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2011 State of the City Address

DENIS LAW - STATE OF THE CITY

March 16, 2011

Good Afternoon,

I appreciate the opportunity to present to you my fourth State of the City address. I want to thank members of the Renton City Council, special guests, and Chamber members for being here today.

During the past three years, there has been a common theme to my presentations to you, filled with words that have included: national recession, financial crisis and the need for the city to reinvent itself.

And for the fourth straight year, I have been able to brag about the strong, collaborative working relationship I have had with members of our city council – something you can’t take for granted, which some of my mayor colleagues have found out.

It’s my honor to recognize members of our City Council who are here today—
Council President Terri Briere, Marcie Palmer, King Parker, Don Persson, Greg Taylor, and Rich Zwicker. Our thoughts are with Councilman Randy Corman and his family. They are in California visiting with Randy’s mother who is gravely ill.

This council and I have had to work through the worst recession to hit this city in decades. We have addressed the financial crisis and have made great strides in reinventing ourselves as a provider of city services. And we’re proud to say that Renton remains a great city to live, learn, work and play!

Our photo album from last year includes a collection of people, businesses, places, and projects that tell the story of how we, as a community, continue to advance the livability, vitality, and accessibility of our city.

One of the things I am going to focus on today is the future and how we are moving forward with our top priorities. But before I delve into our priorities for 2011, I want to acknowledge two strong forces that were at work last year – one very positive and one very difficult.

I’ll start with the difficult: The agonizing economic downturn has impacted far too many of our residents and the hardships people are facing cannot be overstated. Since proposing my first budget four years ago, the city’s general fund has shrunk by nearly $4 million and our workforce has been reduced by 14%. Elsewhere in our region, many people have lost their jobs, their homes, and suffered countless financial struggles.

And that brings me to the second force at work here, which I feel is positive: It’s the talented and committed leadership and employees of the City of Renton. Despite the financial challenges we’ve faced, the city has remained strong. We have kept our commitment to delivering basic services, and we have advanced a number of initiatives to improve the long-term quality of life in our city.

We are reinventing ourselves, and my expectations of administrators and our employees is very high. We are finding new ways to improve efficiency and productivity – despite the budget cuts and reduction in our workforce. Thanks to the many skilled, dedicated department heads and employees, we continue to improve the quality of service we provide our community. I want to express my appreciation and admiration for this exceptional group of individuals.

Reflecting on the past four years, and the progress we’ve made, it’s clear that all of our accomplishments begin with the faith and support of the people of Renton.

All of us chose this city as the place to build our dreams, and raise our families. We believe in it passionately. When we tell people we’re from Renton, there’s pride in our voices for this city, with its rich legacy of civic engagement. Despite our challenges, I see this as a time of optimism and opportunity for our city.

As I lay out my agenda, you’ll see the areas where our sustained focus will converge to address our long-term and short-term economic challenges.

First and foremost, with the help of this Council, we will continue to focus on a fiscally responsible government that reflects the priorities of our community.

Just like our local businesses, we must continue to rethink our systems and find new ways to deliver services. We must take a fresh look at past decisions and be willing to ask more of our employees and more of our citizens. And we must build in flexibility, so that instead of retrenching, our government is renewing.

The priorities we establish must protect essential services as well as civic investments, so that coming generations can know the bright future that has always been our city’s promise.

I made a commitment to accountability and I’m prepared to show people that we are making progress.

It means we must continue to make sure that the health and safety of our public is not threatened or compromised. Our senior citizens should be able to go out after dark, a mother should be able to take her children to a playground without fear, and our businesses should not feel defenseless and worried about crime.

We must continue to work together to make sure that our city is uniquely prepared and effectively protected against fires, floods and any disaster.

We need to keep advancing the quality of life and the livability of Renton because it's that livability that drives investment to our city and enriches the lives of everyone in our community.

We must continue to invest in public infrastructure including streets, trails, and utility services to ensure we provide the necessary foundation for our residents and businesses to succeed.

