2010 State of the City

March 10, 2010

Good afternoon,

I want to thank members of the Renton City Council, distinguished guests and Chamber members for being here today.

And special thanks to the Renton Chamber of Commerce for hosting this event and for your ongoing contributions to our community.

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

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

I appreciate the opportunity to present to the City Council and our business partners, my third State of the City since becoming the Mayor of Renton.

There has been a common theme in all three of these presentations.

I had only been in office 79 days when I gave my first State of the City in 2008, and the city had just annexed the Cascade/Benson community, growing our city by 25% to nearly 84,000 people. There was already a lot of focus nationally on the economic crisis that hadn’t yet consumed our region.

However, at that time a recently prepared economic forecast for Renton still showed promise for the upcoming year in new housing starts, business growth and job opportunities.

It wasn’t too long after this presentation that we received our first dose of reality. It was obvious that we would not be able to meet our budgeted expenses for the year as revenues began to fall off dramatically. We had to cut expenses and we began to prepare for 2009, which looked even worse.

As you know, last year was disastrous for the nation’s economy. Unemployment reached record highs as did home foreclosures and business bankruptcies. Knowing that we were facing a difficult year, our department heads made significant cuts to our proposed budget. I froze most hiring even though we had a large number of unfilled positions. And this was still not enough.

Entering 2009 with a very conservative revenue forecast, it became obvious early on that we were in for another year of major challenges, as actual receipts continued to come in below our forecasts. Once again, my staff had to come together to figure out what needed to be done in order to balance our budget for the year. And thanks to our employees who all agreed to pay concessions, we were able to finish the year without job losses.

Three months into this year, we’re beginning to see a light at the end of the tunnel, the economy is beginning to show some signs of a slow recovery, and we once again feel that we’re nearing the bottom of this recession.

However, I believe this nation has entered a new era where growth will be slower and more methodical.  Jobs recovery will be slow and public attitudes on what’s important in life will likely change.  Once again, it will be a privilege to have a good job, rather than a right.

While we know it would be easy for a city facing tough times to just try to ride out the storm, preserve what we have, and not try anything new—that is not the Renton way.

We have begun the process of “re-inventing” ourselves—deciding which services we’ll be able to continue providing in the future.  We are prioritizing our workplan and looking for every possible way to improve efficiency and service levels to our citizens with fewer dollars.  For every service we provide, my goal is to explain to your satisfaction “what” we do, “why” we do it, and to measure “how well” we are doing it.  

For our 2010 budget, we embarked on an ambitious “priorities of government process” to make hard choices and determine the most efficient and cost-effective way to meet high levels of service. Led by our department heads, we used a zero-based budget process that helped us identify all services and all costs, and our employees prioritized the vital services that we needed to maintain, if possible.

This resulted in actual cost-reductions of 3.5% of our general operating budget and the elimination of 12% of our workforce. Unfortunately, this also meant laying off 35 of our full-time employees, and about 80 seasonal and part-time staff.

The 2010 budget totals $212 million. Of that total, $98 million goes to the General Fund, which pays for police, fire services, roads, water, parks and most other city services and programs, with the remainder dedicated to capital budgets and other operating funds. More than half of the expenditures in the General Fund are dedicated to public safety. Other services—including street maintenance, parks, recreation, community services, planning, and economic development—account for 30% of the expenditures, 5% goes to service our debt payments, while internal support services make up the remainder.

Our budget this year maintains our commitment to continue providing a safe and quality community for our residents.

Living within our budget is not only mandated by state law, but it’s the right thing to do.

All of you in this room are forced to reduce your costs in order for your businesses to survive, and many residents are struggling to make ends meet due to job losses, cuts in benefits and retirement plans. I was pleased that the Council agreed we should not impact our citizens by raising property taxes during these challenging times even though it would have helped ease some of our budget pains.

I want to recognize and thank our department heads who are here today for their tremendous efforts in finding ways to serve the public under very challenging times (Ask them to stand).

Enough on the budget.

I'm happy to report to you that the State of our City is good!

