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2017 State of the County address

2017 State of the County address

King County Executive Dow Constantine
March 20, 2017
Auburn Community & Event Center

2017 State of the County address from King County Executive on Vimeo.

Chair McDermott, Councilmembers, elected leaders, valued employees, people of King County; and Mayor Backus, Auburn City Councilmembers, thank you for inviting us here to the Auburn Community and Event Center.

Part of the job of Executive in a county as big as ours is dealing with crises. On Day One: South Park Bridge, a stuck tunnel boring machine at Brightwater, and a weakened Howard Hanson Dam.

We united the region to meet these challenges, and I’m happy to report the dam – and the city – are doing just fine.

A couple of years ago, we faced a different kind of crisis. The constant reduction in General Fund revenues threatened to close Public Health clinics here and in Federal Way, White Center and Northshore. I came to Auburn to announce with you, and with you Mayor Ferrell of Federal Way and others, a partnership to keep those clinics open. And we did it. I’d like to thank all those who work so hard to keep our communities healthy.

In 2014, the population of King County reached two million. Just last year, we reached two point one million. Today, we have about 200,000 more neighbors than when I took office just seven years ago. A lot of those new arrivals came here by way of the maternity ward – including my beautiful daughter – but migration and immigration play an important part in the story of King County.

In fact, more than 40% of our population increase in recent years has been people born not only outside of this county, but outside of this country. More than a quarter of all families speak a language other than English at home.

People come here every day to seek a better life for themselves and their families. And, in doing so, they are creating a better life for all of us.

We see it in our communities.

We see it, too, in our classrooms, where friendships transcend race and class and ethnicity and sexual orientation and all the social distinctions adults have used to arbitrarily divide us.

We see it in our workplaces, where people who started their lives in other countries are creating jobs and leading companies like Expedia, and Microsoft, and Tableau; contributing to the success of Amazon and Google and so many others; and launching the small businesses that drive our economy and may well end up being the next big thing.

This acceptance, this appreciation that we are all made stronger by welcoming people who strive to make a better life for themselves and their families – all of this is under attack, all across our country… and here, in Redmond, on Mercer Island, in Seattle, and in Kent just two weeks ago.

And that is profoundly un-American. Though we have strived and struggled and even fought a civil war - and made great gains - we have yet to live up to the central, self-evident truth proclaimed at our nation’s founding, that “all are created equal.”

Yet, the powerful contention that everyone – no matter their race or religion, no matter their social status – everyone deserves the full and equal opportunity to succeed - that notion resonates through the generations; it inspires our continuing struggle to perfect our union; to reconcile our nation with its ideals.

This idea – this promise - has made our nation a beacon to the world.

We will not let fear undermine our optimism, our humanity, our national spirit. Here, in King County, we remain open, and forward-looking.

We were all shocked but not particularly surprised at the proposed budget unveiled by the White House last week. And it underscores what we have been feeling since January – that on so many things we value, it is not merely that our national leaders are not with us. They are against us. We are on our own.

Last month, I asked local officials around the region to join me in declaring that King County is, and will always be, a welcoming community.

More than 80 leaders have signed on to that pledge, and many of them are here with us today. I want to thank you for proudly affirming that we are a nation of hope, of freedom and of opportunity for all.

In a sense, we are all guests here. Unless you are among the native peoples of this land, no one of us has a particularly superior claim to the bounty of this place. Each of us should have the chance to participate, and to contribute to the best of our abilities, and to thrive.

That’s a big part of who we are.

Our message to newcomers and old-timers alike is simple: This is your home. You Belong Here.

I took office during the depths of the Great Recession. There was high unemployment. There was great uncertainty. One of the things I heard most in those days was: get local government performing to the standards of the private sector. That was a challenge I embraced, and I am pleased to say that we have made remarkable progress.

I set out to make King County work better for people, emphasizing accountability, employee empowerment, customer service, and performance.

We call it Best Run Government, and it’s more than a slogan. It’s a way of thinking, of approaching challenges, of focusing on results.

