VIDEO & AS-IT-HAPPENED COVERAGE: 1st night of Boundary Review Board hearing on Seattle’s proposal to annex White Center and most of what else is left of unincorporated North Highline

(WCN photo)

7:02 PM: We’re at the Technology Access Foundation’s Bethaday Community Learning Space with dozens of people here to talk and hear about the city of Seattle’s proposal to annex most of what’s left of unincorporated North Highline. We’ll be updating live as it goes. It’s standing room only so far (they’re trying to get more chairs), and is starting with an explanation of what the King County Boundary Review Board is and does.

(Added 12:39 am: First half of our unedited video of the first night of the hearing)

“This hearing is very much a public process,” begins Lenora Blauman, executive secretary for the board (which is missing two of its members – one excused, one recused). She also adds, in case anyone is wondering about notification, that notices were in news publications “including local blogs and newspapers” and that while they are only required to put up 10 posters, “we in fact put up 39.” She says the proposed annexation area has a population of about 17,500, and describes its boundaries (we’ll add the map later). She recaps that the annexation election would be no sooner than 2017 and could be held in 2018, as Seattle already has said.

7:15 PM: The board’s lawyer is going over some of the procedures, and saying “we want to conduct ourselves as much as possible as if we are in a courtroom” (though it’s “a quasi-judicial proceeding”). The testimony will start with the parties who have the most at stake – reps for city and county government. He explains that once everyone has testified – up to three nights, tonight, tomorrow, and Thursday, are set aside for that – and the city of Seattle “gets the last word” with a rebuttal, the board will then deliberate, and that is open to the public to sit in on. An en-masse swearing-in of potential witnesses followed, and the secretary announced interpreters are available for Spanish and Vietnamese speakers.

7:20 PM: James Haney from Ogden Murphy Wallace, ‘special counsel’ for Seattle, is the first witness, making the city’s presentation. With him, he says, are Kenny Pittman – annexation point person on the mayor’s staff – and assistant Seattle Fire Department chief Jay Hagen. He says “this is the second phase of the city’s two-phase approach to annexation of all the remaining unincorporated area between Seattle and Burien” – first phase was the Duwamish Triangle, “which is awaiting an election scheduled to take place this fall.” He says the city wants “a unified government” for the area. He calls the area at issue here – “Area Y” – “intensely urban.”

He declares that this area “will benefit” from annexation to Seattle and says the city’s brief lays that out in detail, including: “This will unite several neighborhoods divided from each other by separate boundaries,” such as Delridge and White Center, Glendale and South Park, Roxbury Heights and the South Delridge Triangle. Also: “This area … deserves urban services that Seattle is uniquely positioned to provide.” And, those services “will improve,” services such as police, which Haney says will be provided at levels higher than currently provided by the King County Sheriff’s Office, not just patrol but also specialty services such as Bomb Squad and SWAT, Anti-Crime Team, and more.

Also, he says, grants will be available through the Department of Neighborhoods; planning services through the city; preschool and other social services through the Department of Early Learning; no-cost business consulting and loan programs through the Office of Economic Development; library services through the Seattle Public Library, “which includes continuing access to the King County Library System.” And he says he wants to stress, “Utility services will remain the same” – not including assumption of the utility districts, which would require separate votes. “Not only is assumption not proposed this evening, but, at least in the case of the sewer districts, highly unlikely in the next six years,” because of revenue issues. “Fire service will be the same, and will improve,” with the city operating North Highline Fire Station 18, “staffed 24/7 with an engine company consisting of 4 fire professionals, one more than (now),” and “three stations (in Seattle)” providing service – 37 in Sunrise Heights, 11 in Highland Park, 26 in South Park, with response times “a minute to a minute and a half longer” than from NH Station 18. SFD also has hazmat, technical rescue, and a dive response time “that will all be available for service in this area.”

He says he wants to address the objections filed by the North Highline FD. He acknowledges concerns about the distance from current ALS – advanced life support – 14 minutes from Medic 32, “unacceptable.” He says Seattle will be looking at ways to address that – possibly making Station 18 a “paramedic engine company,” or moving Medic 32 further south. “The Seattle Fire Department can and will solve this issue so that residents of North Highline will receive ALS services in a timely manner … Seattle is not going to annex an area and provide services that are much less than (other areas of the city).” He says they’re also looking at an “automatic aid agreement” but says the city hasn’t needed one in the past.

