Hey, it’s no big secret: Mayor Nancy Backus likes to talk about the many things that connect Auburn’s residents to City Hall and vice versa.
Indeed, Backus enjoys talking about “connections” so much she returned to the subject time and again in her annual state of the city address at the Auburn Avenue Theater on Wednesday night.
“The work of our city is defined by our connection as a community and the true transformations that define us are built around people,” Backus said.
Top among those connections: the dollars taxpayers provide the city, and what the city does with them.
In 2018, Backus said, the city invested more than $29 million dollars in capital projects to cut into congestion, and make the streets safer for everybody.
Last year, Backus said, Auburn’s public works employees replaced more than 30 miles of deteriorating roadway, added almost four miles of sidewalk and installed eight complete traffic signal systems.
Work on 15th Street Northeast provided new roadway surfaces and enhanced pedestrian access on a street that serves as a major route for buses and freight vehicles, supporting more than 30,000 vehicles daily and more than four million tons of cargo each year, Backus said.
In 2018, the city completed major improvements on Auburn Way North and South, streamlining driveways and upgrading curbs, sidewalks and signaled crossings.
In 2018, the city added more than 7,000 feet of new water main, 11,500 feet of storm drains, 400 feet of sewer pipe and 16 new dedicated coliform bacteria sampling stations, in addition to more than 2,700 backflow assembly tests and 900 drinking water sampling tests.
“This ensures the water that flows through the homes in our city is free of hazardous contaminant,” Backus said. “And, according to the American Water Works Association, it is also the tastiest tap water in the region.”
But Backus also touched on the many small changes she called “the foundation of the city’s work.”
“Tonight, I am happy to report that despite significant population growth in the past year, violent crimes in our city have fallen in every sector, as has vehicle theft and overall calls to 911,” she said. “… Not all crimes have fallen. Theft has risen slightly, and Auburn is certainly not immune to the challenges that other larger influences, such as the opioid epidemic, are having on these numbers.”
The city, Backus stressed, is not taking a passive role in addressing the problems.
“Last year, your City Council passed a SODA ordinance – Stay Out of Designated Area ‐ that allows for judges to issue additional orders during sentencing that block those convicted of drug‐related crimes from entering certain areas within the city,” Backus said. “Working together with outside police agencies, our city attorney, community development and code enforcement, our officers have identified the areas of our city where illegal drug activity is causing the most hurt, and they are employing additional anti‐drug emphasis in these neighborhoods.”
Backus cited the formation of strong partnerships between residents and police officers through community-policing initiatives. Last summer, bike officers joined forces with the parks department to offer two new programs as part of a King County Youth and Amateur Sports grant that allowed for the purchase of 30 new mountain bikes, helmets, tools and an 18‐foot trailer to carry the whole shebang from city to trail.
“This Outdoor Adventures Program and REC Riders teen program is creating connections between our police force and the larger community around a shared passion for biking and the outdoors, and is one of the many ways our police force is striving to develop mentoring relationships between officers and youth, allowing them to engage in positive experiences together,” Backus said.
“We recognize that our first line of defense in identifying a problem at the very onset is by listening and connecting with the people who live in our neighborhoods,” Backus said. “This is your home. and no one knows it, or is more invested in it, than you. As part of that, our neighborhoods team will be increasing the number of engagement events this year. Beyond our community picnics, we will also be hosting gatherings and offering informational booths at all of our summer cinema events as well as once monthly at the farmers market.”
High cost of housing
One of the city’s greatest challenges, Backus said, is ensuring that residents can continue to afford the cost of their home as the regional housing boom continues to push more people to this area and the price of housing goes up. According to the Puget Sound Regional Council, in the Seattle‐Tacoma metro area, a single household must earn $150,000 to afford a median‐priced home, the equivalent of six full-time jobs at minimum wage, Backus said. Likewise, three in five low‐income renters spend more than 50 percent of their income on housing – leaving little money left over for utilities, food or medicine.
In the fall of 2017, Backus said, King County Executive Dow Constantine, King County Councilwoman Claudia Balducci and cities throughout the county established the Regional Affordable Housing Task Force to address this gap and to create a set of recommendations on how to increase construction and preservation of affordable housing in the region.
That group released a final report and summary this past December that outlined a five‐year action plan aimed at eliminating the severe cost burdens faced by many middle‐ and low‐income families in the region. One of the recommendations was to support renter protections and update zoning and land-use regulations to allow for a greater diversity of housing types, particularly multi‐family units.
“In addition to this effort, Auburn has been a key collaborator in the South King Housing and Homelessness Partnership. This coalition of seven south county cities is focused on providing safe, healthy, affordable access to housing in our communities. Building on the recommendations of the task force, this collaboration allows our cities to pool resources and work as a unified body in developing plans, policies and programs that addresses south county needs,” Backus said.
Last year, Backus joined Constantine and Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan in convening One Table, a regional effort to bring together leaders from the business, nonprofit, philanthropic, faith and government sectors to identify the root causes of homelessness. The group released its recommendations this past fall with action plans that address behavioral health, inequities in the child welfare and criminal justice systems, employment and housing costs.
“We are also working with our neighbor cities in Pierce County through a mayors roundtable that is allowing us to achieve a shared understanding of each jurisdiction’s perspectives and concerns around housing affordability, learn from one another’s experiences and commit to collective action,” Backus said. “Here in Auburn, we continue to provide hands‐on assistance to homeowners through our housing repair program – offering low‐income residents minor emergency home repairs that ensure that they are able to stay in their homes.”
“We are also continuing our support of the Auburn Food Bank and Valley Cities through the Ray of Hope day shelter and Sundown overnight shelter as we work to find lasting solutions for those in our community experiencing homelessness,” Backus said.
“The future of Auburn is bright. We are a community tied together by the shared love of our city and strengthened by the great diversity of people who are part of it. We are connected by our history, traditions and values, and we will grow together with the common goal of our continued success,” Backus said. “I hope that you will continue to connect with us throughout the year to share your thoughts, perspectives and ideas on how we can build on this success and how we can best serve you and our growing community.”