By Darrick Meneken, WAC Managing Editor
They’re innovators, influencers, and even idealists. They meet, plan, and stay fit at the WAC. They design and implement public policy, respond to community needs, and advocate for a better Seattle. This issue, we catch up with three WAC members helping build a brighter future. They’re a snapshot of the Club’s social fabric, woven by members committed not only to improving their own well-being but also our region’s future.
Public Spaces: An advocate for a better downtown Seattle
Jon Scholes has twin 6-year-olds, but that’s not the reason he likes going to the park. As President & CEO of the Downtown Seattle Association, Jon spends a lot of time thinking about how to make Seattle’s inner-city open spaces better. That includes Westlake Park, an always-shifting mix that in recent years has grabbed newspaper headlines good and bad.
Last year, the Downtown Seattle Association (DSA) partnered with the city to set up outdoor table tennis and foosball at Westlake Park as well as to put on public events, including art installations, free fitness classes, and summer concerts. That trial one-year agreement may soon extend to five years.
“We want to flood these spaces with activities and events seven days a week,” Jon said on a gusty spring morning at Westlake. As we spoke, he looked around at a rare sight, a nearly empty plaza.
Return with the sun, or even the clouds and no rain, and you’ll see a space brimming with people. It wasn’t so long ago that open drug deals ruled this tree-dotted triangle at the intersection of 4th and Pine, three blocks from the WAC.
Since the DSA took over management, crime has fallen and family users have increased. “It’s been a really great success in creating welcoming, inviting, active spaces for everyone,” Jon says. The DSA focuses exclusively on downtown, using public policy advocacy, economic development, and marketing to create a healthy and vibrant place to live, work and play.
We’re at a historic level of private investment in downtown,” Jon says. “What we see today is going to be very different three or four years from now.”
Jon joined the WAC in September 2014. Two months later, he was promoted to the DSA’s top spot after four years as the group’s vice president of advocacy and economic development.
He walks the talk, living downtown with his wife, Erin, a dermatologist at The Polyclinic, and their son and daughter. His commute: two blocks.
“It just made all the sense in the world for us to be here,” he says. At last count, 67,000 people live downtown. That’s roughly 10 percent of the city’s population.
About 700 organizations, including the WAC, belong to the DSA. Perhaps the most visible aspect of the DSA are its Metropolitan Improvement District ambassadors, funded by downtown property-owners. If you spend any time downtown, you’ve seen them helping tourists, cleaning sidewalks, or assisting with public safety.
Jon also served on the city’s Housing Affordability Task Force and Emergency Task Force on Unsheltered Homelessness. Both positions came by mayoral appointment.
A lot happens at the policymaking level, Jon says, citing police staffing, transportation services, housing policy, and land use. To help strengthen all those things, Jon meets often with government officials and facilitates conversations between DSA members and policymakers. “Those are things that impact all of us,” he says. “The Downtown Seattle Association is an advocate in trying to influence public policy that affects each of those areas.”
A community of colleagues
Jon grew up in Tacoma and attended the University of Washington, where he earned a political science degree. He went on to work for political campaigns and a King County councilmember before joining the DSA as policy director in 2008.
He joined the WAC in part for professional reasons and in part for family activities. “It’s a great community of my colleagues,” he says of the Club. “A great place to meet people and have discussions and also to find a quiet place to catch up on email between downtown meetings.”
He also recently attended the Father Daughter Banquet, and his twins often use the 8th Floor gym on Saturdays. “It’s also a great resource for downtown residents and families,” Jon says.
Thanks in part to the DSA, so is downtown itself.
Pedal Power: Board chair fights for bicycle rights
Earlier this year, Kristi Rennebohm-Franz skidded in pea gravel while riding her bike. As she lost control and hurtled toward the pavement, Kristi became a statistic. Though the real number is nearly impossible to track, hundreds of bike accidents occur every year in Seattle. Roughly 400 of those also involve vehicles.
As chair of the Seattle Bicycle Advisory Board, Kristi, a WAC member since 2012, is intimately familiar with the challenges facing cyclists. She regularly rides her bike to the WAC and elsewhere around town. Her nephew Max, also a Seattleite, is currently riding from Seattle to Florida via San Diego, a trip scheduled to conclude later this month.
“It’s really incredible,” says Kristi, who was born in Seattle but raised largely in Wisconsin. “I keep telling him if I were his age I’d be doing the same thing.”
From Wisconsin, with bike
Kristi and the other 11 members of the bike advisory board meet monthly and counsel the mayor, city council, and all city departments on projects, policies and programs that affect the city’s bicycling conditions. That includes implementation of the city’s 2014 Bike Master Plan and the plan’s five main goals of increasing ridership, improving safety, creating connectivity, providing equity, and improving livability.
“What we’ve found is that improving biking conditions is really about safety, connectivity and equity,” Kristi says over coffee in the WAC Club Shop. “If we meet those goals, the ridership and the livability will be there. These aren’t just cars and bikes that we’re talking about—these are people.”
Kristi grew up in the 1950s in Madison, Wisconsin, one of the most bike-friendly cities in the country. She still has her first bike, a Schwinn Racer she bought in 1957 with babysitting money. That bike made its way with her to Grinnell College in Iowa and later to Pullman, where she taught first and second grade. In 2000, she received a Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching.
