Packed house hears lively debate at B-Town Blog Candidate Forum Tuesday
Hopefuls for Burien City Council positions One and Seven discussed their views on a variety of issues at a candidates’ forum presented by the B-Town Blog at the ERAC building on Tuesday night, July 16.
Candidates for council positions Three and Five will participate in a second forum on July 23 at 7 p.m., also at the ERAC (Educational Resource and Administrative Center) building at 15675 Ambaum Blvd. SW.
Participating candidates were Lauren Berkowitz and Jack Block Jr., who are running for Position One, and Joey Martinez and Chuck Rangel for Position Seven.
Berkowitz is a union and community organizer and a law student at the University of Washington. Block is serving a second term on the city council and belongs to the International Longshore and Warehouse Union.
Martinez, who ran for the city council in 2011, is employed by the City of Seattle. Rangel, who is retired, worked for the Municipal Research and Services Center and was a commercial loan officer.
Steve Armstrong, who is also running for Position Seven, was unable to attend Tuesday’s forum and will participate in the July 23 exchange. Kip Walton, the third candidate for Position One, declined to participate.
Panelists were B-Town Blog senior reporter Jack Mayne and Burien’s first Mayor Arun Jhaveri. Local attorney Joe Breidenbach was moderator.
Several questions posed to the candidates and their responses – paraphrased in part – follow.
To listen to a full, raw audio version of the forum, click here.
Here’s a video, courtesy Pat LeMoine:
What are your vision and priorities for Burien for the next 20 years?
Berkowitz: Our community needs to become more vibrant. For example, sidewalks and bike paths and safe ways for our kids to get to school. Our downtown area needs more stories – but with safeguards so they are positive businesses that are good for families and make Burien a safer, happier and more vibrant community.
Block: It is time to revisit our vision (which was adopted after Burien was incorporated in 1993). We’ve worked hard to build a great community. I would engage our citizens to develop a vision that helps us grow and prosper. Our citizens also need to have an opportunity to determine if they want to continue with the present system of government or have an elected mayor.
Martinez: Public safety is the city’s number one priority. We have a safe city overall but we have an image problem and this image problem hurts Burien and we need to change that. I would also work with our Spanish-speaking population and include their voices.
Rangel: For the last 30 years this Latino was working in the community. That is not the issue. I still believe that Burien can be a fantastic neighborhood community with an outstanding business core. The city should not be so hard and demanding on businesses that want to come to Burien. An example is Home Depot, which decided against locating here due to conditions placed on it.
Would you continue the CARES contract for animal control?
Berkowitz: CARES contracts out city work so it’s a labor issue. It’s also an animal and people safety issue. (Berkowitz recalled that she was attacked by dogs on the loose while out walking her own dogs.) We need more information. I would want to create a task force to study the issue. Generally I’m opposed to contracting out city services – contracting out public service work. I would be a no vote.
Block: I was a no vote when the CARES contract was amended (with an additional $50,000 a year and a two-year extension) at Monday night’s city council meeting. It is an inappropriate expenditure of our hard-earned tax dollars. Our priority for spending tax dollars is for our two-legged citizens. I prefer that the city have a professional animal control officer, not well-meaning volunteers.
Martinez: For me it’s really about the money. We can’t afford King County Animal Control. Until the economy improves I would keep CARES. The CARES contract saves Burien over $200,000 a year (compared to King County). I would have voted yes on the amended contract.
Rangel: I wrote several articles on animal control when I was at the MRSC. We need to find out what we really need to spend for animal control. I will look at the CARES books and evaluate every dollar spent.
How would you balance economic development, environmental stewardship, and community development?
Berkowitz: All three fit perfectly well together. Environmental sustainability includes reducing car runoff by building sidewalks. It means encouraging family wage businesses, which will give us more tax dollars for police and schools, and for planning and execution.
Block: Without addressing these we don’t have a complete community – a safe community that’s clean and free of pollution. One reason we incorporated as a city is because there were too many apartments going in in inappropriate locations and we needed zoning laws. Everything is connected.
