2008 State of the City

Mayor Denis Law

Good afternoon -

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

And thank you, Marci, for that nice introduction. I am honored to be Renton’s Mayor and pleased to be giving my first State of the City report. I want to take a moment to thank the Renton Chamber of Commerce — not only for hosting this event but for your ongoing contributions to our community.  I know first-hand how active the Chamber is in promoting businesses and offering valuable services and programs to its members. The Chamber is committed to advocating and supporting a vibrant economy for Renton, and is able to harness the tremendous potential of private enterprise. It’s hard to believe that it’s been 8 years since I had the opportunity to serve as the Chamber’s chairman of the board. I look forward to working with Bill Taylor, Jay Leviton and the Chamber Board as we continue to promote Renton as a great place to conduct business.

I am truly fortunate to have the opportunity to work with an outstanding City Council — devoted to making policy that protects and improves the quality of life for our citizens. It’s my pleasure to recognize those who are here with us today:
Council President Marcie Palmer, Councilmembers Randy Corman, King Parker, Don Persson, and your newest representatives, Greg Taylor and Rich Zwicker. Rich also serves on the Renton Technical College Board of Trustees. Councilmember Terri Briere is away on a well-deserved vacation. 

We also have former Council President Toni Nelson here with us today. Toni has spent more than twenty years serving our community.

We are also very fortunate to have Senator Margarita Prentice here with us.  Thanks for working with us on many issues and caring about Renton.

I am also pleased to welcome, our neighbors from Kent, Mayor Suzette Cooke, and Councilmember Deborah Ranniger. 

We also have Tom Young from Congressman Dave Reichert’s office here today. We appreciate your commitment to the Renton community and your willingness to work with us on important issues facing our residents. 

2008 is a year of opportunity — a year in which we continue Renton’s ascent as one of the most dynamic cities in the Puget Sound region. It is exactly 79 days since I took office as the Mayor of Renton and in this short time, our city has grown by 25 percent and is now home to over 77,000 residents. On March 1st, the Benson Hill communities became part of Renton and started receiving local government services from the city instead of King County.  Renton is now the fifth largest city in King County and the 11th largest in Washington State.

We are known for our quality services and public amenities including police and fire protection, street maintenance, libraries, parks, recreational opportunities, neighborhood programs, and thriving business opportunities. With this annexation, and as we continue to experience growth, we will maintain our emphasis on quality development, quality service and quality of life. We will provide the highest levels of service possible to all our residents. We will work to be effective, while emphasizing greater accountability and efficiency at City Hall. And we will focus on results and clearly demonstrate to our citizens what we are accomplishing on their behalf.

It has been a very busy and exciting time at City Hall, especially with the tasks preparing us to provide service to our new residents. I would be remiss if I didn’t take a moment to thank city employees, including our talented department administrators, for the quality service they provide our residents every day. This city is very fortunate to have such an excellent team of administrators and staff. It has been an eye-opening experience for me to see first-hand everything that is involved in providing services to this city. We have over 700 dedicated employees and I am honored to be the leader of this team.

Renton has a grand tradition of partnerships: working together to get things done that would not have been possible to do alone. The key to our future as a city lies in our ability to harness the power of partnerships — working together to meet the challenges ahead to build a stronger community. In addition to the Chamber and our business leaders, these partnerships include our school district, Renton Technical College and Valley Medical Center.

It is critical for the success of our schools and the future of our students that the community and our state legislature provide the resources and support needed to ensure the continuing excellence of our school programs and make sure students receive the best quality education.
It’s my pleasure to recognize Dr. Mary Alice Heuschel, Superintendent of the Renton School District, School Board President Al Talley, and School Board Members Marcie Maxwell, Lynn Demarais, David Merrill and Todd Franceshina.

The work that you do to foster education and help our kids succeed is remarkable. We deeply value our partnership and look forward to working together to support our schools.

It has been some time since we have acknowledged the contributions of Valley Medical Center, one of our key partners in the community.  While recent media coverage has focused all the attention on internal challenges, it’s important to take a moment to recognize what Valley Medical truly brings to our community.

