Our Burien City Council Online Candidate Forum – Position #1: Sue Blazak vs Jack Block, Jr.

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With the deadline to mail ballots for the Nov. 3rd general election just days away, we here at The B-Town Blog have created our own online forum which consists of answers to five relevant questions we asked each candidate for the Burien City Council.

Here are the answers from candidates for Position #1 – Sue Blazak and Jack Block, Jr.

Please note that we have made no alterations to their text, so the words used are purely theirs, including any typos or other errors.

Each candidate is identified by their names and headshots, then initials:

1.  What is the primary objective you hope to accomplish for Burien if you are elected to the council?  What qualifies you to lead this effort?

SUE BLAZAK: I will continue to advocate for a safe and sustainable Burien that is a great place to live, work, shop, and play. I am committed to the bright future I see for this city.

It has been an honor to serve the residents of Burien for the past four years as a councilmember and Deputy Mayor. I have drawn upon citizens’ input and my community service, education, and job experience to make tough decisions for Burien.  These include maintaining a balanced budget, improving public safety, major street improvements, revitalizing downtown, a new city hall, and a re-awakening of our arts and culture.

Our city doesn’t have the size of Seattle or Bellevue, yet we’re able to effectively compete for state and federal dollars for large capital projects.  This is because I and other councilmembers serve on regional committees to make sure our needs are addressed in the four-county planning process.  It’s imperative to be at the regional tables where decisions are being made. We also partner with other jurisdictions to strengthen our position, so that when opportunities arise, we are ready to act on them.  On regional transportation committees, I have worked to keep the Transit-oriented development on track, which will provide affordable housing and retail next to our new Transit Center.  I’ve expedited funding for improvements to commuter bus service.  And I will continue to work toward the critical extension of light rail to Burien.

I have also fostered relationships with representatives from medical and educational organizations toward the goal of establishing Burien as a “Wellness” center.  In addition to achieving improved comprehensive health and wellness services, this effort is leading to an educational pipeline for residents to improve job skills that will lead to family-wage job opportunities – all right here in Burien!

JACK BLOCK, JR.: I have two primary objectives: A. Restart Burien’s rebirth and revitalization efforts. Without a strong business core the city will be unable to derive enough tax revenue to fully fund essential services. B. Expand noise insulation efforts to offset the impact of third runway operations and also receive mitigation funding to offset the social and economic impacts placing a regional facility on our doorstep creates.

I believe the best measure of future success is past success.

A partial list of accomplishments during my 2003-2007 city council term:

  • Made Burien’s government more accessible by televising work sessions;
  • Opened four new parks, two in low income areas;
  • Restored 1/2 mile Seahurst Park shoreline;
  • Secured $50,000 in pre-kindergarten preparedness
  • Brought my experience and contacts as an officer in the ILWU and Teamsters to negotiations, government relations, and outreach.
  • Served as transportation coordinator for Burien’s Katrina efforts, overcoming logistical challenges to deliver supplies to the San Antonio Katrina evacuation facility.

I will meet Burien’s challenges: rebuild downtown; build a multi-service center with safe pedestrian and transit access; increase noise insulation efforts; obtain Port and Federal funding offsetting the 3rd Runway’s social and economic impacts; remove zoning restrictions that have created disincentives to rebuilding our older apartment buildings, causing slum-like conditions; and shift Police services from reaction to crime prevention.

2.  Burien tax revenue is down sharply. What will you do to increase revenue for the city without negatively impacting city residents and businesses?

SB: I will increase the focus on support for a more robust business community, retaining current businesses and exploring innovative ways to attract new businesses.  Our city has successfully partnered with other south King County jurisdictions in order to provide support to small businesses in our area.  The Chamber of Commerce has played an integral part in promoting Burien’s business community.  Discover Burien is the fabric that connects our businesses and community events.  The Burien Business and Economic Development Partnership provides feedback and advises the council on economic policies.  The Parks Department and Arts Groups play key roles in providing activities that enhance the vitality of downtown.  The wonderful folks who live and work in Burien, our great location and beautiful appearance – all are huge assets in supporting a vibrant economy.   Each of these must be encouraged along with increased volunteerism, creatively increasing police presence, effective code enforcement, realistically addressing downtown parking needs, and actively engaging in public/private dialogues to find innovative solutions.  Currently, this includes re-visiting the possibility of a multi-screen cinema as an anchor for Town Square as well careful planning for development of the Northeast Area of Burien impacted by the 3rd Runway.  Excellence in education, preserving precious natural resources, and pedestrian and bike friendly streets also play key roles in attracting and supporting a vibrant economy.

