King County Councilmember Jeanne Kohl-Welles
I have been honored to serve on the King County Council since January 2016 after I was elected to succeed Councilmember Larry Phillips, who retired after 23 years of service. I was re-elected to my position in 2019 and I am loving being able to continue representing the people of District 4 and beyond on the County Council.
I have always worked collaboratively to achieve common-sense solutions on tough issues. This year, I’m serving as Chair of the Budget and Fiscal Management Committee — a position responsible for crafting the biennial and supplemental budgets. Because of the economic fallout caused by COVID-19 pandemic, this has been an extremely challenging undertaking. However, I am working diligently to ensure we pass our 2021-2022 biennial budget that meets our community’s needs and adheres to our county’s social justice and racial equity values and aspirations.
The budget process will take place Sep. 22-Nov. 17. In addition, as of September 1st, I have led the Council in passing four emergency COVID-19 budgets and have one more to go (see COVID-19 Response below). We’ve also passed a supplemental budget to our current 2019-20 biennial budget and will take up one more later in the Fall.
My goals as an elected leader continue to reflect social and racial justice and economic opportunity, including advocating for income equality and tax fairness; eliminating disproportionality in our juvenile and adult criminal justice systems; providing for affordable housing, health and mental and behavioral health services and homelessness programs; expanding protections against domestic and sexual violence; working toward environmental sustainability; and increasing transit/transportation revenue to increase mobility and congestion relief.
Here are some of my priorities and issues I have been working on:
Racial justice and equity
I am committed to continuing the fight for racial justice and equity policies that have the power to dismantle and disrupt racism in our region and beyond.
The brutal murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade and so many other fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers, friends and neighbors and the violence against people of color across our country are a constant reminder of the pain, anguish, and trauma of being Black in this country. Some live this daily; others bear witness and either passively or actively benefit from a system that reinforces the privilege of those with white skin.
Despite the progress made in the Civil Rights Movement, vestiges of white supremacy continue to live on -- as evidenced in our culture, attitudes, norms, and assumptions, as well as in our institutions and systems.
Since the calls for action in the wake of the murder of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers, we have taken strong steps to effect needed change. Here are some of the highlights:
• The Council and the Board of Health proclaimed racism a public health crisis in King County.
• I co-sponsored an ordinance that passed that to require sheriff’s deputies to ensure youth are able to seek to an attorney before waiving their constitutional rights.
• We approved a ballot measure to approve reforming the inquest process to ensure families of those killed by sheriff’s deputies are provided legal representation by amending the county’s charter*
• We approved a ballot measure to approve granting subpoena power to the Office of Law Enforcement and Oversight to aid in its investigations by updating the county’s charter*
• We placed a charter amendment for the November ballots to make the King County Sheriff an appointed rather than elected position. *
• We approved a ballot measure to approve specifying that inquests should be performed for deaths in the county’s jails and provide the family of the deceased with legal representation during the inquest process *
*This is a charter amendment change that will appear on the November ballot for a public vote to approve or reject.
In the meantime, we can all re-commit to educating ourselves on structural racism, on racial justice, and on the legacy of oppression in the United States. Not sure where to start? Here are a few suggestions:
• The unbearable grief of Black mothers – Vox
• On George Floyd and the struggle to belong – UC Berkeley Othering & Belonging Institute
• 75 things white people can do for racial justice – Medium
Presenting 1,000 cloth masks to Mike Tulee, executive director of United Indians of All Tribes at Daybreak Star in Magnolia.
Since March, the Budget committee, under my leadership, has adopted four emergency COVID-19 supplemental budgets appropriating federal CARES Act funding to respond to the evolving needs of our community. Budgets have included funding for food security, housing stability such as rental assistance, homeless services, digital equity for students, and programs assisting domestic violence victims and survivors and those with behavioral health needs.
My staff and I have been busy distributing basic cloth masks to a variety of senior centers, food banks and other non-profit organizations serving my district so they can be distributed to people in need, especially those from vulnerable populations. In total, we are distributing nearly 25,000 masks throughout District 4. You can read more about what we’ve been doing at the county level to help people get masks and stay safe in an Op-Ed I wrote for the Queen Anne Magnolia News by clicking here.
This has been a very stressful and trying time and the situation is still evolving. It’s obvious that the best thing we can do to stay healthy and prevent the spread of the illness is to stay informed. Since the onset of the virus, I have been sending out a regular e-news update to help subscribers keep up with latest information. You can view each of these updates by clicking here. And, if you haven’t already, you can subscribe to these updates by clicking here.
