Dunn, city council discuss state of King County

Affordable housing, light rail and more talked about at meeting

Homelessness, flooding and Mayor Denis Law’s retirement were on King County Councilmember Reagan Dunn’s mind as he delivered his annual State of the County presentation to Renton City Council, Monday, Oct. 28. Dunn’s district covers a portion of Renton.

Dunn began by saying he wanted to compliment Law during his last presentation to the city council while Law is mayor. Law and councilmembers Ryan McIrvin and Ed Prince were not at council for the presentation.

“It’s been a great pleasure working with him,” Dunn said. “It’s been an honor to watch his leadership in three terms and how the city has changed. So much of it is a result of his personality.”

Continuing to address how things have changed, Dunn turned to the issue of homelessness in King County.

Dunn said he would argue homelessness is the most significant local issue of the decade. In the budget the county allocated $230 million for combating regional homelessness through more shelter beds, mental health treatment and continuing programs that work. Another $100 million went to expanding permanent affordable housing, with $150,000 for a South King County Housing Coalition.

Dunn expressed concern in the regional approach to homelessness proposed by Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan and County Executive Dow Constantine. He said there’s another way to work together. But he is worried that the region needs to come to an agreement soon, before courts step in and mandate a solution. He also said the business community is eager to find an approach to homelessness, and that he wants to make sure it works.

“The suburban cities must be front and center in that conversation with significant influence moving forward,” Dunn said.

When Dunn took questions from city council, Councilmember Randy Corman asked if the county had discussed making building more economically feasible, something previously mentioned at a city council discussion on affordable housing the Monday prior, Oct. 21. Dunn discussed one idea where multi-family buildings have expensive units on top and more affordable units below, offsetting the building costs.

Dunn then segued to the cost of putting people experiencing homelessness into treatments or job training rather than housing. He also mentioned that things will likely need to change in rural zoning areas to make the region cheaper.

Councilmember Armondo Pavone asked for more information about solutions for homelessness, mentioning Dunn’s recent proposal to county council called homeward bound. The proposal would spend $1 million to give one-way transportation to people experiencing homelessness to somewhere else in the U.S. Council President Don Persson said he was very interested in the homeward bound program and mentioned how family reunification has been helpful for seniors in Renton who struggle living alone.

The county councilmember also spoke about programs and projects that are directly related to Renton in his presentation.

Dunn has chaired the flood control district committee for many years. Recently, Dunn worked to get drainage basin improvements for a creek near Wonderland Estates, a mobile home community on Maple Valley Highway that has seen flooding problems. He also discussed the Black River Pump Station improvements, reported on last week in Renton Reporter.

“Think of (Black River Pump Station) as the drain system for the entire Green River valley, one-eighth of the state’s economy and second-largest manufacturing industrial center,” Dunn said.

He also said the county will work with Renton to make sure that the right projects to protect downtown and North Renton from flooding are prioritized. County Councilmember Dave Upthegrove will step in as committee chair next year. Upthegrove’s district covers the other portion of Renton.

Dunn also discussed the soon-to-be extended Soos Creek Trail funded by the county parks levy approved in the August primary, and King County Metro adding 111 weekly service hours servicing Renton, including routes 101, 105 and 107 connecting Renton more often to Seattle. Metro will be presenting this plan on Nov. 18 to city council.

Councilmembers Ruth Pérez and Corman both advocated for more transit services in Renton when Dunn took council questions. Pérez said after being left out of ST3 projects, they need to rely more heavily on Metro. Corman wanted to let Dunn know that Sound Transit is considering a light rail study, and Dunn said he would continue to advocate for that as well. Pérez said the light rail study needs to happen sooner rather than later, so it can be used for the transit center design.

Discussing the county’s $12 billion two-year budget, Dunn said on the chance that a recession or flat economy is in the near future, county council increased its reserves and rainy day funds to the full amount allowed by state law. He said that will help them maintain an AAA bond rating.