DENIS LAW: City needs county help if Skyway to reach full potential

It was an exciting time when we moved from Renton into a new home in Skyway. The house overlooked Bryn Mawr and had a spectacular lake view as many homes on the West Hill enjoy. My daughters attended Lakeridge Elementary and the community had two supermarkets, a hardware store, a drug store, smaller retail stores, a bowling alley and many local restaurants. Skyway had an annual parade and there was a strong sense of community. This was back in the early 80s.

It was an exciting time when we moved from Renton into a new home in Skyway. The house overlooked Bryn Mawr and had a spectacular lake view as many homes on the West Hill enjoy. My daughters attended Lakeridge Elementary and the community had two supermarkets, a hardware store, a drug store, smaller retail stores, a bowling alley and many local restaurants. Skyway had an annual parade and there was a strong sense of community. This was back in the early 80s.

It wasn’t too many years later that the business district began to deteriorate as crime and blight began to consume some of the area. Despite the dedication of several sheriff deputies, the lack of resources by the county resulted in a dramatic increase in crime and violence. The business district all but disappeared.

For more than a decade now, shootings and killings have dominated most of the headlines coming out of the community. A 12-year-old boy was recently murdered in a gang-related shooting that left another man wounded. Services provided by the county continue to erode and this island of 14,000 people hungers for the government support they deserve to help make things better. Meanwhile, King County has made it clear that services will continue to be cut.

While some residents want to remain unincorporated and others prefer to be annexed by Seattle, a strong group of Skyway citizens continues to identify with Renton. Maybe it’s because they shop in our city and play in our parks. Maybe it’s because the Renton School District encompasses the entire district.

The City Council and I have struggled with the desire to provide services to this area despite the fact that there is not enough tax revenue to support the costs. We’re confident we can improve safety, improve the quality of life and begin to revitalize the business community. But we need help to cover the costs of providing these services.

My staff and I have spent the past 2 1/2 years working with county, state and federal officials to identify funding opportunities to help fill the financial gap. Shortly after entering office, I met with King County Executive Ron Sims with a draft outline of a five-year pilot project where we would partner with the county, state, private sector and the Renton School District to revitalize the area, dramatically reduce the violence and crime, rebuild the business district and create a safe and vibrant community for West Hill residents.

We lobbied the state for support and Sen. Margarita Prentice and Rep. Eric Pettigrew, along with other legislators, stepped up by providing us with financial support for the next 10 years through a sales tax credit.

I met with Renton School District administrators to brainstorm some very exciting opportunities specifically for West Hill students under this possible pilot project. My staff and I met with members of the Gates and Seattle foundations to explore support for the community and we also traveled to Washington, D.C., and met with our entire federal delegation to seek funding opportunities.

We’ve hosted meetings with county and state elected officials to outline our plan and seek funding support. And lastly, I made a last-minute request of King County to at least help us fund the projected shortfall for the first two years, and $2.8 million to cover needed start-up costs. County Executive Dow Constantine and Deputy Executive Fred Jarrett took a serious look at my proposal but in the end acknowledged they were unable to find the needed revenues at this time.

Through Skyway Solutions and the West Hill Business Association, local residents and businesses are working hard to make a difference in their community. Local churches, the Boys and Girls Club and King County Fire District 20 reflect a strong commitment to community. The central location, rich diversity, spectacular views and efforts by dedicated residents to work for positive change provide a foundation to address these challenges and take advantage of new opportunities.

Despite all our efforts over the last couple of years to identify funding, we still have an annual operating gap of nearly $2 million per year, and $2.3 million for start-up costs. To provide service to this area today would require reducing services we now provide to our current residents. I’m not willing to consider this option and will continue to argue against this from ever happening.

The City Council by a vote of 5 to 2 decided to move the petition to annex forward to an election, in February of 2012. Meanwhile, we will continue to look for funding opportunities that will plug the revenue hole that currently exists. This will be difficult to achieve but the council action preserves the state’s 10-year contribution totaling $25 million, something we worked hard to get for the past couple of years and is necessary in order for Renton to consider annexing the area. The ball is back in the county’s hands to help us meet the financial shortfall if Renton is to be able to annex this area.

During a memorial service for 12-year-old Alajawan Brown, who was shot to death while walking home from the bus, reporters quoted Sheriff Sue Rahr as stating she failed Alajawan and asking those in the room to “never let this happen again.” Providing adequate public safety services to this area is the sole responsibility of King County, and the county needs to step up and address the ongoing violence.

Skyway has the potential to be a wonderful community in which to live and work, and King County owes it to the residents to provide a safe and quality environment for families and children, whether it remains unincorporated or ultimately becomes part of our city.

Mayor Denis Law can be reached at dlaw@rentonwa.gov.


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