2014 State of the City

2014 State of the City presentation

DENIS LAW – March 13, 2014

If the past couple months is any indicator, 2014 is going to be a great year!

First, there’s the Seahawks. While Seattle Mayor Ed Murray is somewhat reluctant to admit that Renton is the true home to the Seahawks, there’s no question in our minds. Our city remained prominent in the spotlight the past 14 months, as our team battled its way to become Superbowl Champions!

I can’t think of anything that has ever generated more excitement and created more unity in this region than the great performance by the Seahawks. We certainly enjoyed our fair share of that frenzy here in Renton.

And how about Boeing! Boeing has been a community icon in Renton for generations. Thousands of residents have either been employed or have had a family member working at Boeing.

We continually brag that every Boeing 737 flying around the world made its maiden flight from our airport. It’s amazing that effective this month, their goal is to be producing 42 planes per month in Renton!

Boeing and the Seahawks, along with a number of other great companies, have helped our community survive the great recession.
News that the 777X and the manufacturing of the new composite wings will remain in our region is a very big deal. It equates into thousands of family-wage jobs in this region for many years to come.

The economy continues to improve. And yet it’s important that we recognize that many people remain unemployed or under-employed, and are struggling to make ends meet each month. The same is true with many small business operations. The improving economy has not reached everybody.

As I have reported to you over the past several years, the city has had to change the way we do business in order to continue providing quality services to our citizens. Most of you in the business community have had to do the very same thing.

Despite the gained efficiencies and cuts in personnel and budgets, we continue to face a financial deficit in future years. The cost of providing city services continues to increase each year at a pace that exceeds our income. It’s critical that we develop a sustainable fiscal strategy for the city.

As we work on our upcoming two-year budget cycle, we will be exploring various revenue options with the city council and the community to address projected deficits in upcoming years.

I want to take a moment to share with you some of the basic services we provide every day in this community:

  • Well over half of our budget goes to Public Safety. When there has been an accident or fire, or a loved one can’t breathe, the public understandably wants us there as soon as possible. Last year, in addition to fire and other calls for service, Renton Fire and Emergency Services responded to more than 10,500 aid calls.
  • This past month during Renton Heart Month, our firefighters provided free blood sugar and blood pressure screenings to nearly 6,000 residents. They worked with the school district and were able to identify 84 children with high blood pressure and 16 children with high blood sugar levels.
  • Citizens expect our police officers to go after the bad guys and keep the community safe. Our officers respond to burglaries and family fights, deal with the mentally ill, and mediate all of the challenging issues we experience in this complex society. Last year, our police officers responded to nearly 68,000 calls for service and made nearly 2,000 arrests.
  • Our Public Works department manages 265 miles of city roads, while our Utility staff makes sure that nearly 7 million gallons of clean water arrives each day when you turn on the tap. And we make sure that the dirty water disappears when you push the lever!
  • Our Community Services Department oversees our parks, 13 miles of trails, the golf course, aquatic center, senior center, recreation center and programs, human services, and all of our facilities. They maintain our 33 public parks and 1,200 acres of open spaces, and manage all of the special events like Renton River Days, 4th of July festivities, the Farmer’s Market and other local events.
  • Over 320,000 people visited the Maplewood golf course last year and played 55,000 rounds of golf. I want to brag that our golf course is one of the few city-owned courses that is completely self-sufficient and operating in the black.
  • Nearly 75,000 people used the aquatic center last year, while over 750,000 enjoyed Gene Coulon Park.
  • Our Development Services staff reviews all construction projects in our city, issues tons of permits and is responsible to inspect all of these projects throughout the construction process.

These and many other services are accomplished despite a 15% reduction in our workforce.

But rather than dwelling on the impacts of staff reductions and reduced budgets, our department heads and employees have continued to find new ways of doing business while working towards making Renton the Nordstrom of local government. It became our goal over the past several years to do everything possible to provide the highest quality of service.

To help achieve this goal, especially with increasing workloads due to staff cuts, we felt it was important to make sure that we support a workplace culture where employees feel appreciated, inspired and motivated to provide quality service.

We started by evaluating the leadership style and competence of our management team, from top to bottom. This resulted in some re-organizations, consolidation of divisions and a few changes in key management positions.

It was painful at times.