We are delivering more and better services – from fighting homelessness, to providing transportation alternatives, to saving the lives of cats and dogs in our care.

We’ve garnered much national recognition for our work and its impact on people’s lives. We even gave representatives from Nordstrom – the king of customer service – a behind-the-scenes tour of how we do it.

Think I’m kidding? Here’s a note from a Nordstrom continuous improvement specialist to our Best Run Government experts:

She told us – We walked away with a tremendous amount of respect for all the teams at King County, and how they have worked to create the culture that supports and sustains continuous improvement.

Another reason to love Nordstrom, in addition to the Half-Yearly sale. (And that presidential tweet).

At its core, Best Run Government is made up of one thing and one thing only: Our employees.

I’m fortunate that I get to work with these remarkable public servants all the time. And all of us owe a debt of gratitude to the operators, engineers and other employees who are working at this very moment, as they have night and day, to fully restore the West Point Treatment plant.

I appreciate the commitment and professionalism of our workforce, and I value my relationship with the leaders who so ably represent the people who are serving the people of King County.

Together, we’ve made excellence, innovation and customer service hallmarks of local government.

If you want a street-level example of Best Run Government, check out Metro’s RapidRide service. The idea was to make bus travel so frequent, so predictable you could throw away the schedule. We made it happen. Service seven days a week, every 15 minutes throughout the day, every 10 minutes during the morning and evening commute.

Last year, more than 20 million riders took RapidRide, a ten percent increase from 2015. Those six RapidRide routes now account for 17 percent of our total ridership. In fact, our region led the nation in ridership growth compared to every other metro area in the U.S.

We believe in buses but with an ever-growing population, and constant congestion, we know our future rides on rails.

Last year, we made history when the region passed Sound Transit 3 - with 58 percent of the vote in King County. When fully built, 93 percent of the region’s jobs will be connected by high capacity mass transit.

Light rail lines will connect the campuses of Microsoft, Costco, Amazon and other major employers. New stations at Boeing Field and the Boeing plant in Everett - and new bus rapid transit in Tukwila and Renton - will connect our aerospace industry like never before.

And the successful vote finally ended debate over the best way out of congestion, and set in motion new developments and new investments.

We brought people together to build a system that will bring the region together.

Ten city councils endorsed Sound Transit 3, including Auburn and I want to thank the Auburn City Councilmembers for their endorsement. I also want to thank Mayor Backus for her tremendous work on making this historic vote successful and for her service on the Sound Transit board.

This year, we’ll be rolling out expanded transit service throughout King County, putting more all-battery buses on the road, and preparing for a next generation Orca card to make getting around even easier. And we’ll continue to expand our wildly successful reduced fare program, ORCA LIFT, used on more than 5 million boardings last year.

I want to thank councilmembers Balducci and Dembowski for their work passing Metro’s long range plan to increase the number of buses on the street by 30%, increase bus service by 70%, and double ridership…and we must find  better way to maintain the thousands of miles of roads in our cities and county. I want to call out Councilmember Lambert for being a strong advocate on this issue, and advancing this critical regional conversation. 

(Now…) As many of you know, I grew up right here in King County, just up the road a bit, in West Seattle.

Shirley and I are raising our little daughter there, too. When I was a kid I spent a lot of time hiking the forests 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. So it shouldn't be a surprise to anyone that the environment has been central to my work in the Legislature, on the County Council, and now as County Executive.

During that time the issue of climate change has really come to the fore. It is a threat like no other we have faced. And the people of King County should be proud that we are leading the nation in the battle against climate change.

Our Climate Action Plan is the best in the country in part because of the collaboration with our cities and our shared commitment to reduce regional greenhouse gas impacts by 80%, and we are making strides every year toward that goal.

You are now working with me and Puget Sound Energy to incorporate more green energy into our portfolio, that one act alone cutting King County’s energy climate footprint by 20%.

The work we are doing now will benefit generations to come. And more than that, we are setting the pace for other jurisdictions, and eventually for a national government that is, for now, on the wrong course.