We accomplished some exciting things last year.  I’d like to share a few of those accomplishments and what I believe this year and the future has in store for our city.

I have continued to emphasize the importance of reducing crime in our city and working to make people feel safe throughout our community.

We’ve made great progress.

First, I want to emphasize that Renton is a very safe city. We have one of the lowest crime rates in south King County and, more importantly, we have not been experiencing the gang violence, shootings and homicides that have impacted most of our neighboring cities.

We continue to look for new ways to reduce crime. I am committed to finding long-term solutions to fight crime with a multipronged approach and resolving both immediate problems and addressing the root causes.

Our police department implemented an innovative crime analysis strategy where our officers have proactively identified repeat offenders and have built strong cases against them, assuring longer prison sentences.

For instance, officers from our Special Operations Division recently identified two active car prowlers who were also committing similar crimes in Bellevue and Tukwila. Our officers followed these suspects for over two days with more than 16 hours of surveillance and were able to catch them in the act of breaking into numerous vehicles, resulting in multiple felony charges.

For many years now we have been discussing safety at our transit center. People do not feel safe at the transit center and we continue to address that concern. We have increased police presence at the transit center and we are expanding our video surveillance capabilities.

We are also working on new ordinances that will give our officers more tools to deal with those causing problems at the center.

We have reinstated School Resource Officers and are collaborating with the Renton School District to enhance safety in schools.

I can’t say that our photo enforcement program has been popular with everyone, but it has been effective. (How many in the room have received a greeting from the city?) We issued about 27,000 tickets last year for those running red lights or speeding in our school zones. Our analysis indicates that citations are going down as motorists become more aware of these cameras. Violations have decreased in camera-controlled intersections, and speeds are dropping in our school zones, as people comply with posted speed limits in these areas.  It’s interesting to note that approximately 60% of the violators are non-residents who use our streets as a freeway bypass. The 2010 budget directs that the revenues from our photo enforcement program be used to pay for the program and help fund our traffic division this year, and these revenues have also allowed us to increase our enforcement in our neighborhoods where we receive ongoing complaints.

We broke ground on a regional misdemeanant jail facility that will save our taxpayers millions of dollars in jail costs for years to come. 

This was a collaborative partnership with six other south King County cities that will result in better service and lower costs than any other local jail in this region.

Through our anti-graffiti campaign, we have installed surveillance cameras in hot-spots and passed a new ordinance that helps us prosecute offenders and also seeks restitution. Several offenders have been captured and we have collected some restitution. I want to thank the volunteers in our community who have been very helpful in keeping our neighborhoods clean of graffiti.

We started 2009 with the news that the winter storm had damaged the right abutment of the Howard Hanson Dam, increasing the potential of flooding of the Green River.  In an extreme storm event, Renton is vulnerable to potential flooding, so we joined with Kent, Auburn, Tukwila and the county to address these hazards and lobby state and federal officials for assistance. Our emergency preparedness and economic development staff worked very hard with the business community to make sure that we’re prepared in the event of any flooding.

But we need a permanent fix, which includes building a new wall at the dam and also rebuilding levees along the Green River in Kent and Auburn. This permanent fix will cost more than a billion dollars, but the potential impact to the state’s economy if a flood occurs is many times that number.  We lobbied hard in Olympia this past month and successfully passed a bill that helps businesses get supplemental insurance that will help some of the businesses.  I’ll be going to Washington, D.C. next week to continue to lobby our Congressional delegation to fund a permanent fix.

Besides flooding, fires dominated the headlines in our city last year! We responded to two spectacular five-alarm fires that occurred within a three-week period. Our response was tremendous. Fire fighters saved the life of a trapped resident in a downtown apartment and contained both fires to the buildings of origin.

We celebrated Renton Heart Month in February and, once again, provided free blood pressure and blood sugar screenings throughout our city to over 4,000 citizens.

You continue to hear that working together is one of our strengths in Renton. A great example of citizens, businesses and government coming together for a common cause is Renton’s first Off-leash Dog Park. This park is very popular and would not have happened without this collaboration.