The important message I want to convey is that we have made huge improvements in our work environment and the service we provide to the public. It’s gratifying to receive comments, letters and emails of praise for employees who are going the extra mile for our citizens.

I want to share a few examples where our employees have gone that extra mile:

Officer Shawn Tierney responded to a strong-arm robbery at a Fred Meyer store where an elderly woman’s purse was stolen from her shopping cart. The victim and her husband were understandably upset and concerned. Instead of just taking a routine report and moving on to the next call, Officer Tierney personally contacted the financial institutions and advised them of the theft of the victim’s credit cards.

When Officer Tierney realized that the victim’s keys had also been stolen, he was concerned that they could potentially become victims of a burglary or other crime. So he took the initiative to accompany the couple to their home, removed the locks from their doors, took them to the hardware store to purchase new locks and keys, and then returned to install them.

This is a great example of going that extra mile to serve the public. For his efforts, Officer Tierney was recently voted by his peers as “officer of the year.”

Most of you know Bonnie Rerecich

Bonnie started her career with the city’s recreation division in 1972. Through the years, her contributions to the city and our community are immeasurable. She was instrumental in starting several key programs and ensuring their continued success. Bonnie’s legacy to the city and community include the Specialized Recreation Social program, the Special Olympics, indoor playground, preschool programs, athletic programs, the volunteer program, the city’s celebration trailer, and our special events program. She has been instrumental in raising a lot of money for scholarships that resulted in our ability to provide opportunities for many youth and adults to participate in city programs.

Every year, as part of the One Night Count program when we count the number of homeless residents in our city, Bonnie comes in at midnight to cook food for the volunteers who participate. She also helps connect the homeless with social service organizations so they can get help. Thanks Bonnie for your dedication.

Here is another example

Last September, one of our residents from the Highlands had a water pipe break in their front yard. The broken pipe was devastating because it happened just before their family reunion and they could not get a plumber in time. They were in a panic.

George Stahl and Dan Grant from our Public Works Division located the break and found a way to temporarily fix the problem so that the reunion could proceed as planned. The homeowners let us know how much they appreciated George and Dan for going the extra mile to help them out.

Creating a culture of providing quality service happens only when you have a committed leadership team. I owe a great deal of thanks to each one of our very dedicated department administrators who have embraced the challenge of improved service to the public, during very difficult times.

This cultural change at city hall is something I hope will be sustainable for years to come. We know there is still room for improvement. Which brings me to my key goal this year:

For Renton to become the best city in King County.

Each department head has made a commitment to work towards this goal.

  • We want to be a city known for excellence in customer service.
  • A city that finds solutions to everyday challenges facing our citizens.
  • A city where we go beyond commonly accepted boundaries of service, innovation and performance; where we are constantly pushing the envelope when it comes to the way we do business.
  • A city where our management team provides the vision and support to our valued employees – and leads by example.
  • A city that’s inclusive and responsive to all of our citizens.

I want to share a few examples of what we’ve achieved to date:

Despite the lack of funding, our Community Services Department found a way to construct a new accessible playground adjacent to the new Meadow Crest Early Learning Center in the Highlands.

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.

This playground will serve many children in our community for years to come, and would not have been possible without the creative partnership between the City of Renton and the Renton School District, and the generous financial contributions of local service organizations, the local business community and private donations. I hope you will join me for a special ribbon-cutting celebration on May 17.

To help address the homelessness crisis we successfully converted a portion of our former jail at City Hall into the Center of Hope, a welcoming day center for homeless women and children. We partnered with local churches, whose volunteers operate the center and provide a safe environment where women and children can begin to rebuild their lives.

This shelter provides women with the opportunity to access counseling, training and other services needed in order for them to become independent. This program is making a huge difference and we have success stories where lives have been changed forever.

One example involves a mother and her five kids who were not able to find housing. Center of Hope took them in and gave them shelter for a number of months. With the help of volunteers and other partners, the center helped the kids stay in school and also helped the family find housing. This family is now in a safe and healthy environment as is moving towards a better future.

I want to recognize Linda Smith and Maggie Breen who have worked tirelessly with our staff to make this project a success.

With the loss of federal funding that used to fund school resource officers in the three high schools, our police department developed a new program to help address security issues at all of our schools. We established the Adopt-A-School program where police officers routinely spend time at schools in their districts during their shift, building relationships with school staff and students. The program has proven to be very popular with students, parents and school staff.

