SEATTLE, Wash., December 27, 2022—Reflecting on the past year, I’ve noticed some key themes in the work we do, day by day, week by week, at King County. Often the challenges thrown at us feel like a trip through the tumbling rapids. But, taking a step back at year’s end, we can see the steady, purposeful progress we’ve made toward our goals.
Yes, sometimes we encounter a seemingly immovable boulder, like the state tax system, that must be navigated past. Or an unseen snag lurking beneath the surface that suddenly and unexpectedly threatens the mission. But sticking to our values, hewing to our discipline of continuous improvement, and fixed on our goals, we go around or over those obstacles, and sometimes even clear them clean out to the way, to the journey through.
That brings me to our significant accomplishments in 2022. Some of them are iterative – building on successes like fostering salmon runs back from the brink of extinction, or charting a new plan to deliver a genuine community safety for every person in our region.
And then sometimes there are leaps ahead – a shift in the river’s course – that move our community rapidly forward. This year brought together community leaders, businesses, local leaders, and health care providers to build an ambitious new approach to solving the behavioral health crisis – a crisis that has grown worse and worse through decades of federal and state retrenchment. We will not wait any longer for help to arrive.
King County voters, with an overwhelming 70% “yes” vote, approved Conserve Our Future – my proposal to permanently protect more of our forests, farms, and local green spaces, faster, while we still can.
We also we introduced the Free Youth Transit Pass – a new way for every young person in our community to access our world-class transit system and region.
We delivered the first investments with our Participatory Budget system – projects identified by and decided upon by community members.
We’ve made steady progress, and we’ve seen sudden leaps ahead. We passed our $16 billion budget, put battery-electric buses on the road, and taken steps to ensure that everyone has unfettered access to reproductive health care in King County.
As you take a look at some of these 22 highlights of 2022, I want you to know there is even more progress to come in the new year. We will continue chipping away at the toughest and most critical challenges facing our region, and we will act on those goals that may seem unreachable, knowing that in time, with persistence, with determination, they can become inevitable.
I am grateful for the opportunity with which you’ve entrusted me and my more than 15,000 colleagues here at King County, as we look forward to the enormous possibilities of the year ahead.
Following a unanimous vote by the King County Council, King County’s $16 billion budget makes historic investments in housing, preserving and protecting the environment, delivering just public safety, and continuing to become an anti-racist pro-equity government.
The health of our communities depends on the ability of every person to live a safe and productive life, and that’s why Executive Constantine announced a public safety plan to deploy a highly trained safety network, ensure safe and appropriate places for people in crisis, and provide accountability and support for victims.
In November, voters approved Proposition 1, which will restore the Conservation Futures Levy funding to rapidly accelerate open space preservation. That means King County will be able to accelerate the permanent protection of forests, trails, river corridors, farmland, and urban greenspace.
Across King County, every youth can ride transit for free thanks to Free Youth Transit Pass, which launched this fall. Riders 18 and younger can ride for free on transit systems across Washington, including King County Metro buses, water taxis, Access paratransit and on-demand services, Sound Transit buses and Link light rail, Seattle Streetcar, Pierce Transit, Community Transit, Everett Transit, Kitsap Transit, and Snoqualmie Valley Transit.
As part of King County’s restoration of the ancient Kokanee salmon in Lake Sammamish, Executive Constantine joined representatives from the Snoqualmie Tribe and local organizations to release young salmon. Earlier this year, King County brought thousands of eggs by plane from a hatchery on Orcas Island.
This spring Metro’s first 60-foot articulated battery electric buses hit the roads, taking another big leap towards an all-electric zero-emission bus fleet. The new charging base in Tukwila will keep these buses moving, and help make Metro completely electric by 2035.
Executive Constantine and a regional coalition of leaders announced a plan to address the behavioral health crisis in Washington by creating a countywide network of five crisis care centers, investing in the recruitment and retention of the community behavioral health workforce, and restoring the number of residential treatment beds in the region.
After the Supreme Court overturned decades of precedent in the Roe v. Wade case, King County welcomed those seeking abortion care and invested $1 million to ensure the local health care system could care for our residents and be ready to help those seeking care from out of state.
