Guest Opinion

County Council Transit Leader Balducci Wants Trail Oriented Development in 2017

Bring On 2017 Says King County Council member Claudia Balducci.

By Claudia Balducci December 29, 2016

We've  asked a handful of local leaders that had big showings in 2016  to reflect on the year ahead.

Democratic King County Council member Claudia Balducci, the former mayor of Bellevue who served her freshman year on the county council this year after beating veteran Republican incumbent Jane Hague in 2015, may not jump out as a 2016 all-star—after all this is the King County Council. But in this year that voters definitively vindicated Sound Transit's longtime mission to re-vision our regional transportation system, it's hard not to zoom in on Balducci. She was a key Sound Transit board member in 2016 who also lost years of her life on the Bellevue City Council leading the fight against the old-school Bellevue establishment's ornery opposition to light rail. A transit yeoman on the county council  now who led the way on Metro victories this year, including Metro's 25-year expansion plan, Balducci was also a member of the four-member county council budget leadership team, which I think is unprecedented for a freshman. 

This is all to say, we're expecting an even bigger showing in 2017 from Balducci. She's laid out some To Dos here, which go well beyond her traditional role as a transit champion (though she's got some goals on that front, of course), to include housing and criminal justice reforms. 

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 The past year has been a whirlwind, personally and politically, in ways expected (new position at the County Council) and not (whatever just happened in the national election).  The coming year will no doubt deliver challenging battles on several fronts – international relations and trade, climate change, immigration, worker rights, human rights – but even as we confront these larger issues, I expect we will continue to make strong progress close to home. 

The voters’ decision to pass the Sound Transit 3 transit package demonstrated an optimistic vision for our future, and the confidence that we can turn that plan into action.  Less well-publicized, but also exciting, was the adoption of King County Metro’s long-range plan,  “Metro Connects”.  Together, ST3 and Metro Connects will provide easy transit access throughout King County.  In 2017, we will have our hands full laying the groundwork to bring these new projects and services to life.

In a County where more than 10,000 people are without homes each day, and where we see some of the fastest-growing housing costs in the nation, housing continues to be a top priority.  Since serving as Mayor of the City of Bellevue, I’ve worked to establish the first permanent homeless shelter for men on the Eastside.  This project is in the siting phase with a decision expected in the next few months.  Also this year, in response to a council motion I sponsored, the County will lead a planning effort including cities and a broad range of stakeholders to determine what is needed at the regional level to make housing available to everyone.

Another County project, the Eastside Rail Corridor, a “highway without cars,” is an opportunity to connect the Eastside cities of Renton, Bellevue, Kirkland, Redmond and Woodinville with new human-powered transportation and recreation capacity, expanded transit options and “trail-oriented development.”  In 2017, we will open the first County-owned segment of this corridor to the public, between South Kirkland and the 520 regional trail in Bellevue.  We will also make progress on planning and funding for some of the more challenging crossings and for the historic Wilburton trestle.

King County has been a leader in alternatives to secure detention—acknowledging that minor offenses don’t require expensive jail time and that people who stay out of jail and maintain employment and community ties are much less likely to reoffend.  This year, we will be working to find a solution that allows us to fund and improve our electronic home monitoring and work release programs.  At the same time, the county is continuing pilot programs in transformative or restorative justice—which involve victims and communities directly in addressing the harm of crime, by providing accountability for those who have committed crimes, and help prevent future crime by reintegrating offenders back into their communities in a healthy and productive way.

As we pursue these and other initiatives and functions of our regional government, we have to continually be clear about what we are trying to achieve, identify objective ways to show the public how well or poorly we are performing, hear back from the public, and make periodic adjustments to achieve better results. Which could be interpreted as an invitation to ask us how we did this time next year.

King County Council member Claudia Balducci represents parts of Bellevue, Bothell, Clyde Hill, Hunts Point, Kirkland, Medina, Mercer Island, Redmond, Woodinville and Yarrow Point, the Town of Beaux Arts and the Sammamish Valley.

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