2019 State of the County Address
Preston Community Center
Councilmember Lambert, elected leaders, valued employees, people of King County.
Thank you, Pam, for the recognition of the indigenous people of this land, and thank you all for coming to the Preston Community Center here in the Cascade foothills, and to Calli Knight of our staff for leading the arrangements. And we're particularly honored to welcome my predecessor Executive Ron Sims.
I would like to begin by acknowledging my cabinet, the directors of our nine departments, including some new faces.
In fact, in the last year, I brought on six new department directors who share my vision for regional government that works for the people.
─ Tanya Hannah, our Director of King County Information Technology and our Chief Information Officer…
─ Anitha Khandelwal, our Director of Public Defense…
─ Leo Flor, from the Department of Community and Human Services…
─ Jay Osborne, our Human Resources director.
─ I named Rob Gannon director when I elevated Metro from a division to a department, and…
─ John Taylor, inaugural director of the Department of Local Services.
I created the Department of Local Services last year to bring a new level of attention to the unincorporated areas of King County - a quarter million residents, who, taken together, would constitute the second largest city in the state. Along with the Roads Division, the Department of Local Services includes permitting and community services.
The ink was barely dry on John’s new letterhead when he and the department had to jump into action earlier this year, responding to the worst winter storm in decades. Plowing roads, clearing bridges, getting help to where it needed to be, John and his team served the people of rural and urban unincorporated King County.
Our roads crews ended up plowing the equivalent of 20,000 miles, and at our busiest, we had over 160 people working out in the community.
One of those who answered the call was Jeremy Ferguson, in charge of the Roads Division Maintenance Section, who, along with his crews, worked 12-hour shifts for 16 straight days to clear King County roads.
John and Jeremy, as well as leaders and union members representing the Roads staff, for all that you did in those few weeks in February, and for your commitment to the people of Preston…and North Bend…and Carnation…and all of unincorporated King County…please stand and allow us to thank you.
Ten years ago this fall, I took the oath of office to be your County Executive.
During this time, I have worked with two different governors, three - no make that six! - Seattle mayors, and literally thousands of councilmembers and other elected officials from around the region.
In this, my third term, I can see all that we have done, and the work that remains unfinished to accomplish my goal of making this a welcoming community where every person can thrive.
That is our True North.
“Making King County a welcoming community where every person can thrive.”
These words have meaning.
“Making” - this is a process.
“Welcoming” - opening our arms to newcomers, yes, and to long-timers feeling insecure because of the rapid change all around.
“Community” - our community is made up of many communities, and we want the entirety of King County to be a place where opportunity is abundant.
“Every person” - we believe that every single person has value.
“Can” - we don’t guarantee success, but we work to create the conditions for people to make the most of life.
So, “Making King County a welcoming community where every person can thrive.”
These threads run through all of the work that we do.
And we know how we are going to get there. By combining smart, progressive policies and the nuts and bolts of effective government, we orient ourselves toward that True North.
Those two components - the ideas and practice, the values and governance - help make King County what it is today. By looking back at the challenges we faced in 2009, we can see the progress we have made, and how far we have yet to go.
Of course, we couldn’t have done any of this without strong collaboration with our represented work force.
Back in 2009, with the nation’s economy reeling, public employees felt the sting of layoffs and wage freezes, and days when they were told to stay home without pay.
That wasn’t enough for some people, who wanted to scapegoat public employees, and attack their unions, who wanted to strip government to the bone just as the need for services skyrocketed.
Remember Scott Walker of Wisconsin? His policies failed, and he lost re-election.
At King County, we took a different approach.
From my first days as Executive, I sought to establish a strong partnership with labor, where we could achieve our goals of increased efficiency and productivity by incorporating employees’ ideas and shared values.
By working together, in common purpose, we were one of the first public employers in the nation to enact paid parental leave for all employees. We created a professional development fund, and we encouraged opportunities to volunteer at local charities and non-profits.
Working together, we took on a common enemy: rising health care costs. Not only did we win that fight, but we improved health outcomes for employees. Harvard's Kennedy School recognized us for that with the “Innovations in American Government” award.
Most important, we stand united in our mission to deliver unparalleled customer service to the people of King County.
No one exemplifies that commitment more than Eric Stark, seven-year Metro operator and member of Amalgamated Transit Union 587 who garnered international headlines last month for what he did on the job.