The beauty of this place, the natural environment, the thing that brought so many of us here and keeps us here, whether you arrived long ago or just last week, this is your legacy. You Belong Here

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At King County, we focus on outcomes - moving upstream to find long term solutions, where timely investments yield real savings and improve lives.

That’s what Best Starts for Kids is all about. We want to ensure that every baby born in King County, every child raised here, has a strong start in life.

As we enter Year Two of Best Starts for Kids, we’re connecting with new moms and dads as they become stronger parents; supporting teens with health programs in their schools; and preventing child homelessness by helping families at the margin stay in their homes.

Best Starts for Kids funds what works – proven results and promising innovations. It makes the most of our investments. This year, we will expand practical, data-driven solutions like Nurse Family Partnership - which provides home visits to help new moms and young families succeed.

Anjelica is one of those new moms. She is 21 years old, and her parents came from Mexico for the chance at a better life. But things weren’t easy. With the family struggling, Anjelica dropped out of school.

But Anjelica was determined. After she earned her GED from South Seattle College, Anjelica received help from our social worker to find opportunities in the health field. With encouragement and timely assistance, Anjelica is now a Certified Nursing Assistant, better able to support her baby - and she is actively exploring nursing school. And she is here with us here today. Congratulations!

I want to thank the University of Washington’s Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences, and our many community partners, for their strong support of Best Starts for Kids.

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With Best Starts we can promote healthier child development - and, in time, keep more kids on course for graduation; out of trouble with the law; on a trajectory for success. Particularly for those who have historically been left behind, early neglect and a lack of alternatives can easily lead to the booking desk at juvenile detention.

Not this Saturday, but the last, I participated in a day-long Peacemaking Circle with community advocates, justice system leaders, parents of justice-involved youth and the young people themselves.

It was an opportunity for all of us to share openly and candidly, to get beyond caricature, stereotype and slogans, and achieve greater, shared understanding. And understand this:

Everyone agrees that there are kids who have been traumatized throughout childhood and who act out - sometimes violently - as a result.

Everyone recognizes that we have an obligation to protect the entire community - kids and adults - from being victimized by crime.

And everyone is determined that we must work together to reach the point where we rarely, if ever, need secure detention to protect the community, because we have better, safer, more therapeutic options – and, even more important – because we have prevented the earlier conditions in life that led to that kid’s first contact with the police.

Zero detention as a goal is an accountability measure. It compels us to ask in each case: How can we provide justice for the victim, and protect the community from further harm, while ensuring the best chance at redemption for this young person? Is there a disproportionate impact here, and is that about bias in the justice system, or about bias in the broader society? And, critically, it forces us to ask: What can we do for the next generation, to ensure a different outcome? And when I say “we” here, I am not talking just about the government. I am talking about the entire community. Our kids are a shared responsibility. Schools and parents and neighbors and business, everybody – this is the challenge: To travel together this (sure to be arduous) journey.

I should say “the rest of the journey”, because it is a fact that King County is a recognized leader in the nation in alternatives to detention and prosecution. Our judges, prosecutor, community organizations and many others have helped King County reduce the average daily youth detention rate to among the lowest of any major jurisdiction in the nation.

And, we are one of the first major jurisdictions to simultaneously reduce the rate of detention and racial disproportionality.

To navigate the rest of this journey, to reach our goal, we need a map. A plan. Saying “we’ll try to do even better” is not a plan. Shouting “Zero Youth Detention” is not a plan either. I will invite this Council, community members, and criminal justice leaders to join me in creating that Road Map to Community Safety and Effective Alternatives to Detention. (I warn you ahead of time there may very well be day-long Peacemaking Circles!)

That will take time. But we’re not going to wait.

The road forward starts here.

Today, I call for the creation of two community-based reception centers that we will call “Safe Spaces” - where police can bring a youth accused of a lesser offense instead of to booking and detention.

These facilities – one in Seattle, the other in South King County – will be welcoming places where young people can also come in on their own, or with a parent or relative, or via a community organization.

