Wants, needs and expectations, when used to describe Federal Way’s present and future, are either three peas in a pod or vegetables from different planets. Add to that mix honesty, crime and blame, and you have the peas politicians use as illusions. So, let’s talk fact, fiction and Federal Way. It is election season, and soup is being made.
Candidates run for office using the premise that they are capable of being the solution, good stewards of tax dollars and the community will have a brighter future when they are in charge. They are good people but most are muddlers in search of a political pedigree. Rare is the gem that can shoulder the burden and transform a city, county, state or country.
Let’s start with the reality that there are no gems in the current City Council candidate offering. We have several long-service politicos who know the game, think small and have generated no results to slow the decline. Next are council members who are trying, but their ideas aren’t clear, their voice is shallow and they operate as empathetic reactors. Then we add fresh personalities to the mix, offering new seasonings for our soup, but the flavor still comes up wanting.
Just realize the problem may not be with the candidates, it may be with our collective thinking as well as how Federal Way evolved and our education level. King County’s average for residents having a bachelor’s degree or higher is 50 percent. Our city’s average is 26 percent. Not an attractive statistic for companies looking for a highly-educated community to support their endeavors as they grow their business.
Federal Way is part of a black hole island of cities that are economically challenged, under-educated, have schools that are acceptable but not exciting, and are culturally void of a strong arts presence. The cities in this black hole are Auburn, Kent, Federal Way, Des Moines, SeaTac, Burien, Tukwila, Milton, Pacific, Algona, and a portion of unincorporated King County. Collectively they have a population close to 500,000.
This community of cities shares traits of common borders, poverty, low-tech jobs, mostly low wage opportunities, no university presence, lower health expectations, few corporate headquarters with state or national clout, and schools that are considered less competitive with schools in Seattle and Eastside cities. It is hard to tend your soil with both hands tied behind your back.
Everyone living in any of these cities should be angry at what appears to be a history of political ineptitude combined with decisions made by others to drive poverty and lower skilled workers toward south King County. This has created a less than competitive standard when compared to the success of our northern peers.
Federal Way was for a long time an exception within this black hole when Weyerhaeuser was in its heyday. They lost their edge, moved away and we joined the weeds.
The fiction is that Federal Way will get better with minimal effort, by reducing crime and focusing on social ills. For this city to excel and establish itself as a desired middle-class destination and begin filling its 30 percent of vacant office space, it has to regain a sense of self and commit to positioning our students to succeed at consistently high levels. Being the best at educating today’s youth is our smartest path forward.
Our elected council elites actually have little to do directly with who comes and goes as residents or businesses. They are busy overseeing revenues, budgets, service choices, zoning, development, reacting to crime and other problems, seeking photo-ops, and grappling with challenges often not of their making. The city can set the table but they can’t control who comes, why they came, or caliber of who they are.
Building multifamily housing may be a necessity for meeting demand and maintaining affordability. However, with displacement due to higher-end economic growth causing housing costs to rise in Seattle and Eastside cities, Federal Way is becoming a choice destination for those with lesser means and skills.
Adding multifamily units is a neutral proposition, but the unintended consequences of more units in an area that is increasing in poverty, means you will attract more poverty regardless of what the developer says. Are we competing to be a low-end, poverty-attracting city?
When we as residents start complaining to council about anything it generally means that the damage has been done. Good people run for office with positive intentions wanting to make a difference, but they may not have the abilities necessary to think beyond their election.
Elected officials focusing primarily on the downtrodden may shortchange our opportunity to invest in needs and wants desired by next generation middle-class families. If you do not know their expectations or how we got to our present, it will be hard to implement solutions for a better future.
At best we may be able to stop the decay by electing a few new peas from the current crop. However, to begin making a long-term impact on this city’s future we need to reorient our garden toward cultivating community, culture, education, becoming educated and valuing entrepreneurial opportunities capable of filling vacant office space with a new generation of jobs.
Elections are about new beginnings, so choose wisely. Otherwise we will continue being a community adrift in search of our past. I know we can make a quality soup, but we need better ingredients.
Keith Livingston is a longtime Federal Way resident and community observer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.