An air of joy and accomplishment replaced years of annexation discussion, debate and toil at Kirkland Wednesday as the city council, staff and neighborhood leaders welcomed Finn Hill, north Juanita and Kingsgate into the fold.
At 12:01 a.m. Wednesday, June 1, the annexation of those areas officially added 31,000 residents to boost the city's population to almost 80,000, making it the state's 12th-largest city and increasing its land mass from 11 to 18 square miles.
Despite continuing concern by many residents and controversy over taxes--particularly the city's business tax--police services and fire response times, and land-use restrictions, the sense at a city hall open house Wednesday afternoon was one of joy and relief.
“I am the mayor of Kirkland--the REALLY BIG City of Kirkland,” joked Mayor Joan McBride before cutting a cake in the council chambers. “Welcome to Kirkland!”
City council members--even some who had questioned and hesitated at the notion of annexation--were joyful as well.
“You now have local representation,” said council member Jessica Greenway. “You still have state representation and federal representation. And now you have local representation. We want you to know we are here for you. You can contact us. We are going to be the best city in King County--in Washington!”
Added City Manager Kurt Triplett: “On behalf of all the city staff who worked for two years, welcome. We are so proud to have you.”
During an interview earlier, Triplett noted that the large increase in the city’s population presents challenges and benefits.
The time-consuming process of hiring and training the 110 employees the city is planning to add to its existing 470 employees continues. These include 37 new police officers--only 24 have been hired so far--and nine new firefighters. Six of the new firefighters are coming from the ranks of the Woodinville fire district that previously provided service to Kingsgate.
The rest of the new hires will be added to the parks and public works departments, courts and corrections--such as court clerks, groundskeepers, street and utilities crews, and utilities billing.
“That’s been one of the biggest challenges and successes,” Triplett said. “We're doing it with an economy of scale. But we are very frugal in the staff we’ve added. There will be no resources added to the city managers office.”
One of the primary benefits to the city of the annexation is, in a word, clout.
“There’s no question it gives you new objective benchmarks that other cities don’t get,” Triplett said. “You get your own seat on the Puget Sound Regional Council if you’re over 50,000. It changes your relationship with the federal government. Crossing the 50,000 population threshold increases your opportunities for grant money, such as with Housing and Urban Development. You have better opportunities to cooperate with the Department of Transportation.
“One of the reasons I took this job and what I hope to bring to it is to use this new Kirkland to elevate its status on the state and federal levels.”
The open house was filled with informational booths by various city departments, as well as those from neighborhood associations in and outside the annexed areas.
Francesca Lyman of the Holmes Point area on Finn Hill worked at a booth by the Denny Creek Neighorhood Alliance, and said she became involved because the transition to the city will be a challenge.
"I'm excited at the prospect of being part of a city with such a wonderful model of urbanism, which seem to have a strong vision for itself," she said. "I am concerned though because I think Finn Hill and Holmes Point are very unique areas and I don't know if they can fit into an urban planner's vision of what an area should be. It's such a diverse area with such dazzling natural resources.
"Until recently it was rural and it has escaped a lot of urban development. It's going to take a lot of work. And the people are fiercely independent. They are concerned about being subsumed and told what to do."
Staffing the Kirkland Police Department’s booth at the open house was one city employee who is no stranger to annexation--Police Chief Eric Olsen. He was hired as an officer during the city’s 1988 annexation of Rose Hill.
“It’s been a lot of work,” he said about this recent expansion of the city and his force. “We’ve hired some amazing officers.”
He said despite a fairly long training process--many have to go through the state police academy--there has been no lack of applicants. KPD jobs are considered desirable.
“I would say so, because of the community, and the wages and benefits are very competitive. So we’ve had very good response.”
Olsen said the biggest changes in the force since he was hired 23 years ago are a more cooperative focus with the community and technology. He noted that the department has a designated community resources officer, who works with the city’s neighborhood associations.
And in 1988, the department had a single comupter. Now there’s a laptop in every squad car.
“We had one computer in the department, used for word processing and payroll,” he said. “Now we have computer-aided dispatch, laptops in cars. The changes in technology have been amazing."
The city’s annexation celebrations conclude Friday with a community party at Juanita Beach Park from 3-9 p.m., in conjunction with the regular Juanita Friday Market. It will feature live music, dessert, city informational booths and displays of police and fire vehicles.
By the Numbers
Here are some facts about Kirkland's annexation of the Finn Hill, north Juanita and Kingsgate neighborhoods.
- Population: Now almost 80,000, up 31,000 from not quite 49,000 making it the 12th-largest city in the state and sixth-largest in King County.
- Business: Annexation adds approximately 200 businesses to Kirkland.
- Land mass: Now 18 square miles, up seven square miles from 11.
- Shoreline: Now 9.9 miles on Lake Washington, up 3.9 miles from 6.1.
- Staffing: New hires will total 110, including 37 policemen and nine firefighters.
- Signage: Ten new "Welcome to Kirkland" signs are being erected along the city's new boundaries.
- Poultry: Residents in the new Kirkland neighborhoods may keep up to three chickens on lots less than 35,000 square feet (more for larger lots), but no roosters, according to zoning regulations adopted for the annexation area. But residents of the former Kirkland on lots less than 35,000 square feet may not keep chickens.