And we need to continue our commitment to economic development that brings home desirable jobs, boosts our businesses, and sustains the dynamic revitalization of our business districts throughout our city.

Lasting prosperity and sustainability must be our top priority.

My goal, and the vision of our Council, is to see our city grow stronger, so future generations look back on our decisions and know we put civic responsibility first.

By keeping these goals in sight and in balance, we can reinvent our government as we rejuvenate our economy.
With the new Census numbers putting us at over 90,000 residents, Renton is now the 4th largest city in King County and the 9th largest in the state. Our task ahead is very exciting –but also challenging.

It’s a full agenda!

I want to spend a few minutes talking about the city budget.

For the first time we developed a biennial budget for our city. We’re able to do a much better job of planning for the near future and have also saved a significant amount of cost and staff time.

Also for the first time we involved our citizens in our budget process by forming a Community Budget Advisory Group comprised of local residents and business and community leaders to meet over a period of several weeks. They received a crash course on city operations and our budget process, and they were able to provide input to help us make sure that our values and priorities align with those of our community.

The two-year budget for 2011 and 2012 totals $445 million, of which $198 million is the General Government fund that is used for police, fire & medical services, parks, street repair, and other basics required to run a city. We had to reduce our budget by $2 million for this two year budget to bring our expenditures in line with our revenue projections.

Unfortunately we were not able to restore any of the service reductions made last year. And while every department made every effort to minimize adverse impacts to our citizens, many cuts and reductions cannot be sustained in the long run. We need to find sustainable solutions so that we can continue to provide high quality services, maintain our parks and invest in our infrastructure, or our citizens will pay the price in the future.

There are some accomplishments I want to share with you.

Despite a challenging economy, Renton has set the pace for improving services while many other cities hit the brakes.

As I mentioned earlier, public safety continues to be one of our key priorities and we have taken proactive steps to find ways to reduce crime, while also taking steps to help people feel safer in our community.

For the fifth consecutive year, the crime rate in Renton has come down. Robberies have decreased by 26%, violent crimes have gone down over 11% and property crimes are down 7%.

However, we cannot take all of the credit for these numbers, and we know crime rates tend to fluctuate during periods of time. Crime is down throughout the region but no one can really pinpoint why. The Renton Police Department is committed to finding long-term solutions to fight unlawful behavior with a multi-pronged approach to resolve both immediate problems and address the root cause of crime.

Much of our crime is committed by a relatively small group of repeat offenders and we’re focusing resources to get these individuals off our streets. But despite our problem-solving efforts, there are other obstacles that we continue to face.

Here’s an example:

Residents experienced criminal activity by the same individuals in their downtown neighborhood for years – including burglaries, robberies, car prowls and random gunfire.

Our police officers targeted these criminals by conducting days of surveillance and they were able to gather evidence that resulted in identifying and detaining 12 individuals from just one residence for a multitude of felony offenses. Property stolen in neighborhood burglaries was recovered.

But here is where our criminal justice system fails. The primary suspect in this group is a 17 year-old repeat offender who was charged with possession of a stolen vehicle, possession of a stolen handgun, felony eluding, and possession of cocaine. A King County Superior Court judge gave the youth a deferred sentence, essentially setting him free, despite the severity of the crimes he was accused of committing.

This ruling is very disappointing to the officers who worked hard on behalf of this neighborhood. But they’re not giving up. We are challenging the judge to explain the logic of his decision and will encourage the public to start holding judges accountable.

You are well aware that police work has become very dangerous given increased gang activity, mental health problems and the proliferation of guns on our streets. In December of 2005, one of our veteran officers, Larry Strauss nearly lost his life when he was shot in the neck while confronting a jaywalker on Rainier Ave. The shooter turned out to be a career felon. Fortunately Larry survived, but his police career was ended. The repeat offender had to nearly kill a police officer before finally earning a long prison term.

