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(Added: Video of the full NHUAC meeting, including the forum)
With the start of general-election voting just days away, most of this month’s North Highline Unincorporated Area Council meeting was devoted to a “town hall”-style forum featuring the two candidates for King County Executive. We’ll report the rest of the meeting separately, but want to note first that incumbent County Executive Dow Constantine and challenger State Senator Joe Nguyen have another online forum tonight (7 pm Saturday, presented by the West Seattle Chamber of Commerce, viewable (updated link) here).
On Thursday night, NHUAC’s Liz Giba moderated the forum, opening it by explaining that the organization does not endorse candidates and is focused on White Center and the surrounding unincorporated areas. She also noted that both candidates live in north West Seattle. Below is our recap – the questions and answers are reported as our summarizing/paraphrasing rather than exact quotes, except what’s within quotation marks.
****QUESTION: Both were invited to introduce themselves including where they were born and educational/employment background.
CONSTANTINE: Born at Swedish Hospital, lives in the same West Seattle neighborhood where he’s lived his whole life. He graduated from West Seattle High School and is a UW graduate , law school too. Qualifications: Lawyer, state legislator, county councilmember “and I think I’ve proved my ability to get difficult things done.” He touted the COVID response, responses to the climate crisis and entrenched racism, and more. “We’re moving forward with an agenda we’ve been pushing for years.” He also said the county’s been recognized for fiscal prudence.
NGUYEN: He was born at Virginia Mason Hospital, raised in White Center, graduated from Kennedy Catholic High School, went to Seattle University and has degrees in economics, finance, and humanities. He’s in analytics and strategy at Microsoft. He’s the first legislator of color in the 34th District. He talked about caring for his father after a disabling car crash, and the community giving back – “ever since then I felt compelled to serve the community at whatever level possible.” He says he’s part of “the most diverse Legislature in the history of Washington state.” But many issues “are at the local level.” He said he believes “talent is universal but opportunity is not.”
****QUESTION: King County just released the draft North Highline Sub-Area Plan, which appears to complete NH transition to a high-density neighborhood. In light of the analysis of Seattle’s urban-village strategy, which does not reduce BIPOC displacement, this is troubling: “Housing and equity are very connected.” Do you agree that King County should use findings of Seattle’s racial equity analysis to make decisions for NH? If not, what should be done?
NGUYEN: Hasn’t reviewed the analysis but believes more affordable housing is needed, more housing in general. But you also meed resources to mitigate growth – transit, utilities, etc. And how do you mitigate for possible displacement effects?
CONSTANTINE: This is a conversation we’ve been having for many years. You can’t be against displacement and against affordable housing. The development will keep coming … the plan was co-created with the community. What happened in West Seattle overwhelmed the intention – demand overran the supply. “We need not allow that to happen in White Center,” but aggressive action will be needed.
****QUESTION: In 2011, White Center CDA commissioned an opportunity analysis that found WC is a low-opportunity neighborhood. In 2015 King County named it a neighborhood of opportunity. But programs are not enough … Data shows North Highline with health challenges, poverty, child mortality, and other problems at a higher rate than West Seattle. (Stats were displayed.) Also some NH schools are majority poverty-level students, compared to schools in West Seattle. As executive, how can you assure NH students have the opportunity to achieve their potential?
CONSTANTINE: You have to focus on lifting up people in the community. That’s why we worked on a community-needs list, participatory budgeting, focusing on helping the White Center HUB project by transferring county-owned property … that’s also why North Highline (and Skyway) should be part of a city. Burien or Seattle. Tax base would provide urban services. Proud that through Best Starts for Kids we’ve been able to invest heavily, keep families from becoming homeless … “It’s my determination that we’re going to continue these kinds of investments. … We have to break loose of these historic racist realities.”
NGUYEN: Experienced the disparities firsthand, attending school in White Center. “Right now King County doesn’t have a dedicated office of economic development,” and that would help. “There are resources like Best Starts for Kids, nonprofits serving this area” … He repeats, “opportunity is lacking but talent is not,” as he has observed in his work with a nonprofit. “These are things that I experienced back in” (the ’80s).
****QUESTION: North Highline suffers from people experiencing “mental distress.” She brings up high-profile crimes, shooting, arson. “Gunshots are common. the sheriff’s office is underfunded, deputies are spread thin.” How as executive would you reduce crime, trauma, and related problems?
NGUYEN: Some of this is an effect of economic distress. Many calls are for non-criminal activity. Have community-safety officers to assist with noncriminal offenses … “so we can break that cycle and won’t see the same person over and over again.”
CONSTANTINE: “Many of these questions are why I created a Department of Local Services.” He said he came to the area the day after the shootings outside Taradise Café. Yes, having more community service officers is important, but also other kinds of responses, like community interveners. “It’s gotta be a multipronged approach.” He has two mental-health street teams and proposed funding for two more – at least one would circulate to areas such as White Center and Burien. He said he also came to the neighborhood after the Lumber Yard fire and that $108.000 has been provided to help, and additional resources are being identified to help the WC business district in this time of crisis.
****QUESTION: People in need are being segregated economically. I would like to hear both of you say you’ll correct that, to allow poor people to live in more affluent neighborhoods.
NGUYEN: Redlining is a reality. More density is a solution. Innovative anti-displacement strategies like community land trusts can help. More resources such as transit, job opportunities, would help too.
