Joe Mabel, Wikimedia Commons
It's hard to find people working for the City of Seattle who have not been involved in the annexation question at one time or another. My first foray came on a summer night in 2000. I had just been hired by the city after working for Sen. Barbara Boxer for six years in San Francisco. We were trying to explain to the community of unincorporated South Park — the so-called sliver by the river — the benefits of joining Seattle.
As we set up our tables and started the meeting at the South Park Community Center, built and paid for by the citizens of Seattle, an older gentleman approached me and looked at my nametag. He squinted and said, "Royer, huh. You any relation to Charley?" I told him, "Yes, he’s my dad."
Then he told me that when my dad tried to annex the area 20 years ago they told him to go to hell. And then he proceeded to tell me to go to hell.
This illustrates the difficulties ever since as all jurisdictions have struggled to implement the state Growth Management Act and get King County out of the business of providing local government services. My old friend can relax because the sliver by the river will not be annexed anytime soon due to the dilapidated South Park Bridge, which is owned by King County. Seattle will not soon take on that liability. But why is it so hard to annex even when it makes so much sense, as is the case with nearby White Center?
Not only is there deep distrust of Seattle in surrounding communities, there are also funding and infrastructure issues that are not easily resolved. There has been historically a solid majority on the Seattle City Council against annexation. That coupled with beliefs that Seattle will raise the cost of living and bring about gentrification have made annexation incredibly slow and difficult.
And there is another reason: In 2006, the state legislature passed annexation legislation that would allow jurisdictions to retain extra sales tax revenues when annexing smaller jurisdictions. However, there was a catch. The incentive to annex did not apply to jurisdictions of over 400,000 persons. Yes, that's you, Seattle!
The city lobbied the legislature in 2007 and 2008 in order to be able to annex these smaller areas and help King County's ailing budget. Finally, in a bout of sanity, the legislature approved a bill that would allow Seattle to recoup costs by diverting a share of the state’s sales tax to the city. Rep. Ross Hunter was the hero as he was able to amend SB 5321 on the House side that would basically fund $5 million per year over a 10-year period so Seattle could provide municipal services to White Center.
Hunter knew that King County cannot continue to provide urban-level local services to unincorporated areas and that North Highline (White Center) logically belonged in Seattle. While White Center and the Seattle neighborhood of South Delridge are split by Southwest Roxbury Street, it is really one neighborhood. Neighbors and commerce do not recognize arbitrary political boundaries. I worked on public safety issues in the area, and we were always challenged by that arbitrary boundary. While Seattle Police Department officers were able to patrol with King County sheriff’s deputies, crucial community building and crime prevention strategies were complicated by the Roxbury divide. We have a chance to change that, improve public safety, and help neighbors work together to strengthen the whole community.
As early as its March 8 meeting, the city council could consider whether to move ahead with the annexation of White Center. Annexation is being viewed as something that might go on the November ballot for a vote by the people of White Center. The council should vote yes, and then visit White Center early and often to talk to people and hear their concerns and aspirations for their community.
White Center is a unique neighborhood with the kind of economic and cultural diversity we value in Seattle. We would be lucky to have them join our city of diverse neighborhoods.
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