This year King County opened the doors on three more Health through Housing buildings in North Seattle, Pioneer Square, and Auburn, and acquired additional buildings in Kirkland and Capitol Hill. With more locations welcoming residents in 2023, Health through Housing is delivering on the goal to ensure every person in King County can have a home.
Last summer, residents across five urban, unincorporated areas of King County selected dozens of community projects and initiatives to receive $11 million in funding. This new, community-driven approach to public investments called participatory budgeting, saw its first investment made to expand the Cemetery Pond Open Space in East Renton.
With the passage of Best Starts for Kids in 2021, this year King County provided retention bonuses for child care workers to help ensure the stability of the workforce, and $160 million to expand equitable access to childcare for families in King County.
From grants to support artists and arts organization to building world class production facilities, the newly formed Office of Economic Opportunity and Creative Economy is focused on workforce development, small business retention and expansion, support for entrepreneurs and working creatives. This fall we supported Cloudbreak Music Festival, a one-of-a-kind month long festival at venues all around the region.
Regional Animal Services of King County helps connect furry friends to families across the region, and this year found more than 3,100 forever homes for dogs, cats, rabbits and birds in their care. You can find a new friend of your own at their adoption center in Kent.
Following a voter approved charter amendment, this year King County returned to an appointed Sheriff, and Executive Constantine appointed Patti Cole-Tindall to lead the Sheriff’s Office. Sheriff Cole-Tindall brings decades of public service experience, working with law enforcement accountability and labor organizations to the role as King County’s top public safety officer.
A successful floodplain restoration project along the Green River near Auburn is improving habitat for fish and wildlife while also protecting farms and homes from flooding and erosion. It now provides greater diversity of habitat for native salmon that provide sustenance for Puget Sound orcas.
After initially welcoming over 100 Afghan refugees in the fall of 2021, King County continued its commitment to provide temporary housing, support, and connection to community to nearly 800 people, utilizing the previously purchased Health Through Housing buildings in Federal Way and Kirkland for its refugee resettlement program.
King County is leading the way in preparing our people and places for climate impacts, accelerating our actions to preserve and protect our regional environment and restore what has been lost before it’s too late. Making progress on King County’s Strategic Climate Action Plan and following a study on greenhouse gas emissions that was a clear call for immediate action, Executive Constantine prioritized several key items in the 2023 – 2024 budget including the establishment of a new Climate Office to elevate the county’s commitment, coordination, and ability to deliver on its goals and vision.
The health and safety of King County residents remained a top priority two years after Executive Constantine’s emergency declaration in response to the COVID outbreak in King County. Relying on trusted health leaders to char the course forward, King County and Public Health – Seattle & King County have led a response focused on ensuring no community was left behind, purchasing more than 700,000 COVID-19 home testing kits, providing over 9,000 HEPA filters to businesses and organizations, and safely reopening businesses and gathering places throughout the County.
Along with $45 million in the budget to fund housing projects near transit stations, including one project in Tukwila to prevent displacement, this year King County also invested $23 million in affordable housing projects in White Center, Seattle, Bellevue, Kirkland, Renton and Burien.
Beginning in 2020, King County began the Eviction Prevention and Rent Assistance Program working with local community-based agencies and organizations to equitably distribute rent assistance, serving some of the hardest hit communities in the county during the pandemic. As the program came to a close this year, King County was able to distribute more than $340 million and serve over 40,000 households.
King County developed its first-ever Wildfire Risk Reduction Strategy, laying out a set of 12 recommended actions to improve preparedness, response, and recovery as the region experiences hotter, drier summers due to climate change. Through targeted actions, the strategy will help make King County more resilient to wildfire, reduce risks to communities and infrastructure in the wildland-urban interface, and enhance emergency response.
Executive Constantine signed an executive order in 2021 to transform the county’s existing contracting program to make it easier for minority- and women-owned businesses to compete for county contracts. And in 2022 pro-equity contracting generated $1.6 million more to minority and women-owned construction and consulting services, expanding economic opportunity throughout the community.
SOURCE: King County Government press release