King County
King County Executive Dow Constantine spoke of equity building and dealing with climate change in his State of the County address at White Center Elementary School on Feb. 10.

Executive Constantine delivers State of the County address in White Center

Equity building and climate change are on his agenda for second term

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King County Executive Dow Constantine delivered the State of the County address in White Center today, marking the first time that address has been given in unincorporated King County.

In a press release from his office the thrust of the speech was outlined:

Building equity and opportunity and confronting climate change are the great generational challenges of our time, and the framework for King County Executive Dow Constantine’s agenda for his second term in office.

“A growing body of evidence shows that places with greater social and economic equity have greater economic growth and overall prosperity. We are all better off, when all of us are better off,” said Executive Constantine. “Our resolve on equity must be matched by our willingness to protect the environment, and to confront the changes in climate that already threaten our planet and our community.”

Speaking at White Center Heights Elementary School, the Executive presented the first State of the County address ever delivered from an unincorporated area of King County.

Building equity and opportunity

While King County enjoys one of the highest qualities of life in the world, it also shares, with the rest of the nation, disturbing inequalities of opportunity. The Executive said building equity will mean creating access to opportunity, through access to early learning and good education; affordable housing and healthcare; safe streets and safe communities; job opportunity; and transportation choices.

“By building equity and opportunity, we set the stage for a thriving community with higher on-time graduation rates, wage equity, lower rates of crime and incarceration, and a workforce ready to fill abundant high-skill jobs,” he said, in citing initiatives to address the factors that determine equity.

Closing the Kindergarten Gap: Saying children must be ready to learn when they arrive at schools like White Center Heights, the Executive outlined a regional plan to help knit a cohesive system of support around young families.

· In partnership with the University of Washington School of Education, King County will map existing childhood development and learning readiness pilots. That inventory will be used to identify gaps and tee up a later discussion of how the region can support the development of children birth to five and start them on a life-long path to opportunity.

· The Executive will visit every school district in King County over the next two years, to hear what’s working and develop a countywide plan to link early childhood efforts with success in school.
Homelessness and affordable housing: Children cannot study without a settled home. In partnership with non-profits and philanthropists who share a commitment to equity, King County will work to make homelessness relatively rare, short in duration, and easily resolved.

· Through the Rapid Re-Housing program, work will be done to get or keep 350 families off the streets, out of shelters, and into their own homes this year.

· In partnership with the Council, the Youth and Young Adult Homelessness Initiative will seek to intervene before kids become homeless – to break the cycle early so they do not grow to become homeless adults.

· In partnership with cities, the Executive will promote construction of affordable housing around future transit centers.

Transforming Health and Human Services: Just as the Executive’s reform agenda brought new efficiencies to County government, the County is embarking on a countywide Health and Human Services Transformation Plan to remove barriers, wring out inefficiencies, and align efforts to enable delivery of the most value to people, and make the most of investments in health and human services.

Community Reentry from Detention: In 2013, more than 35,000 individuals –
disproportionately people of color – were returned to the community from King County jails and state prison.

· The Executive will coordinate reentry projects aimed at reducing recidivism and getting people’s lives back on track.

· King County is also partnering with the state Department of Corrections to develop a strategy to better connect individuals on community supervision to services in the community that will support their successful reentry.

Strengthening Prosperity and Economic Development. Building equity means growing a competitive regional economy that creates job opportunities for all. In April, King County will co-host the Brookings Institution as part of their Global Cities Initiative, for a robust discussion of how to strengthen the metropolitan economy and create more jobs here.

Transportation: Building equity means having a functioning transportation system, and access to it.

· At the Council’s request, the Executive has proposed a reduced-fare program, to ensure a bus ride remains affordable for those of limited means who need to get to school or their jobs.

· The Executive also thanked the Council for working with him on a ballot measure in April, to give voters the chance to save Metro Transit and repair crumbling roads.

Confronting climate change

The direct local impacts of climate change are already being felt. The Executive noted that Puget Sound has risen 8 inches over the last century, while the Cascade snowpack has shrunk by 25 percent since 1950. Studies point to an increase in chronic health problems and an increase in household costs of $1,250 a year by 2020.

