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2013 State of the City Address

DENIS LAW - STATE OF THE CITY

March 6, 2013

It’s hard to believe this is the sixth State of the City address I have presented to the chamber. All but one of my reports to you over the past several years have had this similar theme – “Finding new ways to provide city services with less revenue and fewer people.”

The only real upbeat State of the City address was my first one in 2008. I was three months into my term as mayor and feeling very positive about our city – and our future.

Unlike the rest of the nation, local economists felt the Puget Sound region would fare well. In Renton, we had just completed the annexation of the Cascade-Benson Hill communities, growing our city by 25% and becoming the 5th largest city in King County.

I bragged about our solid financial foundation. At that time, the city had more than 700 employees and we were recruiting to fill dozens of additional positions to meet the needs of our newly annexed areas.

New construction here was outpacing most of the rest of King County. The Seahawks headquarters and training facility was near completion and the Federal Reserve Bank opened its new state-of-the-art facility.

The largest Harley Davidson dealership in the state announced its plans to move to Renton. And our city was about to get a 14-screen movie theater as new businesses began to open at The Landing.

Times were good! Or so we thought.

Within weeks of making my optimistic predictions about our future, the bottom fell out of the local economy. Along with the rest of the nation we found ourselves facing an economic crisis beyond compare.

Just like the business community, the city needed to make significant cuts. Halfway through the year, we had to reduce our workforce by 15% and cut all non-priority expenditures.

We had to regroup and figure out how we would protect vital services, with fewer people and a lot less money.

For the next four years, I reported on how we were addressing the challenges of serving the public and prioritizing our services. I talked about improvements in productivity and efficiencies at City Hall, and our continued commitment to providing quality service.

I bragged about Renton’s partnerships, and how these strong relationships would help our community come together to address new challenges.

At City Hall, we embraced the fact that finding new, more efficient ways to do business, was critical in order for us to maintain the quality of our city.

It’s been a very tough period of time – for all of us in this room.

Our employees stepped up to the challenges and today, I want to brag a little about what we have accomplished as a city, despite significantly reduced resources.

First, I would like to ask our department heads to please stand up and be recognized. Each one of these individuals has embraced the challenge of working with our employees, to find better ways of serving the public.

I also want to recognize all of our employees that continue to be committed to providing Nordstrom-like service for our customers.

And I need to thank our council members, whose leadership and commitment to Renton has helped us move our city forward, during very challenging times.

During these past five years, Renton’s population has grown 67%, from 56,000 to 94,000 residents and, despite reducing our workforce, the quality and range of services we have provided our community remains unmatched.

The total budget for 2013/2014 is $457 million, of which $202 million is allocated to fund police, fire, parks and other basic city services.

Like previous years, it was necessary to make additional cuts to balance this budget.

Our original projections to the Council showed an estimated $5 million gap each year of the biennium between expenses and revenues. However, we were able to balance this budget with minimal staff reductions, thanks to the support of our union leaders and employees.

We’ve been able to make great progress in identifying new efficiencies to improve productivity, primarily due to employees committed to finding better ways to serve the public.

But we have more work to do.

My priority this year is to continue cultivating a workplace culture that supports these ideals of improving customer service:

  • A workplace where our management team provides the vision, leadership, training and support necessary to motivate staff at every level.
  • A workplace where we are constantly pushing the envelope when it comes to developing new and creative ways of conducting our business.
  • And a workplace where we have a culture of effectively solving issues for our citizens.

This commitment to serving our citizens has really paid off. I want to spend a few moments sharing some of our accomplishments during what has been the worst recession to hit this nation:

  • We applied for and received nearly $85 million dollars in grants for infrastructure and investments including new road construction, utility improvements, parks and trails, and public safety initiatives.
  • We opened Heritage Park in the Highlands and completed the Springbrook, May Creek and Logan Street Trails.
  • We reduced crime and developed new tools to improve safety in our neighborhoods.
  • We built a new, state-of-the-art municipal jail in partnership with six neighboring cities.
  • We instituted the first comprehensive recycling program in King County through Waste Management, and diverted nearly 25,000 tons of recyclable materials from the landfill this year alone.
  • In partnership with our citizens and community leaders, we developed a City Center Community Plan, a roadmap for future growth and development in our downtown core.
  • And we completed our Parks, Recreation and Natural Areas Plan that earned the governor’s Smart Vision Award last year.