Trained professionals will interview the youth, determine the best way to help and coordinate appropriate assistance and intervention. And then the police, if they are involved, can finish their report and leave.

Safe Spaces, based on a successful model in Portland, will be staffed around the clock, and will offer food, clothes, even a safe place to stay the night. There will be connections to housing, education, and the services youth and families need to get back on track.

Another strategy – Restorative Justice – handles difficult juvenile cases – with the consent of the victims - through an intensive Peacemaking process that includes community conversations, family counseling, and the taking of responsibility and atonement by the youth in place of traditional prosecution and punishment.

There are currently three felony criminal cases engaged in Peacemaking. We need to bring this demanding but redemptive practice to scale; to have it available for every youth for whom it is appropriate.

And this isn’t all about the justice system. To approach zero detention, we need to answer the question: How do we get to zero drop-outs or expulsions? How do we keep every kid in school?

Clearly, this starts well before a child arrives at the kindergarten door, by helping families stay healthy so that children get off to the Best Start in life and arrive ready to learn and grow.

We need to work with educators and school districts to help keep students on track and prevent the problems that drive kids and their school community apart.

King County’s leaders are united in pushing forward with the best ideas in juvenile justice reform as we walk this road together.

We have been able to dramatically reduce the number of kids booked for crimes, and the number in detention, in large part because of the leadership of Judge Inveen and Judge Saint Clair and others; of Prosecutor Satterberg, Defense Director Youngcourt, Detention Director Hayes, Juvenile Division Director Jones, and Sheriff Urquhart – and of Councilmembers including life-long social justice champion Larry Gossett. We will not rest until we have done all we can to help the young people of our community overcome the pitfalls of youth and the burden of history.

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Everywhere I go, people want to talk about the tents, the tarps, the lean-to’s in our cities and neighborhoods - and even in our rural areas - that signal something very wrong in our country.

We all see the rise of homelessness, and we feel concern. This is not normal. Not inevitable. And it cannot be accepted. But compassion alone won’t reduce the number of people living on the streets. And it’s not just about investing more money. It’s about investing in the right way.

We are reforming every aspect of how we provide services, with a focus on achieving the results we all want.

King County – has taken over management of Coordinated Entry, so people have an easier time getting shelter and housing.

King County – requires meaningful Performance Measures as part of service provider contracts.

King County – is collecting and using data to understand how and where homeless individuals come into contact with the system so we can focus our resources where they are needed.

These reforms create results.

We are determined to make homelessness rare – and we secured stable, permanent housing for more than 3,000 families last year – up 10% from just the year before.

We are determined to make homelessness one-time – and we cut the percentage of people returning to homelessness in half.

Tomorrow morning, we will open a new family shelter in White Center, operated by Mary’s Place. It will be available 24 hours a day, with onsite case management, meals, job counseling, homework areas and other services to help families successfully transition to permanent housing and long-term stability.

For those struggling with behavioral health challenges, we opened 46 inpatient treatment beds, with 40 more funded; and we have new drug and alcohol treatment facilities coming online in Renton, and Kent, and Seattle.

And don’t forget, our work extends to creating and preserving more affordable housing as well, and I want to thank Councilmember Upthegrove for working to make sure that as we build more transit centers, we include affordable housing options for everyone.

This year, we awarded $26 million to build over 800 units of affordable housing around transit stations and in Renton, Bellevue, Seattle, Tukwila and – yes, Mayor Backus – in Auburn, including units specifically for people with disabilities and military veterans.

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We have a special responsibility to our military veterans. It is an honor for us to serve the men and women who have served our Country. King County voters enthusiastically agree.

I want to thank councilmembers von Reichbauer and Dunn for their leadership in making the Veterans and Human Services Levy such a success. I also want to thank our partners in Seattle and the Sound Cities Association – many of whom are here today – Mayors Baker, Walen, Hill and Guier and Councilmember Marts – thank you, and the SCA cities for your strong support over the years.

