2022 State of the County
Focusing on four priority pillars of work, King County Executive Dow Constantine today delivered the 2022 State of the County to the King County Council. The address reflected on both the achievements of the last year and the opportunities ahead.
Constantine laid out past successes and future actions in the critical areas of homelessness, public safety and the criminal legal system, anti-racism and pro-equity policies and investments, and environmental conservation and climate change. He also spoke to the ongoing work related to public health, transit, and the creative economy as King County recovers from the pandemic.
In his prepared remarks, Executive Constantine spoke to his priority areas and vision for the next four years:
Ensuring every person, at any income, can have the security of a place to call home
“This crisis is the most visible, vexing, heartbreaking problem we face as a region. We must act with resolve, purpose, and compassion. In the face of this crisis, we stepped in with a clear plan, resources, and implementation that is working – and we are well on our way to acquiring housing and shelter to bring over 2,000 chronically homeless people off our streets and into a safe place, with more to come.”
Creating a community where every person feels safe
“The health of our community depends on the ability of every person to live a safe and productive life. Each of us needs to know that when we need help, it will be there. We must have the fortitude to walk away from broken structures when it’s clear they aren’t working for our community, and move toward sensible reforms of juvenile justice and adult programs. We must utilize the full might of County government, not just our police and courts, to address inequities and systemic failures and craft a new approach to public safety.”
Making King County an anti-racist and pro-equity government and region
“White supremacy, hate, bias – these currents, these deep defects, have long dragged down our nation. We have set a course to make King County intentionally anti-racist, purposefully pro-equity, actively, daily working to overcome our nation’s history and to write a new future, consistent with our highest ideals.”
Leaving a legacy of environmental stewardship
“Without success in the fight against the climate crisis, or failure to preserve the natural wonders of our region, the rest of our work is meaningless. We’ve made incredible gains, set ambitious goals, but we must do more. We must act as if our lives and livelihoods depend on it – because they do.”
Full Text of the AddressThank you Chair Balducci. And thank you to the members of the council, to our employees, and to the people of King County. I hope that the next time we gather we will be able to do so in person.
Let me begin by recognizing and welcoming the newest member of the Council, Councilmember Sarah Perry. Congratulations again, and I look forward to working with you for the people of northeast King County.
By charter and custom, we are gathered today so I can share “an annual statement of the financial and governmental affairs of the county.” The State of the County affords us a moment to reflect on our achievements, but also to consider the challenges before us, and chart the course ahead.
I’ve had the privilege to deliver a few of these reports to the council over the years, and with support from voters last fall, we’ll have several more in the years ahead. That vote reflected our past work and successes, and is a mandate to keep going. To continue building a welcoming community where every person can thrive.
By population, King County would be 36th among the 50 states. For our 18,000 full- and part-time employees, the scope of our work is remarkable, and I thank you. From operating a world-class transit network, to restoring ancient ecosystems, to battling a global pandemic, and everything between, King County shoulders a range of responsibilities unique among local governments nationally.
But today, as we consider the work before us, I will focus on four critical areas. They will be prominent in the days ahead - pillars of our work together.
First, let us become a region in which every person, at any income, can have the security of a home, and finally build solutions to help those who are homeless move off the streets, and move on with their lives.
Second, every person has the right to feel safe, so let us build a criminal legal system, aligned with public health and human services, that reflects our values - to create true community safety.
Next, let us unite to make King County an anti-racist and pro-equity government and region – to be an example of how America can take its ideals to heart - and work, every day, to live up to them.
And finally, let us leave a legacy of stewardship – of this place and of this planet - with decisive action to preserve and restore the last, best places, and to battle the global climate crisis with everything we’ve got.
But let’s start with homelessness. This crisis is the most visible, vexing, heartbreaking problem we face as a region. And while it may look different in downtown Seattle than it does in a suburban city or down a rural road, it is everywhere - a shared challenge that, in some way, confronts every community in King County.
Let’s be clear – we must act with resolve, purpose – and compassion. King County has never waited for someone else to take the lead. In the face of this crisis, we stepped in with a clear plan, resources and implementation that is working – and we are well on our way to acquiring housing and shelter to bring over 2000 chronically homeless people off our streets and into a safe place, with more to come.
We’re already underway with projects powered by community-based organizations all around the region, including, one at Eastgate in Bellevue, on land once owned by the County. The project broke ground in January and will eventually offer 360 units of affordable housing. And with leadership from Governor Inslee and the House and Senate majorities, we’ll see hundreds of millions of dollars become new affordable housing across the county and state.
I also want to thank the council for swift approval of the lease to expand our enhanced shelter in SoDo. This hub of services will maintain a 270-person shelter, build new shelter spaces and host behavioral health services for another 150 people. When it opens this year SoDo will provide more than 400 people with a safe place to get back on their feet, and be a resource for the community for years to come.
