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2012 State of the City

DENIS LAW - STATE OF THE CITY

March 21, 2012

Good Afternoon,

I want to thank the Chamber staff for organizing today’s event.

I’d like to begin by acknowledging members of our City Council —

  • Terri Briere,
  • Randy Corman,
  • Marcie Palmer,
  • Don Persson,
  • Ed Prince,
  • Greg Taylor,
  • and Council President Rich Zwicker.

And I especially want to thank King Parker for joining us today. King served on the city council for 12 years and we still feel that he’s a part of our city family.

Over the past few years, we have maneuvered this city through some very challenging times, and I want to thank each of our council members for their support and partnership in addressing the needs of our community.

During these difficult times, Renton has been blessed to have excellent support from all of our representatives in Olympia. I want to especially thank Senator Margarita Prentice for all of her years of support for our community. I’m sure you have heard that Margarita does not plan to seek re-election after serving in the Legislature for the past 23 years. We wish her the best of luck in her future endeavors.

And please join me in acknowledging…..Marcie Maxwell and other special guests.

I know you hear this frequently, but it’s worth repeating. Renton has earned a reputation as a leading city in this region, and much of this is due to the unique partnerships we have with the Chamber, Renton School District, Renton Technical College and Valley Medical Center. Together, we have accomplished a lot and our city has become a very special community.

I would like our partners to please stand to be recognized: Dr. Mary Alice Heuschel, Superintendent of the Renton School District; Rich Roodman, CEO of Valley Medical Center; Steve Hanson, President of Renton Technical College; and Bill Taylor, CEO of Renton Chamber of Commerce.

Thank you for being here today.

While the last four years have been difficult, the city has weathered them well. We’ve had challenges, but despite those challenges, our community continues to grow and thrive.

Our future is bright. Our foundation is strong and I believe the economic tides are finally beginning to turn.

Last year, I promised to continue to build on our partnership with The Boeing Company and work together with other elected officials to advance the aerospace industry in Renton and King County.

We kept that promise.

As you know, last November, The Boeing Company announced its landmark decision to build the 737 MAX here in Renton.

This was tremendous news for our city and the entire state. This decision will ensure that for years to come thousands of workers will remain on the job here in Renton, which we all know is the best place in the world to produce commercial airplanes!

Renton’s economy has historically been defined by The Boeing Company. Boeing has been producing the 737 in our city since 1968 and it remains the most successful airplane in the history of commercial aviation. They continue to have over 2,300 orders for the 737 Next Generation, and they have a goal of producing 42 airplanes a month by 2014. We understand they plan to hire between 600 to 800 people in Renton this year and the same amount next year. And they already have over 1,000 orders for the 737 MAX!

As part of the statewide Washington Aerospace Partnership and King County Aerospace Alliance, we are actively working to support the growth and stability of the aerospace industry. We are working hard in Olympia for an appropriation of $2.5 million to establish the Renton Aerospace Training Center at our Municipal Airport. This will allow Renton Technical College to expand the capacity of its aerospace training, and through a 12-week course, provide workers with the skills they need to obtain jobs in the aerospace industry.

The city’s commitment in support of the aerospace industry has been so strong, that the governor has recruited Alex Pietsch to serve as Director of the Governor’s Office of Aerospace. Alex has been a tremendous asset to our city and has played a major role in the development of this city for the past 11 years. Please join me in congratulating Alex on his new position.

It’s important to note that Boeing is not the only major employer in town to be creating more jobs. PACCAR’s Kenworth Truck Division is back to well above its pre-recession employment levels, where production had dropped to an average of two trucks per day. Since June of 2010, they’ve hired 540 people and are once again up to producing 18 trucks per day.

Overall, Renton’s economy is diversified and growing. The number of jobs in the city increased by 9% between 2010 and 2011 – and it’s important to note that it’s not just at Boeing. We had about 170 more businesses registered in our city by the end of last year than we did the year before. One interesting statistic I want to share with you is that since the start of the recession in 2008, we have actually seen a 2% overall increase in total jobs. So Renton actually gained jobs through the recent recession! Despite this interesting statistic, I’m not suggesting that the recession has been a good thing!

More good news in Renton is that we are continuing to attract new companies. One new global company that recently moved here is Sealed Air. They are the inventors of bubble wrap and currently employ 65 people. They also have plans to grow significantly in the near future.

Other signs that the economy is improving is the investment being made by local companies. SpringHill Suites by Marriott and the TownePlace Suites will be investing $2 million to remodel their hotels beginning this month. Brotherton Cadillac recently completed a million-dollar remodel and Good Chevrolet invested 1.1 million on a major remodel.

And great things are happening in our downtown. Despite these challenging times, we promised to continue our commitment to help revitalize the downtown core.

We kept that promise.

