King County Councilmember Jeanne Kohl-Welles
I joined the King County Council on the first of January 2016 after having been elected on the November 2015 ballot to succeed Councilmember Larry Phillips who retired after 23 years of service. I am very honored and excited to represent the interests of the residents of District Four on the County Council.
I have always worked collaboratively to achieve common-sense solutions on tough issues. My goals reflect social justice and economic opportunity, including advocating for income equality and tax fairness; eliminating disproportionality in our juvenile and adult criminal justice systems; affordable housing, health and mental health services and homelessness programs; environmental sustainability; and transit/transportation revenue to increase mobility and congestion relief.
Since my appointment, I have focused on the following issues, among others:
Let’s make sure Orcas get what they need from us
It’s hard to imagine anything more quintessentially Northwest than the Southern Resident Killer Whales that call Puget Sound home.
Perhaps it’s the fact that these iconic mammals live in such close proximity to our contemporary world that makes us feel so responsible for their well-being and livelihood. I certainly do and I’m not alone.
Like so many others, I was heart-broken as I watched an Orca mother carry her deceased calf with her for weeks this past summer and when a juvenile Orca named Scarlett died from starvation. Tragically, not one calf has survived in the past three years.
Something is obviously wrong and we must take action now.
Please read my OpEd in Crosscut on the steps King County is taking to save this iconic mammal.
Investing in Healthy Communities and the Health of Children and Youth
In November 2015, the voters of King County approved a levy to fund the Best Starts for Kids (BSK) Initiative. BSK is an initiative to improve the health and well-being of King County residents by investing in prevention and early intervention for children, youth, families, and communities.
As chair of the committee managing the implementation of BSK, (the Health, Housing and Human Services Committee), I am committed to ensuring the effective implementation of this important program.
Affordable Housing and Homelessness in King County
Homelessness in King County has reached alarming numbers. Since declaring a state of emergency in November 2015, King County has made great strides in providing additional affordable housing and emergency support services for vulnerable populations.
The Best Starts for Kids (BSK) levy includes $19 million for a Youth and Family Homelessness Prevention (YFHP) Initiative to prevent and divert children and youth and their families from becoming homeless. The County Council adopted the BSK implementation plan and the YFHP initiative over the summer of 2016.
Increasing access to affordable housing and emergency support is a high priority for me, and one we continue to address in the Health, Housing and Human Services Committee, which I chair.
Better Access to Transit in King County
As the Councilmember representing District Four, I’ll continue to push for improved access to transit for the district, especially the urban villages of Fremont and Ballard, which are growing rapidly, as well as Crown Hill and Wallingford.
I strongly support the ORCA Low Income Fare for Transit (LIFT) program, which provides reduced fares for low-income residents, ensuring they can get to work, school, the doctor and other vital services. While the ORCA LIFT program is highly successful, some people cannot afford even the reduced fare price. I introduced a budget proviso (2016), adopted by the Council, requesting a report from Metro on the feasibility of a new program that would address the mobility needs of very low-income people.
I also co-sponsored, and the Council just passed (November 2016), an ordinance that reduces by 10% the cost to human service organizations for the bus passes they distribute free of charge to their clients. This allows the human service groups to devote more of their budgets to services such as food and medical treatment.
Putting a Stop to Human Trafficking in King County
Human trafficking is an extreme violation of human rights that threatens the health and welfare of our communities. Trafficking in persons is now the world’s second-largest and fastest-growing black market.
Because of our region’s ports, proximity to Canada, Sea-Tac Airport and access to I-5, King County has long been a hotspot in the international trafficking of persons. I helped lead the fight against human trafficking with former State Rep. Velma Veloria and others as a State Senator in Olympia for 13 years. I am continuing work on this issue in my capacity as a Councilmember by addressing the issue of labor trafficking and economic exploitation specifically. I secured funding for a study to combat human trafficking and economic exploitation in the 2016 budget process.
Equity and Social Justice
Many in our region are prospering and thriving, and for many this is a great place to live, learn, work and rear a family. However, for many King County residents, the story is completely different. In King County, where you live, how much you make, and the color of your skin are major predictors of your health, education and work opportunities, and even lifespan.
Here at King County, we believe that inequities hurt everyone—not just people on the lower rungs of the social and economic ladder. For our region to continue to prosper, we need all county residents to have a fair shot at success, regardless of where they started out in life.
For more information on how King County is applying equity and social justice principles, see this King County Building Equity Infographic.
Climate Change and Water Quality
Climate change is rapidly transforming our world. As global temperatures and sea levels rise and floods, wildfires and droughts increase, governments and citizens must work together to adapt to the changes and mitigate the worst effects.
The King County Council and Metro Transit are pleased to be at the forefront of implementing policies to reduce our carbon footprint. Already, almost 70 percent of Metro’s bus fleet is electric and diesel hybrid. Council Vice-Chair Rod Dembowski and I sponsored a County study to examine the feasibility of making the entire fleet completely carbon-neutral within the foreseeable future.
I am also working on issues related to water quality as Chair of the Regional Water Quality Committee (RWQA). In addition to providing guidance to the county on wastewater treatment, rate policies and sewer service issues, the committee examines broader issues, including pollution sources, surface and stormwater control, water supply, and regulatory issues.