Last year in this address, I announced the first acquisition in our Health through Housing initiative. And as you know, that was just the beginning. In the months that followed we acquired nine more buildings and nearly 1,000 units of housing. Our partnerships with cities span the county, from Kirkland to Renton, Federal Way to Redmond, and Auburn to multiple locations in Seattle.
Last fall, we welcomed the first residents to the newly renamed Mary Pilgrim Inn in North Seattle. Last month, 97 residents moved into our Renton Health through Housing location – a former extended stay hotel. And I’m pleased to report that, in just a few weeks, we will open the doors to our next property, in Northgate, welcoming in more than 100 new residents. And later this summer, a brand new 80-unit building will open in Pioneer Square. In less than a year we’ve gone from acquisition to operation, with more coming online in the months ahead – that’s the urgent action this crisis demands.
While preparations are underway at these properties, we have temporarily dedicated two of our hotels – first in Federal Way and now Redmond – to refugees, including those from Afghanistan and Ukraine as they start new lives here in America. No matter the storm abroad, King County will always be a safe harbor for those seeking a better life.
As we advance on housing, we must also reverse the strain on our behavioral health system by investing in more beds and the workers to staff them. We can’t let decades of state and federal underfunding define our response. I’m looking forward to working with Councilmembers Zahilay and Perry to chart a new course forward to deliver the behavioral health system our community needs.
We can and must continue our investments in upstream solutions. That’s why our groundbreaking Best Starts for Kids initiative is so important – ensuring that the youth of King County have every support needed to learn, grow, and reach adulthood ready to take on the world.
The health of our community depends on the ability of every person to live a safe and productive life. Each of us needs to know that when we need help, it will be there. And we can’t let fear drive us backward. We must have the fortitude to walk away from broken structures when it’s clear they aren’t working for our community, and move toward sensible reforms of juvenile justice and adult programs.
Let’s focus on root causes and keep people out of the criminal legal system in the first place. We must utilize the full might of County government, not just our police and courts, to address inequities and systemic failures and craft a new approach to public safety.
That work is already beginning at the Sheriff’s office. I look forward to your swift consideration and approval of Patti Cole-Tindall as our new Sheriff later today. Her non-traditional law enforcement background, rooted in labor relations and oversight, make her a solid and innovative choice to lead this department.
Members of the council, this fall my budget will include the funding to build the infrastructure and purchase the equipment to get body cameras for our Sheriff’s Office responders, and we will work with labor to ensure we can deploy these invaluable tools as soon as feasible. Let’s make sure we, our officers, and the public can always have access to the objective facts.
Accountability is at the core of public safety. People who break that compact - who violate the law, who do harm to others - must be accountable for their actions. We can embrace that notion while remaking historical practices and old systems to reflect today’s values.
One of the areas urgently needing our attention is gun violence. Most communities look for solutions city-by-city, but we have built a regional, data-driven, public-health-centered approach to reducing gun violence. Our teams are intervening with high-risk individuals, connecting with community-based supports to prevent shootings, and seeking to repair the damage done by guns in our community.
That kind of rethinking is made possible only when a community works together, and now we have a new partner in this fight: the White House. We’re working with the Biden administration to be a model, leading the way for other counties to learn from our approach, helping curb the tide of gun violence in America.
Those horrors of gun violence were tragically on display yet again in recent weeks, with mass shootings in California and Buffalo, New York. The shooting in Buffalo is yet another reminder, not that any was needed, that racism, hate, and White supremacy continue to plague our nation. The shooter’s violent screed was riddled with the same hateful rhetoric all too familiar in what passes for political discourse in the dark corners of the internet - and on prime-time cable news.
White supremacy, hate, bias – these currents, these deep defects, have long dragged down our nation. We have set a course to make King County intentionally anti-racist, purposefully pro-equity, actively, daily working to overcome our nation’s history and to write a new future, consistent with our highest ideals.
Our Office of Equity and Social Justice is working with our departments and staff to ensure that equity and anti-racism aren’t an afterthought – rather they become the center of everything we do. Human Resources is working to make sure our workforce has the training and capacity to do the same. Education, insight, resources – these are much-needed investments that pay dividends inside this government and throughout the community.
We are also investing directly in community. Over the last year our teams have allocated grants for promoting digital equity while students have been learning remotely, supporting the Coalition Against Hate and Bias, partnering with community-based organizations and media entities to better reach diverse communities, and increasing language access and disability equity in King County government.
We declared racism a public health crisis, and now we are working with the Gathering Collaborative, to take our commitment and make it real. Residents are working together to determine how to invest $25 million in federal funds – to begin unwinding the harms of racism compounded by the pandemic.