She and husband Eldon, who served on the Washington State University faculty, retired to Seattle, where Kristi’s parents, both in their mid-90s, also live. Their daughter, Wendy, resides in Kansas City. Both sons, Ben and Zac, live in Seattle and bike commute, and Eldon often runs errands by bike. “I’m always asking them about their routes,” Kristi says.
Second Avenue safety
Kristi’s second and final two-year term on the bike board ends this August, but she’ll still keep track of what’s going on. Her and Eldon’s Capitol Hill garage serves as a family bike maintenance repair shed and a focal point in the family’s cycling way of life. “It’s full of all kinds of tools and bikes,” Kristi smiles.
She says she joined the WAC for two key reasons: swim workouts and personal training. She still does both regularly. Her week normally ends with a morning workout with trainer Mona Caravetta, lunch at the WAC Café, and a 90-minute massage. “That’s my perfect WAC Friday,” she says. “And I ride my bike down here.”
After coffee, she leads us toward downtown Seattle’s biggest recent improvement for cyclists—protected bike lanes along Second Avenue. Standing at the corner of Second and Union, we watch bikes zip by, separated from traffic by thin white stanchions.
“This was big,” Kristi says. “But not everyone is used to it yet.” As she’s talking, a car misses a traffic signal and crosses into a bike zone. Fortunately, it’s empty.
Later, a block south, she stops next to the spot where a 31-year-old attorney and mother was riding during the summer of 2014. A box truck turned left on University Street, crossed in her path, and killed her.
“It’s intolerable to have fatalities,” Kristi says solemnly. “That might have been avoided if these protected lanes had been in.”
City counts already show four times as many bikers using Second Avenue now compared to before the protected bike lanes. Work recently started to install planter-box barricades to better separate vehicles from bikes, and the lanes are being extended farther north and south.
Coming in the next two to three years: East-west bike routes through downtown, including more protected lanes. All of it supported by the bike advisory board.
“Connectivity becomes a huge key, and it’s directly related to safety,” Kristi says about the city’s east-west challenges. “Right now, you have an infrastructure and then it ends. Our goal is to have a completely connected network—north to south, east to west—that takes all ages and abilities of people who ride where they need and want to go.”
Helping Hand: Guiding Country services to the areas of most need
Adrienne Quinn moves quickly around the fifth floor of The Chinook Building, at the corner of Fifth and Jefferson. Down the hall, she leads us into “The Clubhouse,” a corner room with a great view of the industrial district and the clock tower at King Street Station.
Adrienne walks toward the window and points at a short bookshelf framing the view. Atop the shelf rest mini-buckets of snacks, a toy truck made from Legos, and a small stuffed animal flashing its not-so-scary teeth. Along the opposite wall, writing, charts, and multi-colored sticky notes cover a large whiteboard. The hallways beyond the room look pretty much the same, with reports and results noted on large displays for all to see. If you’re looking for a visual representation of open government, this is it.
Turning back toward the bookshelf, Adrienne, who first joined the WAC in the mid-1990s, explains Best Starts for Kids, a voter-approved initiative last November. As Director of the King County Department of Community and Human Services (DCHS), Adrienne leads the department’s strategic planning and program development, managing a staff of 400 and an annual budget of $500 million.
The department works to plan, fund, contract for, and directly provide education, housing, senior services, and veteran support as well as solutions for domestic violence, homelessness, mental health, and addiction. And that’s just the start. “It’s a very broad range of human services,” Adrienne says.
Since taking over two and a half years ago, she has worked hard to eliminate obstacles for King County residents seeking services. “Rather than an individual having to separately seek out each of the services they need, we’re creating a much more integrated way for people to seek help,” Adrienne explains, pointing out various whiteboards around the DCHS offices.
As an example, this April, the department unified the mental health and substance abuse systems. “There are quite a number of people who need both of those services,” Adrienne says.
She grew up in Mount Vernon, New York, just north of the Bronx, and moved to Seattle in 1991, graduating magna cum laude from the Seattle University law school in 1996. She also holds a Master of Divinity from Harvard. Adrienne’s passion for public service stems from personal experience, including a loved one’s battle with homelessness.
Her department reaches well beyond homelessness, however, including implementation of Best Starts for Kids, which aims to support children in King County from early childhood through their teens and is supported by $65 million in annual property taxes.
“That initiative really focuses on ensuring that children from the earliest age have what they need to be successful in life,” Adrienne says. It also means some thinking at a kid level, hence the splash of playful decor.
King County Executive Dow Constantine named Adrienne to the top DCHS position in 2013. She moved over from her former position as executive director of the Medina Foundation. She also previously served as director of the city of Seattle’s Office of Housing, and she teaches as an adjunct professor at the University of Washington Evans School of Public Policy & Governance.
Adrienne works out in Women’s Fitness several times weekly and decompresses in yoga classes. She’s also active in the WAC Wine Club, and she recently hosted a dinner with a group of professional partners at Torchy’s. “The WAC staff are great,” she says.
As head of DCHS, she serves as the gatekeeper between policy approval, planning and implementation. Nowhere can her relentless focus on program integration and data-driven solutions better be seen than on the whiteboards of The Chinook Building. Those solutions include decisions such as sending employment counselors to local food banks. The thinking is simple, she says: “We’re going to the places where people need help.”
—As published in the May/June 2016 issue of WAC Magazine.