When we talk about community, Renton never lacks for people who will step up when there is a need. From serving on our boards and commissions to helping clean up our parks, hundreds of volunteers provide their energy and service to make our community a better place.

Last year volunteers gave over 60,000 hours of service to the city, contributing the equivalent of over $1.2 million worth of work.

I cannot say enough about the generosity and dedication of our local nonprofits, foundations, businesses, and residents in our city. Renton Community Foundation, Friends of Renton Schools, the Salvation Army of Renton, and various service clubs have stepped up to raise funds, create innovative partnerships and find a way to lend a hand to all those in need. Here’s a great example:

Bob Bridge, please stand up. Bob is a successful business owner who is dedicated to give back to this community. He has contributed a significant amount of personal time and money to the Renton School District over the past several years.  And now he is leading the fund-raising effort for a new foundation called Friends of Renton Schools. His goal is to raise $ 1.5 million to support education and fund critical programs for students in the Renton School District. If he hasn’t yet talked to you, he will! Bob, thank you for your commitment to this community.  

It’s very inspirational to see that the younger generation in our community has come together to get involved and make a difference.

The “Next Curve”– made up of enthusiastic members of the next generation—has formed a new group under the Renton Community Foundation, and is ready to show their hand at philanthropy.

This spirit of volunteerism, philanthropy and partnerships will be even more critical as we tackle the future challenges and opportunities in the Renton community.

Our community is well known for our celebrations and special events.

We had over 4,000 people a week visiting the Renton Farmers Market last summer, and we’re extending this year’s market by two weeks to run through September.

We had record attendance at our festivals and events from the Fourth of July and IKEA Renton River Days, to the Return-to-Renton Car Show and Clam Lights at Coulon Park. 

We have strengthened and expanded the Neighborhood Program, which won national recognition at the Neighborhoods USA conference. We now have 59 recognized neighborhoods that we work with throughout the year.

We continued to provide our summer lunch program to children in need, and we were able to help elderly residents stay in their homes through our Housing Repair Assistance Program.

And thanks to a $75,000 grant from First Financial Northwest, we were able to build a new fitness room at the Senior Activity Center. Join me in thanking Victor Karpiak and members of his board from First Financial Northwest for all they do in support of this community.

As I mentioned earlier, due to the budget constraints, we had to make tough choices and had to cut several programs including some popular Community Services programs. Despite reductions in some of our parks and recreation programs, fostering a strong and healthy community remains our priority and we will continue to look for ways to improve the quality of life in our community.

We had lots of success with our streets and transportation projects this past year. On time and under budget–those are the magic words that describe the construction of the Duvall Avenue/Coal Creek Parkway project.

For years the residents of the Highlands neighborhood have been waiting for their deteriorating sidewalks to be replaced. Last month we began a comprehensive effort of sidewalk replacement in the Sunset area of the Highlands.

We secured a $2 million federal stimulus grant for the Shattuck Avenue project and collaborated with King County and other cities to secure an $800,000 federal grant for our trail system.

Clean, healthy air; high quality drinking water; and trails and green open spaces are key to keeping our city a great place to live and work. Expanding our tree canopy, creating a better trail system, and protecting our environment provides many benefits to the city and boosts property values by making neighborhoods greener.

We made great strides and received several awards recognizing our efforts to protect the environment.

We celebrated Arbor Day and Earth Day and received the “Tree City USA” recognition. Maplewood Golf Course was recognized for Environmental Stewardship by Audubon International. We completed construction on Springbrook Creek Wetland Mitigation Bank and opened the interpretive trail.

We completed our Trails and Bicycle Master Plan and are starting the Parks, Recreation and Open Space Plan to better understand the needs of our community and to make sure we are prepared for the future.  

We implemented new solid waste collection service and a state-of-the-art recycling program. Our program received national recognition, and we received the 2009 Public Agency Recycler of the Year Award.