JB: This is the type of issue that conventional political wisdom tells officials to run from; to dodge and scramble better than the Seahawks backfield. But because I am not a conventional politician, I get things done. Like them or not, taxes are the way city services are funded. That said, I think our whole tax structure including the way Burien obtains tax revenues and other funding should be re-examined. We need to explore ways to fund city services that are not regressive (like utility and sales taxes, which hit lower and fixed income people hardest) and don’t burden one group over another. We also need to create a tax structure that is consistent and is independent of economic forces that the city has no control over. Taxing alternatives that I would discuss with our citizens include (note: these are proposals to start a discussion): Implementing a beverage tax on all beverage sales of $ .25 cents per drink. This type of levy would generate revenue from those outside Burien (50%) who patronize our restaurants and coffee shops. The revenue on an unnecessary but nice purchase could replace the tax our citizens pay for essential heat and light (utility taxes), the regressive B&O tax that burdens our small businesses, and could still provide enough additional revenue to restore cuts to city services and increase police protection.

Another alternative that I would examine is a rental unit licensing fee of $15 per unit a month, ($.50 cents per day). At present the biggest burden of Burien’s property tax levy falls on single family homeowners. Apartment dwellers use a tremendous amount of city services, yet such rental units are assessed at, and pay, only one-fourth the property tax of a single-family home. Revenue from this source should be dedicated towards police services and an additional code enforcement officer whose duty would be to inspect rental housing units for health and safety of residents.

3.  A lot of commercial space – including in the new Town Square – is vacant.  What will you do to position the city to encourage business growth and activity, both downtown and elsewhere?

SB: Using a quote in the B-Town Blog: “We have a trickle of new businesses coming in here,” Burien Economic Development Manager Dick Loman told The B-Town Blog recently. “We’re gradually filling up our vacant (commercial) spaces, and it’s happening in the worst economic climate in decades……You’d think it would be very quiet, but it’s not,” he said. “It’s very amazing and we’re very fortunate to have this happening.”

I am working to enhance this “trickle.” These tough economic times require the city of Burien to re-evaluate how we do business.  Talking with business owners, there is much work to be done.  Areas of focus include re-evaluating our commercial and mixed use zoning, creatively planning for the Northeast Re-development Area, integrating our new annexed businesses and residents, realistically assessing our parking needs, continually improving our customer service and developing innovative partnerships such as the Wellness Cluster.

Continued updating of policies and procedures to ensure the most efficient and practical system is a wise investment in keeping a vibrant downtown.  Our staff is constantly looking at ways to improve customer service.  We are eager to work with businesses and other jurisdictions to get more done with less.  We have successfully partnered with surrounding cities on emergency preparedness, stream restoration of Miller Creek, and with King County on the Transit-oriented development.  We have a reputation as a can-do city which will help us through these tough times.

JB: Burien has too many empty storefronts; economic development efforts must be refocused. We must shift Burien’s economic development efforts to attract and retain small businesses, the lifeblood of a healthy community, by showcasing Burien’s competitive advantages: low rent and an ample, educated workforce. Filling empty storefronts helps all business prosper and also meets Burien’s sustainability goals – Burien residents shop in Burien rather than Southcenter.

We need to restore confidence in Burien’s ability to complete large projects.   Burien’s current leaders have mismanaged stalled projects such as 1st Avenue and Town Square; I will finish them. With the recession, Town Square is a special challenge.  Burien could establish a housing authority, leveraging lower interest rates and ability to attract HUD funding to complete the project and increase downtown parking. Burien could then sell completed condominiums at both market and senior rates, attracting downtown residents and boosting the business district.