A number of new restaurants and shops have opened, and you will soon see new construction on a beautiful state-of-the-art library facility in the heart of the district that will help create a vibrant, pedestrian-oriented environment necessary to support downtown businesses.

And the latest news that emphasizes positive change taking place downtown was the Chamber’s purchase of the Spirit of Washington Train Depot for their new offices. This will clearly be a catalyst for more downtown investment and a terrific move for the chamber. I want to recognize John Galluzzo, former chairman of the board, who successfully led the chamber through the complicated purchase process.

And then we have The Landing - It always seems to be busy at The Landing even though there is no Trader Joes on site. And to cut to the chase, there is no Trader Joes on the horizon that we know about!
Despite this, the stores and restaurants at The Landing continue to report impressive growth in sales. Several new tenants opened this past year—including Dick’s Sporting Goods, University Bookstore, Famous Footwear, Panera Bread and other restaurants, and additional leases are being signed this year.

We also have improvements occurring in other parts of our city. For years, the city has promised to help revitalize the Sunset/Highlands community.

We are finally fulfilling this promise.

Besides the millions of dollars spent by local businesses, including the Tea Palace, Safeway remodel, the new Grocery Outlet store and the construction of the 217-unit Harrington Square, plans are underway for a beautiful new library that will be built in conjunction with a new 112-unit apartment project. This will help beautify the gateway to the Sunset/Highlands community.

And there is more good news in the Sunset Area. Last year we broke ground for Glenwood Townhomes, a new eight-unit housing development, which is the beginning of creating a more attractive and vibrant community for local residents and businesses. We believe this project will provide a stimulus for other public and private development.

So a lot of great things are happening in our city. And while I don’t want to dampen all this positive news, I do need to emphasize that tough times remain ahead of us, especially for local government. We expect it will be financially challenging for us for at least the next two or three years.

When I met with you last year, I promised that the city was committed to focus on innovation, efficiency, and improved productivity despite budget challenges.

Once again, we kept that promise.

We reduced staffing levels and made major cuts to our budget, despite significant growth in population. We reorganized and consolidated some divisions. Every department made budget cuts and our employees continue to embrace our commitment to provide quality customer service. We chose to act quickly to reduce expenses and made other choices that helped us address our budget crisis. The city you see today is more refined. It is leaner. It is stronger. And I believe it’s strategically prepared to meet the challenges of the future. I would like our city employees to stand and be recognized for the great work you have accomplished.

While these strategies have helped us manage until now, we continue to operate with a structural revenue shortfall, and this is unlikely to change anytime soon.

During the boom years before the recession, we were able to ride the bullish economy and a considerable percentage of our services, including police, fire service, street repairs and quality park facilities, were funded with revenues from new construction and sales tax.

In addition to funding basic services for the public, we were able to build the community aquatic center, purchase land for parks and pay for ongoing infrastructure needs.

But with significant declines in sales tax revenues these past several years, we have become much more reliant on property tax just to maintain city services, which is shrinking due to property devaluation.

The result is a continued erosion of our tax base and the need for us to continually reassess our service priorities and capabilities. It forces us to focus revenues on essential services while challenging us to find new ways to fund ongoing maintenance and infrastructure needs.

Sustaining the quality of our city must be our priority.

By focusing on this goal, we can continue the process of reorganizing the way we do business. Most major companies are reinventing themselves in order to survive and thrive. We must do the same.

Despite a 15% reduction in personnel and millions from our operating budget over the past several years, finding ways to provide our customers with quality service has continued to be our top priority.

In the months ahead, we’ll continue stretching taxpayer dollars further. But the ability to maintain and grow the quality of life in our city will require partnering with our schools, business community and our citizens.

Mergers, alliances, partnerships and collaboration have become a way of business today. Locally we saw the successful alliance between Valley Medical Center and UW Medicine that will result in improving service to the public in a more cost-effective manner.

As a city, it’s critical that we partner with our citizens and our stakeholders in finding better ways of serving the needs of the community. Our Dog Park is a great example. Another one that is in the works right now is a collaboration between the Renton School District, the city, local service organizations and businesses in constructing an inclusive children’s playground that will serve the entire community, including children with special needs.

Our long-term ability to maintain Renton’s quality parks and trails, invest in our transportation infrastructure and meet the need for new public amenities, will require additional resources. We will need to explore some taxing options with our citizens, as most other cities and counties have had to do. We have begun the budget process for 2013 and 2014, and will soon engage our citizens and business leaders to help us through this process.

We did get a taste of winter this year. It was minor compared to other parts of the country, but it doesn’t take much to create havoc on our streets.

Days of heavy snowfall, followed by an ice storm and two wind storms, did impact our region. This resulted in icy streets, road closures, multiple accidents, downed trees and major power outages. Cities across our region came to a standstill. But our staff, working around the clock, did an outstanding job of keeping our main roadways open, removing fallen trees and debris, keeping shelters open, and offering emergency assistance where needed.