While we take on the challenges of racial discrimination, we now find ourselves at the forefront of another battle – the looming attack on women, privacy, and freedom of conscience by the Supreme Court. Any day now we should expect to hear news of Roe v. Wade’s demise – the culmination of a half-century campaign by zealots bent on subjugating women and imposing their theology through law.
Justice Alito’s assertion that your rights count only if they’re “deeply rooted in this nation’s history and tradition” is preposterous on its face, and an insult to the centuries of progress we’ve made together, through struggle and strife and bloodshed, to change old norms and transform the exclusionary underpinnings of our nation’s founding documents.
We will not stand idly by while the rights of women – and the right to privacy – are under assault. I’ll be working with policy experts, public health officials, our Public Health clinics and abortion care providers to ensure that no matter what this Court does, the people of King County have abortion access, and that extends to those who must travel here for care.
As I’ve said – the health of our community is paramount. That means reproductive care, housing, and of course, battling the pandemic. While we’ve entered a new phase of COVID, it’s clear that this fight is not over. In the last two years, this council invested $2 billion in our public health response to COVID. Chair Balducci, thank you and the council for your partnership in getting these investments into our response, and especially Councilmember Kohl-Welles who, during her time as Budget Chair, managed no fewer than 8 special COVID budgets.
When the pandemic hit America, it started right here in King County. From the earliest days, we delivered a nation-leading, world-class response because this community had already built one of the best public health agencies anywhere.
The work of Public Health staff, together with local groups, cities, tribal governments, and hundreds of volunteers, left no community behind. Today we have one of the lowest case and death rates of any large county in the nation. We reached critical vaccination rates across every racial and demographic group.
None of that happened by chance. It happened because in King County we lead with science, we lead with equity, and because the people of this community were willing to do the right thing to keep one another safe.
In those early days of social distancing and staying home, one of the hardest hit sectors was arts and culture. Our music, art and science venues were among the first to close their doors, and the last to reopen, leaving thousands of employees suddenly without income. Losing music, theatre, and the things that bring diverse perspectives and bridge connections between cultures would be a loss without measure.
That’s why we invested millions in grants to support arts organizations, venues, cultural festivals, and small businesses. We protected the things that make this region so special, so we could make sure they would be there for us on the other side of the pandemic. And we’re investing in the creative economy of tomorrow, with our new Harbor Island Studios, bringing the film industry back to King County, and all the strong union jobs that come with it. But we still need sustained operating support for arts organizations in King County, to ensure their long-term health, and access for all residents to the cultural life of our community.
While working together through the pandemic, Metro Transit has kept this region moving. Downtown commuters and students are making their way back to pre-pandemic ridership numbers, while Metro continues preparing for the future. In the last year we’ve broken ground on two new RapidRide lines, bringing fast reliable service from Burien to downtown Seattle, and across Seattle through Madison Valley.
This weekend marks the return of Trailhead Direct, bringing riders from Capitol Hill to the Eastside’s most popular hiking destinations. This summer we’re rolling out the next generation of Orca cards and digital connectivity. And thanks to the legislature’s transportation package, this week I’ll be transmitting to the council our policy for our free youth transit pass for every kid in King County.
Sound Transit opened three new Light Rail stations last fall, transforming the north end of Seattle. Next year brings a brand-new line across the lake to Mercer Island, Bellevue, and Redmond. And then we’ll continue - north to Lynnwood and Everett, and south to Federal Way – Councilmember Von Reichbauer, please hold your applause. A world class rail network isn’t a faraway dream for this region anymore. We are making it happen - right now.
Thinking ahead and betting on the future of our community isn’t a new idea though. As a young person, conservation was the issue that brought me into public service. And today it must be a unifying thread through all our work.
That’s because without success in the fight against the climate crisis, or failure to preserve the natural wonders of our region, the rest of our work is meaningless. We’ve made incredible gains, set ambitious goals, but we must do more. We must act as if our lives and livelihoods depend on it – because they do.
Beneath countless roads across our region, upstream salmon spawning grounds are cut off by thousands of drainage pipes – physical barriers, blocking passage. Replacing them all will cost billions and take decades.
But we don’t have that long. And we don’t have to wait. Our teams of scientists and partners inspected all these barriers, and found about 50 key culverts that, if dug up and replaced now, would open up about 50% of the blocked spawning habitat. It’s still a tall order, but also an exciting opportunity to quickly restore streams essential to these iconic fish, and the Orcas that depend on them.
And thanks to the Federal Infrastructure package, we have more funding to get moving now. I’m looking forward to working with Councilmember Upthegrove and the Flood District to get these critical investments underway.
