City council meetings are opportunities for public discussion as well as disseminating information. The public discourse offered at these meetings is often diverse and challenging. The public’s energy varies in amplitude based on issues, influencers and political positions of those seeking to leverage their voice by dominating the discussion.
The Federal Way City Council has been hearing frequently from individuals and groups who are frustrated, angry and making their presence felt at meetings on the issues of crime, homelessness, drug use, drug user remediation programs designed to serve local needs, and use of local hotels as temporary shelters. Collectively, we are all tired of seeing and dealing with homelessness, criminal behavior, drugs openly used on our streets — and the resulting debris.
Public discourse is part theater and an American political tradition. It serves as an acknowledgement that problems are not disappearing or getting resolved. Most of the time no solutions are offered, except for the “not in my backyard” mantra.
Council meetings allow time for public discourse, but they also provide an opportunity for invited guests to share information. At the Federal Way City Council meeting on April 5, 2022, State Sen. Claire Wilson as well as State Reps. Jesse Johnson and Jamila Taylor were presenters and shared recent legislative accomplishments relative to improving our city, region and state.
Their presentation outlined broadly the dollars, grants and resources that are being directed to the areas of economic and workforce development, behavioral health, violence prevention, youth engagement, public safety, courts, legal services, and transportation. Our 30th District legislators were able to secure significant funding to support many of the needs expressed by our city council, neighboring cities and citizens in their district.
They talked about the one-and-half-billion dollars that the Legislature allocated to a variety of transportation projects in King County with approximately $67 million directly allocated to support Federal Way’s city center access project, a light rail station at 356th Street and SR 18 eastbound off-ramp improvements. In fact, much of the SR 18 highway corridor will be upgraded to decrease congestion and improve safety and access to Interstate 90.
Our legislators understand that Federal Way is dealing with multiple human service problems that rarely have easy solutions. Funds were secured to support multiple areas of concern, and of the $11 million allocated statewide for municipal court interventions, a grant for $220,000 has been secured by Judge David Larson of Federal Way’s Municipal Court to support therapeutic interventions.
The funds being allocated for behavioral health, violence prevention, youth development, court and legal services are appreciated and necessary. Federal Way’s human service providers will benefit, but looking at the approximately $22 million allocation statewide for services in these areas means that there is some help, but not at a level robust enough to impact the scale of the problem. The challenge is significant and the issues of homelessness, drugs, mental health and crime are intertwined as well as separate issues depending on circumstances — and not likely to diminish anytime soon.
It is easy to nitpick the accomplishments of any city council or legislative body. Our current mainstay of concerned citizens had their turn at the microphone and expressed concerns on crime, as well as a desire to keep needed support services for the homeless and drug users out of Federal Way.
While mostly respectful, the council and legislators contended with a few voices stating that our legislators should not have: “supported that” or “that you did not do enough on reversing police reform” and “crime reduction issues.” This is a reality that all council members and legislators experience. However, the positive nature of having significant economic resources directed for the benefit of our community should not be overlooked.
Truthfully, what gets done on our behalf by any city council or Legislature will be seen by most as a step forward, while others will say it’s never enough and some will believe what got allocated is a waste of money. Finding balance can be challenging, especially when the needs are great, solutions feel unresolved in proportion to the challenge, or the solutions offered conflict with outcomes desired by some groups.
The task of allocating limited resources to a variety of challenges is never easy and our legislators should be commended for their efforts. As a community we will debate what our legislators did. Some of us will thank them and some will curse.
Our reactions have more to do with personal beliefs, but some of it is the reality that we are at the start of another campaign season with political parties and candidates looking for conflict and talking point issues. On the ballot will be our 30th District positions, a few county offices and members of Congress. As they say, politics isn’t beanbag, but constant trolling of one another is detracting from our capabilities to improve society for the greater benefit of all.
The public voices at the podium have concerns. Building a conceptual moat around our city may be desired by some to keep problems and people out, but no one ever explains how it will actually work or how it helps reverse homelessness or drug use. Our city cannot escape the problems it has, or the poverty that is slowly taking root in our community by wishing them to go elsewhere.
The 30th District legislators’ efforts at bringing economic, community and workforce development resources to our region will help with some of the problems. But it takes time to realize the benefits the current funding allocation will have for these programs.
When you feel, believe, or finally know you are in crisis, every ounce of help feels like it is too little and too late. Federal Way’s human service crisis has been happening for a prolonged period of time and is affecting much of our region, state, as well as our personal psyches. Expressing sentiments to have essential human services provided elsewhere is a disservice to those in need and situationally unrealistic.
The financial resources our current legislators brought home to the district deserve a thank you. For those seeking elected office or running to retain position, you are entering a season where every word spoken or written will be scrutinized, subject to being twisted, and as candidates being personally maligned — politics. To all who are running, remember that truth, integrity, kindness and facts matter.
The goal is to build a better community for all!
Keith Livingston is a retired municipal management professional, lifelong artist and Federal Way resident. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.