State of the City: ‘We’re seeing the booming still’

Kirkland mayor addresses infrastructure improvements, finding small-town balance.

If Mayor Penny Sweet could describe Kirkland with one word in 2020, she would use “focused.”

On Feb. 13, at a Kirkland Chamber of Commerce business luncheon, Sweet gave a State of the City Address that touched on what the city had accomplished in 2019, what it is looking forward to, and more.

“Last year, I told you that the state of the city was booming … and the fact is that 2019 was an exceptional year,” said Sweet, who used the chamber’s 100th anniversary, Google’s growth in the city and business expansions as examples. “It seemed nearly that we couldn’t top it. And yet we have.”

Sweet underlined that the chamber has grown to 558 members — making it the most active chamber of commerce on the Eastside — and the expansions of key developments at Google, Northwest University and EvergreenHealth in the Kirkland area.

“The mix of jobs, housing and services is exactly the type of growth that we want and it is happening in urban centers, served by frequent and reliable transit exactly where we want it,” the mayor said.

In 2020, Sweet said, Kirkland will be implementing the new phases of its work plan as well as beginning construction on the Totem Lake Connector Bridge, the Totem Lake Park and Boardwalk, and several Juanita Beach renovations. A new fire station will be opened. Sweet also talked about the continued development of the Northeast 85th Street Bus Rapid Transit station and the implementation of resources brought on by the voter-approved Prop. 1, which increases police services in the city.

“Over the next six years, we will complete the largest set of infrastructure improvements in Kirkland’s history,” Sweet said. “We’re seeing the booming still.”

But there is a “risk and a price to pay for all of the choices that we make,” Sweet said.

“If we want to prevent this boom from becoming a bust, we must stay the course of finding and maintaining the right balance,” she said. “We must balance the metropolitan energy that is attracting thousands of residents with a small-town feel that is so important to so many that already live here.”

A major talking point in Sweet’s address: finding a middle ground between major growth and the preservation of what the city already has.

Councilmember Kelli Curtis, Mayor Penny Sweet and Councilmember Amy Falcone at the luncheon. Photo courtesy city of Kirkland

Councilmember Kelli Curtis, Mayor Penny Sweet and Councilmember Amy Falcone at the luncheon. Photo courtesy city of Kirkland

“We must balance the success of creating thousands of high-paying technology and aerospace jobs with solutions for the skyrocketing costs of housing,” she said. “We must balance the need to invest in infrastructure and services our residents deserve and expect with the challenging physical reality we face. We must balance environmental protection with quality of life. And most importantly, we must bounce back the blessings of prosperity and effects of income inequality and serving the growing number of those who are challenged to make ends meet or in need, or those who struggle with addiction, mental illness and homelessness.”

Sweet said that it was important to continue to work to ensure that Kirkland is an inclusive community where everything is examined “through a new lens of equity and inclusion, particularly in communities that are historically marginalized.” She brought up the city’s investment in things like implicit bias training for city employees and police officers and ongoing social-justice-focused events — such as the educational series called Kirkland Talks About Racism — as examples of ways this goal is being seen through.

Sweet invoked the development of the city’s comprehensive plan as being crucial to making words turn to action. One of the difficulties highlighted in her address was financial sustainability. In 2021, Sweet noted, the city will annually lose some $4 million of state support due to the annexation of sales tax credit. While the city has progressed with its goal of filling gaps with new revenues and through Kirkland Urban and the Village at Totem Lake, Sweet emphasized that the big amount of growth in Kirkland has led to increased demand of numerous resources, like planning and parks.

“This year, we will be engaging our entire community on the tough choices we will need to make to balance our budget,” Sweet said. “These choices will affect all of you, which means we will need your help. Some initiatives you may like…some initiatives you may not like.”

The mayor said that the city will ensure that it continues to work with the community and local businesses as these discussions come.

In her speech, Sweet praised her fellow councilmembers and underscored her commitment to Kirkland. At the end of her address, she received a standing ovation from the chamber.

“I have a long-standing passion for this community, and I believe that we are, in fact, the best city in the world to live, work and play,” Sweet said. “I will do everything that I can while I’m still around to make sure it stays that way…We’re taking on ambitious tasks in 2020. We are focused, but we are bold.”