Valley Medical Center is the largest nonprofit healthcare provider between Seattle and Tacoma, serving over 400,000 residents. As our second largest employer, with more than 2,500 employees in Renton, Valley’s commitment to the community and continued dedication to patients, employees, community partners, and our economy is invaluable.

Year after year, Valley Medical has received numerous awards in recognition of its world-class healthcare services. From neuroscientists, to joint replacement surgeons, Valley Medical has one of the best teams in the world.

 Last year we celebrated the opening of its new state-of-the-art Surgical Center.  And we’re eagerly awaiting the completion of the new Emergency Services Tower. This new facility that will house the Level III Trauma center, will feature a 45,000-square-foot emergency department — the size of a football field, and will be able to treat over 100,000 patients a year. In the event of any major disaster — we can count on Valley Medical being there to meet the medical needs of our community.

Rich Roodman is out of town but it is my honor and privilege to acknowledge Board Members Don Jacobson and Sue Bowman who are here today representing the hospital.

Another example of an incredible partnership that highlights what can be done through collaboration is Renton Technical College. This wonderful institution provides high quality training and education, giving our students the skills and opportunity they need to enter the workforce and be competitive for family-wage jobs. Together we are providing our students with the training they need and our community with a wealth of talent for the future.

Dr. Don Bressler is here from Renton Technical College. Thank you for being part of Renton’s success.

Building a quality community is always more achievable with the help of private companies and community leaders.

I’d like to take a moment to acknowledge the tremendous service of local business leader, Bob Bridge. Bob was recently quoted saying, "For those of us who are fortunate enough to have been successful in business, now it's time to give back."

Bob lives by these words. He decided to do his part and make sure that every child has the opportunity to learn. His innovative efforts to encourage students to improve their skills in math and to reward our teachers are paying off. Bob is also a major sponsor for Communities In Schools of Renton, a wonderful partnership that is changing the lives of many students by providing them with the opportunity to achieve their maximum potential.

I’d like to share with you the outstanding contribution of Boeing employees to the Renton community. Last year, Boeing employees in Renton donated over 18,000 pounds of food to our food bank, gave over $8,000 to Renton facilities, and volunteered for more than 700 hours of community service. During the holiday season, they stuffed 725 stockings with gifts, served 630 children and  adopted more than 300 families and seniors.

I’d also like to acknowledge the tremendous support of IKEA and First Savings Bank to this community. For years, IKEA has played a very important role in our community and has made ongoing contributions to local schools, civic causes and celebrations, including sponsoring Renton River Days.

And thanks to First Savings Bank, we have been able to expand our Housing Repair Assistance Program that is vitally important to residents who need help to maintain their homes, especially our senior citizens.

Despite a volatile economy, the financial “State of the City” is solid at this time. Last year, when I was a member of the City Council, we approved the 2008 budget. Now it is my pleasure, as Mayor, to implement the many plans that it includes.

The city’s 2008 budget provides a solid financial plan. The total budget this year is over $230 million, of which nearly $12 million is related to serving the Benson Hill annexation. Of that $230 million, $97 million pays for police, fire, parks, maintenance and other operating expenses. The rest of the budget provides for major construction projects and other services such as the utilities, airport and public amenities including our very popular golf course.

As property values continue to rise and the cost of living continues to increase, we recognize that there are more and more demands on people’s limited resources. We are working hard to limit tax increases. Instead, we are focusing on increasing our efficiencies and promoting economic development so that we maintain a firm financial footing and continue to provide high quality services to our community. 
While there is a fair amount of doom and gloom and understandable concern across the nation regarding the economy, a recent economic forecast prepared by Douglas Pedersen and Associates indicates that Renton’s vibrant economy is expected to continue to expand.
Growth in Renton’s population, housing stock, and retail spending has far outpaced comparable measures for King County and the Puget Sound economy. New construction in the city has been between two and three times the regional average over the past three years, and Renton’s population has nearly doubled over the last 16 years, from 39,000 in 1990 to more than 77,000 this year.

Employment growth for Renton for 2007-2009, is expected to outpace that of King County and Puget Sound.  We continue to make great strides here in business recruitment and retention efforts. There have been increased numbers of jobs in wholesale, retail, and business services, including many diverse, small and medium-size companies.

