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Originally published Wednesday, February 3, 2010 at 10:02 PM

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Jerry Large

White Center is right fit

I don't expect you spend much time thinking about White Center, unless you live there. But it looks like the unincorporated area is likely to join the Seattle family of neighborhoods.

Seattle Times staff columnist

I don't expect you spend much time thinking about White Center, unless you live there.

But it looks like the unincorporated area is likely to join the Seattle family of neighborhoods.

I think about it once in a while when it's in the news usually. One day toward the end of summer, my wife and I walked around White Center just to do something different.

A Seattle neighborhood should have character, and White Center does.

The business district looks a bit like a Hollywood set for a 1950s small town.

But it is has some of New York's international feel, the Samway Asian Market, the Salvadorean bakery, Mexican butcher shop.

Two worlds joined, though perhaps not entirely united.

Michelle Kondo would know. She's an urban planner who did her dissertation at the University of Washington on the people of White Center and the annexation process.

And she grew up close-by in West Seattle. Her mother would take Kondo and a friend to a skating rink in White Center and warn them never to go outside before she came for them.

Beginning in May 2005, Kondo spent two years in the neighborhood, attending meetings about annexation, talking to residents and to officials from Burien, King County and Seattle. And she kept in touch as she worked on her dissertation into 2008.

She just moved East to become a postdoctoral research fellow in the School of Social Policy and Practice at the University of Pennsylvania, so I spoke with her by phone.

On the question of annexation, she said, the most vocal voices came from longtime residents, homeowners, mostly white and middle class. And they generally didn't want to change jurisdictions.

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"They identified as being outside the jurisdiction of Seattle, the big city, and they wanted to be left alone."

They were concerned about taxes, often saying they had fixed incomes. And sometimes saying, "I don't want my taxes going toward those people, meaning immigrants and people who are there because of the housing projects."

Kondo said that when public officials spoke at annexation meetings, they mostly addressed that group. "They'd emphasize public services, fire and police and talk about taxes."

She said she didn't hear much about people with young children, or who had housing or employment issues.

But too often those people would be absent from the meetings anyway.

Immigrants and poorer people are not without their advocates, however.

One group is even called the Trusted Advocates, a part of the Annie E. Casey Foundation's Making Connections initiative. Advocates find out what immigrant and refugee communities need, communicate those wishes to officials, and help residents participate in community improvement efforts.

White Center has attracted a lot of money from foundations testing ways to improve life in more challenged communities.

Thrive by Five Washington and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation fund the White Center Early Learning Initiative.

The Paul G. Allen Family Foundation just awarded a green jobs initiative grant in White Center.

They see potential in the area, and Kondo believes Seattle has the capacity to help White Center thrive.

Annexation has been explored for years now for unincorporated North Highline, the area that includes White Center.

Seattle's City Council had a briefing on the potential annexation Monday and March 8 the full council will vote on whether to ask people in the neighborhood to vote in November on joining the city.

Last year, Burien annexed the mostly residential neighborhoods of South Highline.

It's our turn to absorb White Center, and I hope, reach out and preserve some of its distinctiveness.

Jerry Large's column appears Monday and Thursday. Reach him at 206-464-3346 or jlarge@seattletimes.com.

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About Jerry Large

I try to write about the intersections of everyday life and big issues. I like to invite readers to think a little differently. The topics I choose represent the things in which I take an interest, and I try to deal with them the way most folks would, sometimes seriously, sometimes with a sense of humor. My column runs Mondays and Thursdays.
jlarge@seattletimes.com | 206-464-3346

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