“We can no longer wait for international consensus or a dysfunctional Congress,” said Executive Constantine. “King County will expand on our climate change agenda with specific commitments to reducing greenhouse gas emissions – countywide.”

Among his climate actions:
· Establishment of a King County-Cities Climate Collaboration, with support from the New Energy Cities Program, to chart a specific package of joint commitments to meet state and local targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

· Building on the successful model of the King County Aerospace Alliance, establishment of a business-focused King County Climate Alliance of clean-tech businesses, non-profits, universities and environmental groups to elevate King County as a nationally-recognized center for clean technology innovation, training, and jobs.

· A directive to Department of Natural Resources and Parks to become King County’s first carbon-neutral agency.

· Leadership to bring together cities and concerned people from throughout the Northwest to stop the export of coal to Asia.

Climate change also threatens the supply of safe food and clean water. To secure the local food supply, and to address both equity and climate concerns, the Executive today launched a Local Food Initiative to expand the supply of healthy foods and access to them, while helping make farmlands profitable and protecting them from development.

· To lead this work, the Executive named Lilly Simmering as the County’s first food economy manager. Besides her credentials with the USDA and The Boeing Company, Simmering is also the daughter of Hmong farmers who grew strawberries and owned a restaurant, and knows what it means to think “farm-to-table.”

The Executive also updated three initiatives he launched in last February’s State of the County address:

Connecting military veterans to services: in response to the Executive’s call to make sure there is no wrong door for a vet seeking help, the Regional Veterans Initiative has successfully mapped the system of services and brought providers together. To manage this outreach, the Executive today named Lieutenant Colonel Dana Sawyers as the County’s first regional veteran’s services coordinator. Col. Sawyers is a retired Air Force commander who has counseled injured vets, and developed a Wounded Warrior project in the Republic of Georgia.

Reducing gun violence: In response to an Executive Order to develop data-driven strategies to reduce gun violence, Public Health – Seattle & King County found that children in King County are nine times more likely to die from gun violence in homes where a firearm is stored unlocked. To avert future tragedies, King County partnered with a dozen retailers and two dozen police agencies, including the King County Sheriff, on a campaign for safe storage of guns. One retailer reports a one-third increase in sales of lockboxes and gun safes.

Healthcare enrollment: In response to the Executive’s goal of full enrollment in affordable healthcare, the regional “all-hands-on-deck” campaign that followed enabled the Executive to announce today that 100,000 people in King County are now signed up for healthcare coverage.

“With a record of accomplishment and a plan for the future, the state of King County is strong – and we keep it strong by facing our inevitable challenges squarely, and united,” said Executive Constantine at White Center Heights. “We have the will and the capacity to nurture and unlock the great minds that will solve the greatest challenges of our generation. The best ideas may come, not from us in this room, but from those in classrooms down the hall. When they look back, I hope they will say that we believed in their potential, and provided them with the same opportunities to succeed that we have enjoyed.”

Here's the full text of the address:

Chair Phillips, council members, elected leaders, valued employees, people of King County – and my thanks to our hosts: Superintendent Enfield, Principal Anne Reece, and the teachers and children.

I was here for the opening of this school, when I represented this district on the Council. As I begin my second term as County Executive, I wanted to return because White Center is a microcosm of our changing region, and an ideal setting to consider the future we want.

Decades from now, when these kids are grown and look back, what will they say of us? Of what we did, or failed to do, about the great generational challenges of our time?

About the grotesque inequality of means and opportunity in our society.

About the destruction of our planet.

Confronting climate change, and building equity in our community – addressing the physical world and the people who live in it – these are inescapable, global responsibilities.

Big ambitions for a county government, to be sure. But as an organization, we confront them from a position of strength, based on the foundation of all that we have accomplished these past four years. We did what we set out to do.

Reformed county government to put it back on sound financial footing, and restore public trust. Partnered with our employees on wellness and healthcare, saving tens of millions of dollars. Joined with others to rebuild a bridge; repair a dam; provide humane animal care; protect forests, farms, and shorelines – and make other critical investments in our physical, natural and human infrastructure.

