Photo depicting community members gathered to hear the results of the participatory budgeting process.

King County Communities Make History With Participatory Budget Process

by Agueda Pacheco Flores

Dozens of people from around unincorporated King County communities showed up to the Skyway’s fire station last week to celebrate a first for Washington: the conclusion and results of a participatory budget. Millions of dollars went to 45 community projects, organizations, and groups.

After a year of mostly online Zoom meetings among community members, $11 million were allocated toward community services and projects. The projects, which will benefit five regions including White Center, Skyway, East Federal Way, East Renton, and Fairwood, are part of a participatory budget. This isn’t the usual bureaucratic funding process; instead, King County gave the reins to 21 community members from all five regions who engaged with their broader communities to crowdsource ideas. That steering committee met periodically to come up with their own budget proposals for the many crowdsourced ideas, and earlier this month community members voted for their choice on how to best use the money.

King County Executive Dow Constantine said that for at least two decades, the County had floated doing something like a participatory budget, which engages with the community and gives them autonomy over how funds are spent in their towns.

“We wanted to take on inequities,” he said, calling the process uncharted territory.

Photo depicting Dow Constantine wearing a blue suit and speaking at a podium marked as "King County Local Services." Behind him are boards with the names of unincorporated areas of King County with the projects that received funding from the participatory budget.
King County Executive Dow Constantine speaks at the Skyway fire station, celebrating the conclusion and the results of the first participatory budget for unincorporated King County. (Photo: Agueda Pacheco Flores)

Despite only launching a year ago, Gloria Briggins says the process felt long despite being done in a relatively short time. Briggins was the project manager for the participatory budget projects, but she also has deep roots in Skyway. Not only has she raised three children there, she was raised there herself.

“I’ve always been involved in some kind of aspect of community and my organizing and being an active community member myself gave me an advantage,” she said. 

During the event, she smiled, waved, and wiped away her tears as she and other community members congratulated each other. 

Across the five unincorporated areas, which have been historically underinvested in, more than 2,500 people voted on the crowd-sourced ideas. In places like East Federal Way and Skyway, more than 50% of those who voted were from Communities of Color. 

“We don’t get that in a normal election year,” Briggins said.

Community members from unincorporated parts of King County submitted more than 260 community project ideas. 

In Skyway, more than $3.9 million will pay for capital projects to upgrade metro bus stops through “Where is My Bus?”, support the Hewet Skyway Community Garden and the Community Garden Fund, and fund a “Welcome Home” down-payment assistance program. An additional $800,000 from marijuana tax revenue will fund community and youth programs including the “Refining Impact” mobile food bank, “Acts on Stage” youth theater program, and a “Beyond High Schools” college tour fund for high schoolers. 

Ayanna Brown, executive director of the Alajawan’s Hands Foundation, led the community member steering group for the Skyway area. She said programs like the college tour fund are imperative for areas like Skyway, where opportunities to tour colleges are not accessible for youth in the neighborhood. 

“These projects are targeted for Black and BIPOC communities because those demographics are so underserved and underfunded,” she said. “These projects will make a difference for those who traditionally miss out.”

Similarly to Skyway, White Center has many more capital projects and services that will be funded compared to the other three regions. Some funds will go to White Center’s Cambodian Buddhist community center, which has rapidly been outpriced out of the neighborhood that they’ve called home for decades. 

Kim Nang has lived in White Center since the late ʼ80s and is raising his family there. He joined the community steering committee in 2021. 

“[The Cambodian Buddhist community] don’t really exist anymore due to gentrification and displacement,” he said. “But to be able to right a wrong that the community has felt for so long and to give something back to them … it means a lot.”

The Khmer Community Temple received $750,000 in funds to support their center. 

All in all, White Center received $3.1 million for capital projects and an additional $540,000 of marijuana tax revenue funds for program services. 

The five unincorporated regions all had representatives from the community that did outreach and planning. The committee as a whole consisted of 21 people, but Briggins says some 60 volunteers were involved in every aspect of the process to engage with their respective communities. She says she hopes the participatory budget inspires other municipalities to do something similar for their communities and she believes it could be possible at the state legislature level. 

“If I as one person can implement five, absolutely,” she said. “It just takes intention and time and understanding … I’m here to codesign [and] in order to collab efficiently you have to really listen and understand that what you’re doing is trying to help communities solve problems.”

Agueda Pacheco Flores is a journalist focusing on Latinx culture and Mexican American identity. Originally from Querétaro, Mexico, Pacheco is inspired by her own bicultural upbringing as an undocumented immigrant and proud Washingtonian.

📸 Featured Image: Community members from unincorporated areas of King County gather at the Skyway fire station to celebrate the conclusion and results of the county’s first participatory budget. Millions of dollars went to 45 community projects, organizations, and groups. (Photo: Agueda Pacheco Flores)

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