Affordable housing and homelessness
Homelessness in King County continues to reach alarming numbers and the situation is only worsening with the onslaught of the COVID-19 pandemic. Increasing access to affordable housing and emergency support is a high priority for me, and one I will continue to address as the Council’s Budget Chair.
While we continue to make large investments in improving our homelessness response system and building more affordable housing units, there continues to be a strong correlation between increases in rent and in the number of people experiencing homelessness in our region. We also know that solving homelessness is more than just providing affordable housing. Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) are disproportionately represented in the rates of homeless in King County, and increasing income inequality, paired with a lack of available affordable housing and a growing population, are root causes of our crisis. Some who are experiencing homelessness may also need support with such challenges as substance use dependencies, mental and behavioral health challenges, reentry into the community post-incarceration, workforce readiness and access to affordable transportation.
Much of our work recently has focused on creating a new regional homelessness authority. The legislation, of which I was the lead sponsor, aimed to unify, consolidate and streamline our region’s fragmented homelessness response across jurisdictional boundaries. In the end, we passed compromise legislation last December establishing the King County Regional Homelessness Authority as an administrative agency through an interlocal agreement (ILA) between Seattle and King County. This new regional, multidimensional authority includes elected leaders, regional stakeholders, county and city agencies, individuals with lived experience, the philanthropic community and experts in the field, and has the capacity to build a solid alliance across governments to reverse our homelessness crisis.
You can read more about this new system by clicking here.
I remain committed to addressing climate change head-on and approaching this crisis as a public health emergency – one like we’ve never seen before. As a County we must continue to lead on this issue. Using an equity lens, I am continuing to promote policies to achieve environmental justice so that we can protect our front-line communities who bear a disproportionate burden of the negative impacts of the climate crisis.
Most recently, County Executive Constantine announced his proposal for the County’s new 2020 Strategic Climate Action Plan, which includes cutting greenhouse gas emissions countywide in half by the end of the decade, a stronger focus on climate justice, and preparing the region for climate impacts.
The County exceeded the goals it set in the 2015 Strategic Climate Action Plan to make its own operations more energy efficient. The next plan recommends actions that will reduce greenhouse gas emissions at a region-wide scale, reducing countywide greenhouse gas emissions by 50%by 2030 and 80%by 2050. It also accelerates the County’s commitment to reducing emissions from its operations by 80%by 2030, 20 years sooner than called for in the previous plan.
Last year I introduced, and the Council passed, legislation to speed up the electrification of King County Metro Transit buses and other county vehicles. Read about the legislation in this article from Crosscut.
You can also read more about Executive Constantine’s announcement about the 2020 plan in this article from The Seattle Times.
Access to transit
Councilmember Kohl-Welles being interviewed in front of one of Metro’s brand-new, battery electric, zero-emission buses
I will continue to work hard to ensure our residents and workers, especially those historically left behind, have access to reliable and affordable transit in King County. Our region continues to experience enormous growth. But with growth come major challenges. People who have long lived in certain areas are being pushed out as the cost of living rises. But some of the best jobs remain in Seattle making it a challenge to commute affordably and rapidly. Funding public transit in innovative and equitable ways will not only help reduce congestion on our roads, but also help communities stay connected and make it possible for people to have access to good jobs and education so they can achieve their fullest potential.
Here are some of the transit-related issues I have been working on lately:
• A new very low-income fare pilot to provide fare-free rides for our most vulnerable and struggling community members. You can read more about this program by clicking here.
• New fare enforcement policies making fare enforcement less punitive and disproportionately harmful to low-income riders and our most vulnerable residents. Click here to learn more.
• Last year, Metro Access began operations under a new contractor that includes heightened customer service standards and requirements. I am tracking Metro Access operations closely to ensure the riders who depend on Access are getting the best service possible. We have reached the six-month review point for this new contract and you can read the initial report on operations to this point by clicking here.
• Waive enforcement of Metro bus fares when Metro activates its Emergency Snow Network to encourage people to use transit and avoid driving during severe snowstorms.
• Funding for a study to explore implementing a Downtown Seattle to Ballard water taxi route. This is an important follow up study that was recommended in an initial report of potential water taxi routes that was released in 2015.
Fighting for orcas and improved water quality
Our livelihood and the livelihood of marine life in Puget Sound, especially our Southern Resident killer whales, are threatened by water pollution from a variety of sources. We must be proactive to mitigate this damage and keep our waters clean.
In the 2018 biennial budget I was able to secure funding for a study on whether and how wastewater affects juvenile salmon, Southern Resident killer whales and marine life in Puget Sound. That study should help provide more information on how we can improve our wastewater treatment processes to improve water quality.