The Burien City Council meeting on Monday night, May 6, 2024 included a legislative update from Sen. Karen Keiser and a report on policing issues from City Manager Adolfo Bailon. The council also discussed the Affordable Housing Demonstration Program and a potential ballot initiative to address city staffing shortages.

Legislative Update

Senator Karen Keiser, who will be retiring at the end of this year, gave Council her final legislative update. Senator Keiser said that during the short legislative session they were able to get a balanced budget passed. She added that over the last three years the state budget has earned a AAA bond rating. She also mentioned that not only was Washington State chosen as one of the top ten business-friendly states, it was also selected as one of the top five states for workers. 

She was proud to share that the state took a big step toward addressing faulty Port Packages, as well as other noise and air pollution mitigation. One package was approved for cleaning up the indoor air-quality of schools, and another includes $6 million to address air pollution.

Washington State will now be covering 100% of the cost of police officer training, rather than requiring departments to fund a portion of the cost. In addition, they will be increasing the capacity of the training centers. Keiser said staffing is an issue at every police department, and this will address that problem. She also said that state law now allows individual departments to create flexible schedules for experienced officers, so that they can reduce to part time without losing seniority. In the past, policing was an all-or-nothing position. She hopes this will help the state meet their goal of 30% female officers by 2030.

The state also passed legislation that should reduce the viability of stolen catalytic converter sales. Any dealers will need to provide documentation of where their catalytic converters came from. In addition, when cars are sold sellers will etch ID numbers onto the catalytic converter, so if it is stolen it will be identifiable.

Senator Keiser also shared that new gun legislation was passed, requiring gun owners to report theft within 24 hours and to be more proactive in preventing firearm theft.

City Manager’s Report

City Manager Adolfo Bailon described recent issues with the King County Sheriff’s Office (KCSO). He added that the county refuses to follow the terms of the contract they have with Burien. He said that Burien spends nearly 50% of its budget on this contract, and they need to insist that all contractors fulfill their obligations. 

Bailon also mentioned that the KCSO chose to host a community meeting at a time when they clearly knew the city council would be in their own meeting, effectively guaranteeing that city officials could not attend.

Public Comments

Comment time was increased to accommodate the 21 individuals who signed up to speak. Multiple commenters showed support for Police Chief Ted Boe, as well as to the officers asking for the resignation of the city manager. They said Burien should follow the direction of the county until the Supreme Court decision is made which will determine if the city’s code is legal. Another speaker said the county is causing division within the city, and that the police should uphold the contract. She encouraged people to attend King County Council meetings and stop placing blame where it doesn’t belong. One person asked that the city and county seek mediation in order to return to proper policing.

Regarding the homeless, speakers asked Council to remember that they are human beings. Over a minute of silence was observed in honor of the homeless who have died in Burien. Another speaker asked Council to drop the transitional housing lot size restrictions, and to increase the maximum occupancy in order to get the million dollars offered by the county for this project.

One speaker introduced a new group that has formed called Defenders of Highline Forests. Anyone interested in more info can go to their website, linked above. This speaker reminded Council that in 2017 a study found that our area should have at least 40-60% tree canopy, but it only had 30% at the time. The stated goal of the plan was to plant 1900 trees annually, but according to the Green Burien Partnership’s recent update, only 800 trees were planted last year. They said that trees are the antidote to issues caused by global warming, and the city should put even more support behind the tree campaign.

One person spoke about the new permit fees on the consent agenda. He said the idea that they are only increasing to meet the actual cost of processing permits is crazy. He said processing a lot line adjustment application should not cost $1700 for simply reviewing the application. He added that this is one of the things driving up the cost of housing.

Affordable Housing Demonstration Program Likely To Be Extended

Council gave unanimous approval for extending the Affordable Housing Demonstration Program, which encourages the development of all levels of affordable housing throughout the city. Without this extension, the program would expire at the end of this year. Unfortunately, there have been no new applicants since the original three developments were accepted years ago. Those were Habitat for Humanity, EcoThrive, and DESC. 

Council directed staff to find out from developers, if possible, what has discouraged them from utilizing the program. Councilmember Jimmy Matta said the COVID 19 pandemic, as well as the rising cost of construction have hindered development.

Mayor Kevin Schilling expressed that the ultimate aim is to figure out how to permanently change Burien’s code in order to encourage affordable housing development long term. This extension will be voted on at a coming meeting.

Potential Ballot Initiative For City Staffing & Public Safety

According to City Manager Adolfo Bailon, Burien is short 38.5 staff positions in order to be considered fully staffed. Because they are so shorthanded, everyone is working hard to get the basics done, going above and beyond every day. This ends up being less effective over the long run, and good staff leave for other cities where they are not so overburdened. He said that many departments are just one person, so their work comes to a complete halt when they have to take on something else, go on vacation, or are sick.

Because of this shortage, in order to meet budgetary needs and bring on more staff, the council is looking into a ballot initiative that will ask voters to decide if they want to increase property taxes that go to the city. The initiative would bring taxes up to $1.60 per $1000 of assessed property value. The current tax rate is $0.82 per $1000, so the new rate nearly doubles the portion of property taxes that residents pay to Burien. However, this is only a small portion of total property taxes property owners pay, since the majority goes to schools, libraries, and the county.

Councilmember Linda Akey said this ask is huge, and she wants to make sure the city is being fiscally responsible with the funds. Councilmember Sarah Moore added that she doesn’t know if there is community support for this kind of added expense, and that the city seems too divided to pass this. This was just an early discussion of the potential plan, with more to come at future meetings.

Transitional Housing Zoning Discussion Tabled

Council voted unanimously to table their discussion around transitional housing zoning changes, for legal review. However, they did vote in favor of restricting the location of transitional housing around schools, playgrounds, and childcare centers. Councilmember Matta abstained from this vote, and Councilmebmbers Moore and Garcia voted no, explaining that limiting the location of transitional housing made it next to impossible to proceed with building the pallet village.

Meeting Time Changes To Be Discussed

Councilmember Sarah Moore has expressed at multiple recent meetings that she wants to have a discussion around the scheduling of regular and special meetings. Recently the start time of the council meetings has been up in the air, and multiple meetings were canceled, as addressed in this Letter to the Editor. She said this wastes the time of guests and the public. This topic will be added to a future meeting agenda.


View full video of the meeting here.

Mellow DeTray is a Seattle native who has spent the last 16 years raising her family in Burien. She has volunteered at many local establishments over the years, including the Burien Library, Burien Actors...

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