Just a couple weeks ago, one of our officers attempted to stop another jaywalker on S. Grady Way and the man attempted to flee. As the officer grabbed him and they both fell to the ground, a loaded semi-automatic pistol fell from his waistband. The officer, who was injured in the fall, was able to grab the gun. The suspect was captured a short time later. It’s not a surprise that he’s an ex-con with five felony convictions. He also has previous arrests for robbery and assault, and police determined that the gun he had was reported stolen during a recent burglary in Kent.

Our officer will spend up to six months recovering from his injuries and, once again, this suspect will face another judge. You can be sure this will not be the last time police will have to deal with this guy.

Despite these frustrations, our officers continue to find ways to make our city safer. To improve safety in our parks and the transit center, the Council adopted a new ordinance that allows officers to ban a person from the transit center or all of our parks for violating rules or engaging in unlawful behavior. During the past six months we have banned 32 offenders from our parks.

Emphasizing safety in our school zones has been another priority for us. During the past few years we’ve completed school walking routes for elementary schools, and installed flashing beacons, radar speed signs, and the ever popular speed cameras in school zones.

We continued to experience impressive success with our anti-graffiti campaign. Our officers have made a number of arrests and will be arresting more individuals in coming weeks. Overall we have seen a 32% reduction in number of graffiti complaints in our city saving the city as well as businesses and residents thousands of dollars.

The big news last year was the Howard Hanson Dam and the potential of flooding in the Green River. I joined other south county mayors, the governor and our county executive in Wash. D.C. to seek funding support to reduce the threat of flooding. Congress authorized $44 million dollars for an interim fix to the dam. This is great news for our business community. And the County Executive recently announced that the King County Elections will now be able to move back to its state-of-the-art headquarters in Renton.

In February, we once again celebrated Renton Heart Month and our fire fighters provided free blood pressure and blood sugar screenings throughout our city. This year they screened more than 7,000 people. To emphasize the value of this program, our staff identified 860 people with high blood pressure issues, and 624 with high blood sugar readings.

And we used grant funds to add automatic external defibrillators to our patrol cars this past year. As a result we had a recent incident where one of our police officers was the first to arrive on scene and he was able to restore a heartbeat while awaiting the arrival of medics.

Last year Renton joined the King County Library System and our community benefitted from increased days of service, library hours, an expanded library collection, additional computers and several other programs. You have probably read that we have selected sites for two new Renton libraries, one in the core of our downtown and one in the Highlands. These new locations will bring state-of-the-art, easy-to-access library facilities to our community. Stay tuned for more information in the future for our current downtown library building. This is very important to our residents and we plan to work with them to explore future community uses for this iconic building.

Quality of life amenities continues to be an important priority for us.

Through extensive public input and consideration, we've developed the Sunset Area Revitalization Plan for the Highlands.

The revitalization of the Sunset Area has taken a big step forward. The Renton Housing Authority was recently awarded nearly two million dollars in funding for a new townhome project, which will ultimately be a $3 million investment for the Sunset Terrace replacement project. We have also learned that Providence Health & Services is planning to invest in the Providence Renton House, a $1.5 million facility for the elderly in this community. This project has a total projected development budget of $18 million. Coupled with the new library being built there in the next couple years, the visions of the Sunset Area Community Investment Strategy are coming alive.

We’re also working on the Parks, Recreation, Open Space and Natural Resources Plan. Working with our citizens, we’ve completed the Trails and Bicycles Master Plan, Arts and Culture Master Plan, the Museum Master Plan, and the Transportation Master Plan. These efforts help us set the direction for the future of our city and are reflective of community priorities.

We’re making great progress on a $40 million Rainier Avenue improvement project with 95% of the funding received from other agencies. We have completed the design phase of the project and expect construction to begin this summer. This is one of the largest public works projects ever undertaken in our city. The improvements will include more lanes for motorists and transit, improve traffic flow and enhance safety. As a gateway to our city, this project will be very pedestrian friendly with wide sidewalks, attractive landscaping and quality lighting.