As most of you know, Public Safety has always been my top priority.

When a loved one is facing a life-threatening crisis, you understandably expect our well-trained firefighters to arrive at your home as soon as possible.

And residents need to have confidence that our police are here to protect them, reduce crime, and to help them feel safe no matter where they are in our community.

Our police officers and fire fighters have continued to provide quality service for Renton residents and the business community.

We have successfully implemented a comprehensive program to help people feel safer in our parks and at the transit center.

We addressed safety issues in our parks and trails by reducing speed limits; adding striping, signage, and educational brochures; and by instituting a volunteer park ranger program.

For years, some of our residents in North Renton have felt like they were under siege by a few criminals who continue to commit illegal activity in the neighborhood. Despite multiple arrests, uncooperative property owners and lenient court rulings have allowed problems to continue.

It’s not acceptable when people feel fear for the safety of their children in their own homes. To address this issue, the Council adopted a new ordinance to deal with property owners and landlords where illegal activity continues to occur. Our prosecutors are currently preparing criminal charges against one landlord in North Renton, as part of our commitment to solve this problem.

In light of the recent massacre of innocent children and their teachers in Connecticut, we are working closely with Superintendent Vera Risdon and her staff to explore ways to improve safety for our children.

There are many reasons for us to be prepared for unforeseen emergencies in our schools, from weather-related or natural disasters, to an incident similar to what happened at Sandy Hook Elementary.

We are reviewing the security systems that are currently in place in all schools, studying options for additional surveillance, and considering joint grant proposals for training and drills for school district and city staff.

Our police department will soon launch an Adopt-A School program designed to foster and strengthen the relationships between our schools and our police officers. The goal of this program is to cultivate strong relationships between officers, students, parents and school staff.

As part of the program, officers will routinely visit the schools within their service areas as part of their regular patrol duties.
We want the public to know that the presence of police officers at our schools is a good thing and does not mean there is an emergency.

Another element of our public safety commitment is the service provided by the Renton Fire and Emergency Services Department.

RENTON HEART MONTH is a great example of firefighters taking the initiative to help our citizens reduce their risk of a major health crisis. Since 2005, our firefighters have checked the blood pressure and blood sugar levels of 45,000 individuals, which include 8,300 people this past month.

Our fire fighters identified 6,400 people that were at risk of high blood pressure, and 2,000 people had excess glucose in the bloodstream. Both conditions pose health concerns.

And as another tool to help save lives, we added automatic external defibrillators to our patrol cars as part of our efforts to reduce response times to victims of cardiac arrest. This effort has helped to save several lives.

I want to spend a moment talking about our partnerships.

I continue to believe that Renton is a special community thanks to the strong partnerships between the city, Renton School District, Chamber, Renton Technical College and Valley Medical Center.

A new accessible playground that will be constructed along with the new Meadow Crest Early Learning Center in the Highlands is an excellent example. This all-inclusive playground offers special amenities to encourage physical activity for children of all abilities and ages – those with special needs, diverse interests and abilities, and physical or mental challenges.

Thanks to a creative effort between the City of Renton and the Renton School District, and the generous financial contribution of several service organizations, local business and private donations, this playground will soon become a reality.

It will serve many children in our community for years to come, and would not have been possible without these partnerships.

I want to recognize First Financial NW Foundation, Renton Rotary, the Custer Fund, King County Youth Sports Facility Grant, Renton Lions Club, Renton Housing Authority, McClendon Hardware, and Senator Margarita Prentice for their generous donations. There have also been many individual donations from the public.

Anybody here that is affiliated with one of the organizations I just named, or have made a personal donation, please stand to be recognized. This is the value of community partnerships!

I want to recognize Terry Higashiyama, our Community Services Administrator, who for months has been the lead champion for this project as part of her personal volunteer effort to this community.

For years we have been talking about the Highlands community and our plans for revitalization of the Sunset area. I would like to share some of the successes we’ve achieved to date.

Last year construction was completed on the Glenwood Townhomes in the Sunset area that provides quality affordable housing for the largest families living in public housing. Another project will soon break ground on Kirkland NE, and work is underway for a new KCLS library to be built in conjunction with a quality multi-family housing complex at the gateway to the Sunset community.

Once again I’d like to thank our partners – the Renton Housing Authority, the Renton School District, King County Library System, and Colpitts Development for these successful redevelopment efforts.