Since launching this program, Renton has reduced garbage by over 45 percent and has recycled 18,500 tons of materials that normally would end up in a landfill. I want to recognize Waste Management staff who are here today.

We are launching a new initiative this year to promote a healthy community. This includes participating in the C-7 New Energy Partnership, a partnership of seven cities in the Puget Sound region committed to reducing environmental impacts.

We are putting federal stimulus dollars to work to help the environment and save us money at the local level. Renton was the beneficiary of more than $600,000 in block grant funds that we are using to install more efficient L-E-D traffic signals and upgrade the air conditioning system in our old city hall building. Puget Sound Energy (PSE) is also partnering with us in that effort, contributing 50% of the project cost–a project that will save us about $70,000 a year in electricity.

We’re also using this grant and partnering with Puget Sound Energy to help Renton residents compare their energy usage with their neighbors and others in the city with similar size homes and learn how to make their homes more efficient. And PSE recently gave $25,000 to assist with the installation of a solar power system at Hazen High School.

Dave Namura, Andy Wappler and their colleagues with PSE are here with us today. Please join me in acknowledging their contribution to our community.
We dedicate a lot of our time planning for the future of Renton. These plans create a foundation, a starting place, and a road map for the city's goals and policies. They provide the platform on which we are building our future. 

Last year we launched several major plans including the City Center Plan, the Sunset Area Revitalization Plan, the Renton History Museum Master Plan and the Arts & Culture Master Plan. By engaging citizens to participate in the process we are starting to create a picture of a city that is a leader in growth management, parks and recreational opportunities, public safety, human services, the arts, cultural diversity, transportation and housing.

At the core of our service to our community is customer service.  We need to make it easier for you to do business with the city and we have taken some important steps to facilitate that.

Some of those improvements include easier online registration for our recreation programs, applying online for permits, and paying fees online for many services such as court payments, licenses, utility bills and more. You can even check online to view crime reports by neighborhoods.

Good communications builds community and we’ve also made several enhancements to our communication strategies. We’ve added new features on our website, continue to keep our residents informed through our newsletter, and continue to make improvements on our cable Channel 21.

We are also actively using Facebook and Twitter. I’ll admit that I am not a frequent user but I believe we have over 2,500 fans on our city page. My staff here wants to know—are you a fan yet?

We are aggressively pursuing a partnership with Google as part of the company’s “Fiber for Communities” project.  Our city is the ideal proving ground for Google’s groundbreaking fiber network, which will provide Internet connections at a speed that is 100 times faster than any current connection. Whether we’re building the best selling commercial jets in aviation history, or opening the largest, state-of-the-art emergency treatment facility on the West Coast, Renton has been at the forefront of innovation. It is only fitting for Google to choose Renton to launch a technology that will catapult us all into a new era of discovery. Please go to our website—rentonwa.gov—and nominate Renton as the preferred city for this project.

Our business community has certainly been affected by the economy. But I do have some reassuring news and some success stories to share with you today.
The Boeing Company has always had a pivotal place in Renton’s economy. Boeing has 2,100 outstanding 737 orders, worth more than $157 billion. Produced continuously in Renton since 1968, the 737 is the most successful airplane in the history of commercial aviation. Boeing’s Renton operations provides 20,000 jobs to our area. Boeing also launched its P-8A submarine hunter, a $44 billion program.

We look forward to continuing a long-term and successful partnership with Boeing and the continued success of the 737.

I would like to recognize Shaunta Hyde who is here representing The Boeing Company.

Several of you attended the grand opening of Valley Medical Center’s Emergency Services Tower. This new Level III Trauma center can treat over 100,000 patients a year. They also opened an Urgent Care Clinic at The Landing a few weeks ago. We are fortunate to have Valley Medical Center to meet the medical needs of this growing community. It is my privilege to acknowledge Rich Roodman from Valley Medical Center and members of his board.

Several new tenants opened at The Landing last year and most of the merchants report that they are doing well. There are now 11 restaurants and several new retailers, including C’est la Vie and Poggi Bonsi, a new coffee shop called Caffe Felice, and a new sportswear store called Balanced Athlete. We expect to see many more openings at The Landing this year.

