For many, King County is a great place to live, learn, work and play. However, a closer look at the distribution of resources and wealth reveals that there are deeply entrenched social, economic and environmental inequities—by race and place—that in many cases are worsening and threaten collective prosperity. An array of historical and societal factors drives these inequities including unequal access to the determinants of equity, institutional and structural racism, as well as gender and socioeconomic bias. These factors, while invisible to some of us, have profound and tangible impacts on all of us—both in the community and within County government.
First launched under Executive Ron Sims in 2008, King County Equity and Social Justice became an integrated part of the County’s work with the countywide strategic plan and ESJ ordinance passed by King County Executive Dow Constantine and the County Council in 2010. This new ordinance named the Inter-Branch Team as the coordinator and facilitator of the County’s equity work and formalized systems and frameworks, including the Determinants of Equity.
The last two years represent the latest phase for King County Equity and Social Justice with two major developments: the creation of the Office of Equity and Social Justice and the launch of the first ESJ Strategic Plan process. Established on January 1, 2015, the new Office of Equity and Social Justice works hand-in-hand with the Inter-Branch Team to support the work of all County employees and agencies. The office also serves as the backbone and coordinator of key County efforts to advance equity in the organization and community. Although there is now an ESJ Office, every County agency and employee is still ultimately responsible for advancing and being accountable for ESJ activities and deliverables.
The next phase—guided by their Strategic Plan—is based on the understanding that how the County approaches its work on Equity and Social Justice is just as important as what it seeks to accomplish. It will become pro-equity in County practices and governance by using an equity lens in actions, processes and decisions. The County will invest upstream and where needs are greatest, addressing root causes and smartly allocating public resources. The County will also invest in community partnerships as a strategy to better understand and address equity impacts. Also, King County will invest in its employees to create a strong, racially diverse workforce and workplace at all levels. King County recognizes the success of this plan and progress on equity is fundamentally tied to visible and accountable leadership in its government.
Learn more about King County’s Equity and Social Justice 2016-2022 Strategic Plan here.
Matias Valenzuela, Ph.D., is the Director of the Office of Equity and Social Justice in King County, a countywide effort to address the root causes of inequities working with all county agencies and the community. He has worked for 16 years at King County, including as a lead for the equity work since its inception in early 2008. He has also worked for Public Health–Seattle & King County, collaborating with local organizations and residents to advance the public’s health. His areas of expertise include policy and planning, community engagement and development, training, evaluation, language access, grant writing, communication and media advocacy, and of course equity. Early in his career, he worked as a print and broadcast journalist in the United States and abroad, and he has taught as a Fulbright professor in Nicaragua. In addition to his work at King County, he serves on numerous boards, including Seattle Foundation’s Neighbor to Neighbor, Healthy Food America and Moving Images. He is an Affiliate Assistant Professor at the University of Washington’s School of Public Health and Community Medicine.