By now, you all know the story. While at the wheel of his bus, Eric was shot in a random attack. Despite that, he steered his bus several blocks out of danger, delivering his passengers to safety.
The word “heroic” is often bandied about, but in this case, there are few other apt descriptions that capture what he did that day.
For their service to King County, I would like you to join me in acknowledging Eric and his wife Kim, who is also part of our King County family…
I believe that government is at its best when it collaborates, brings people together, builds bridges and partnerships to deliver outcomes that cannot be achieved going it alone.
Last May, we reached a new milestone in our journey of collective bargaining.
We negotiated our first ever Master Labor Agreement, which governs work conditions for sixty two bargaining units representing more than five thousand King County employees. Just this month,
I signed the Total Compensation Agreement, for those same employees, which sets wages and benefits for the next two years.
Instead of bargaining at dozens of tables on dozens of timelines, we sat at one collaborative table, which was more efficient, and more effective.
The agreements we reached benefit both labor and management, and speak volumes about our relationship. And employees across King County see the value in that.
When the United States Supreme Court delivered the appalling “Janus” decision, the vast majority of our union employees opted to keep doing their fair share. That speaks to the character of our employees and to the value labor unions bring to their members as a collective voice on wages, benefits, and working conditions.
I believe in collective bargaining, worker protections, and the right to organize. I believe these things make King County stronger, more productive, more able to meet the needs of the two-and-a-quarter million people who call this place home.
As I consider the journey of these last ten years, I want to call out my Budget Director Dwight Dively, a regional - really national, treasure - who has guided our budgets to be sustainable and strong.
Dwight shares my determination to do finances right, and he understands the short-term costs of doing that, without smoke and mirrors.
This is, after all, a man who has “I’ve done the math” inscribed on his coffee mug.
Since I took office, we successfully moved King County to a biennial budget - one of the few regional governments to do so - which is far better for predictability and long-term planning.
Every year, I've determinedly kept spending below the rate of population and inflation.
Our triple-A bond ratings testify to the fact that King County is a role model for other regional governments from coast-to-coast.
We have created comprehensive financial policies for each of King County’s 140 different funds to best manage risk, and we have saved over $540 million in interest costs through aggressive debt refinancing and other financial practices.
We’re not done yet, but I say to the region, and the nation: This is what becoming Best Run Government looks like.
We have come a long way from the days of furloughs and foreclosures. Today, our region is experiencing unprecedented prosperity.
As a government…
─ We are providing more transit to more people than ever before.
─ We are providing more housing to more people than ever before.
─ For those experiencing behavioral health challenges, we are providing more services than ever before - when and where they need it.
─ We are protecting what makes this place special, and standing up for our values at a time when they are under constant attack by the federal government.
Our accomplishments give us the perspective, the confidence, and the obligation to do even more.
We have reached the moment in our journey when we can make important and lasting progress in achieving our goals. We have clarity, and conviction. We move with purpose, and optimism.
We can make history.
Let us begin with how we are reforming health care delivery.
Our story opens with the passage of the Affordable Care Act in 2010.
When the health exchanges finally went online and the political dust settled, we knew that this incredible opportunity to improve the health and well-being of our region would be successful only if we enrolled people from all walks of life, from every zip-code.
We knew that simply opening a County storefront somewhere and waiting for people to drift in would not be sufficient. We needed to engage people on their terms, as we never had before.
So we got to work, forging partnerships with activists and community groups to spread the word about the importance and availability of health insurance.
And, thanks to the work of Daphne Pie and so many others at Public Health, we made King County a national success story.
In five years, we cut the uninsured rate in half. The uninsured rate for children in King County reached an historic low of 1.6 percent.
And just as we’ve been a champion for the ACA, we are a national leader in family planning services and education.
Today, because of our hard work, King County has one of the lowest teen pregnancy rates in the country, two-and-a-half times lower than the national rate.
Our success with the ACA and family planning, and other community trends, dropped demand for our Maternity Support Services and Women, Infants and Children - or WIC - nutrition clinics by some 35 percent in recent years.
We now have the opportunity to reexamine our clients’ needs and to refocus our resources to provide the greatest access to quality health care, to the most people.
Today, I propose a new model for delivering maternity support and nutrition services.
We will create four Mobile Teams that will visit food banks, human service agencies, and community centers throughout the region.
And for our highest-need clients - women experiencing barriers in their lives, like homelessness, mental health challenges or substance use, or even something like language and cultural differences - we also will create a new Community Support Program.