And the Seahawks are sponsoring a 12K run at The Landing on April 11. There is also a 5k walk and run, both that will draw many people from throughout the region.

Talking about the Seahawks, they had their first training camp in Renton last year and brought over 12,000 visitors to our community. Expect to see the 12th Man flag fly high all over our city again this summer.

We have experienced some recent business closures in the downtown. A number of restaurants were forced to close their doors, and several plans for redevelopment have been delayed due to the economy. Despite this, there is a vibrant group of young entrepreneurs in our downtown who are working hard to attract customers. Several hundred people are attending the monthly “Block Parties” on the first Fridays.

There have been several other businesses that have either moved to Renton or expanded their presence here. Cedar River Corporate Park, Renton’s first LEED silver, “green” office park, is now 80% leased.

A number of new businesses have opened at the Renton Village, thanks to the excitement created by the new Uwajimaya store, and there are several new businesses that have made significant investments at the Cascade Shopping Center in the Cascade/Benson neighborhood. 

Now more than ever, it is critical to help small businesses survive and stay afloat.  Renton’s Small Business Development Center (SBDC) continues to provide valuable, no-cost services to small businesses during this critical time.

A very important decision that faced our city was the future of library services. Renton residents care about the library services they receive, and it was very important that they have access to high quality services.  But budget constraints called for a quarter million dollar cut in staffing and materials this year. We recognized the need to explore options for improving our local library service and gave our residents the option to annex to the King County Library System, one of the best in the nation. The community voted to join KCLS, which immediately resulted in several improvements including increased library hours each week and an expanded library collection, and plus our library staff’s jobs were saved. Still to come will be improved technology and building improvements. The council will be considering the future construction of two new library facilities in our community.

Annexation of unincorporated areas is another complex decision facing our city.  While we welcome annexation areas that desire to be part of Renton, we’re not willing to negatively impact the service levels in our city if the annexation cannot cover the cost of providing services. 

In November, Fairwood residents will vote whether or not to annex to Renton. We welcome them to be a part of this city and we have developed a plan of providing services that will not impact service levels to our current residents.

We have also received a citizen petition to annex the West Hill/Skyway area.

With an ideal location between Renton and Seattle, spectacular views and a community spirit and ethic of partnership, West Hill is home to 15,000 residents.
Yet West Hill has its challenges.  Neglected infrastructure, high crime, and significant housing and human services needs require a lot of resources, more than our city can provide at this time. But we are working with county, state and federal governments to explore funding options.

Renton believes West Hill is poised for transformation and we can make a difference if we form a partnership and fund a comprehensive pilot project for community revitalization.

A five-year partnership and investment could have remarkable results. Multiple partners—public, non-profit and community–must make a sustained investment to bring about change and focus on the root causes of inequity in West Hill. This partnership would provide opportunities for a better future for the community: safe neighborhoods and gathering places; improved educational attainment; and development of safe, affordable housing.

I recently invited partners from various agencies including government, the school district, and the private sector to meet, discuss and review options to move forward on this pilot. While I am very pleased with our efforts to date, the work has just begun and we have a long road ahead.

I want to share some specific priorities the city is focusing on this year in our ongoing effort to be true to our vision of being the center of opportunity in the Puget Sound region.

Let’s start with infrastructure. I believe that it is vital that we have the right infrastructure in place now to serve the needs of our future. We will continue to work with the state and regional transportation organizations to make critical investments to create an affective transportation system that allows goods and people to move efficiently.

One of the largest projects that we are working on is redevelopment of a large section of Rainier Avenue, a $41 million project with 95% funding from external sources. The improvements to Rainier Avenue will add new north and south bound, business-access, transit lanes; improve traffic flow and enhance safety; and add 8-foot wide sidewalks, lighting and landscaping, making the corridor much more pedestrian friendly.