Martinez: Economic development, environmental stewardship, and community development depend on public safety. By making Burien safe we are providing for our kids and we are providing for the future. Burien is already a safer city.
Rangel: Citizen safety is the number one priority. I would deal with these issues with technical knowledge. We have to have the ability to understand the experts.
Would you attempt again to annex unincorporated North Highline?
Berkowitz: I live four houses south of the (north) city limits. I would definitely try to annex. My community is completely and arbitrarily split in two. Annexation helps the city with more tax revenue and helps my neighborhood. There is a lot of passion in North Highline that we need in our city. The best way is to unite them with us, not keep them away.
Block: North Highline voters rejected annexation by a two-to-one margin. White Center has its own identity, and it should try to find its own destiny. King County will lose $7 million this year with its structural deficit in serving that area, and it has a $77 million capital improvement deficit. White Center residents do not want to join Burien.
Martinez: Yes. But the current deal (for annexation with King County last year) is not enough. It’s more than White Center – it’s White Center and North Highline, which is a gold mine.. But I wouldn’t bring it up again unless King County makes more concessions.
Rangel: No. The people don’t want it. The voice of the people is passionate. By ignoring them, are we to say we’re better than they are? I’m not going to sit here and say that I know better.
Will you impose term limits of six to eight years on yourself?
Berkowitz: You won’t see me run for re-election, if I am elected, more than twice. It’s about meeting community needs. I’m running to bring the community back to the council, and term limits will help.
Block: We are a democracy and as a democracy the power of who represents us is up to the people. It’s up to them to research the candidates and then vote.
Martinez: I don’t agree with term limits but I support researching them. It’s up to the citizens. Maybe public financing of elections would help more people to run for office.
Rangel: I will be 75 after serving two terms if elected. Beyond that I will have to leave it to someone else.
How would you partner with the school system and insure that our kids graduate on time?
Berkowitz: My responsibility is to provide for a successful and vibrant community. Where people care about the kids they do well. When they don’t, the kids don’t. This can be addressed by bringing the community back into the council.
Block: Education is not somebody else’s problem, it’s everybody’s problem. We need to come together and work together as a village and to recognize the fact that our children are struggling and this is at a crisis level.
Martinez: We need to work with the Highline School District. The schools are idle at night. We need to work to keep kids engaged and to keep them out of trouble. That’s what’s important.
Rangel: Burien is a city. It is responsible for public safety for people and for public works. High school graduation is a function of the school district.
How will you avoid dipping into reserves to balance the budget as was done this year?
Berkowitz: I see it as an opportunity for collaboration in finding sources by working with community groups to bring in money. For example, paying for sidewalks by working with environmental groups for grants for outside money.
Block: I’m proud that I opposed a tax increase that was proposed to balance this year’s budget. We had reserves in excess of what is needed so I recommended that we tap it. We need to recognize that it’s the citizen’s money. I opposed raising taxes. Our citizens need relief.
Martinez: I believe the reserves have been repaid. There are ways to balance the budget short of raising taxes.
Rangel: It’s as simple as what you do with your wallet. What are the choices that we have? We know what we have to provide for, beginning with public safety. The city council has to make tough budget choices.
What would you do to fill vacant store fronts in Burien with businesses?
Berkowitz: It is dangerous to consider this without a vision. We need to make a place for business to make Burien a more vibrant city that attracts businesses and spirals the community up. We have to have a vision and stick to it.
Block: It is important to attract the right businesses. The last thing Burien needs is a WalMart. It is important that we make this a major focus and find our niche for the city’s economic future. We need to utilize assets like our restaurants and the performing arts center. We need to focus on businesses like the Train Shop to grow a thriving economy and rebuild our downtown core.
Martinez: Bringing in these businesses is vitally important, but the city can only do so much. Other people own the vacant properties. It has to start with the property owners. But if the city gives away too much in tax incentives, then there won’t be the revenue you need.
Rangel: Sometimes Burien makes too many demands on businesses. When Home Depot wanted to come here, the city made too many demands and they left. This would have been a Godsend with good jobs and our sales tax revenue would have gone up.
Here are some photos from the forum by Michael Brunk (click images to see larger versions/slideshow):