For these women and families, a specialist will visit one-on-one, at their home or another community location.
While we offer these new services, we are also keeping our Maternity Support and WIC Nutrition clinics open to continue serving the women and families who are happy with the current system.
I want to thank our public health partners who support our changes and are here today, including HealthPoint, Neighborcare, and Mary’s Place. I also want to thank Director Patty Hayes and the Public Health staff for their careful and innovative thinking.
Change is difficult. Uncertainties provoke anxiety. I want to make absolutely clear: Nurses and other health professionals take our values of inclusion and compassion and put them into practice,
every moment of every day.
Without their hard work, our public health mission would be simply good intentions without actions.
We stand together - all of us - to provide care to women and children on their terms,
in ways that can make the most difference, so that our communities are healthier,
and stronger, and so that all children born in King County have the chance to live up to their full potential.
Earlier this year, I announced our ninth expansion of Metro service in four years to meet the rising demand for transit across the region.
If you get in the time machine and go back a decade, you’ll find that we faced a much different scenario.
The Great Recession tanked sales tax revenues, and Metro weathered significant service cuts - cuts which have yet to be restored in some areas of King County.
What helped Metro regain its footing was a combination of factors:
─ Seattle voters filled the gap to keep buses on the road after a King County ballot measure failed…
─ The regional economy rebounded…
─ Our bottom line improved as we doggedly pursued financial reforms and new service guidelines that put buses where the service is needed most.
The next frontier for the Metro Transit Department is completely rethinking mobility, and how to bridge the last mile between your home and a transit stop.
This has been a goal of transit planners for decades. To make it happen, you need to be innovative, and offer people new ways to get around that respond to their needs, and how they live, and commute.
This is the genesis of Metro’s Ride 2 and Via to Transit programs - offering on-demand shuttle services to and from transit hubs.
We have launched pilot programs in Eastgate, West Seattle, and - as of Tuesday - in Southeast Seattle and Tukwila, picking up people near their homes and taking them to the Mount Baker, Columbia City, Othello, Tukwila and Rainier Beach light rail stations.
In fact, when we were announcing this new service on Tuesday at the Mount Baker station, I asked the Mayor of Tukwila if he had taken light rail to the press conference. Turns out he tried but he couldn’t find parking at Angle Lake, so he had to drive. Now he and thousands of other residents have a better option!
Our goal is to grow our transit ridership even more, and uphold our principles of equity, accessibility, and financial sustainability.
On this mild spring day, it’s hard to cast your mind back to those snowy weeks in February, but the folks at Metro will likely never forget the Snow-maggedon that so quickly followed Via-doom.
Along with cities across the region, we created an emergency response plan for the worst weather, and for ten years we never had to take it off the shelf.
For the first time, Metro made it operational, deploying buses on routes that been cleared and plowed. It was an enormous undertaking, but we bounced back to regular service before the final patches of snow had melted on most people’s lawns.
Social media these days is a pretty dark space. Everyone’s a critic, everyone’s got an opinion,
and if there’s something negative to say, someone will say it.But I was heartened to see so many people commenting on how much they appreciated…
─ the operators who navigated difficult routes,
─ the mechanics who chained up 21 ton buses in the freezing rain and blowing snow,
─ the dispatchers and communications people who made sure riders were aware of all the changes.
It almost makes Facebook worth it. Almost.
But one thing we heard loud and clear was this: riders wanted better information on their smart phones about the status of their bus.
We are making it happen.
In the next few months, apps like the popular “One Bus Away” will be able to alert customers when their bus trip is canceled or a bus stop is added or closed.
For unforeseen impacts like overturned fish trucks or sudden winter storms, “One Bus Away” will show an alert message when certain routes are canceled or rerouted, and where to go to find reroute information.
Customers will begin to see these data improvements as early as next month, with full
roll-out by the end of the year.
This is just one way the best large transit agency in North America continues to attract new riders, and makes sure people get to where they need to be, whether by bus, shuttle, van pool, water taxi,
or ways we haven’t even yet considered.
Transit is so important to me because it provides access to jobs, and education...access to opportunity. And access to what we like to call our Big Back Yard.
Trailhead Direct has been one of our most successful launches. We began this pilot two years ago, providing weekend and holiday shuttle service to some of the most popular trailheads including Margaret’s Way and East Sunset Way.