I have another successful partnership effort to share with you.

Cuts in personnel and ongoing costs in maintenance forced us to consider closing Carco Theater in Liberty Park.

But thanks to an agreement with Puget Sound Access, we are able to keep Carco Theatre open and available to the public. Puget Sound Access operates government cable channels in south King County, including our Channel 21.

Soon Carco Theater will feature many upgrades and will offer state-of-the-art multi-media services. And instead of losing money, the city will actually be recovering costs. I’d like to acknowledge Puget Sound Access for its collaboration with the city to maintain this valuable asset.

I want to take a moment to talk about the Renton School District. By constantly striving for excellence, the school district is continuously raising the standards of education in our community. As we all know, quality schools is a vital component to a quality city where people want to live and raise a family.

The District has many things to brag about, and I want to mention just a couple of examples.

Renton was among seven school districts in South King County to win a $40 million federal grant as part of the Race to the Top initiative. With this funding the districts are able to help close the achievement gap and fund critical programs. This was a tremendous partnership effort that included city and school district leaders.

Our district is blessed to have highly talented and committed teachers. Nearly 100 of these teachers are National Board Certified. Like board-certified doctors and accountants, teachers who achieve National Board Certification have met rigorous standards through intensive study, expert evaluation, self-assessment and peer review to attain this certification that many consider the gold standard of teacher credentials.

And our students are achieving high marks in academics. 100 Renton High School students recently earned certification in Microsoft operating systems as part of the Microsoft IT Academy certification program, and members of Hazen’s varsity girl’s cross-country team are Academic State Champions for maintaining a near-perfect grade-point average through the fall sports season.

When marketing our city, there are two things we brag about:

that Renton is home to the Seattle Seahawks, and home to Boeing’s commercial airplane division.

We love to note that every two and a half seconds, a 737 jetliner, which was built here in Renton, either takes off or lands somewhere in the world.

Boeing recently announced that they have already increased production of 737s to 38 planes a month and they intend to increase that number to 42 planes a month by next year.

Development of the 737 MAX is on schedule with the first flight planned in 2016.

The aviation industry is obviously critical to the economy of this state. We are committed to doing our part to protect Renton’s position as the center of aerospace in the Puget Sound area.

We’re working hard in Olympia, along with the Aerospace Futures Alliance, Renton Technical College, and others representing the aerospace industry, to secure funding for the Central Sound Aerospace Training Center at Renton Airport. This $12.5 million training center will provide hundreds of people with the training and skills they need to obtain jobs in the aerospace industry.

And how about those Seahawks! What a tremendous season. The 12th Man flag was visible throughout our community and we were excited to host a rally at City Hall where a thousand fans gathered as the team headed off for a playoff game.

This was in addition to the 20,000 fans that came to Renton to support the Seahawks during training camp.

Investing in infrastructure is investing in the future of our city, and we have many federally-funded projects representing tens of millions of dollars underway or scheduled in the near future.

The Renton Municipal Airport is undergoing the most extensive infrastructure improvements since the 1950s. There are millions of dollars in projects scheduled for the airport that include replacing taxiways, rehabbing areas to park new 737s, construction of a new bridge over the Cedar River from Boeing to the runway, and the anticipated aerospace training center that I mentioned earlier that would be built at the former chamber of commerce site.

These projects will be funded by the federal government, Boeing and the City.

And if you drive through Renton, you are well aware of the Rainier Avenue Improvement Project. This $42 million redevelopment project is funded largely by state and federal grants and when completed, will be a safe and attractive gateway to our city and business community.

This project will improve transit mobility, traffic flow, and enhance pedestrian safety with new 8-foot wide sidewalks. It also features attractive landscaping and improved street lighting.

Last year we broke ground on phase 1 of the SW 27th Street/Strander Boulevard Connection next to the Federal Reserve Bank. This $16.5 million project includes a new railway bridge and a two-lane roadway that will provide access for Renton residents to the future Sound Transit Commuter Rail Station in Tukwila.

In terms of our local economy, I believe it’s on the rebound. New businesses continue to open at The Landing, and existing businesses there are breaking sales records. And the high-end apartment complexes at The Landing are more than 90% occupied.

However, downtown Renton continues to struggle. I intend to host a meeting of downtown property and business owners, and community leaders in the near future to discuss and reprioritize our efforts in revitalizing our downtown core.

