Annexation at the White Center of Controversy

The Seattle City Council scuttles a plan to adopt a “vital young area.”

Last week, every Seattle City Council member except Jean Godden voted down a resolution to back Mayor Greg Nickels’ plan to split White Center with Burien and push for legislation that would make it financially attractive for Seattle to bring the northern part of the unincorporated area into its fold. Nickels spokesperson Alex Fryer says the council mistakenly believed they were sending a message about their displeasure with the process, when in fact they effectively killed it. Hence, the future of the lower-income northern half of White Center has been cast back into limbo.

The issue for West Seattleite Tom Rasmussen and several of his council colleagues comes down to cost. Annexing north White Center, he argues, will make even less money available for installing sidewalks or fixing potholes in existing neighborhoods. Further complicating matters, Council President Richard Conlin, himself an annexation advocate, told the council the deal was up in the air in the mayor’s office.

Fryer says it’s not as bad as Conlin implied, but there are problems. For one, State Sen. Margarita Prentice sponsored a bill that would give Seattle a small sales tax for annexing the area, though still only a fraction of the percentage available to other cities. Seattle wanted backup in opposition to the bill, but Burien told their lobbyist to stay away from hearings. “From our perspective, there were question marks on the Burien side of things,” Fryer explains.

Burien City Manager Mike Martin says his municipality wasn’t trying to screw Seattle over. They intended to back a separate bill giving an equal tax credit to Seattle, but didn’t want to cross Prentice, he explains, noting that “Margarita’s been very good to us in many ways.” [The above two paragraphs contained errors in describing Sen. Prentice’s bill and have been corrected.]

Nickels’ office asked Conlin to put off the vote, and he tried. But the council would have none of it. “At some point, you get dressed up and ready to go to the party,” Bruce Harrell said.

Burien has proceeded with plans to annex its southern half, which extends north from the Burien city limit at Southwest 128th Street to 116th at one point (and 112th and 107th at other, less substantial junctures). Residents in that part of White Center will vote on August 18 on whether or not to join Burien. If Seattle is going to consider annexing the northern half, the city council has to be on board—something that’s unlikely to happen if the city doesn’t get that tax credit in Olympia.

Godden says she’s still backing the plan because, unlike most of her counterparts, she thinks annexing the lower-income areas of White Center would be a good thing for the city. When the city annexed Ballard, she says, it was full of poor fishermen and a lot of bars. Now it’s one of the nicer neighborhoods in the city (although it still has a lot of bars).

“In two or three years, times may be better,” argues Godden. “And I think of it [White Center] as a vital young area that we will want to acquire.”