By Nicholas Johnson

Burien’s planning commission has signed off on four proposed additions to the city’s comprehensive plan, including an equity goal to “provide opportunity for all people in Burien to benefit equally from City services, processes, and investments, regardless of identity, community, or socioeconomic circumstances.”

According to the equity policy proposal, which was developed by a group of eight city staff from various departments, the city acknowledges that “government policies and practices have disproportionate impacts based on community and identity.

“For example, these disproportionate impacts result in less public investment and more barriers to civic participation for Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) communities, immigrant communities, low-income communities, and people with disabilities,” the proposal reads.

The city’s proposal also lays out five policies intended to “ensure that all its communities are given the opportunity to thrive and that all communities are valued, respected, and self-directed.”

Following a public hearing in which one person spoke, the commission voted unanimously Wednesday evening to recommend that the city council adopt the additions. In doing so, the commission also encouraged the city council to direct staff to develop an equity plan.

“We have a tree plan,” said commissioner Amanda Kay, referring to the Green Burien Partnership Urban Forest Stewardship Plan, which was adopted by council in November 2020 and would be incorporated by reference into the comprehensive plan as part of this year’s proposed additions.

“I think we also need to have an equity plan,” Kay said. “Otherwise, we are not being true to equity, we are being performative with equity.”

The commission also strengthened the language of the five proposed equity policies by changing the word “should” to “shall” in each policy.

“I think that makes it a lot stronger,” said Ryan Davis, the commission’s vice chair. “It gives it some teeth.”

Other Additions
The proposed comprehensive plan changes also include adding a goal to protect and enhance the city’s urban forests and a policy to implement the city’s Urban Forest Stewardship Plan, as well as a policy to create a tree replacement fund to mitigate the loss of mature trees in the city.

“The fund would likely be implemented through a fee-in-lieu program for offsite tree replacement when development applicants are unable to retain onsite trees as part of their development proposals,” Alex Hunt, a city planner, said during the commission’s Aug. 11 meeting.

The proposed changes also include incorporating by reference the city’s Housing Action Plan, which is on track to be adopted by the city council on Sept. 20, as well as adding a land-use policy to “establish minimum density standards in targeted areas to discourage underdevelopment of land resulting in reduced capacity for housing and jobs.”

The city council is scheduled to discuss the proposed additions during its Sept. 20 meeting before potentially adopting them in October.

Restrictive Covenants
During the commission’s discussion of the proposed additions Aug. 11, Kay asked whether the city has maps, similar to those of Seattle, showing redlined areas of the city, where banks historically refused financial services such home loans to nonwhite people.

Susan McLain, the city’s Community Development director, said staff has looked for such maps but has not found any covering Burien. However, she said the history of racial restrictive covenants in Burien has been at least partially documented by the University of Washington’s Seattle Civil Rights & Labor History Project.

While housing discrimination on the basis of race or ethnicity has been illegal since 1968, racial deed restrictions established between 1926 and 1948 linger in hundreds of property deeds throughout Burien – from Shorewood to Gregory Heights and Three Tree Point to Beverly Park, Boulevard Park and Southern Heights – according to the UW project.

For example, a 1928 restrictive covenant covering 104 properties in the Three Tree Point neighborhood says, “Said property shall not be owned, leased to, mortgaged to, used or occupied as a residence by any person not of the white race.”

In the Shorewood on the Sound development, a 1939 restrictive covenant covering 452 properties says, “All of said subdivision shall be occupied, leased or rented by only the white of Caucasian race, except domestic servants of a different race are not prohibited when domiciled with an owner or tenant.”

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Nicholas Johnson (he/him) is an award-winning writer, editor and photographer who grew up in Boulevard Park, graduated from Highline High School and studied journalism at Western Washington University. Send news tips, story ideas and positive vibes to [email protected].