Other objections from the NHFD, which we will hear about when they speak later, include the timing of the annexation related to the Duwamish Triangle annexation, and service to North Burien; he says a meeting is set for June 29th.

“Seattle is the only city that can bring unified government (and urban services) to (Area Y),” Haney reiterates. “Other cities are not able to bring services to this area. If this area is to be part of a city … Seattle is where it will have to go, since Seattle is the only one with North Highline in its potential annexation area at this time.” Burien, he notes, tried to annex the area, but “voters overwhelmingly rejected that annexation and Burien has now taken this area out of its potential annexation area. … North Highline needs urban services,” and the only way to get them, he says, is to be part of a city. He concludes, “Tonight, the request of you is to allow the people to vote. We are not asking you to decide if North Highline should become part of the city of Seattle – the people will decide that.”

Board member Claudia Hirschey asks about Seattle’s ALS response standards. Assistant Chief Hagen comes up to answer. The city has almost 20,000 ALS calls a year, transporting 11 percent of those patients via city medic unit. The 2015 response time – from time assigned to arriving at scene – was 6:08, he said, including call processing. From “en route” to on scene, 4:58. He said even their “slowest” medic unit is busier than King County’s busiest medic unit, and that enables SFD to “saturate” the skills – paramedics have “high repetition and low skill degradation.”

So how would the response time problem be solved before annexation? Hirschey asked on followup. Haney said there’s not necessarily a specific time frame, with the vote no closer than a year-plus: “We’ve got some time to solve this.” Responding to another board member, he agrees that the BRB does have to take fire-service levels into account. Pressed again on possible solutions, he lists one not mentioned earlier, possibly contracting with a south King County service provider. “The city is very confident that (it) will be able to provide service at the level that Seattle is currently able to provide (elsewhere).”

Board member Paul McCready asks about the other possible jurisdictions. Assistant Chief Hagen talks about the county’s “zones,” some of which have automatic-aid agreements with other jurisdictions. He says Seattle is “a little bit behind the curve” in pursuing such agreements, but intends to catch up.

Board member Laura Kisielius asks about current response times for ALS to NH. Haney doesn’t know but will try to get the information.

Next question is about police dispatch times from the Southwest Precinct in West Seattle. Haney says right now there will be at least 6 officers on any shift for the area, while right now KCSO has three at the most on a shift. “There’s going to be a lot more police officers out there.” He also mentions the Community Police Team resource “going around all the time checking on things.”

7:57 PM: Asked about utility rates, Haney says they should stay the same, except for a “franchise fee.” Among other things, he says that it “would be suicidal for the city” to try to take over the sewer services because that would affect the tax share the city is going to get for the first several years of the annexation, if it happens. What about cable TV? He mentions a “franchise fee” for that too but says the feds limit what that can be.

Board member Ronald Little says, isn’t it the ultimate goal of the city to annex the water and sewer districts, and just postponing that now? Haney says, well, ultimately, yes, but that’s a separate process – which again, he said, would be at least six years down the road. Technical discussion of the process, including a potential public referendum on any such assumption, ensues.

8:06 PM: Seattle’s lawyer is done, and King County’s Karen Freeman – who has represented the County Executive’s office at North Highline Unincorporated Area Council meetings – is now speaking. “This entire project was envisioned to close in 2012 and we are way beyond that date and I think everyone in the room feels that,” she says, noting that she’s been working on North Highline annexation since 2007, and that NH was the only “urban island” claimed by multiple jurisdictions as part of their potential annexation areas – something that is now prohibited. She recaps the complicated history of how that all has unfolded. “The status quo current levels of service provided by the county are … not sustainable, and this is a key issue,” Freeman declares. “The mix of county funding sources is limited (so) county funding can’t support urban-level services that communities like North Highline desperately need. Cities (can).” She also notes that the Legislature-approved tax funding that will be available to Seattle if this annexation goes through is not available to anyone else – basically, it’s this, or nothing. She also talks about how King County’s roads are deteriorating and they can’t keep up with it, and how the county can’t compare with law-enforcement staffing or human-services provision, either.

She rebuts one point about documents including a previous Memorandum of Understanding, saying it expired in 2012, and are not “without a sunset date” as apparently someone is contending. She says the county doesn’t have money to offer – facing a $50 million budget deficit – but “Seattle’s proposal realizes (an) important vision for North Highline” and the county supports allowing it to be put to a vote of the people.

Board member McCready asks if they can get a list of the services “the county cannot provide.” Freeman says yes.