And Renton’s assessed valuation has increased almost 100 percent over the last seven years, from $5.0 billion in 2001 to $9.5 billion in 2008.  
Thanks to our strong economy, we continue to forge ahead. Renton’s expected increase in total taxable retail sales is among the highest in the region and was over 7% in 2007.

No mention of Renton’s economy is complete without talking about The Boeing Company. In 2007, Boeing had another record year for jetliner orders, including its workhorse, the Renton-built 737, which enjoyed its strongest sales year ever last year. Unfilled orders exceed 1,900 airplanes, worth more than $140 billion at list prices, according to Boeing. Produced continuously in Renton since 1968, the Boeing 737 is by far the most successful jet in the history of commercial aviation. Boeing’s Renton operations provide 20,000 jobs to our area.

Another company from Renton that is making international headlines is PACCAR, which recently celebrated 100 years in Renton and achieved its second highest revenue and net income last year. PACCAR has made major investments in diesel engines, hybrid vehicles, and production efficiencies and has set the stage for further growth. With more than 1,200 employees in Renton, PACCAR and its Kenworth division is the city’s second largest private employer.

As most of you know, Renton has long been a city with vision. From the very beginning our leaders saw that the possibilities were many and the hope for a brighter future strong.

Great vision is only one necessary part to success. Achieving our goals for a brighter future takes a collective effort. Over the years, our City Council has demonstrated that leadership and commitment. In 1995, the City Council created the city’s Business Plan that set the foundation, developed a vision and put the plans in place to create the thriving Renton that we all enjoy today. And every year we work together to review and update the Business Plan to make sure that we are still on course.

Looking at our successes and accomplishments gives us an opportunity to ask the question, how are we doing? Did we achieve goals that we established in our business plan? What are changes and improvements that we need to make?

One of the lofty goals that we set in our business plan is to promote citywide economic development. We continue to see strong development in our city and several great projects that will change the face of Renton are coming to fruition.

Only last month, we brought billions of dollars to town! I would like to take credit for that but actually, the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco opened for business at their new state-of-the-art building.

I’m sure you saw that Renton made its presence felt at the Superbowl!  With our community partners and the Renton Community Marketing Campaign we aired a television commercial during the Super Bowl pre-game to showcase our city and our “Ahead of the Curve” brand.
We are counting down to the grand opening of the Seahawks Headquarters and Training Facilities. While it is certainly exciting to see the spectacular 200,000-square-foot waterfront facility, which is one of the largest facilities in the NFL, the big news is what this brings to our city. Hundreds of jobs that will add to our employment base, thousands of fans who will come to Renton and boost our economy, and immeasurable community pride and prestige that it brings to Renton!

Every day we see new stores opening at The Landing; PetSmart being the latest, which opened just this past weekend. Next month Red Robin will open, and in May, Daphne's Greek Cafe will open its first restaurant in Washington. Throughout the summer you will be seeing new stores and restaurants open regularly. This will culminate in October, when the 14-screen theater and several new restaurants will open for business.

Harvest Partners continues to hold the names of their prospective tenants very close to the vest, but I’m told we can expect an upscale bistro and wine bar, sushi and Thai restaurants, as well as a pizzeria and microbrewery. When complete, the 46-acre retail/residential development will employ over 2,500 people. Since construction started at The Landing, we have already seen over $700,000 in revenues from construction and retail sales taxes.

And there is more. Frontier and Columbia Banks are building new branches in Renton and several auto dealers will soon cut the ribbons on their new facilities. We will also have the largest Harley Davidson dealer in the state, which will soon begin construction on East Valley Highway.
The impact of these developments is tremendous – not only does it make our city a showplace for our region but it provides us with fiscal sustainability for the future.

As I mentioned earlier, annexation has been the focus at City Hall. At 12:01 a.m., March 1, we welcomed 16,272 new residents into Renton. To get a sense of the magnitude of this annexation, it was as if overnight Renton added a whole new city the size of Woodinville and Duvall combined, to its boundaries.