The levy focuses on the health and welfare of veterans and others in need.

Passed in 2011, the current Levy has served over 150,000 people. We track 80 performance measures for progress and have a strong record of transforming lives.

Gary Cashman was an Army Ranger who was born on an Air Force base in Japan and spent much of his life in the military. He was stationed in Korea. He served in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Then, in 2013, he moved to Seattle, and Gary realized that his years overseas put him in a predicament: for all his service to our nation, he had no rental history, and no stateside work experience. Gary is a lot more used to providing help than asking for it, so by the time he inquired about receiving support, Gary had gone through most of his savings.

The King County Veterans Program in Renton connected Gary with housing assistance, and he went to its computer lab every day to look for a job. Gary now works at the Wounded Warrior Project, helping other service members gain new tech skills.

In Gary’s words – Without stepping through those doors at the King County Veterans Program, I am not sure where I would be today.

We are grateful for the opportunity to help him begin a new chapter. I hope you will join me in thanking Gary for his service to our nation.

My message is this: we’ve done really great work. But we must do even more.

As we reaffirm our commitment to the people served by the Veterans and Human Services Levy, we must recognize that changing times present changing needs.

Nearly 20 percent of our population is 60 or older. All these baby boomers are retiring in very short order. The fastest growing segment of King County’s population is people over 80.

The challenges are many: rates of diabetes, heart disease and Alzheimer’s are steadily climbing. Something as simple as falling can lead to hospitalization or expensive nursing home care – it happened in our family. Homelessness among older adults is also on the rise. And isolation – perhaps that most pernicious and preventable of all ailments – erodes the quality of life of too many of our older residents.

We must ensure that we can all age healthfully and continue contributing to our communities, whether it’s on the job, or helping taking care of grandkids, or informing our public priorities, or simply sharing a lifetime’s worth of skills and passions and experiences.

Together with the Council, for whom I know this is a priority, we will make sure the replacement does all these things because they are essential to building a strong, equitable community, and because they send a message to our veterans and to our seniors and to all who seek to participate, thrive, and contribute to the life of our community: You Belong Here.

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I am proud to support the ballot measure brought forward by advocates for  arts, science and heritage groups, to give every child in King County the opportunity to learn, to be inspired, and to share in the life of our community.

Developed over the course of a decade, this idea was first introduced as part of the Puget Sound Regional Council’s prosperity partnership agenda, which determined that a region’s economic competitiveness depends in part on the health, vitality and strength of its arts and culture.

It is called “Access for All” and it has three goals.

First, more arts, science and heritage education in our 19 public school districts, as well as transportation to experience these first-hand.

Second, support for local community organizations like the White River Valley Museum, local theatres, or musical training programs for local kids.

Third, regional organizations will be able to open to their doors to more people from all across this county, regardless of their ability to pay.

The program will be funded by a one-tenth of a cent sales tax. A penny for every 10 dollars.

I would like to take a moment to honor the late Senator Andy Hill, who worked so hard in Olympia to ensure the region’s voters had this opportunity, which will do so much to enrich and enliven communities large and small throughout King County.

I look forward to working with the sponsors of this legislation – councilmembers Kohl-Welles and Balducci, and Chair McDermott, and the rest of the Council – as they deliberate “Access for All.”

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And really, everything we are doing is about access for all. Access to housing. To transportation. Access to education, training, and the tens of thousands of jobs our economy creates. Access to clean air and clean water, to wilderness and to culture and everything this place has to offer. Because, with that access, anyone – everyone - can succeed.

Our central goal is that every person have the opportunity to realize their full potential, and contribute to the life of this community.

To the people of Auburn, to the people of South King County and the entire Central Puget Sound region, whether you’ve been here a day, or a lifetime…Whether you are riding the waves of the new economy, or feel like you’re struggling to stay afloat and need a helping hand…Whether you’re optimistically looking at the start of your career and your life, or wondering about the next stage on your journey - This is your community, this is your home.

You Belong Here


King County Executive
Dow Constantine
Dow constantine portrait

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