Another board member: What will happen to King County housing projects in this area after annexation? Freeman says KC Housing Authority is a separate entity, and “their projects will continue to move forward.”

Next question is about a fire-station land issue from a few years ago. Freeman reiterates that they expected all “large urban islands” to be resolved by 2012 (five remain now) so, thinking they’d be done by then, they’d have some budgetary leverage to move an annexation forward. “But we did not complete all of our annexations and the agreement expired and here we are.”

8:19 PM: The board is taking a break, to reconvene at 8:25.

(Added 7:15 am Tuesday: Second half of our unedited video of the hearing’s first night)

8:28 PM: Brian Snure, lawyer for the NH Fire District, says it’s against the annexation until SFD has an operating plan, and that it’s submitted a written statement laying out the objections.

As he notes, if the annexation is approved, NHFD will cease to exist. “There’s no guarantee that Seattle has the political will or ability to provide its Fire Department with the services (needed to serve this area),” for one, particularly the Advanced Life Support issue mentioned earlier. Also of concern, the loss of services for North Burien.

He says that while the city filed this notice more than a year ago, the city did not reach out to NHFD with a plan until just last month. The city did come out to meet with the board (as covered here) and answered some questions from the NHFD board – but “trust us, we’ll take care of the operational issues when the time is right” seems to be the response. “They’ve had plenty of time to plan this annexation, they should be coming forward with specific (plans) – absent such (plans and agreements), we think the annexation needs to be denied. … Maybe they need another year. Maybe they need to come back with an actual plan.”

Snure then says that Seattle is “not a reliable automatic-aid partner in providing services.” And he says the annexation “will not provide a logical service area.” Instead, he says, “it will destroy one.”

Questions include a stat that Snure mentioned – a 6-minute ALS response time. South King County Medic Unit 4 is the unit that responds now, from downtown Burien, was the clarification – courtesy of SFD assistant chief Hagen.

8:41 PM: Joseph Quinn, lawyer for King County Fire District 2, now takes the podium. He is the last scheduled to testify before public comments. “The Boundary Review Board has to attain the preservation of logical service areas,” he began, “and I don’t think we can say some services are merely operational. ALS … is a life-or-death service. … You want in the case of a heart attack the fastest service you can get.” Seattle needs to “have a plan” for that. How can the board make a decision without that information? he asks. “I think we need answers.” Also, “right now, (North Highline) Station 18 is our primary response station for North Burien,” he notes, as was worked out in “five-party talks” before previous proposed annexation talks. This is where the aforementioned “land for a station” comes up. He says that even if the agreement technically expired, “we still need a station” in that area. He says things would be different if Seattle said it would have an automatic-aid agreement, serving from Station 18. He says his district would “suffer” the way things sound now, without a “logical service area. .. We (would be) left with no northern-area station.” He has also noted that right now, Burien and North Highline share not just a fire chief but also other officers, “across the line.” He summarizes that they need more than promises … they need a plan.

Could the memorandum of understanding that expired in 2012 have been extended? Did anyone try to do that? No, says Quinn – “annexation just kind of languished.” Next, they discuss the status of Station 19, which was transferred as part of the 2010 annexation of the southern half of North Highline by Burien. And then in response to another question, Quinn says that since it was obvious in 2008 “what the impact would be on North Burien,” it should have been recognized that would still be an issue now. “That’s been known for years.”

8:57 PM: Public testimony will start now, and tonight’s hearing will go to about 9:30, it’s been announced. So they’ll try to get to people who won’t be able to come back tomorrow.

First is Lois Schipper, who points out that while White Center is an ethnically diverse community, the room here is predominantly white. In response, the poster-placing is pointed out again. Schipper says reaching out to various communities personally would be ideal; the board secretary says they tried but got no response. She speaks about the fire services first – and says there was a fire at her house and Seattle was who responded. “From where I sit in that area, I would rather be part of Seattle and have all their resources available rather than (having to rely on) an aid agreement.” Regarding schools, she says she’s glad the school district boundaries wouldn’t change, but is glad about the Seattle Families and Education Levy and how it would provide afterschool services. She adds that she feels there hasn’t been enough education about what happens if the area is not annexed; she then voices her support for becoming part of Seattle.

