“So here we are,” Burien city manager Mike Martin began as he opened a quick recap of where the issue of North Highline annexation stood, before tonight’s scheduled Burien City Council discussion.
No council action was taken – they voiced opinions, as you will read below.
First, Martin described Seattle’s recent decision to table annexation till February as a “major departure” from where things had stood previously. That wasn’t the only factor sparking a new Burien council discussion of annexation, however, he said, mentioning the King County Library Board’s discussion of potentially consolidating the White Center and Boulevard Park libraries.
Martin also mentioned commissioning a financial study with an organization that he says does this type of study and already has “a tremendous amount of information about the (prospective) annexation area.” He says the financial data should be available in late July/early August.
Councilmember Gordon Shaw followed up Martin’s briefing by voicing skepticism about the financial viability of annexation, given a previous study, but said he would like to see the study showing the effects of a changing economy, and what he said was apparently a lower population: “I think they’ve lost 3,000 people up there.” He also said he would like to know how it would affect the city overall.
Councilmember Lucy Krakowiak asked what kind of educational outreach is planned for citizens. Martin said “Council will be taking comments at every council meeting they have until they make a decision – identical to last time.” She also wondered if information was available about major developments planned in the potential annexation area.
Councilmember Jack Block, Jr. talked about the difference between the perception and the reality of White Center. “if you take a drive through White Center, there are virtually no empty storefronts – I wish we could say that here in Burien.” He described WC’s “vitality and growth” as “homegrown” and expressed a hope that it would be emulated in Burien.
“If we don’t vote for it, we don’t have control over that area, and the density could increase, crime could increase, a bunch of public housing is put in there because historically that’s how Seattle does things,” Block suggested, worrying about a “spillover … Think about protecting our community. Do we want to have a say in that area, or just let whatever happens, happen up there?”
He noted that Burien has a budget surplus, while King County has been dealing with a budget shortfall, and, in his view, has put unincorporated North Highline problems “on a back burner.” He also voiced concern about county housing projects in the works, and whether they might unduly burden Burien.
Councilmember Gerald Robison pointed out that he has been working on the annexation issue “for a long time” and says “there are a lot of perceptions out there that I don’t think is accurate.” He contended that it’s “simply not true” that the area is made up of a large population of people who require government services. “What they need is good government, and that’s what they’ve been lacking up there,” he contended, adding that he believes Burien could provide that “good government.” He echoed Block’s point that White Center has a lot of thriving businesses, “the kind of independent businesspeople who are exactly what we are talking about in our mission statement.”
But “I won’t even vote for annexation if it means raising taxes on the rest of the residents in Burien,” Robison vowed. And he said he believes it’s important for Burien’s “survival” to take a look at annexing the area if it can be done. The area doesn’t need Burien, he acknowledged, but “if their options are going to Seattle or going to Burien, I think for the sake of Burien and the sake of the people in North Highline, if we can manage it, we should do it.”
Councilmember Rose Clark said she agreed wholeheartedly with Block and Robison. She said she also believes that if there’s a continued effort to “concentrate poverty” in the greater Highline area, it will “break” the community – and she says what happens in White Center (etc.) will affect Burien too. “The only way to address that is to take a good hard look at North Highline and what we can do to mitigate” the concentration of poverty to which she referred. “If all of that (financial analysis) pencils out, we have to look at what that area becomes” with King County services dwindling.
Deputy Mayor Brian Bennett discussed his roots going back generations in the North Highline area, and saying that while that area likely would prefer to be left alone the reality of county and state laws and finances are that, they cannot be left alone – “they’re going to be incorporated somewhere … If Seattle does take over Area Y, what their incentives are going to be in how they treat Area Y , and whether the decisionmakers for that area are going to be impacted by what happens there, or are they going to be in the north side (of the city) and not affected.”
Councilmember Krakowiak then said “This is a big issue before us and it behooves us to take our time.” She said she would be a likely “no” vote if they were voting on it right now.
At the start of the meeting, in a public-comment session that lasted more than half an hour, seven people expressed opposition to or concern about annexation – with a common theme, if Seattle says it can’t afford annexation, how can Burien? – while two familiar White Center community advocates, Liz Giba and Rachael Levine, spoke favorably about it. (We will add details of the comments later.)