These successes were achieved by all of us, working together as One King County: Members of this Council and other County elected leaders; my cabinet and leadership team; our employees; and our partners in cities, labor, business, and nonprofits.

We earn public trust by following through on our commitments. Last year at this time, I launched three initiatives:

I asked Public Health to develop data-driven strategies to reduce gun violence. They found that children in King County are nine times more likely to die from gun violence in homes where a firearm is stored unlocked.

To avert future tragedies, we partnered with a dozen retailers and two dozen police agencies, including our King County Sheriff, on a campaign for safe storage of guns. One retailer reports a one-third increase in sales of lockboxes and gun safes.

To connect military veterans with the services they have earned, I launched a Regional Veterans Initiative with the goal that there will be no wrong door for a vet seeking help. We mapped the service system and brought providers together.

Today, I am appointing our first regional veterans services coordinator. Lieutenant Colonel Dana Sawyers is a retired Air Force commander who has counseled injured vets, and developed a Wounded Warrior project in the Republic of Georgia. Colonel Sawyers.

Last year, I set the goal of full enrollment in affordable healthcare. Thanks to the combined effort of our employees and partners, Washington state has perhaps the most successful enrollment campaign in the nation. And Washington State’s largest county has been a big part of that success.

Today, I’m pleased to announce we have signed up 100,000 people in King County for healthcare coverage.

You could say that our hundreds of In-Person Assisters in Public Health and across the county are the true “12th man” for coverage.

Delivering on promises is one marker of success, as we aspire not just to be good but to be great – to become, in fact, the best-run government in the nation. And here are some of the other characteristics that will define us: A triple-A bond rating, higher than the federal government; efficiency and continuous improvement; Lean management; engaged employees, delivering vastly improved customer service; and outside recognition.

Everyone needs a little validation. And our collaboration has earned many awards, from: Seattle Business Magazine; United Way; Tabor 100; the Washington Business Alliance; and the Municipal League. There is one more award that will be officially announced soon – considered the most prestigious in the nation.

King County will receive the 2014 Innovations in American Government Award from Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. It’s for our nationally renowned Healthy Incentives program. This is a tremendous recognition, one that we share with our fellow county elected officials, former Executive Ron Sims, all our employees, and our labor unions. Well done.

These are the hallmarks of what it can mean to be the best-run government. We manage those things that are within our control.

Some things are beyond our control – and one is the broken system of funding for large counties in this state, a business model no business could survive.

We did our part – by reducing growth in our costs to the rate of inflation plus new population. We did our part – by reexamining services, innovating to create excellence, and delivering value. Voters did their part – by supporting parks, criminal justice, Medic One, and veterans and human services.

But when our partners at the state and federal level fall short of their responsibilities – and no question they have challenges of their own – they leave us unable to deliver what our community expects. At some point the state must free us from the failing finance model developed during the Depression, and provide us the tools to confront the challenges of the 21st century.

* * *

Those challenges – of growing inequality and a changing climate – are insistent and inexorable. But this is a strong community with a frontier legacy, willing to take on big jobs, and we will team up with any who share our commitment.

The challenge we face in building equity is most visible in South King County – and here, at White Center Heights, with families from 41 nations, 80 percent of whom speak a language at home other than English.

Our strengths as a region attract people from all over the globe – people who in turn make us even stronger. King County enjoys one of the highest qualities of life in the world. Median household income is $71,000, well above the nation. Median life expectancy is nearly 82 years, well above the nation. Unemployment is 4.7 percent here, two points better than the nation.

Yet we also have a disturbing inequality of opportunity. The average household income in one ZIP code can be $100,000 less than in another just a few miles away. Average life expectancy is ten years shorter in South Auburn than in Mercer Island. Unemployment among African Americans is twice what it is for whites.

This is not acceptable, and not just because it’s immoral. A growing body of evidence shows that places with greater social and economic equity have greater economic growth and overall prosperity.

