Opinion

Let's make a 'Neighborhood Connection' | Mayor's Memo

Federal Way Mayor Jim Ferrell speaks to a packed room during a Neighborhood Connection meeting at Brigadoon Elementary School last week. - Chris Carrel, City of Federal Way
Federal Way Mayor Jim Ferrell speaks to a packed room during a Neighborhood Connection meeting at Brigadoon Elementary School last week.
— image credit: Chris Carrel, City of Federal Way

Last week in the Brigadoon Elementary School gym, more than 110 Federal Way residents turned out to talk to city officials and staff in our first-ever Neighborhood Connection.

The meeting was intended to make City Hall more accessible and open to the voice of the people it serves. We’ll be bringing City Hall to five other neighborhoods this year and I encourage you to join us for one or more of these evenings.

When I was knocking on doors last summer during the election, I enjoyed many doorstep conversations with residents. Although people spoke of significant concerns such as neighborhood speeding problems or crime, they often didn’t know who to talk to, or didn’t think the city would address the problem. I realized that we needed to make it easier for residents to access their city government, and so Neighborhood Connection was born.

The Brigadoon meeting started with a brief introduction from Municipal Court Judge David Larson about dispute resolution services available to residents. Afterwards, I shared some of my priorities for the city, including plans to build a downtown park this year and the Blue Ribbon Panel working on the Performing Arts and Conference Center analysis.

While the focus of the evening was neighborhoods, I wanted to share our direction on downtown development plans, “everybody’s neighborhood.” A healthy downtown will be essential to generating revenues that support services, such as public safety, in neighborhoods throughout the community.

The meeting also offered the first opportunity to discuss a new direction toward supporting healthy neighborhoods. While we hear a lot about downtown development, neighborhoods are the backbone of Federal Way. We know there are problem properties in some areas. The community has an older housing stock, and economic challenges have impacted many property owners. Since the Great Recession, the city has seen a significant increase in citizen complaints about distressed properties.

Until now, we’ve relied on a complaint driven system for code enforcement, but that relies on neighbors reporting other neighbors. We will be changing to a proactive approach that focuses on the city identifying problem areas, and addressing them in a timely manner.

We recognize that in some cases, property owners may have health or financial challenges and the city and community will need to provide a hand up. However, the city cannot ignore intentional noncompliance. A home is our biggest investment and we can’t allow a problem property to drag a neighborhood down.

The highlight of the evening for me was when residents addressed their concerns directly to city officials. We heard about the traffic safety photo enforcement program and staff answered questions about this, along with questions about signal timing and coordination.

We heard concerns about suspicious activity in the neighborhood that police will follow up on and requests for speed enforcement and traffic calming devices. The event reminded me of those conversations last year on the doorstep, except this time, people addressed their questions to the right staff person, got an answer, or a commitment for follow-up action.

City government works best when it’s guided by the voice of the people. Whether you have a neighborhood issue that needs to be addressed, or want to share your thoughts on broader city policy, please join us at an upcoming Neighborhood Connection meeting.

For information, visit www.cityoffederalway.com/neighborhoodconnection

 

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