park-area resident Bob Price declared that if the area remains unannexed, it will be “destroyed. … We’ve got to do something to save ourselves now before we get trashed by big business coming in and destroying the area.”
“Thank you for that question, Bob,” Martin quipped.
Something resembling the ‘debate” he had said he would not tolerate erupted at that point, with some squabbling over Martin’s suggestion that the city could encourage PTA involvement and other forms of parental participation in the schools. Once that ebbed, he said that he felt people would look back years from now and wonder why the city didn’t work more closely with the school district and other agencies, when it was for the greater good.
What’s Burien’s policy toward homeless camps? Martin was asked.
While the city has a high tolerance level, it won’t tolerate camping in parks, he said.
The ensuing discussion about human services brought up some funding issues, and some observations such as Burien’s lack of homeless shelters and soup kitchens. “We don’t have any of that stuff,” Martin acknowledged. “We have food banks. We have a strong faith-based community. … We try to be sensitive in the winter, we understand that the game kind of changes for people.”
Barbara Dobkin, president of the North Highline Unincorporated Area Council but not speaking for it, shared observations of homeless people wandering in Seattle, where she works. Another attendee talked about veterans on their way home from war, and “what are they going to do, where are they going to go? … We’ve got to address this.”
Martin mentioned Navos‘s presence in Burien and said “we are thrilled” with its presence.
Woven throughout the questioning, pro- and anti-annexation advocates continued trying to make their points, and Martin continued to refute or deflect them.
As the hour-and-a-half session wrapped up, he said “Vote up or vote down – we need to move this along, it’s time to do this or not do it, and I’m hoping we get a clear decision from the people of the White Center (etc.) area. Get your neighbors to vote, whether for or against. Let’s get a clear signal so we really know what folks want to do.”
And yet – regarding the only other potential annexer – Martin said, “Seattle’s not hell.”
Two more informational sessions are scheduled before the November 6th election – from the Burien website:
September 13: Beverly Park Elementary School, cafeteria, 1201 S. 104th Street, 6 pm
October 18: Cascade Middle School, cafeteria, 11212 10th Ave SW, 6 pm
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