4.  What kind of development would you like to see in the Northeast Redevelopment Area?

SB: I support development that is of the best and highest use for the residents of Burien.   This area has been one of Burien’s priorities since incorporation in 1993.  Currently, the City of Burien, working with the Port of Seattle, is preparing a strategy for redevelopment of the area.  The goal is to transform these acres of residential, vacant, public and small commercial land, which have been negatively impacted by the 3rd runway, to uses that are more compatible with Sea-Tac Airport operations and existing and planned surrounding land uses.  One of the goals of the strategy is to include flexible and market-responsive scenarios with policies and regulations to guide long-term development in this area.  A public workshop and stakeholder meetings were held in the fall of 2008.  Those sessions provided feedback that included a desire for public open space, retail, commercial, industrial and improved roads within the area.  At our most recent council meeting, there was also a proposal for a creative blend of residential and small businesses as a transition to more commercial and industrial uses.  Starting with this input, I will advocate for re-development that is smart, compatible, and appropriate for our city.

JB: I feel that two types of development would be ideal in the NERA area: an auto mall that allows our auto dealers to expand and prosper, while directing customers and their traffic to one area; and distribution-oriented businesses with a high ratio of employees to revenues, such as the ‘Boeing Parts Distribution Center’. A crucial component to any future NERA development is the construction of new off-ramps at the 518-Des Moines Way interchange. When I served Burien on the City Council 2003-2007, I championed this item for Burien’s 2006 legislative agenda. The city council is just now getting around, 3 years later, to making this issue a priority.

5.  Do you support taking steps to annex the rest of North Highline after the current annexation process is completed?  Why or why not?

SB: Burien has moved carefully on annexation, taking years to collect and review data as well as seek extensive public input.  I believe we have taken a manageable step in moving forward with the annexation of the southern portion of the North Highline annexation area.  Now we need to thoroughly assess the needs of our new and current residents and give ourselves time to get comfortable with this growth.  There are a number of nuts and bolts pieces, such as staffing, looking at zoning, etc. that will take time to process.  I believe that we need to work through these priorities and ensure that Burien’s public services provide effective support for the needs of our residents and businesses before considering further annexation.

JB: I am a supporter of annexation. However, I feel that the present council botched the recent North Highline annexation. Due to taxing authority differences between the county and a city, King County is currently running a nearly $8 million annual deficit serving the North Highline area. This put the city of Burien in an outstanding bargaining position that Burien failed to capitalize on. As a consequence, King County will be able to walk away from millions of dollars of capital projects that they failed to complete, leaving them for you and me to pay for.

Before the City of Burien proceeds with any future consideration of annexation, it must ensure that services are provided to Burien’s present citizens and those of the newly incorporated area first. I do not think that we should consider additional annexation for at least another 5-7 years. Future annexation must be contingent on the county providing incentives and offset funding.

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3 Responses to “Our Burien City Council Online Candidate Forum – Position #1: Sue Blazak vs Jack Block, Jr.”
  1. Julie Dow says:

    Block wants to tax restaurant customers .25 cents per drink?!!!! Wow. How to kill a restaurant scene, before it really starts, in one easy step! Now that’s economic development.

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    • I don’t think spending an extra quarter is going to stop anyone from purchasing a $6.00 mixed drink or a $4.00 glass of wine. Is an extra fifty cents going to make that huge a difference on a $40.00 restaurant bill that people will chose to patronize Marv’s Broiler or spend an extra $5.00 in gas to go down to Southcenter?

      Consider for a moment the burden the Utility Tax and the Business and Occupation Tax imposes on our small business owners. Both of these levys are collected regardless of whether or not a business is profitable. Eliminating both of these taxes would provide immediate relief and serve as an incentive towards opening a new business. The restaurant business is one of low profit margins and high costs. Anything that lowers the bottom line and increases profit will act as a stimulus.

      And what of the homeowner struggling to hang on to their home in the face of our current recession? Do we continue to tax their heat and light or do we look for alternatives that are fairer and less regressive?

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  2. Chester says:

    It’s interesting that an alcoholic would target an industry that he will not support. So no .25 tax for Jack. Maybe if the voters knew more about the city B&O tax in Burien they would see that this is not a hindrance to businesses moving or staying here. Let’s do some simple math.

    Business A – $100,000 of gross revenue would pay the following B&O tax in:

    Burien – .0005 = $50.00
    Seattle – .00415 = $415.00
    Washington State – .015 = $1500.00

    I don’t believe targeting bars/restaurants and multi unit landowners is fair to those business owners. How about we target union members and make them pay higher taxes. Don’ t think Jack would vote for that.

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