CONSTANTINE: Economic diversity is important to everyone. That’s a two-way street, it means protecting people from displacement even as outside economic pressures cause pressure. And in more affluent neighborhoods, cities need to make more room for more types of housing. Affluence, the way we’ve seen our region transform, are powerful forces.
At this point in the forum, Giba invited others to ask questions.
****Question from NHUAC’s Barbara Dobkin: Development in her neighborhood has been haphazard. Lots have been clear-cut. What about the neighborhoods? Developers are calling every week seeking to buy property. How do we protect what we have?
CONSTANTINE: The Sub-Area Plan includes development standards. Some cities like Seattle have “much more refined standards for neighborhoods.” Touts his Land Conservation initiative. Mentions the new greenspace in Boulevard Park.
NGUYEN: Talks about a document to protect urban canopy. Development needs to be “mindful of how we protect our greenspaces.”
Following up, Giba mentions the White Center HUB plan proposes development in a forested area. “Is there some way to put it elsewhere?”
NGUYEN: He’s seen renderings and thinks it’s incorporating some of the landscape, but it’s not a bad spot (for the project) overall.
CONSTANTINE: He agrees that every razed lot is a lost opportunity. Plans need to address that.
****Question from NHUAC’s Pat Price: The new greenspace (that Constantine mentioned) is on the edge of South Park, practically in Seattle. A study conducted over a decade ago suggested that White Center could improve access to and availability of parks. We haven’t heard more about what’s possible. What about all that land off Myers Way? Any plans to do something there?
CONSTANTINE: Park acquisition id “kind of my jam.” Department of Natural Resoures and Parks is “very focused on our service to NH” – he mentioned the recently spotlighted program to hire more people experiencing homelessness to do park cleanup. No new info on parkland negotiations. But see the Sub-Area Plan – “White Center needs more greenspace,” and that will be done “in lockstep with the community.”
****Question from WC resident Sabina regarding the Land Use Plan and zoning amendment: Doesn’t adequately address some issues, such as the west side of White Center (28th/30th/Roxbury) – street infrastructure is subpar – if the density there is going to double, it’s poor urban planning. Nothing in Sub-Area Plan will addresses how those blocks are going to get needed infrastructure. This will exacerbate inequality.
NGUYEN: Agrees that lack of sidewalks is a problem, says state has a package that would fund them in unincorporated areas. “Not only is it a safety issue but also an efficiency issue.”
CONSTANTINE: That infrastructure is part of draft Community Needs List, awaiting more community discussion and input. Good to hear the state might fund unincorporated-area sidewalks, which are badly needed. In addition, “we are focused on some pretty significant investments.” Mentions RapidRide H Line is starting service next year.
****Question from Carmel: She’s a local business owner who works with many others. “We’ve really been hurting with the fires … best way to increase opportunity for business owners would be to join u at our table instead of telling us to come to yours.” Mentions a meeting the next day. Will you attend?
NGUYEN: Yes. My family had a business in that area (years ago).
CONSTANTINE: Will try to cancel a conflict and be there. Top county staffers including Local Services director John Taylor will be there.
****Question from community member Loretta: She feels like NH is more part of Burien than Seattle. Urges the candidates to keep their distance from the Seattle City Council. Meantime, “there’s so much crime out there,” she sees a need for consequences.
CONSTANTINE: He does try to keep his distance from the Seattle City Council, he said with laughter, saying that it includes “fine people” but he disagrees with some of their direction. Regarding crime, “what we’re seeking to do is” earlier intervention, with young people
NGUYEN: Lot of programs are available now that didn’t used to be – need to address ohn a systemic basis.
Both agree more behavioral-health investment is needed.
****Question from Mark from Skyway: Concerned about corruption, vaccine hesitancy, and more in Sheriff’s Office. Sees a lack of concern among deputies for urban unincorporated areas. Since the next Exec will be in charge of the sheriff, please address.
CONSTANTINE: Looking forward to dealing with some of the challenges. Sheriff’s Office has funding challenges, a lot of vacancies. “We need to focus in making sure we have a smooth transition to a new sheriff,” and one who leads the transformation of policing. Need better response times but don’t confuse that with response types – there are calls that don’t require uniformed police fficer.
NGUYEN: Need true accountability. Next Sheriff should be able to hold folks accountable and transform the way things are done.
****Question from Marissa: Speaking as a coalition coordinator, regarding youths’ behavioral health – school practitioners say there’s a big need for behavioral health services for youth, increased by the pandemic. There’s money being spent on it but how is it really supporting the need for services in schools? There’s a big difference between saying there’s a community partner, and having someone being able to get into services. Students are getting referred but can’t always access services. How can we plan for the short-term imminent need for these services in schools, and what are you doing right now?
NGUYEN: State allocated about $300 million. But how we fund schools is inequitable. Meeting with Seattle and Highline school board members to talk about how this looks going forward.
CONSTANTINE: “A lot of these issues come back to the dire lack of behavioral health services” – this all started back in the ’80s, then in the Great Recession the state disinvested … the county’s been scrambling “to prop up this house of cards.” Best Starts for Kids helping. “I’m excited about (its) renewal.” But “we’ve inherited a terrible tax system … this economy could pay for everything we need to live healthy successful lives” but tax system is “grossly unfair.”
They wrapped up after about an hour and a holf. We’ll publish other notes from the meeting separately later today, and also plan to cover tonight’s County Executive forum. The NHUAC event was recorded but we haven’t found a link – if and when we do, we’ll add it.