Next, Martha Toffei, who says she’s a retired library worker and brings up the new $8 million King County library in White Center. She asks “what’s going to happen to the White Center library? Right now it’s in limbo.” (See our coverage of this month’s North Highline UAC meeting for more discussion on that point.) She says she is also concerned about policing, since Seattle has fewer officers than it would prefer.

Third called to the podium is Lana Anthony, who speaks briefly: “I believe Seattle has a lot to offer and I believe we should be allowed to vote.”

Fourth, Dennis Eaton, who says he has questions and concerns: “White Center will be one of the poorest areas of Seattle … what is the city planning to do with the tax money it will get (if it annexes) this area – will it be used for improvements and services in this area, or go into the general fund to be used for something else?” He also is worried about the new WC Library’s future. And he wonders about zoning – he’s currently in a six-per-acre single-family zone, and is concerned about backyard cottages being allowed if Seattle zoning is used instead.

9:11 PM: Fifth to speak is former Burien deputy mayor Rose Clark, who says she’s speaking about schools. She says the cities who currently are part of Highline Public Schools work well together, and she thinks that adding Seattle to the mix could raise some problems that should be discussed sooner rather than later. “There is concern that the higher density of Seattle … would impact the whole Highline School District,” with overcrowded schools that would lead to boundary changes throughout the district, and could require land to be bought to buy new schools. She wants to see the annexation process slowed to allow Seattle Public Schools and Highline Public Schools to talk about possible school transfers, or for Seattle zoning to consider being more like the zoning in the Highline district areas right now.

Two final witnesses – first, Pat LeMoine, who says he lives on Myers Way in the unincorporated area and is concerned about what’s happening with people experiencing homeless who live on the city side of the line along Myers. He says: “Myers Way has become Seattle’s human dumping ground. Seattle should be focused on discouraging this kind of behavior” and should encourage people there to accept help. He thinks that it’s an example of how North Highline will be treated by Seattle “if we get annexed.” He thinks the city would have the “same leniency for Myers Way” in front of homes “like Ballard.” He also says he didn’t even know about this meeting until last Thursday – last such meeting, there was a mailing to homes. “If you know a woman is being abused by her boyfriend, would you allow her to marry her abuser? … Burien did not respect our community, it appears Seattle will not either. This is really a big issue.”

Next, a woman who says she is against Seattle annexation “as of now.”

After her, Brian Hastings, who brings up the Evergreen Pool (a facility King County closed and a nonprofit reopened). “We provide an important service – my nonprofit’s been running (the pool) for the past six years, and (in that time) we’ve taught 10,000 of our kids how to swim.” He talks about he’s been fundraising and “need(s) more financial support …” This area doesn’t have it, he says. “There’s nothing left. And I’m one small entity.” A board member says, “So are you for or against annexation?” Hastings said, “I thought I made that clear … I’m for.”

Chestine Edgar is next. “I was present at the last annexation hearing (regarding) this area … Any area that is taken by an entity is to be provided services at the level it currently has, or greater.” She said the board could make a ruling and allow the operational details to be worked out later and contends that’s what happened last time. She says Seattle is the only area that could provide the services needed, so she urges the board to approve the annexation.

Next is a King County Housing Authority rep, Jen Ramirez Robson. She notes that KCHA operates Seola Gardens and Greenbridge in the White Center area. “Between our mixed-income communities and voucher program, we house 10 percent of the population in White Center. … Having the city provide an urban level of services is very important to us.” KCHA also houses 10 percent of the Highline Schools student population, she says, and looks forward to the Seattle “Preschool for All” program. They would continue operating their sites, she says, if annexed. In response to a question, she says KCHA has no plans for new public housing in this area, though there is space in Greenbridge for more “market-rate housing.”

9:36 PM UPDATE: The hearing’s over for tonight; public testimony resumes tomorrow, 7 pm, same place. We recorded all of tonight’s meeting on video and will upload it soon as we’re back at HQ, adding it, in two pieces (on both sides of the 8:25 pm break), when it’s ready.

7:15 AM TUESDAY: Both video clips are now added inline above.

-Tracy Record, WCN editor

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3 Responses to “VIDEO & AS-IT-HAPPENED COVERAGE: 1st night of Boundary Review Board hearing on Seattle’s proposal to annex White Center and most of what else is left of unincorporated North Highline”

  1. Thank you for this recap!

  2. White Center Now you have outdone yourselves. Thanks for the complete coverage of a critical political decision for our great North Highline community.

  3. Our community is so lucky to have such thorough and consistent coverage of local issues. Thank you Tracy & WCN!