We must also preserve and restore our beloved forests, farms, and local green space. We can accelerate our stewardship of these irreplaceable lands - before they are gone forever. That’s why last week I transmitted my plan to restore our Conservation Futures funding to its original capacity. I want to thank Councilmember Dembowski for his sponsorship of this legislation, and I look forward to seeing it on the November ballot.
But our local environment is just part of the story. Without success in the fight against the global climate crisis – the greatest challenge humanity has ever faced - the rest of our work will be meaningless. We’ve made gains here in our corner of the globe, set ambitious goals, but we absolutely must do more.
The good news is that we have plenty of opportunity - opportunity to deepen our climate work and expand our climate leadership. We know what to do – eliminate carbon emissions, quickly. Recapture carbon already in the atmosphere. And prepare people and communities for climate impacts.
Cutting carbon is job one.
First – in our transportation sector. Transportation is our biggest source of emissions locally, and the one with the clearest solutions. King County Metro takes hundreds of thousands of cars, and their emissions, off the road. But we can do even better. We are committed to converting to an all-electric, zero emission bus fleet by 2035. This Spring we took delivery of the first 60-foot articulated battery electric buses, and inaugurated our new battery bus charging facility at Metro’s South Base in Tukwila. Expanding all-electric transit – including our three-county Sound Transit Light Rail system - means dozens more communities and millions more people will be connected with reliable, carbon-free transportation.
But we can’t stop at buses and trains. I’ve directed my departments to stop buying internal combustion engines for our motor pool. Our fleet of sedans and SUVs is one thing, but we also have big rigs we operate every day as well. That’s why I’m excited that next month we’ll take delivery of our first battery electric semi-truck. Not only is it a big leap forward in electric trucks, but we will be the first government in the state to take delivery of one, and on top of that it’s built in Renton.
But right after the transportation sector, our built environment is responsible for nearly half of our emissions. And from homeowners to office towers, we have tremendous opportunities to make our buildings cleaner and our communities more resilient.
First, our financing program helps commercial building owners secure loans to improve energy efficiency, sustainability, and resilience. More than $23 million in financing has already been secured, and more projects are coming every day. Our new commercial building codes for the unincorporated areas will also ensure new construction is clean and fossil-fuel free, avoiding decades of future emissions from gas and oil heating and cooling systems.
In addition to commercial buildings, we need homeowners to improve efficiency as well. That’s why my budget this year will include funding for an exciting pilot project - to help lowest-income residents in the urban-unincorporated areas replace their old gas and oil furnaces with clean electric heat pumps – which provide both heating and cooling. That will reduce energy costs, reduce carbon, and – critically - provide relief from increasing extreme heat events.
Remember it was just last June that the temperature hit a record 108 degrees. Dozens died of the heat that week in King County alone – an unacceptable toll. No matter how successful we are in reducing emissions, there is already more carbon in the atmosphere than at any time in the last three million years. Heat events are going to continue, and get worse, and we need to help people prepare. I look forward to working with my district’s Councilmember, Budget Chair Joe McDermott, to make this critical investment happen.
As ice caps melt, and permafrost thaws, and increasing heat waves bake our region, it’s clear we’re decades too late to argue about this. I know we don’t have all the answers or every solution – but some of them are standing right in front of us. An electric fleet slashes new emissions. Our Cascade forests capture and store carbon. And resilient homes reduce the strain on our planet and protect people from climate impacts. We must do everything we can, as soon as we can. It’s our responsibility to the communities we serve, and to the generations that will follow.
Clearly, I do not plan to rest on our successes, and neither should this council, or this region. Whether it’s the quality of life in our communities, or the struggle for a just society, or the survival of our planet, we have what it takes to drive change and show the way for others. Let us focus on the road ahead - the perils and promise before us - and create a future worthy of our children.
Over the last few years our community has been tested, tried, and challenged. And after two and a half years battling this pandemic, and all the rest, folks are understandably weary. But the stakes are too high to give up, or to slow down. We must summon the strength, the vision, and the purpose to deliver for every person who is here today, and all who will follow.
Let’s house our neighbors. Let’s be a community where every person is safe - and safe to live as their true self. Let’s be unafraid to uproot and destroy racism. And in the face of the climate crisis, the greatest challenge in history, let us be the ones who square up to it and declare “we can do this.”
Councilmembers, we can do all these things, and more. Because we are uniquely situated – a prosperous region, with engaged, enlightened people, and a bright future to be made. The state of our county is dynamic, vigorous, undaunted. Ready to dream big and to deliver. Through all these tests and trials, we emerge on the other side with the will to do the right thing – not just to solve the challenges of the moment, but to build that community, that world, where everyone, where every child, and their children’s children, can thrive.