We continue to work with the Washington State Department of Transportation to make major improvements on I-405 improvements and recently opened the new interchange at Talbot Road.

How many of you attended the Renton Farmer’s Market last summer? We had another record year with over 4,000 people attending every week. The City Council recently approved an agreement with Valley Medical Center to expand our Farmers Market program. In addition to the downtown market on Tuesdays, starting this June Renton will have a new Farmers Market in the parking lot of Valley Medical Center every Sunday.

Our quality parks, recreation programs and special events such as the Fourth of July Fireworks display, Renton River Days, the Return-to-Renton Car Show, and Clam Lights at Coulon Park, play a major role in the quality of life in our city. Each of these events had record crowds last year. We have been able to maintain these popular events thanks to our sponsoring partners and dedicated community volunteers.

Our successful Neighborhood Program continues to grow. Today we have 69 recognized neighborhoods. This program provides a vital link between the city and our residents.

By now you have heard the exciting news –the Seattle International Film Festival is coming to the Renton IKEA Performing Arts Center this May! This festival is the largest, longest running and most highly attended film festival in the United States. More than 4,000 visitors are expected to come to Renton and this will bring tremendous benefits to our restaurants, hotels and other businesses.

If you have seen the recent results of the Census, you know that diversity is an important issue for this region. Last year I made a commitment to embrace the diversity in our community with understanding and respect, and to take specific steps to establish relationships with members of our various ethnic, cultural, and non-English speaking communities. We created the Community Liaison group from the diverse communities in Renton and have been working closely with them. Our primary goals were to help members of the various groups be better prepared for emergencies, have better access to city services, and help us find ways to celebrate the richness of our diversity through community festivals and other special events.

We’ve been able to accomplish a lot in just a short time. With the help of our liaisons we’ve provided several workshops and have translated and distributed several hundred DVD’s on emergency preparedness in four other languages. Last year, our community celebrated the first ever Renton International Festival in addition to several other cultural festivals. This is an important first step and the beginning of a long-term relationship that we hope to foster.

As many of you know, Renton has a long, rich history of community service and volunteerism. Our community is blessed to have over 4,000 volunteers who symbolize the spirit of working together. They contribute tens of thousands of volunteer hours in various positions and are vital to the smooth-running operations at City Hall, and the success of many programs throughout our community. With the decline in city resources, our volunteers have become more vital than ever.

The buzz word in government these days is “green!” And it should be. We are committed to moving forward with a "green" agenda where we lead by example and promote a healthy environment. We have made significant progress.

Our recycling program is one of the best in the country. Thanks to the expanded organic collection and recycling services, Renton residents have diverted 70% of their garbage from landfills last year.

And Waste Managements’ entire fleet of trucks that collect recycling, food waste, and garbage in Renton were recently converted to use compressed natural gas, making them cleaner and quieter. I would like to recognize representatives from Waste Management who are here today.

We will soon be installing thirteen public charging stations for electric vehicles in various parts of Renton. This is another example of a public-private partnership, and this effort will help members of our community save energy and money, boost green technology, and advance environmental health and economic development.

Trees provide numerous environmental, social and economic benefits for people, yet urban areas present challenging environments for trees to grow and survive. We completed the urban forestry plan for Renton to ensure that we manage and protect the tree canopy in our city. For the second year in a row, we received the Tree-City USA designation and also received our first Tree City USA Growth award.

And in collaboration with Puget Sound Energy, we launched the home energy-saving program that helped lower our community’s energy use, which saves money.

There are some exciting things to report regarding our local economy. Renton continues to attract new companies. Our economy has historically been defined by The Boeing Company and we cherish our partnership with Boeing. We signed a 20-year lease renewal with Boeing for the Renton Municipal Airport. The company continues to have over 2,000 outstanding 737 orders worth more than $157 billion, and announced it intends to increase production rates to 38 airplanes a month by 2013. We understand from Boeing that these production increases will bring 1,200 new jobs to Renton as well as significant capital investment.