And we employed every means available to us to communicate with our community–from high-tech communications where we effectively used our website, Facebook and Twitter, to displaying time-tested posters in multiple languages on our neighborhood information kiosks located at our schools. This event tested our emergency preparedness and our staff did an excellent job.

I want to spend a couple minutes talking about public safety.

Five years ago, I maintained that keeping our community safe was our top priority, and that we would take proactive steps to find ways to reduce crime and to improve the sense of safety throughout our city.

We have made significant progress.

Today, according to the latest crime statistics, we are one of the safest cities in South King County. Crime rate has dropped for the sixth consecutive year and is over 30 percent lower than it was in 2007.

Statistics don’t tell the whole story and we’re not going to take all the credit for crime reduction. But we know our efforts have made a difference.

We have created an inter-departmental culture at city hall of finding solutions to issues impacting our community. When a woman was tragically killed when hit by a bicycle on the Cedar River Trail, members of our police, parks, recreation, public works, city attorney and communications departments came together to explore solutions that resulted in a comprehensive trail safety initiative. Today we have reduced speed limits, striping, signage, educational brochures and volunteer park rangers in our parks and trails making sure that it is safer for everyone to use.

When we noticed that the same offenders were engaging in unlawful behavior in our parks and going from one park to another, we passed an ordinance that allows police officers to ban a person from all of our parks for violating rules. By banning these offenders, we’re keeping our promise to ensure that our residents have a better, safer park system than ever before.

In some of our areas, including a few properties in North Renton, our police officers have responded to calls for service to the same addresses for many years, with ongoing criminal activity dramatically impacting the sense of safety for those living in the neighborhood.

We met with members from these neighborhoods and promised to pursue sustainable solutions to the ongoing impacts.

As part of this commitment, we passed an ordinance that provides us with a tool to hold “nuisance” property owners civilly or even criminally responsible for continuing to allow illegal activity to take place on their property. And we actively collaborate with the Liquor Control Board to identify and target drinking establishments that are magnets for crime and violence. We will soon be filing lawsuits in Superior Court against several property owners.

We’ve emphasized crime reduction and safety in our downtown and the transit center by increasing police patrols and expanding video surveillance. And the city council passed another ordinance that allows officers to ban people who practice illegal behavior at the transit center. Once again, we are proactively addressing the community’s concerns and improving the sense of safety throughout the downtown area.

We utilized our Special Operations Unit to target repeat offenders that are our worst criminals and responsible for much of the crime. They have been successful at making arrests that are resulting in long prison sentences.

And as you have heard before, we’ve had great success with our anti-graffiti campaign. Since we launched the program in 2008 we have reduced incidents of graffiti in our community by 60 percent.

Keeping our city safe also requires a commitment by our fire and emergency services staff.

The days of firefighters primarily responding to fires are long gone. Today, our fire department has evolved into a multi-faceted public service agency with an ever-changing workload, from emergency medical services to hazardous materials and disaster preparedness.

Calls for medical assistance represented 78% of the nearly 13,000 calls that our fire fighters responded to last year. They also handled 213 hazardous material related calls.

In addition to handling emergencies, our fire fighters are devoted to helping our public remain healthy and avoid catastrophic emergencies. This past month, during February Heart Month, they provided blood pressure and blood sugar screenings to nearly 11,000 people. And they found 18% of the people screened to be at risk for heart disease.

I have always advocated that a strong commitment to public safety is government’s top priority, but it’s not the only component needed to maintain a high quality of life in a city. As companies look to set up and expand, and people look to relocate and start their families, other community amenities including beautiful parks, trails, community sponsored events and recreation programs become an important part of the decision.

We have been successful at maintaining most of these services despite significant personnel and budget cuts.

  • Our parks, trails and golf course continue to receive praise from the public.
  • Our world class recreational programs still offer something for everyone, regardless of age or ability.
  • Our unique summer lunch program serves hundreds of children in need, and our Housing Repair Assistance Program has helped elderly residents stay in their homes.
  • Our award-winning Neighborhood Program now has 72 recognized neighborhoods representing thousands of Renton residents.
  • Our Farmers Market enjoyed a record attendance last summer with over 4,000 people a week.
  • And our festivals and events, from the Seattle International Film Festival to the Fourth of July celebration, Renton River Days, Return-to-Renton Car Show and Clam Lights at Coulon Park, all experienced record crowds.

These programs and events bring tremendous value to our citizens. They also bring tourists and visitors to our restaurants and stores. They fill hotel rooms and provide entertainment for our families, while boosting the local economy.

One of the ways we can help jumpstart economic recovery is to invest in the infrastructure of our city.

