Auburn Mayor Nancy Backus addresses the crowd during her appearance in the State of the Cities event at the Community and Event Center in Les Gove Park on Tuesday. RACHEL CIAMPI, Auburn Reporter

Backus: more challenges to tackle | State of the City

The homelessness-opioid addiction nexus, crime, the long absence of a bowling alley from Auburn, too many empty storefronts on East Main Street.

These are among the many issues Auburn residents told Mayor Nancy Backus in recent weeks they wanted her to talk about in her then-upcoming State of the City Address.

And Thursday evening, Feb. 16, in her fourth such address since she took office in 2013, talk about them the mayor did, to a full house at Auburn Avenue Theater.

“We have made great strides as a city this year, and there is much to be celebrated and many accomplishments that we should take deep pride in, but we are also faced with many, many challenges — many of them challenges that you also asked for me to address here tonight,” Backus began.

Here is some of what Backus had to say:

Among the most serious problems Auburn is facing, as indeed is the rest of the nation, is homelessness. In 2015, the mayor noted, she assembled the Task Force on Homelessness to identify the scope and causes of homelessness in the city. Last May, the task force presented its solutions and a proposed action plan to the City Council, including 48 recommendations for how to proceed, such as increased access to hygiene services, showers, a place to wash laundry, greater access to health services, substance abuse treatment and transportation that allows people to reach these services and employment without the need for a vehicle.

She announced an emerging partnership between the City, Valley Cities Behavior Health Care and Auburn Food Bank to offer a day center to serve unsheltered residents.

Last summer, she said, Auburn became part of the King County Executive’s newly-formed Heroin and Prescription Opiate Addiction Task Force along with Seattle Mayor Ed Murray and Renton Mayor Denis Law.

Backus said the City has already taken the first steps to further stem the tide of drug abuse and addiction, a major concern, by working with the county “to identify and increase” the number of prescription drug take-back locations so unused drugs don’t end up on the street.

Auburn Police have equipped every patrol car with the overdose reversal drug Naloxone, commonly known as Narcan, a practice that has already saved two lives, she said.

As for crime, Backus said, even as the city has grown by about 7,000 persons, it has realized a decrease in the number of major crimes, among them arson, burglary, larceny and assault.

Backus noted that since 2013, the City has created six new officer positions and just created six more for 2017, including a fourth bike officer, a K9 officer, a detective and three others.

At the moment, the City is evaluating the use of emergency blue light phones in Les Gove Park. Embedded as they are within a secured post, the user automatically dials into emergency dispatch while activating a high-intensity blue strobe light to provide a beacon for emergency responders.

Backus pleaded for residents to help out:

“If you see something, say something. We depend on the eyes and ears of all of our residents,” Backus said.

She lauded the new Community and Event Center in Les Gove Park that opened last spring, and the pending expansion of the park itself out to Auburn Way South. Part of that expansion includes the former Big Daddy’s Drive-In property next to the library.

“I know many of us were saddened to see that structure come down last summer, but I want to assure you, we will be honoring the history of that landmark as we incorporate that space into the park. … Although the building was too unstable to keep, we were able to preserve the iconic pergola of the drive-in and will be transforming that into a space for special events and car shows,” Backus said.

For leavening, Backus announced two more blocks downtown the City expects to see begin development on in 2017:

• The Auburn Development Association should begin work on a 7-story, mixed-use building with 178 market affordable residential housing units on the block immediately south of Auburn City Hall.

• And south of that, Teutsch Partners expects to development of a 7-story, mixed-used site with a total of 138, market-rate residential units over ground-floor retail.