At the stroke of midnight, our police officers, firefighters and city staff from other departments were out in force.  Each and every department is working hard to ensure that we provide the highest levels of service to our new residents while maintaining quality service for all our residents and businesses. 

One of the most important goals in our business plan is to promote neighborhood revitalization. We have taken several steps to support the vitality of our neighborhoods, create healthy and livable communities, and keep our neighborhoods and our city safe. 

In the Highlands, our emphasis to restore collaboration and community participation is really beginning to pay dividends. We had a tremendous turn-out at a Highlands meeting last month where community members participated to share their vision for their neighborhood. By working together we initiated the second phase of the Highlands Task Force to make recommendations for community investment and redevelopment in the neighborhood.

Our neighborhood program continues to thrive, and last year we hosted 14 picnics serving 34 neighborhoods. We also funded over $80,000 in neighborhood grants that facilitated beautification projects and improvements in 12 neighborhoods. Most importantly, we were able to help forge relationships with our neighborhoods and get people excited because they are actually part of the process.

We are working hard to ensure the safety, health and security of our citizens. Last year, the City Council authorized special patrols to emphasize traffic safety in neighborhoods.  As a result, the total number of traffic stops increased by almost 74% compared to 2006.

People need to feel safe in their homes and when they are out in the community. I will continue to emphasize crime-reduction and safety in downtown, the Highlands and all our neighborhoods.

And once again this past February, we implemented Renton Heart Month. Renton Heart Month helps inform citizens about heart attack risks and how to quickly and properly respond to warning signs.

This year we had nearly twice as many blood sugar and blood pressure screenings. We were also able to alert nearly 500 people who had high blood pressure and nearly 100 with high blood sugar readings. We identified one child with a blood sugar level at 200 and one adult with a blood sugar of 500, both potentially life threatening. 

We have a unique and vibrant city that is known for its wonderful parks, open spaces, abundant natural beauty, numerous recreational opportunities and entertainment, and diverse cultural heritage.

Last year we completed construction of Heritage Park, a beautiful park in the Highlands that embodies the history of the area and provides residents with a wonderful gathering place for their families. We also completed significant improvements to the North Highlands Community Center, Tiffany Park recreation building, and the facilities at Teasdale and Kiwanis Parks. We also added new lighting at the skate park and at the Henry Moses Aquatic Center to provide twilight swim sessions.

We have almost completed the master plan for our libraries and will soon begin the planning for the museum. We secured a state grant for $200,000 to begin work on a shoreline master plan.

We also paid particular attention to our citizens who need our help and assistance to meet their basic needs. Thanks to a significant donation from First Savings Bank, we greatly expanded the Housing Repair Assistance Program. (I would like to ask First Savings Chairman, Victor Karpiac, to please stand and be recognized.)

One of the most important things we did last year — which we do well in Renton — was to have fun! We had festivals and celebrations where we proclaimed Renton’s extraordinary vitality. From Renton’s 4th of July celebration, to the Farmers Market, to Renton River Days, to Holiday Lights at Coulon Park and Piazza Park, we had events and activities that brought our families together to enjoy year-round fun. 

Another important goal in our business plan is to develop and maintain the infrastructure we need for our city to flourish. That means building roads, constructing reservoirs, replacing our bridges, and other projects that create the basic foundation for a city. We have several major improvements underway for our roads and other infrastructure and have some recent successes that we are very proud of.

In cooperation with Burlington Northern Railway Company, we just completed replacing the railroad bridges in downtown Renton. Not only does this provide reliable rail service to The Boeing Company, we were also able to take advantage of this opportunity to make several improvements to our roads through the downtown area. Last month we completed installation of concrete panels on Houser Way South in downtown Renton, allowing us to improve safety for pedestrians, bicyclists and vehicles while improving the appearance and access to local restaurants and businesses. Thanks to the hard work by our staff and Burlington Northern folks, we did this project on budget and in record time — within a month from start to finish. 

To emphasize safety in our school zones we installed flashing beacons and radar speed signs at several elementary and middle schools. In partnership with the school district we also completed school walking routes for Kennydale and Honeydew elementary schools.