Many of you joined me yesterday at the groundbreaking event for Rainier Avenue. This $40 million project is one of the largest public works projects that our city has ever undertaken, with the majority of the funding coming from state and federal agencies. The improvements will include more lanes for motorists and transit, improved traffic flow and enhanced safety. And as a gateway to our city, this project will be very pedestrian friendly with wide sidewalks, attractive landscaping and quality lighting.

We are also working on major improvements for the SW 27th/Strander Blvd. project, to provide quality access to the Sounder Station for Renton residents, and road improvements on Garden Avenue near Fry’s Electronics.

In addition to the enhancements that these projects create, they will bring much needed construction jobs to boost our local economy.

Renton is a city of distinct neighborhoods with unique character. Last year during my State of the City address, I shared a vision with you of thriving neighborhoods with parks and open spaces, where people gather and businesses prosper. We said we would engage our community and together plan the future of our city.

We did, and in a big way.

We completed the Parks, Recreation, Open Space and Natural Resources Plan; Trails and Bicycles Master Plan; the Shoreline Master Plan; the City Center Plan; Sunset Area Revitalization Plan; Renton History Museum Plan; and the Arts and Culture Master Plan.

Sounds like a lot of plans. It is. But what’s most important for you to know is that a broad base of our community got involved to help define the future direction for our city and neighborhoods so that together we can take our vision from concept to reality.

More than 3,000 of our citizens and business leaders participated in developing these plans.

Many of these plans were managed by our Community Services Department, and this is a great time to brag about this staff!

In addition to managing all of the city-owned facilities, the neighborhood program, and senior and human services, the Community Services Department is responsible for our parks, trails and recreation programs. I’m very proud to announce that once again, this department received national accreditation from the Commission for Accreditation of Parks and Recreation Agencies. This recognition is for achieving the gold standard for quality parks and recreation, and Renton is one of only two cities in this state to have earned this distinction. I would like to have Terry Higashiyama on behalf of her dedicated staff, stand and be recognized.

In terms of the environment, city staff continued to pursue strategies to help protect our environment, reduce waste and conserve energy.

Moving onto the environment. We launched our Clean Economy Strategy to help lower operating costs through energy-saving and resource-efficiency measures, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and capitalize on funding opportunities for green businesses.

We installed public charging stations for electric vehicles in various parts of Renton including City Hall, downtown and The Landing. And we have significantly reduced the use of paper in city operations.

In collaboration with Waste Management, our recycling program, which was launched in 2009, has resulted in diverting 60,000 tons of recyclable waste from our landfills. Our recycling rate is up to 70 percent in our community and is one of the highest in the country.

One of the attributes that makes our community special is the growing diversity of our residents. And we don’t need the Census numbers to tell us that. Just look around–you see faces with family roots in Africa, Asia, Europe, South America, and North America. You see people representing every age, religion, and sexual orientation. This is our community.

The diversity of our city gives us incredible strength. And instead of just talking about it, we promised to embrace the diversity in our community with understanding and respect; take specific steps to establish relationships with members of our various ethnic, cultural, and non-English speaking communities; and reach out and offer our services to ALL of our citizens.

This is an important promise that we kept.

We created the Community Liaison Group, comprised of members of our diverse communities, and we have been working closely with them to develop these relationships. We have helped the individual communities to be better prepared for emergencies by providing informational workshops, and by translating and distributing hundred of DVDs on emergency preparedness in various languages.

Just last month, as part of Renton Heart Month, our fire fighters reached out to 2,000 people representing each of our large diverse communities–the Sikhs, Hispanics, Ukrainians, Vietnamese, and African-Americans–to conduct blood sugar and blood pressure screenings.

This year we will be exploring a partnership with the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services to help find internships for some of the limited-English speaking members of our community. Our goal is to help English language learners hone their skills as they gain practical work experiences, while at the same time benefiting businesses and non-profit groups in our community.

When describing a city, most municipalities share a lot in common. We all have roads, streetlights, and utilities. We have parks and trails, and police and fire departments. So what is it? What is the mystery ingredient that makes Renton different?

I would venture to say that the most unique thing about Renton, the thing that makes us so special, is our people.

When I’m describing Renton to others, I emphasize that this is a community with heart and soul. Few cities in this region enjoy the powerful sense of community spirit we have in Renton.

We have mothers and fathers, grandparents, seniors and young adults, as well as dedicated business and property owners, who genuinely care about our community and actively participate in making it a better place to live and do business.

I’m honored to be the mayor of a city where residents, business owners, service and religious organizations step up every day to meet the needs of their neighbors and the community. We support our schools and our local businesses. And we care for our neighbors.

We are a group of people committed to working together to make Renton the best city in Washington.

Renton is a special place and it’s because of you – the people who live, work, learn and play here, and proudly call Renton your home.

Thank You.