While describing 2020’s challenges during her virtual State of the City address Thursday, Redmond mayor Angela Birney recalled a trick she learned in elementary school: patting one’s head while rubbing one’s belly.
“That is how this year has been for the City of Redmond — managing a pandemic and an economic downturn while still laying the foundation for beyond 2020,” Birney said in her first State of the City address since becoming mayor in January, just before the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
But the city of 65,000-plus has forged ahead with plans for the future while addressing immediate needs of the present, she said during her address, part of OneRedmond’s 2020 State of the City Summit. (OneRedmond is an economic-development enterprise, chamber of commerce, and public foundation.)
Among the highlights, Redmond construction and development have remained above last year’s levels, with a 127 percent increase in construction square footage, Birney noted.
She added that the City received 300-plus applications for grants from small and micro businesses and has distributed more than $1.5 million in pandemic relief so far.
“We are working on reimbursement grants for restaurants and businesses that have, or will install ‘parklets’ and ‘streateries,’ and we are currently working on our second round of CARES Act funds totaling over $300,000 for small-business grants to use for creating additional outdoor dining areas,” she said.
Parklets and streateries involve converting on-street parking to outdoor café space, giving businesses additional space while indoor occupancy is limited.
“I am really geeking out on the streateries right now,” Birney said. “I cannot wait to see what else we come up with, pandemic or not.”
Birney also noted the old Redmond Senior Center will be razed this month, with plans for a new community center on the site. The City, though, continues to remain in contact with seniors and provide lunch services, she said.
City and community response to the pandemic has taken a lot of time and resources to keep the City safe and functioning, and revenues have taken a hit. But Redmond officials have developed a recovery plan and worked in partnership with nonprofits, OneRedmond, and other government agencies to distribute CARES Act funding to the most impacted, Birney said. That has included small-business relief, rental relief, food support, mask dispersal, and other areas of emergency assistance, she said.
Meanwhile, the City also is developing its two-year budget, with a focus on recovery from the pandemic and economic downturn, environmental sustainability, human services, infrastructure development and maintenance, and community safety. Along with its capital improvement program, four priorities for budgeting are in the categories of “healthy and sustainable,” “vibrant and connected,” “strategic and responsive,” and “safe and resilient.”
Birney also noted the City has made significant investments in affordable housing and human services, including creating more housing units and getting resources to community members in need through its partners.
She cited a regional problem of housing affordability as people move to the area for its beauty, schools, work, and more. Birney vowed to continue working regionally on housing affordability.
“The more we can help other communities surrounding us build housing, I think that reduces the tension on Redmond itself,” she said. “… I think it’s a complex long-term problem, but I think that as long as we can keep working through it, keep our eye on the long-term goal of creating a really inclusive city where people want to continue to live and have the opportunity to live here, I think that we will continue working on the solutions that are possible.”
The City has listened to the community, she said. Redmond has modernized programs to better serve its residents, including adding an environmental sustainability manager, a facilities manager, embedding a mental health counselor with police, and continuing a mobile integrated health program in emergency services.
The City also has begun work on its next comprehensive plan, Redmond 2050, to prepare for future growth, Birney said.
Also part of Thursday’s summit, OneRedmond recognized Robert Pantley, founder and CEO of Natural & Built Environments and past president of the OneRedmond board, for his service to OneRedmond and the city.
OneRedmond’s executive director, Kristina Hudson, announced a new campaign, Our Redmond Heroes, celebrating essential workers in the city. She invited listeners to nominate their favorite essential workers, who will be recognized later. Hudson said more program details would be sent via email.
The event ended with a the showing of a new tourism video from Experience Redmond highlighting city attractions.