Last year we added pick-ups in Capitol Hill, Mount Baker, Eastgate and North Bend, and trailhead destinations including Mount Si, Mount Teneriffe, and Mailbox Peak.
This Saturday - in honor of Earth Day - we are expanding service so hikers can take Trailhead Direct shuttles from the Tukwila light rail station and the Renton Transit Center, and we’re adding Cougar Mountain and Little Si as destinations.
The testimonials say it all:
- “I love this program…”
- “Such a great service…”
- “We used this awesome service several times this season.
Keep it going!”
- “You should run an IKEA shuttle…”
Rob Gannon and Christie True, please get on that!
Here’s the thing: I share this love of the outdoors.
When I was a kid I spent a lot of time hiking with my Scout troop, skiing in the mountains, swimming in the Sound. I developed a strong appreciation for the remarkable beauty of this place.
As a young adult, I had the opportunity to be involved in the fight to save a neighborhood wooded ravine we played in as kids. That fight was successful and, maybe more than anything, led me into politics.
King County has 175 miles of regional trails, over 200 parks, and 28,000 acres of open space. This August the Parks Levy renewal will be before voters. If approved, this levy would connect or complete many well-travelled trails.
─ Under this proposal, King County Parks would complete the final segment of the 11-mile East Lake Sammamish Trail.
─ The Eastside Rail Corridor would be expanded, including a new trail over the iconic Wilburton Trestle in Bellevue.
─ And the proposal would fund an extension of the Green River Trail, which will connect the cities of Kent and Tukwila to Seattle in the South Park neighborhood.
The proposed levy would generate an estimated 810 million dollars over the next six years, and would cost the owner of a home valued at a half-million dollars an additional two dollars and twenty five cents per month.
I want to recognize the important work of my Open Space Equity Cabinet to ensure that every resident in King County has access to green space.
The Cabinet is comprised of 21 members who help us focus investments and attention where they are needed most. With us today, representing the Open Space Equity Cabinet, is Tukwila City Councilmember De’Sean Quinn, and I would like to recognize the cabinet’s contributions…
The Parks Levy would maintain access to county parks and recreation, help restore and protect our rivers, forests, and natural areas, and assist in tackling climate pollution.
To celebrate our Big Back Yard, I am embarking on a tour - “100 miles in 100 days” in our King County Parks.
I know what you’re thinking: one mile a day isn’t exactly Jim Whittaker-esque. But with my schedule it will likely be a series of 20 mile hikes. However this works out, it is a way to illustrate the beauty that is just on our doorstep.
I will be walking the East Lake Sammamish Trail, and the Eastside Rail Corridor.
I’m going to run the bases at Steve Cox Memorial Park in White Center, and ride, raft,
and maybe even rappel through other parks around King County.
In fact, after this speech, I am putting on a pair of hiking boots and heading out on the Preston Snoqualmie Trail, just a stone’s throw away. You are welcome to stick around and see me off, or join me for a mile or two.
As the summer rolls along, watch my social media feeds for updates, and share your own experiences. Let this be the year you get out and explore our Big Back Yard.
As we take on difficult assignments, following our True North means uniting our progressive policies and Best Run Government to solve some of the most difficult and long-standing challenges.
That is especially true for our reforms of the juvenile legal system.
In 2009, the average daily population of youth held on juvenile charges at the Youth Services Center was 110. This week: 41.
We must go even further, and we have a plan to do just that.
Our Road Map to Zero Youth Detention charts our common journey to reduce racial disproportionality and the number of youth in detention, and help young people and families across the region to thrive.
King County, the courts, families, law enforcement - no one can do this work alone.
For example, last year, in partnership with the County Council, we passed investments in community-based organizations that helped provide the supports for families and young people who have gotten into trouble with the law - possibly reducing average daily population at Youth Services Center up to 20 percent.
We also making investments upstream in diversion programs to help youth and families in crisis.
The journey to Zero Youth Detention is long, and there are many barriers to overcome.
But we believe in the power of continuous improvement and we are putting it into practice.
I want to hear from the community as we implement the Road Map, which will evolve, and change, and improve.
Finally, I would like to talk about an aspect of our County that is top of all our minds -
the homelessness and housing affordability crisis.
We must not be daunted by the fact that this will not resolve overnight. We must not be discouraged by all the many barriers to providing hope - financial, bureaucratic, political.