We continue to work with the state and regional agencies to ensure that Renton’s needs continue to be prioritized as projects are selected and funded. Thanks to the persistence of our Council members, who represent Renton on many regional committees, construction is underway on over $300 million in improvements to the I-405 and SR 167 corridors through Renton.

We can all be proud of the progress we have made and what we have accomplished together. I believe that Renton is a much better place because of the choices we have made. But we have lots more to do and a long way to go. 

Earlier this month, my staff and I got together with the City Council to share our thoughts and ideas and to create our goals for our future. I am very excited to have this opportunity today to share them with you.

I am very pleased to announce that we will develop and implement a Community Planning Initiative—a process that engages the community and enables residents, businesses and others to help define the future of their neighborhoods.

I am interested in fostering a true partnership with the community to help shape the city’s future. By encouraging broad-based community involvement in the review, development, and integration of our comprehensive plan, and supporting policies, we can better identify, prioritize and deliver what is important to our neighborhoods and community.

Look for more information about this Community Planning Initiative later this year, as we will need you to be involved in helping craft the future of our community.

You have been hearing about our Code Enforcement efforts for a number of years. It is my goal to significantly advance our code enforcement efforts and make sure we’re moving forward with targeting and eradicating problems negatively impacting our neighborhoods. Under the leadership of our Police Chief, I have instituted a new inter-departmental code enforcement initiative to ensure measurable results in code enforcement.

We made changes to the way we were organized and established new processes to create greater accountability and deliver measurable results. We are also reviewing several new codes to see what changes we can institute to promote and maintain a safe and desirable living and working environment in our city.  I am pleased to report that since January we have made significant progress and started taking care of some of our most challenging cases.

We will continue to focus resources on efforts to revitalize the Highlands, downtown Renton and South Lake Washington.
In downtown we will work closely with area businesses, property owners and volunteers to support property redevelopment and downtown events.

This year we will be installing the first phase of the new wayfinding signs downtown that will help create a more distinct identity for downtown and help potential visitors find the area. And this summer, we anticipate the groundbreaking of a new 100-unit apartment building, with 9,300 square-feet of retail space, at the corner of 2nd & Main—yet another example of our successful efforts to activate the neighborhood with new residents.

One of the most critical challenges facing all cities in King County is affordable housing. We live in one of the most expensive regions in the nation and the problem of finding affordable housing is no longer limited to those with low income or without jobs. It is now a question of housing affordability.

At our Council retreat two weeks ago, we had an in-depth discussion of what this means. We looked at where our housing prices were a few years ago and the housing options and price ranges of today. How much does a family need to earn to afford a house in Renton today? What about low-income families? What can we do as government with our zoning and development plans to ensure that people at all income levels can afford housing in our city?

The statistics are startling. The median single-family home price in Renton for 2007 was $400,000, which is affordable to a household with an income of approximately $116,000 per year.

We need to do more as a city to address housing affordability. As a first step, we will revise the city’s existing multi-family housing incentive program to provide additional years of tax exemptions for housing projects that include units with affordable and low income housing.
We will also establish a housing opportunity fund of $200,000 to support the development of affordable housing in Renton. This fund will serve as local match and seed money to facilitate projects that create new housing units that are attainable for people who are working, but are still not earning enough to afford housing.

We are touted as a business-friendly community with a strong and successful program that promotes economic development.

We will continue our marketing efforts in partnership with our community stakeholders, through the Community Marketing Campaign. As we look ahead we will encourage both large and small businesses and companies to make their home in Renton.

We will work to expand the resources and role of our Small Business Development Center. I am also pleased to announce that the Renton Small Business Development Center received additional funding from the state, another success story thanks to the partnership of the Renton Technical College, the Chamber and the city. Our thanks to Jim Kallenberg, Advisor, Small Business Development Center, who is here today.
As I mentioned earlier, we share a long history with The Boeing Company and value their success. We will leave no stone unturned as we pursue initiatives and options that encourage The Boeing Company to select Renton as the final assembly location for the next generation of single-aisle commercial aircraft.

Annexation has consumed a good deal of time at City Hall in recent months. Renton has a strong history of welcoming neighborhoods and communities who choose to be part of our city. We have worked hard to make this city the center of opportunity in the Puget Sound region and are committed to keeping our community a special place.