You have certainly heard that the 737 is the most successful airplane in the history of commercial aviation. Boeing’s Renton operations provide 20,000 jobs to our area. There is a lot of discussion and speculation surrounding where Boeing will build the next generation airplane. While it’s difficult to predict the future, we look forward to the continued success of Boeing’s operations in our community for many years to come.

On the retail side of local business, The Landing continues to open new stores, and restaurants and stores already open are reporting excellent sales. Panera Bread is scheduled to open on Friday and Dick’s Sporting Goods plans to open by the end of this month. The Landing has already become a regular destination location for thousands of people.

And the apartment complexes located at The Landing have already leased 460 of their quality units.

Up here in the Highlands/Sunset area, we continue to see new investments being made. The Harrington Square apartment complex, which suffered the huge fire in 2009, opened recently and more than 90% of their apartments have already been leased in the first building, with the second building opening in May. A new grocery store also opened recently in Highlands, and I already mentioned the plans for Sunset Terrace and our new library that is planned to be built at Sunset and Harrington.

Our community is blessed to have one of the best medical facilities in the country. Yet Valley Medical Center continues to look for ways to improve services to the public and to plan for the future. They are taking significant steps to assure that our community will continue to have access to the best healthcare services available for years to come by creating a strategic alliance with UW Medicine. This vision maintains the independence of our local medical center here in Renton while linking our citizens to the best medical services available, through an alliance with the University of Washington and UW Medicine. You’ll be hearing more about this in next couple months.

Bell-Anderson, which is a national insurance company, recently moved its offices from Bellevue to Renton, bringing 75 employees to our city. A number of new companies located in our city last year bringing over 500 new local jobs to our community. We also had new businesses open in the downtown, Cascade Village, Renton Village, Southport and the Highlands. One good statistic is that our office vacancy rate remains below 9%, and is continuing to decline. And we’re beginning to see a rebound for our auto dealers.

Downtown Renton continues to attract new businesses including new restaurants, Pike Place Bakery, a new children’s clothing store and a book store. Small high-tech companies such as Quantum Engineering and Splat TV are moving to downtown Renton. In case you’re wondering, Splat TV is a software development company. Last year, the Compass Regional Veteran’s Center opened its doors across from Renton High School. This attractive four-story building occupies nearly 60,000 square feet and offers 58 units of affordable housing for veterans and their families and 8,500 square feet of retail space.

We recently established a lease with Rain City Catering to operate the Renton Pavilion Events Center. Located in the heart of downtown Renton, the event center is especially popular for weddings and receptions, auctions and business meetings.
Waterways Cruises has been successfully operating their unique sightseeing and dining cruises from Southport in Renton. In their first year of operation they brought over 7,000 visitors to our community.

The Seahawks Training Camp brought over 22,000 people to Renton last summer, and many of them shopped and dined in our community. And on April 10, the Seahawks will, once again, sponsor a 12K run at The Landing. This event draws thousands of runners from throughout the region.

In the past four years, we’ve used every tool at hand to reform government-replacing outdated systems, seeking improved performance for less money and getting rid of any fat and inefficiencies embedded in the way we used to do business.

We’ve made measurable progress. Now we’ll take it to the next level.

My commitment to you, and to our residents, is to continue to work together to produce the results that make Renton so livable, unique, and prepared for the future.

We will continue to rethink government in the most fundamental ways and create a more agile workforce that can innovate, respond to rapid change, and find new ways to reduce costs.

We are sculpting a government that lives within its means when times are bad, and invests responsibly when times are good.
When I look at Renton in 2011, I see opportunity. The strengths and assets of our community are many, our people exceptional, our accomplishments enormous.

The state of our city is very good!

Our city won’t put progress on hold, waiting for the economy to improve or revenues to rebound. We won’t push off our problems on the next generation. We will act now, invest now, create jobs and lift our economy by our own efforts.

I am confident that we have great times ahead and I’m going to work hard to get us there.

I ask all of you to join me. Thank You.    

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