Patrick Robinson
King County Executive Dow Constantine spoke to the White Center Chamber of Commerce on Aug. 13 at Steve Cox Memorial Park.

County Executive talks White Center’s future (and past)

Aug. 13 at Steve Cox Memorial Park was a day of reflection on the unincorporated area of White Center and North Highline for King County Executive Dow Constantine, and a chance to talk about the area's future in addressing the WC Chamber of Commerce.

Before getting elected as executive in 2009, Constantine spent seven years on the King County Council (representing the 8th District which includes North Highline) and started his political career in 1996 as a state legislator. During that expanse of time, he said, he’s spoken to the Chamber several times. He took note of a difference on this most recent occasion.

“I used to come and speak to the Chamber, and this was something that was not lost on the members … the Chamber was not a very diverse group,” he said. “(It) was a lot of longtime white businesspeople and there was a lot of consternation about how could we have the chamber be truly representative of the whole community.”

“Well, it appears to me as though the chamber has made quite a lot of progress in that regard over the course of the last decade or so, and I want to congratulate the White Center Chamber for becoming more inclusive and more representative of the real business community going on today, in 2013, in White Center.”

On to the issues
While the county is still dealing with tight budgets as it slowly catches up with an improved economy-at-large, Constantine said his four years at the helm have put King County “back on sound financial footing,” partially through cost savings within his departmental ranks and working with county council.

“From that position of strength … we are turning our attention to reinvesting in the infrastructure that allows this generation and those who come after to have a chance to succeed. I see that infrastructure not just as the roads and the buses and the sewers, but also in terms of human infrastructure and natural infrastructure. These are the we need in order for people to be able to fulfill their potential, even if they weren’t born to money, even if they had some challenges in their younger days.”

Citing a local example, Constantine referenced the TAF Bethaday Community Learning Space at Lakewood Park as a prime example of county investments in human infrastructure. TAF teaches science, technology, engineering and math to students of color.

As parts of the Affordable Care Act kick in nationally in 2014, Constantine said King County will provide ample opportunity for citizens to connect with experts on how to take advantage of affordable health care options in the coming months, including local resources at the White Center Public Health Center and Sea Mar Medical Clinic.

Speaking on natural infrastructure, the executive said King County’s work to clean up Hicklin Lake in Lakewood Park is “a little like a giant high school science project,” with county scientists trying out floating island technology to leach out pollutants through root systems (a first for them). He said they’ll stick with the project until progress is made in cleaning up the body of water that is a destination for drainage rather than families these days.

Without funding help from the state level for public transportation and roads, Constantine said North Highline residents can expect to see cuts and deteriation.

“If we don’t get help, the 22 and 113 will almost certainly be eliminated … and there will be dramatic cuts in Rt. 60,” he said.” Those cuts could show up in 2014.

With North Highline voters declining annexation into Burien last year, Constantine touched on the latest.

“Local control is important,” he said. “People need the opportunity to both control their destiny and be responsible for it. We do our best at the county, but we are a big government with a lot of far-flung responsibilities.”

He said King County can go to state legislators and ask for more tax incentives for a city to annex, or ask them to change the tax code so Skyway and North Highline can be taxed like a city, with additional revenue streams to provide a higher level of service, but neither option would likely get through the legislature.

“It’s obviously up the residents of North Highline … to decide when this happens, but I will tell you that King County will continue to do our best, but that’s doing our best with the resources we have available. “

When asked if White Center could simply become a city on its own, Constantine said while it is possible, it is hard to create the revenue needed to provide services, especially in an area light on industry. And if White Center were to go that route and it didn’t work out, “You can’t move back in with Mom and Dad,” he joked.

“I gotta say that this White Center today is a much more dynamic and exciting and forward-looking place than the one I knew 20 years ago as a kid,” Constantine said in conclusion, speaking to a truly multicultural Chamber of Commerce. “The future, despite challenges we may have from time to time, I think the future here is tremendously bright. This is the land of opportunity, this is where people are really going to be able to make a mark, and I want to thank you for being part of that.”

There was also discussion of King County's zoning and land use proposal for recreational marijuana shops, production and processing facilities. You can read more on those topics from the Herald's prior coverage, found here.

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