Federal Way’s flat earth thinkers

‘Save the Campus’ and Initiative 19-001 poverty crusaders don’t have a clear understanding of their impact.

Keith Livingston

Keith Livingston

The sun has made its annual cycle around the earth for Federal Way’s flat earth thinkers. This city’s flat earthers’ vision starts with the attitude of, “We might lose our personal standing if things change.” They ignore this city’s need for an influx of younger and college educated residents, new quality employment opportunities, and understanding what builds an energized middle-class city.

Flat earthers run the gamut from being undereducated to being well educated. They can be conservative, liberal, and some have achieved community leadership status. The common ground for our affluent, poor, liberal and conservative flat earthers is a fear of not being in control.

Examples of Federal Way’s flat earth thinking include the “Save the Campus” effort to get IRG/Woodbridge to build the campus “their-way” saga, and the successful 19-001 stable homes initiative. Both have good intentions and at the same time not a clear understanding of their impact.

The Save the Campus advocates have appealed every attempt by IRG/Woodbridge to get their development plans underway and the hearing examiners for each appeal have ruled in favor of IRG/Woodbridge. Grandiose statements from flat earth community leaders about turning the campus into a state park, with some minor economic development, demonstrate a lack of connection with reality. Funding in the multi-million-dollar range would be needed to purchase the site.

IRG/Woodbridge may ultimately achieve their stated development objectives. Developers take different approaches to community challenges. Some build community rapport and consider alternatives when their plans are not embraced — others don’t. Communication, competing expectations, leadership, understanding and common ground seem to be missing from all involved in our campus development saga.

Tick-tock — what could we do? Oh, light rail is coming. Could the campus re-invent itself as an office focused park, with a reduced warehouse footprint, based on light rail commuter traffic? There are major challenges standing in the way of achieving this as a mutually beneficial and potentially more exciting outcome for the city.

First, the city has to prove it can begin filling the existing 30% of vacant office space. Other problems facing Federal Way are its continuing drift toward poverty and the fact that our schools are not in high performance ranges. For this city to become a middle-class relocation target, it needs to be honest with itself on multiple fronts.

The stable homes initiative was passed as a tenant’s rights ordinance providing greater security than state law. The initiative mirrors many of the protections provided in recently passed state law. It attempts to provide an additional layer of protection for members of the military, first responders, seniors, family members, health care providers, or educators and seeks to prevent retaliation and discrimination in lease renewal actions.

This city’s housing stock is close to 48% multifamily. For tenants living in rental units this initiative sounds positive since its intent is to protect renters, who for whatever reason, believe they need additional protection. Initiatives are a will-of-the-people process but providers of rental units will absorb the protectionist language, adjust their contracts and price accordingly.

No statistics were provided letting us know if this additional layer of protection was necessary. It would have been good to know how many evictions by category there were triggering the necessity for the additional protection criteria created by 19-001. Searching for that data is cumbersome in county records and it may not exist.

Evictions in King County have been declining. In 2004 there were approximately 6,500 evictions and by 2017 that number decreased to about 4,500. In 2016 there were 171 evictions in Federal Way.

The cruel indignity in the room for 90% of evictions is lack of payment, and homelessness may be a result if new affordable housing is not obtainable. Evictions are considered a last resort solution by landlords due to expense and time. They are the Achilles-heal for all residents living near or at poverty level. However, this ordinance does not prevent any landlord from initiating an eviction process done properly with documented cause in King County courts.

Our poverty crusaders presented the initiative in a way that made us think that when it passed, Federal Way renters would have greater security within their tenant rights. The crusaders gained street credibility with the economically stressed and some fearful renters but not much else.

St. Jude, the patron of lost causes, might applaud both efforts. Passion for any cause is vital, but we need open discourse and a common vision for improving our community’s future. Our passionate flat earthers are busy protecting turf and are not establishing beneficial partnerships or allowing objectively framed dialogues for long-term success to occur.

Exercising passion to create economic partnerships for campus development or education opportunities preparing for an influx of better jobs available to Federal Way’s financially stressed, are better uses of our energy. Having dialogues to determine a path forward in communities or population segments that feel threatened by change are difficult.

Federal Way will not be able to fill its vacant office space and bring a new generation of middle-class families to our city until we embrace as core values education at all levels, the arts and the ability to listen openly and partner collaboratively. Finding value in one another and being at peace with change based on mutual respect and knowledge are the best ways to overcome flat earth thinking.

Keith Livingston is a longtime Federal Way resident and community observer. He can be reached at keithlivingstondesign@gmail.com.

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