And we have other important transportation and streets projects that we have prioritized this year—from a comprehensive program that addresses our sidewalk needs, to designing future street overlay and rehabilitation, to design work of the pedestrian connection from the Highlands to The Landing.
We also continue to work with the Washington State Department of Transportation to make I-405 improvements including additional lanes and a new interchange at Talbot Road.

Next month, the City Council and I will spend time prioritizing our capital and infrastructure needs, along with possible funding options. We will be looking at transportation projects, maintenance and other facilities, new parks and recreation facilities in areas that are underserved, and other amenities that—when constructed or developed—will significantly add to our quality of life.  From this initial meeting, we hope over the summer to develop a six-year strategy that we can begin to implement in 2011.

One of my goals is to work harder to engage our diverse population that is part of our city and makes Renton special. This has been a priority for me and members of the council for some time.

Renton has a very diverse population base. The Renton School District reports that there are more than 80 languages spoken in the district. Many of these households are typically underserved by traditional mainstream avenues, are often at higher risk of being disproportionately affected by disasters, have greater need for human services and community services, and are less engaged in the civic process, their government and the community. 

We recently hosted a forum to establish connections with many of the culturally diverse communities in Renton. Nearly 50 community liaisons that represent a dozen organizations and groups attended our first meeting, and we were able to establish a link with these leaders so we can work together to build meaningful relationships, help their members be better prepared for emergencies, and celebrate our diversity.

We understand that while recessions may be national or even international in scope, they can be deeper in some places and less so in others.  And it has always been our goal to emphasize economic development and foster an environment where businesses can invest in themselves and their future, and find success in Renton.

As we look ahead I am confident that we will see new growth and development at a slow but steady pace. We are already seeing some wonderful redevelopment and new investment opportunities.

Downtown Renton will soon be home to a regional veterans’ complex—the Compass Center that offers affordable housing to veterans. Construction on this three-story complex is expected to be completed this summer and will include 35,280 square feet of affordable veteran housing and 8,500 square feet of retail. Luther’s Table coffee and wine bar will be one of the retail tenants.

Our vision for future economic development is simple–make Renton the home of the businesses of the future:  green economy, healthcare, high-tech industry. And we are working hard to make this future vision a reality. We are not just waiting for the economy to turn around and development to take place at its own pace. Our Community and Economic Development staff is working diligently to create innovative solutions and be a catalyst for growth.
Later this year we expect construction to start for Hawk’s Landing, an upscale hotel at the Pan Abode site. We have successfully lobbied for $1.7 million in state funding for infrastructure that is needed for this project to be successfully completed.

Renton still has some amazing waterfront property on Lake Washington. We hope to see significant redevelopment of the Quendall Terminals site, located next to the Seahawks. We have made great progress on plans for the site and have secured approximately $10 million in Local Revitalization Financing for providing infrastructure to the area. 

We also continue to foster development efforts on south Lake Washington and support development efforts at Southport.

The Federal Aviation Administration has its regional headquarters in Renton, and they are looking to expand their facilities. Renton is one of the cities being considered for this expansion, and this is one of the most important retention efforts that we’re working on. If they choose Renton, we have the potential for 1,950 FAA jobs. But, more importantly, if they move it’s a potential loss of 1,400 existing jobs. We are doing everything in our power to keep this important employer here in Renton.

The saying goes “adversity doesn’t build character, it reveals it” and I believe that in these times Renton’s strong character has not just been revealed, it has taken us through, and allowed us to do good work in difficult times. The character of the people of Renton is demonstrated through their willingness to step up and do what’s necessary, their commitment to working as a team to meet challenges, and their desire to keep looking ahead and planning for a great future.

Over these past few years, I believe Renton has fundamentally changed.  The spirit of optimism, the culture of entrepreneurship, and the role of leadership are part of our city fabric.  It is dyed deep into who we are.

I am optimistic about the future. I am optimistic because people in our community are willing to step up and do what is necessary; because it is through partnerships that we tackle tough issues; and because we never quit planning for the future of this great community.

Renton has a very bright future. Thank you for being part of it.

Denis Law

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