By Tracy Record
White Center Now editor
The last North Highline Unincorporated Area Council meeting of 2023 was held online Thursday night (December 7). Here’s what happened:
LIBRARY UPDATES: Mary Sue Houser, a divisional manager for King County Library System – overseeing six branches including White Center, Greenbridge, and Boulevard Park – was the first guest. She reminded everyone that KCLS is now “fine-free” – if you have an overdue item, just take it in! (They will charge if you lose something, though.) Some hours have expanded, too (as reported here). She recapped the Freedom to Read celebration that was discussed at the last meeting, and mentioned the Welcoming Centers, “a place for people who are new to the country … anyone who has just gotten here and needs help.” Language-speakers are available to offer resources and answer questions. These are at six libraries (none in North Highline). NHUAC’s Liz Giba asked if a Welcoming Center could be added at WC Library; Houser said she’ll be sure it’s “on the radar.”
FIRE CHIEFS: After more than 31 years of service, Chief Mike Marrs is leaving. He’s been District 2 chief since 1999. He thanked everyone for their support, particularly the renewals of the Medic One levy every six years. He talked about how previously one in five people woule survive a heart attack in Seattle/King County – even at that, better than other cities, but a goal was set for three in five to survive, and that goal’s been met and surpassed. Ongoing training and policies help. 85 percent of calls are medical, a lot of them are heart attacks, and so, many lives are being saved, He also expressed gratitude for voters approving the Benefit Charge. It’s not based on property value but rather on the size of structure that needs to be protected, Marrs explained. And since it’s a fee, for example, the Housing Authority has to pay it too, rather than getting an exemption. “I think we’ve put that money to good use.” He noted that his role running Fire District 2 expanded to include North Highline around 2010, part-time as a stopgap measure, and “we just slowly migrated to where we came together.” After years of sharing personnel and equipment, and increasing efficiencies and cost savings, they originally realized it was time to “fully integrate” everything. In 2019, it all melded into a four-station fire department. They’ve been able to purchase new fire engines, a new aid car, and “with the funding we’re saving in other areas,” next year they’ll be able to return a full-time aid car to Station 18 in White Center. He also said he’s proud of “the workforce we have right now.” He said his “one litmus test” for hiring has been “who do I want to show up at my house at 2 o’clock in the morning when my house is on fire?” Marrs said he feels his legacy includes those people – who go out on calls 12,000 times a year.
In Q/A/comments, the chief was thanked for his advocacy for the North Highline fireworks ban. He didn’t have any stats about its effectiveness, though.
New Chief Jason Gay then introduced himself – 49 years old, father of two (20-year-old Marine and 16-year-old high school sophomore). He is a Marine Corps veteran, focusing on avionics, and went into aerospace after getting out, got a mechanical engineering degree, staying in that industry for a long time. Then he moved on to firefighting – “best choice I ever made” – and Marrs hired him in 2005. He went to school again for a Fire Administration degree and has been working his way up, becoming a lieutenant, then captain, for 10 years, then acting battalion chief for 6 years, and eventually went into the logistics office. More studies ensued; he pursued an online masters in Public Administration, and in October he became Fire Chief.
Chief Gay says his vision for the department is: financially responsible, well-funded, deep ties with service community, values its employees – helping them via education, professional development – he wants the department to be known for leadership and stewardship, among other things, Marrs, he said, has shown “you can be conservative and provide a fantastic service to the vommunity.” He “wants to be a good steward of tax dollars for the community.” He also noted the health risks firefighters face – like cancer risk – and wants to protect them as best he can. “There’s a lot of work we can do in continuing to ratchet our service to the community.” Stations 18 and 19 are undergoing remodeling to serve a diverse workforce – he notes that about 9 percent of the workforce is women, including two “line firefighters.” He said the department’s staff is relatively new – less than five years firefighting for almost half of them.
NHUAC’s Pat Price wondered about a timeline for the Station 18 remodel (that’s where NHUAC long met in person) being complete. Chief Gay said crews will be mobilizing right after Christmas and the 18 and 19 remodels should be complete by early May. “At that point we’ll have a wonderful meeting room to go back to,” he said.
NHUAC’s Barbara Dobkin wondered how the increased density affects the department. “Obviously our call volume is rising,” said Gay. They’re mapping things now and the upcoming added aid car at Station 18 will be part of addressing that. What about higher buildings? They have a ladder truck, which can get them up to seven stories, he noted. They also were asked about alternative responses, which have been explored by multiple jurisdictions around the region.
KING COUNTY SHERIFF’S OFFICE: White Center Storefront Detective Glen Brannon began by saying “things are looking good in our neck of the woods.” He was asked about the disappearance of the Burien encampment in a triangle along Ambaum Boulevard; they had to disperse because of Burien’s camping ban, and many are now at a church in Burien that has an official camping/shelter program. Some have probably headed into White Center, Brannon believes. He mentioned working with The More We Love group, which has a contract with Burien to address encampments. He also mentioned that they’re working with Community Passageways and so they’ve got a lot of new resources to work with people on the street.
An attendee who recorded video of illegal dumping asked if Brannon had any interest. Send him the video, Det. Brannon said. (email@example.com) He also asked about mail thieves. To charge somebody with mail theft, they have to have at least seven pieces of mail from different people, Brannon said.
He was asked about a crash in White Center, on 16th SW near Saar’s, the previous evening. It was a pedestrian hit by a driver; not life-threatening injuries.
A Block Watch captain gave props to Det. Brannon for handling some things his neighbors in Top Hat were worried about.
Det. Brannon said he wants to hear from Block Watches – and from people interested in starting one.
Then a WC resident said he’s concerned about dangerous driving and wondered about speed enforcement. Det. Brannon offered to come hang out in his neighborhood (a cut-through section of 17th) and try to be a deterrent/enforcer.
What about the former Bartell building, and trash/graffiti problems? He said he’ll look into that, and also noted that a new tenant is being actively sought.
Regarding the ongoing outdoor-music-venue noise concerns, Det. Brannon said he got the monitoring equipment he talked about at the last NHUAC meeting and has already tested it. He promised that enforcement is planned. “We’re done letting these guys get away with that.” He explained how the equipment records readings and times.
Also briefly discussed – the ongoing search for businesses to move into the storefronts that suffered fire damage. A variety of other issues came up too. Regarding gunfire heard from neighborhoods, Det. Brannon said that factors include a “gang war starting up,” and that they know who’s doing it – people driving around shooting into the air – “we just have to catch them.” He said someone high-ranking in a gang was killed recently, with a funeral coming up in less than a week, and a lot of retaliatory gunfire seems to be happening.
NEXT MEETING: NHUAC will skip January and be back the first Thursday in February.