King County District 4 Councilmember Jeanne Kohl-Welles has unfinished business that’s motivating her re-election bid this year.

“I’ve loved being on the council, and I’d like to serve for longer,” Kohl-Welles tells Queen Anne News. “I think this would likely be my last run for office, and I’d like to continue work on what’s been very important.”

Kohl-Welles started on the county council in 2016, having served the 36th District in the Washington Senate since 1994.

Her re-election campaign announcement comes on the heels of her election to lead the King County Board of Health, where she plans to address increasing access to health care, a public health approach to domestic violence, pesticides in marijuana, food allergens and reducing gun violence.

“I’m really excited about that,” Kohl-Welles said. “Being the chair of the board of health is something I’ve wanted to do for quite a while.”

She had served as an alternate on BOH since 2016, and was serving on the board when she voted in favor of adopting a final report by the Heroin and Prescription Opiate Addiction Task Force that included eight recommendations for tackling the drug crisis in King County.

One of those recommendations was to establish a pilot program for at least two safe drug consumption sites, or what local governments call Community Health Engagement Locations (CHELs). One was recommended to be opened in Seattle, and one outside the city.

“They’ve been found to work in the sense that there’ve been no overdoses resulting in fatalities,” Kohl-Welles said of supervised consumption sites in Vancouver, British Columbia, and other parts of the world.

The councilmember has visited several such sites in British Columbia, and said she’s convinced they work. King County is increasing drug treatment programs, she said, but that won’t completely fix the problem.

“Many people do not go into treatment voluntarily on their own,” Kohl-Welles said, while a CHEL can allow users to build a rapport with the staff and access services when they’re ready. “If we sit back and do nothing other than offering treatment, then we’re just going to stay on the same path of increased issues.”

Kohl-Welles has shared in the past how her mother had become addicted to prescribed fentanyl and oxycontin, and how she had to be weaned off the opiates.

“I saw it with my own mother, and kids get into medicine cabinets and get into drugs,” she said. “I had a nephew who died of a drug overdose.”

Seattle’s interim head of the Department of Human Services Jason Johnson has called for a pause on plans to open a fixed-mobile safe drug consumption site, partially due to the $2.5 million in annual funding it is estimated to cost to operate, and also because a U.S. Attorney General has sued a Philadelphia nonprofit attempting to open one of its own.

Kohl-Welles said she believes the first CHEL should be opened in Seattle, but not in neighborhoods that don’t want it. The Capitol Hill Community Council has long advocated for siting one there, but finding a viable site has been a challenge, the councilmember said.

A report on King County’s Mental Illness and Drug Dependency (MIDD) program in 2017 indicates the program has been successful, and in February the county council approved MIDD 2, which is again funded by a 0.1 percent sales tax.

Kohl-Welles said King County continues to work within its limited authorization to increase property taxes by 1 percent annually, which does not take into account inflation or population growth.

But property taxes have also hit residents hard over the years, she said, herself moving into a rental in Belltown eight years ago after living in Queen Anne for nearly three decades.

“Our property taxes just escalated so dramatically it worked much better to sell our house and rent for a short while,” said Kohl-Welles, but the plan now is to continue being a renter.

With limits on property taxes, the county has to also rely on fees, such as what people pay to ride King County Metro buses.

“I take the bus all the time, so I’m a transit rider through and through,” Kohl-Welles said, adding she does still use a car when council business requires her to be in several places in a short period of time.

The councilmember said she’s sponsored legislation to provide more low- and no-cost transit access for those who need it, as well as enhancing Metro’s Access program for those with disabilities. Kohl-Welles said she doesn’t believe it’s cost-effective to penalize low-income and homeless people who are unable to pay, and Metro has been directed to revise its fare enforcement policies.

“That’s in the process, right now,” she said.

The councilmember said she will continue to push for King County’s reduction of its carbon footprint, which includes switching Metro’s vanpool fleet to battery-operated vehicles.

Kohl-Welles is also concerned about the effect wastewater effluent is having on the Southern Resident orca population, and pushed for funding in King County’s biennial budget passed last fall to commission a study about it.

“As a mother it just stirred up a whole lot of emotions to me when that orca killer whale was carrying around her baby for 17 days or so,” she said, adding most studies focus on impacts to humans. “If the impact of these effluent are negative on the population of chinook salmon that are consumed by the orcas, what are the effects on the orcas that are at the head of the food chain.”

Kohl-Welles was also a sponsor of legislation passed in January that put a six-month moratorium on new major fossil fuel infrastructure, which she tells Queen Anne News she will vote to extend.

While Magnolia residents are concerned about the future of the worn-down Magnolia Bridge and its prioritization for replacement, the structure is managed by the Seattle Department of Transportation.

Still, Kohl-Welles said she’s spent the past eight months working with District 7 Seattle City Councilmember Sally Bagshaw and 36th District legislators to find a solution. Bagshaw is not running for reelection this year, and SDOT is still working on a study of the bridge that is expected to be released later this spring.

The controversial King County Youth and Family Justice Center is slated to open next year, funded by a $210 million capital levy passed by voters in 2012.

Kohl-Welles said she continues to push for eliminating racial disparities in the juvenile and adult criminal justice system, and she sees King County doing a lot to help at-risk youth.

She supported King County Executive Dow Constantine’s Best Starts for Kids initiative and the Veterans, Seniors & Human Services Levy that passed last year, their implementation receiving oversight from the Health, Housing and Human Services Committee she chairs.

“Best Starts for Kids is really doing tremendously well,” she said.

Kohl-Welles said she also wants to increase access to arts and culture for low-income families and communities, including to the zoo, aquarium or museums.

The councilmember stands by her decision to change her support last year for investing $135 million in lodging taxes into upgrading Safeco Field, now T-Mobile Park. The original proposal had been for $180 million, and Kohl-Welles had encouraged putting tax revenue toward affordable housing.

“I’m a fan of the Mariners and I’m a fan of tourism and I’m a fan of bringing people here to enjoy,” the councilmember said. 

While serving in the House in 1995, Kohl-Welles sponsored legislation financing the ballpark with lottery sales and increases in King County taxes on restaurant fare and rental cars, despite voters opposing a measure during that September’s election. She said it was a controversial decision at the time, and voters didn’t feel they were listened to.

“We have very wealthy owners too, of the Mariners, and I’m for doing all we can,” Kohl-Welles said of her 2018 vote against upgrades for the ballpark, “but I just did not see the appropriateness of us funding anything that would not be maintenance-oriented when the Mariners would not be transparent with us on anything, such as the naming rights.”

The Mariners and T-Mobile announced a 25-year partnership in December, for which T-Mobile is reportedly paying $87.5 million for the naming rights.

Kohl-Welles said she is a proud sponsor of Constantine’s 2020-2025 Parks, Trails and Open Space Replacement Levy that will be on the August ballot and is expected to generate $738 million for parks and trails projects over six years if passed.

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