The dynamics for maintaining a viable retail business these days has changed dramatically. It’s important that we regroup with local business leaders to define how we move forward to achieve the vibrant downtown that we all desire.

We’re sad to lose Renton Western Wear, which has been an icon in our downtown community for the past 62 years. This family-owned business spans three generations and we can’t begin to adequately thank Jerry and Gina Kavesh for the contributions they have made in our city.

On a positive note, investments continue to be made downtown. The Berliner Pub and Marianna Ristorante in the former Armondo’s site are two great additions to our downtown community.

We’re optimistic that other development opportunities in our city will begin to be revived as the economy improves. Discussions continue on a possible office complex at Southport, at the south end of Coulon Park, and plans are being developed for the 20-acre Port Quendall site on Lake Washington next to the Seahawks headquarters.

And we are working closely with the owners of 21 acres just south of The Landing to ensure this property is developed to the best and highest use.

I believe Renton is positioned well to take advantage of new opportunities as the economy continues to improve.

I want to move away from business and the economy to talk a little about Renton’s diversity.

Our entire region is becoming much more diverse, especially in south King County. Based on the 2010 census, our minority population in Renton has grown significantly.

Our richly diverse community provides us with tremendous opportunities and also some challenges. Language barriers, cultural differences and the ability to provide services to people who struggle to communicate outside of their ethnic group is not easy.

Our goal as a city is to be able to provide access and services to all of our citizens.

As part of our strategy, we have created a network of community leaders representing various ethnic, cultural and diverse groups. These liaisons represent their communities and are the link between the city and the community groups, to connect their members with city resources.

Currently we have nearly 30 community liaisons representing over 10 diverse community groups with hundreds of members.
One of our primary focuses has been health and safety.

As part of this effort we have provided emergency preparedness trainings and workshops to various community groups. We translated and distributed over 1,000 copies of an emergency preparedness video to various non-English speaking members of our city.

And those who received blood sugar and blood pressure screenings by our fire fighters last month included nearly 1,500 members of our diverse communities.

We continue to work with the school district to provide free summer lunch to children from minority groups, non-English speaking communities and low-income families.

To help strengthen relationships, we have appointed members from the community liaison groups to serve on key citizen task forces. And we have worked with over 13 different ethnic media groups in our region to distribute our news releases and provide regular information relevant to their community members.

And lastly, we have hosted a series of forums with members of diverse communities on various topics including crime prevention, emergency preparedness and public sector career opportunities.

As our city continues to grow, we must never forget that there are those around us who are not living the American dream. We must continue to help the homeless, the hungry, and our seniors.

In a partnership with Renton Ecumenical Association of Churches, we will soon be providing a day center for homeless women and children. The center will be located in former jail space at City Hall and, after some remodeling, will provide a welcoming and safe environment where women and children can begin to rebuild their lives. The center will be staffed by volunteers from REACH.

This shelter will help to provide women with the opportunity to access counseling, training and other services needed in order for them to become independent. I want to recognize Linda Smith and Maggie Breen who have worked tirelessly with our staff on this project.

So, despite challenging times, we have continued to make progress.

We enjoy a great quality of life in Renton. Much of this is due to our outstanding parks, recreation opportunities, amazing festivals and other events that give us the opportunity to connect with our neighbors and community.

Our Neighborhood Program now serves 70 neighborhoods, and is one of the best tools we have that provides a communication link between the city and thousands of our residents.

The Renton History Museum continues to grow in popularity, thanks to the tremendous effort by our museum manager Liz Stewart, her staff and the Renton Historical Society. Our arts community continues to thrive thanks to the leadership of the Municipal Arts Commission and Allied Arts of Renton.

Our very popular Farmers Market enjoyed a record attendance this past summer. And we had record crowds at IKEA Renton River Days, 4th of July Fireworks display, Return to Renton Car Show and the Clam Lights at Coulon Park. And thanks to downtown businesses and the chamber, we enjoyed Renton’s first Octoberfest at the Piazza, which was a huge success.

These special events help bring our community together. 

So what is the state of our city?

The state of Renton is very good.

Our foundation is strong. Our commitment to excellence is unwavering.

We value our quality of life and our deep sense of community spirit.

We care about our neighbors.

And we believe our future is bright.

Thank you. 

   

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