Income inequality is part of a larger conversation. True equity is about more than a minimum wage for those who have found a low-end job. It is also about having the opportunity to advance and to thrive, based on merit, drive, and determination.

We are all better off, when all of us are better off.

Building equity means creating access to opportunity – access to early learning and good education; affordable housing and healthcare; safe streets and safe communities; job opportunity; transportation choices; and, to create access to opportunity, we also need to transform the way we deliver health and human services.

Just as our reform agenda brought new efficiencies to County government, we are embarking on a countywide Transformation Plan to remove barriers, wring out inefficiencies, and align efforts so that we can deliver the most value to people – and make the most of our investments in health and human services.

Our investments in people should begin at birth and continue through the first five years, when we have our one chance to start the next generation off right.

Building equity means children must be ready to learn when they arrive at schools like this one. Studies show that differences in readiness hinder the learning of every child in class.

We’re home to many projects aimed at birth to five: Head Start, King County’s Nurse-Family Partnership, promising pilot projects led by nonprofits, and the city of Seattle’s “Preschool for All” Plan.

As the regional government, we can help knit a cohesive system of support around young families.

In partnership with the University of Washington School of Education, King County will map existing childhood development and learning readiness pilots.

With that inventory we can identify the gaps, and tee up the later discussion of how our region can support the development of our youngest residents and start them on a life-long path to opportunity.

And over the next two years, I will visit every school district in King County to hear what’s working, and develop a countywide plan to link early childhood efforts with success in school.

Of course, it’s harder for a child to study without a settled home.

Building equity means making homelessness relatively rare, short in duration, and easily resolved.

Through the Rapid Re-Housing program we’ll work to get or keep 350 families off the streets, out of shelters, and into their own homes this year.

In partnership with the Council, our Youth and Young Adult Homelessness Initiative will seek to intervene before kids become homeless – to break the cycle early so they do not grow to become homeless adults.

In partnership with cities, I will pursue a regional strategy to promote construction of affordable housing around future transit centers.

If we can demonstrate the best results through our Health and Human Services Transformation, we will be in a strong position to show the public, in 2015, where additional investment will yield the kind of healthy people and healthy communities our region needs.

System transformation is bigger than any one of us. So, as I said, we are teaming up with more than 100 non-profits and philanthropists who share our commitment to equity. I want to recognize those who have joined us today: the Seattle Foundation, Raikes Foundation, Giddens Foundation, Medina Foundation, Gates Foundation, Building Changes, United Way, and many more. Please stand and accept our thanks.

By focusing on services for youth, we give ourselves the best chance of preventing inequities that cycle through the criminal justice system, as the kids of today grow into adults.

Building equity means breaking the cycle of people from disadvantaged communities coming back into our jails.

It means developing a strategy to create better support for those who have served their time and are re-entering society. It will require all of us to work as One King County: courts, cops, prosecutors, defenders, corrections officers, and community partners.

Building equity means growing a competitive regional economy, so we can reach our goal of job opportunities for all.

In April, King County will co-host the Brookings Institution as part of their Global Cities Initiative – for a robust discussion of how we can strengthen our metropolitan economy to create more jobs here.

Building equity means having a functioning transportation system – and access to it.

At the Council’s request, I’ve sent you a reduced-fare program to ensure a bus ride remains affordable for those of limited means who need to get to school or their jobs.

Those who ride a crowded bus, or who drive on a congested highway, know we should be growing our bus system, not cutting it. Can you imagine trying to move an extra 100,000 people after last week’s Seahawks parade, with dramatically reduced service?

We’ve made it clear; our first choice is a statewide transportation package. But without action by the state, voters deserve the chance to decide whether to save Metro Transit and repair our crumbling roads.

Members of the Council, thank you for working with me, and let’s get this on the ballot for April 22.

* * *

As it happens, April 22 is Earth Day. And our resolve on equity must be matched by our willingness to protect the environment, and to confront the changes in climate that already threaten our planet and our community.

To the west, Puget Sound has risen 8 inches over the last century.

To the east, the Cascade snowpack has shrunk 25 percent since the baby boomers were kids.