Our police department, in partnership with other city departments, has continued to address criminal activity with a goal to solve the problems on behalf of our citizens.

One recent example involves a local bar that has had over 200 calls for police over the past two years, including fights that resulted with gunfire. You can imagine the danger posed to residents living nearby.

When efforts failed to have their liquor licenses revoked by the state, we worked with the city council to adopt new ordinances that now provide us with the power to cite actual property owners if criminal activity is allowed to continue, and to revoke business licenses of establishments that continue to pose a public safety concern to the community. One by one, we’re making great progress in resolving these issues.

In addition to our focus on public safety, we have made some critical investments in our infrastructure.

The last few years we have been successful in obtaining over $70 million in state and federal grants to improve our local roadways.

The most visible project has been the redevelopment of the Rainier Avenue Corridor. Last December we celebrated the completion of this project, which was on budget and ahead of schedule. This is a major gateway to our city and to many local businesses. The project not only provides more transit mobility and safety for cars and pedestrians, but new landscaping and street lighting has greatly enhanced the look of this major roadway through our city.

We recently received a $4.6 million grant that will enable us to replace the deteriorating roadway on Logan Avenue North that leads from the downtown to Boeing and The Landing. This project will improve public safety for pedestrians and traffic operations for motorists, freight and transit.

Another major investment in infrastructure is the reconstruction of the two main runways at the Renton Municipal Airport. The taxiway was originally built in 1943 and was in critical need of upgrades and rehabilitation. This $9.8 million project is funded through a 90% grant from the Federal Aviation Administration. It’s critical to maintaining Renton as a launch site for Boeing 737 aircraft, and to support the growth of general aviation. We expect to complete this project by this summer.

We continue to look for ways to improve service and save money. In early 2012 the City of Renton began installing radio transmitters on water meters throughout the city as a way to improve efficiency and provide early detection of water leaks for the city’s roughly 17,500 water connections. Since the installation of these meters, we found more than 600 water leaks. Over 200 of those were large leaks that could have cost customers a significant amount of money.

I have another example of a project that improves safety and service, while saving money. We decided to replace nearly 4,000 street lights with energy-efficient LED lighting throughout our city. These new lights significantly reduce the city's electricity use, provide much better lighting and help lower greenhouse gas emissions. We are saving the city an estimated $300,000 per year in electricity and operational costs.

Last year we discussed the changing demographics and growing diversity of the Puget Sound region.

As you know, Renton’s diversity has grown significantly in the last few years.

Since 2008, it has been my priority for Renton to be an all-inclusive city and provide opportunities, access and services to all of our citizens. And it continues to be a priority of the city council.

We created a network of community liaisons, representing diverse community groups, to serve as a link between their members and the city. With their help we have been very successful in connecting different ethnic groups with the programs and services we offer, while providing them with vital information and resources.

Last year we provided learning opportunities on race for all of our employees by facilitating training workshops, and offering free access for employees and management to attend a very informative exhibit at the Seattle Center titled, “RACE: Are We So Different?”

I want to share with you some of our accomplishments in serving our diverse population:

  • We’ve distributed emergency preparedness kits to our community liaisons and trained them so they can help get their community members better prepared for emergencies.
  • For several years, our fire fighters have successfully provided free blood sugar and blood pressure screenings to our diverse communities.
  • We joined other south county cities in launching a program called, "I"CANN, a collaborative effort aimed at reducing the prevalence of obesity in kids and families.
  • As I mentioned earlier, we’ve worked with the Center of Hope to address homelessness in our community and we continue to provide free summer lunches to children from non-English speaking and low-income families.
  • We’ve appointed members from our community liaison group to serve on key citizen task forces.
  • We continue to encourage and support culturally diverse celebrations in festivals and parades throughout our city.

We have made a lot of progress. And we’re pleased to have the opportunity to present our cultural diversity program at the upcoming Governing for Racial Equity conference in Portland later this month.

You may have heard that this past Monday, the City of Renton was awarded first place for the 2014 City Diversity Award by the National League of Cities and the National Black Caucus of Local Elected Officials. Council President Don Persson accepted this award on behalf of the city at a special event in Washington DC.

One of my priorities this year is to continue to build on these accomplishments and address the issues of social justice in our community.

