SKYWAY, Wash. – It was obvious to those who attended last week’s announcement of the winning Participatory Budgeting projects that this wasn’t your typical government function.
You could sense it as community members filled the outdoor seating area for the big unveiling during a warm, sun-kissed evening at King County Fire District 20.
You could tell the night was different as organizers high-fived, hugged, and shed tears of joy because their dreams of new facilities will finally become reality. Those dreams include plans for a new food bank, a community track, a park splash pad for hot days and a Khmer Cultural Center.
And you knew this event was community-centered when—encouraged by organizers of a community jump rope program that will get funding thanks to voters—the person who manages Participatory Budgeting for King County got in a good 30 seconds during her turn at Double Dutch.
A little more than a year after King County and its five urban unincorporated areas embarked on an uncharted journey with the goal of empowering the five communities, participants in this participatory budgeting process celebrated the 45 winning projects that residents chose during this month’s community vote.
Community members cast more than 2,600 ballots to decide which projects King County will fund. Then they voted, online and on paper, over eight days in early August.
This new funding approach began when Executive Dow Constantine proposed a budgeting process that would be centered on racial equality and would empower the county’s urban unincorporated areas:
- East Federal Way
- East Renton
- White Center
Executive Constantine and Councilmember Girmay Zahilay, who represents one of the areas that is getting improvements, addressed the crowd at the celebration. Still, as was the case throughout this process, the event belonged to the communities.
“We did it!” said Program Manager Gloria Briggs. “We completed our first-ever participatory budgeting process for not one, but five communities. That is outstanding given that it was our first time doing this. In the end, residents of different backgrounds used this opportunity to help shape improvements in their neighborhoods. I could not be prouder of our team.”
In 2021, the King County Council approved Executive Constantine’s new approach to community investment—one that’s centered on racial equity. It gave people who live, work, play, or worship in the county’s five urban unincorporated areas a chance to directly choose how more than $11 million in county funds will be spent in their communities.
Specifically, the process allows community members to identify, discuss, and prioritize public spending. Residents help decide how to spend money on capital projects (physical things that are bought, built, installed, or fixed up) or programs and services.
The funds for the capital projects are backed by bonds. The funds for programs and services in North Highline/White Center and Skyway-West Hill come from King County’s general fund and are supported by marijuana retail sales tax revenue.
Leading the effort were the 21 appointed members of King County’s first Community Investment Budget Committee. These residents and other members of the five communities helped create the framework for the participatory budgeting process.
They met virtually for more than a year. Part of that work involved talking honestly about racism’s effect on urban unincorporated areas.
Ayanna Brown, the committee’s Skyway/West Hill Co-Chair, described being part of this historic process and serving on the group tasked to create a participatory budgeting program without a blueprint as “one of the most educational, hardest, maddening, tiring, liberating, and satisfying experiences” she has had.
“I have laughed, and I have cried,” she said. “I have wanted to fight, and I have wanted to party. But it was all worth it for my beloved Skyway. And the most rewarding piece for me were the bonds I made with my fellow committee members. Some became friends. Some became family.”
“I came on board to help the community of Skyway win something big, but I ended up being a winner because of them. All in all, the experience was amazing, and I’m blessed to have witnessed and been part of it.”
Constantine told the committee members at the announcement: “You had difficult and honest conversations. You brought to light how bigotry and discrimination could hurt entire generations. You opened people’s eyes to how much racial inequities have damaged communities. You were guided by the belief that all people should be entitled to a healthy community where they can live, work, and learn.”
The committee asked the public to submit project ideas and then vote on which of these ideas will receive funding. Forty community volunteers served as proposal advocates to help build ideas into detailed proposals for the community vote.
The public vote was open to anyone aged 12 years or older who lived, worked, went to school, or worshipped in one of the five areas. Local Services staff members, members of the Community Investment Budget Committee, and proposal advocates canvassed affected neighborhoods and reached out at National Night Out celebrations, community festivals, and even grocery stores.
“Testament” to community investment
At last week’s celebration, committee members and proposal advocates unveiled the projects, programs, and services the voters had chosen.
“The fact that we’re here today, announcing the winning projects of King County’s first participatory budgeting vote, is a testament to how invested the community was in this process,” said Local Services Director John Taylor. “The county committed to empowering communities that have been historically underserved. They drove the process with our support. It wasn’t always easy. But this vote shows the kind of success that’s possible when local government works collaboratively with the communities it serves.”
“It wasn’t easy,” she said, “but in a short amount of time, we worked collaboratively and passionately to create something that will have a lasting benefit in our communities.”
Below is a full list of winning projects, by area:
East Federal Way
- Lake Geneva Park Upgrades “Let’s Play” ($1.5 million)
- Community Garden/P Patch Fund ($100,000)
- Utility Box – Art Murals ($35,000)
- Revive our Basketball Court at Maplewood Park ($100,000)
- Home Repair Fund ($100,000)
- Cemetery Pond: Acquisition – Critical Green Infrastructure ($50,000)
- Cemetery Pond and Wetland: Upgrade Public Access and Amenities ($35,000)
- Splash Pad/Cooling Center at Petrovitsky Park ($720,000)
- Strolling Safe on 57th Avenue S ($1.4 million)
- Campbell Hill – Community Track ($750,000)
- Street Beautification – Skyway Business District ($500,000)
- Grocery Outlet – Outdoor Community Space Upgrades ($250,000)
- Welcome Home – Down Payment Assistance ($250,000)
- Where is My Bus? – Metro Bus Stop Upgrades ($250,000)
- Redevelopment of Cynthia A. Green ($200,000)
- Hewet Skyway – Community Garden ($100,000)
- Community Garden Fund ($100,000)
- Rahwa Ogbe Habte – Memorial Project ($50,000)
- Utility Box – Cultural Art Mural Projects ($50,000)
Skyway/West Hill (Funded by Marijuana Tax Revenue)
- Grant Program – Youth and Education Programs and Services ($280,000)
- West Hill Community Association – Capacity Building ($150,000)
- Acts on Stage – Summer Youth Theater program ($50,000)
- Green STEM apprenticeship program ($50,000)
- Refining Impact – Mobile Food Bank ($50,000)
- We.App – Speak with Purpose ($35,000)
- Double Dutch Divas ($30,000)
- Beyond High Schools – College Tours ($25,000)
- Rainier Avenue Radio Apprenticeship Program ($25,000)
- Skyway Business Revitalization Project ($25,000)
- Colorful Communities Parent Support in Schools ($20,000)
- Skyway Arts Commission ($20,000)
- Art in the Park ($15,000)
- Shine Nail Lab – Nail Art Workshops ($15,000)
- So Fresh, So Clean! – Laundromat Fund ($10,000)
White Center/North Highline
- White Center Food Bank “New Location Renovation Fund” ($875,000)
- White Center Community HUB “Construction Fund” ($750,000)
- Khmer Community Temple Support ($750,000)
- Spray Park/Outdoor Cooking Center; Cool Me Down – White Center ($725,000)
White Center/North Highline (Funded by Marijuana Tax Revenue)
- Gifts of Hope ($175,000)
- Neplanta Cultural Art Programming ($150,000)
- Acts on Stage – Programming ($75,000)
- Green Education – New Start ($66,000)
- Mental Health – Grief Support ($32,500)
- White Center Heights Elementary School – Family Resource Center ($25,000)
- Wolverine Select – Funding ($16,500)