In summer, low flows and warmer water in our streams imperil our treasured salmon.

In winter, storms of growing severity threaten catastrophic flooding.

We can no longer wait for international consensus or a dysfunctional Congress. It’s on us, and we’ve shown that this region can set the pace.

King County government has surpassed the goal of using or producing renewable energy to meet half our energy needs.

We replaced half of our diesel buses with cleaner hybrid-electric coaches, and we plan to go all-hybrid by 2018.

We protected more than 200,000 acres of working forest that limit sprawl and capture carbon.

We’ve shortened vehicle trips by ensuring that 95 percent of new growth is in already-compact urban areas.

And we’re fighting to save our Metro Transit system, which removes 175,000 cars from the road every day.

In my second term, King County will expand on our climate change agenda with specific commitments to reducing greenhouse gas emissions – countywide.

Cities are an essential part of this puzzle.

This Thursday, in partnership with our cities, I will convene the first of two meetings to chart a specific package of joint commitments that will meet state and local climate targets. Thank you, Mayor Larson of Snoqualmie, for joining us.

Our local reputation for climate-friendly business practices is an asset that draws innovative companies. We are a region of adventurers and entrepreneurs.

Building on the model of our successful Aerospace Alliance I will bring together clean-tech businesses, non-profits, and universities to elevate King County as a center for clean technology.

I am pleased to announce that during my second term, our Department of Natural Resources and Parks will become King County’s first carbon-neutral agency.

And I will bring together cities and concerned people from throughout the Northwest to stop the export of coal to Asia.

Climate change is not an idle threat: even our supply of safe food and clean water – once viewed as an endless resource – is no longer a given. We need look no further than the severe drought now afflicting California. We must act now to protect ourselves and secure our local food supply.

To address both equity and climate concerns, I am launching a Local Food Initiative to expand our supply of healthy foods, and expand access to them, while helping make farmlands profitable and protecting them from development.

To lead this work, I am naming the County’s first food economy manager. Lilly Simmering has impressive credentials with the USDA and The Boeing Company. But what’s special is she is also the daughter of Hmong farmers who grew strawberries and owned a restaurant, so she knows what it means to think “farm-to-table.” Lilly, will you please stand?

* * *

The past four years showed we can work together, as One King County and, in doing so, lead the way for the state and the nation. Building on a foundation of success, we are reaching our goals on the priorities we’ve set – justice and safety, health and human potential, economic growth and the built environment, and protection of our natural environment.

With that record of accomplishment and a plan for the future, the state of King County is strong – and we keep it strong by facing our inevitable challenges squarely, and united. Yet no matter how good we are at managing problems, we fall short if we fix only that which is right in front of us.

By building equity and opportunity, we set the stage for a thriving community with higher on-time graduation rates, wage equity, lower rates of crime and incarceration, and a workforce ready to fill abundant high-skill jobs.

By confronting climate change, we help reduce the obvious impacts to our oceans, rivers, forests, wildlife, and food supply – and the not-so-obvious impacts to human health and household budgets.

Our region has grand plans that anticipate the future: Vision 2040, Transportation 2040, climate targets for 2050. By 2040, the kids in class today will be adults – looking for their next job, maybe getting married, or raising kids of their own.

We reap enormous returns on early investments, in our children and our environment. Those returns won’t all be visible in one budget cycle, or one term. But we aim high. To set our sights lower would be a disservice to ourselves and to those who elected us.

We have achieved a lot over the last four years. I look forward to what we can accomplish together in the next four. We here in King County, in Central Puget Sound, we have the will and the capacity to nurture and unlock the great minds that will solve the greatest challenges of our generation.

The best ideas may come, not from us in this room, but from those in classrooms down the hall. When they look back, I hope they will say that we believed in their potential and provided them with the same opportunities to succeed that we have enjoyed.

Thank you.

Building equity and opportunity infographic:
http://www.kingcounty.gov/elected/executive/constantine/priorities/state...

Climate change infographic:
http://www.kingcounty.gov/elected/executive/constantine/priorities/state...

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