We will continue to seek solutions to homelessness in our community and the challenges faced by our low-income senior population. We will work to end human trafficking in Renton, which is a huge problem across this country.

We are committed to continue our efforts of understanding and addressing the needs of our diverse communities.

As part of this commitment, we have engaged Benita Horn, who is a highly respected authority in this region on cultural diversity and social equity to help us with these efforts. Benita has over twenty years of experience, specializing in leadership and team development, inclusion and work-place effectiveness. She has worked as the director of the Anti-Racism Training Institute Northwest, one of four institutes nationally that are committed to creating communities of racial and social justice. And she and her family live in Renton!

Benita is here with us today – thank you Benita for helping us with this important initiative.

I want to say a few things about the environment and climate change.

Throughout the country, scientists no longer debate whether climate change is occurring, but wonder how greatly we will be impacted. Every level of government is making this topic a priority.

And that begs the question –can local government make an impact? The answer is yes and we have had some significant successes in Renton to help combat global warming while saving our citizens money.

In 2011, I launched Renton’s Green Team to help shepherd the city’s clean energy goals and spur staff innovations.

Working in partnership with Puget Sound Energy and the home energy report, we’ve saved over $1 million in energy costs for our residents. As I mentioned earlier, we also converted our street lights to LED, providing significant energy and cost savings.

We have built electric-vehicle charging infrastructure around the city, and all the Waste Management trucks servicing Renton are now powered by compressed natural gas.

And our recycling programs are among the most progressive in the country – each year we have been diverting nearly 25,000 tons of waste from the landfill.

I want to shift gears and talk about some of the business development activity taking place.

  • On the automotive front, we’re excited to see new dealerships opening in Renton. CAR PROS purchased the former Lincoln-Mercury dealership at S. 7th and Rainier and will be opening a new Hyundai dealership. This is in addition to several other dealerships they already have in Renton.
  • CAR MAX, a large national used car franchise, is scheduled to open its dealership at the site of the old cinema theaters on East Valley.
  • The Washington State Auto Dealers moved into its new headquarters building on Grady Way. This contemporary 10,000 square-foot building is the first-ever association-owned headquarters in the 93-year history of the organization, and we’re very pleased they chose Renton to locate their offices.
  • The Landing has reached 90% occupancy and they are working on leasing to several exciting tenants.
  • We have a lot of activity brewing on Lake Washington Blvd. on land across from the entrance to Gene Coulon Park. The most active project right now is a proposal at Southport to build a beautiful, 12-story, 350-room, four-star hotel, complete with an 30,000 square foot convention hall.

In the Sunset area of the Highlands, work continues to move forward on the construction of a new library along with a new 111-unit, market-rate apartment complex. This is the first phase of a comprehensive effort to build new housing options in this area to serve all income levels.

It replaces sub-standard, war-time housing units for low income families with quality housing, mixed in with market-rate housing. The overall effort, under the direction of the Renton Housing Authority, will actually increase the number of affordable housing units by 2 1/2 times.

This redevelopment plan includes a future 3.7-acre neighborhood park adjacent to the library for residents to enjoy.

Work will begin soon on the construction of a new $2 million dollar pedestrian project that will provide a safe connection for residents walking between the Sunset Area and The Landing.

This public-private partnership in the Sunset area will result in improving the quality of life for residents of this community, and will certainly be a catalyst for more private investments. This revitalization project received the 2013 Governor’s Smart Communities Award.

Revitalization of our downtown core continues to be a priority. We are working with local property owners, businesses, the chamber, residents and potential developers to move forward on creating a district that becomes a destination location.

We envision more multi-family housing opportunities along with more restaurants, coffee shops, and small retail outlets. We want to create a vibrant, pedestrian-friendly atmosphere with outdoor dining and more activities planned in the downtown throughout the year.
The property that formerly included Jet City Espresso has been purchased by a Bellevue company that plans to build a multi-story apartment complex with retail space on the main floor.

The former Renton Western Wear building has been sold to house a high-end paper products company which will locate their corporate offices on the mezzanine level, and look to possibly lease to a brew pub or restaurant on the main floor.

So in closing, I want you to know that the city council and I, and our very dedicated employees, are committed to providing quality, cost-effective government services for all of our residents and businesses.

The state of our city is strong. By working together, we will succeed in making Renton the best city in King County.

Thank you.

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