We were very pleased to welcome the Benson Hill communities into Renton when they voted to annex to our city.

As we go forth we recognize that growth is inevitable and as our city continues to attract more residents, it’s one of my priorities that we manage this growth and stay focused on our goal of creating and maintaining a high quality of life for all our residents.

As we experience future opportunities for growth we will conduct a thorough review of our long-term financial planning so that we can continue to provide our high standards of service during all types of economic conditions.

Improving the quality of life in our community is an ongoing process. It's not about reaching a destination. And one of the basic attributes that define quality of life is feeling safe and secure in our homes and neighborhoods.

Keeping our neighborhoods and our city safe is another one of my top priorities. I will work hard to incorporate a more aggressive and intense effort to combat crime in Renton. We will develop crime-reduction plans using our Special Operations Division, and emphasize safety in downtown, the Highlands and other neighborhoods.

One of the challenges that our region faces with regard to public safety is the lack of adequate correctional facilities for our inmates. Most of our residents are not aware that it costs our taxpayers over $3 million every year to keep around 100 inmates in jail.

In collaboration and partnership with other cities in our area, we are looking at the feasibility of building a regional misdemeanant correctional facility. This could save us thousands of dollars while providing a safe facility to house our inmates.

We will continue our commitment to emergency preparedness that will include increased public training opportunities through Renton Fire and Emergency Services personnel. The city will continue to become better prepared to deploy help in the event of a major earthquake or storm, but it’s imperative that our citizens be prepared to take care of themselves and their neighbors for an extended period of time.

We have, in recent years, without question, raised the standards in this city with our capital projects, including improvements to our roads and infrastructure.

As a community, we are doing much to create a city with better and safer streets that are less congested and more pedestrian friendly. We are looking to improve transit options. We are widening some of our major arterials, building new sidewalks, and advocating for regional transportation funding and improvements.

We are rebuilding our streets and bridges. Later this year we will be completing one of the most ambitious improvements to Duvall Avenue NE, including widening lanes and adding curbs, gutters, sidewalks and bicycle lanes on both sides of the street.

And we will begin work on Rainier Avenue with several improvements including adding more lanes and safety features that will enhance both bus and automobile traffic, and streetscape improvements that will make this a more attractive corridor.

Sustainability, environmental protection, global warming and climate protection: these are phrases heard increasingly around the world and in our region. Our community is working to protect our environment in many ways.  City staff continues to implement sustainability initiatives inside government operations, from beginning the process of changing our vehicle fleet to hybrids to promoting programs in our community that conserve our resources and protect our environment.

I have directed staff to pay special attention to our environmental responsibility. From small and simple strategies like reducing paper-waste in city operations to incorporating green and resource-efficient features as we build new city facilities, we will do our part. We will also take a hard look at our development regulations to ensure that they factor in environmental considerations to encourage our community to be more conscious of our environment.

I would like to say a few words about our diverse community by sharing this quote: “Diversity is the one true thing we all have in common. Celebrate it every day.”

While I don’t know the author of this quote, it captures the heart and spirit of Renton. We have an exceptional city and it is our honor and privilege to recognize and celebrate the unique diversity that it represents.

Celebrating diversity is about creating a better link with all our groups and communities. It is an opportunity for us to engage all our residents, establish better communication and ensure that they have better access to all our services. This is especially critical during emergencies. Celebrating diversity also gives us the ability to be a catalyst to help build community interaction. By celebrating together, communities get to know each other and are motivated to work with the city.

For the first time this year, we celebrated Black History Month in Renton. Throughout the year, we will continue celebrations that showcase our diverse communities. We will also work with our community partners to plan a city-wide diversity celebration.

In conclusion, I want to assure you that we will continue to be creative and strategic with the city’s investments. We will continue to think and act boldly. We will continue to strengthen our sense of partnership and our shared sense of purpose — our determination to make the most out of Renton’s great assets.

Our city has much going for it, and together we have accomplished a great deal.  The future for Renton is bright and the city looks forward to our continued partnerships that make this a great place to live, learn, work and raise our families.

Thank you.

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