At King County, to fight homelessness, we are embracing what we are particularly good at as a government: innovation.
For those at risk of losing housing, we have the Youth and Family Homelessness Prevention Initiative, through Best Starts for Kids.
I was in a community meeting the other day and I asked the group: “How many people know about Best Starts for Kids, considering you all probably voted for it?”
Not a single hand went up, so I explained that Best Starts for Kids is the nation’s most comprehensive approach to early childhood development. It invests in prevention and early intervention strategies that promote healthier, more resilient children, youth, families, and communities.
Then, everyone was impressed with themselves for voting for it.
Our programs focus on the whole family, and that includes helping parents experiencing housing instability.
In two years, the Homelessness Prevention Initiative has helped more than 6,000 people remain securely housed, by offering job training, or negotiating with a landlord, or helping catch up on the rent.
We are investing in housing for those with no earned incomes, and those not quite earning the median wage.
To provide housing faster and cheaper, we are deploying modular housing - prefabricated units that are manufactured off-site and put together like my daughter’s Lego kits that I step on every morning.
We have re-purposed County land and surplus properties into the fight, most recently, transforming the unused West Wing of the downtown jail into a 24-hour shelter with services and case management for 40 men - the chronically homeless, and hardest to serve.
After accepting recommendations from the Opioid Task Force in 2016, we got to work rolling out new programs and ideas.
─ If you come to jail with a prescription for medication assisted opioid treatment, we will make sure that treatment continues.
─ If you come to jail experiencing opioid use disorder and want to get better,
we will enroll you in medication assisted treatment and counseling.
We are expanding this promising treatment at the Downtown Public Health Center,
and we are going even further.
I asked, and the King County Council approved, funding to allow us to reach out with medication assisted treatment to people living in shelters and encampments.
Later this summer, as a result of our “One Table” collaboration, I will present a plan to Council that will thoroughly reform how we direct our regional homelessness response.
Gone will be siloed human services and homelessness efforts operating separately within King County and the City of Seattle.
Instead, we will set up a new governance structure that will be jointly funded and accountable, bringing our homeless systems into one unified regional entity.
Want to know what’s at stake? Let me tell you a story:
After struggling for years with alcohol addiction,
Robert Sanders moved back to Seattle a couple of years ago.
He worked as a day laborer, but it wasn’t steady, and it didn’t pay enough for rent. He became homeless, living in the encampment known as the “Jungle.”
After spending time at Harborview and Fairfax Hospital in Kirkland where he received behavioral health care after an overdose, Robert wanted to refocus on his recovery - getting a job, getting a place to call his own.
Remember our True North: “Making King County a welcoming community where every person can thrive.”
We don’t guarantee success but we provide the opportunity for every person to grow and contribute to the community. And that is what we offered Robert.
His Sound Behavioral Health case manager, Megan Narvaez, found Robert housing.
His vocational specialist, Leslie Lee, connected him with a job at a catering company.
And Robert never looked back. He is healthy and happy and wants to share his story to inspire others.
This is why we do this work.
Robert cannot be here today because he is on the job, but Leslie and others from
“Team Robert” are with us, and I want to applaud them, and all those who work so hard so others can fulfill their potential.
All that we do is aimed at the notion of creating the foundation for individual and collective success.
And we have put ourselves in a position to do better than pretty much any place in this country in making that real.
The True North of smart, progressive policies and effective government guides us to support efforts to make sure the 2020 census includes every single resident of King County - every single one of us - because everyone counts, and everyone should be counted.
We work to create a community that is equitable, and we continue to break down barriers of racism and economic inequality so that every person can succeed and share in our region’s prosperity.
Our county’s namesake, Dr. Martin Luther King, refused to accept that humanity is bound to the
“starless midnight of racism,” - but rather that “unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.” Those words give us strength to press on.
As I look back on all that we have accomplished together, I am certain of our vision,
I am confident in our priorities, and I am ready to tackle the work ahead.
So, let us fix our sights on that summit.
And then let us figure out how not just each of us individually or within our own little areas
of responsibility, but how collectively as one team, as one community, we can move up that mountain and get to that place.
If we do that, we will have done something worthwhile with our brief time that we have been gifted here.
There is just not enough time to do everything and we must consolidate our gains, increase our focus, increase our cooperation, charge up that mountain, to get to a place where we can plant the flag and all be proud that we have achieved something truly unprecedented, together.