Proposals to incorporate the Federal Way area as a city date back as far as 1955. Incorporation proposals were placed on the ballot in 1971, 1981, and 1985, but voters rejected them each time. The successful effort began in July 1988, when incorporation supporters filed petitions for a fourth cityhood election to occur in 1989. Backers saw incorporation as a way to slow the rapid growth, especially in apartment construction, that was transforming their community.
Voters Approve New City
The King County Council placed the proposed Federal Way incorporation, along with an incorporation proposal for SeaTac, located a few miles north along Highway 99, on the ballot for March 14, 1989, in an election to be held by mail. King County officials, concerned about loss of revenue to the County, tried to convince local voters not to approve the incorporation. However, the Federal Way Chamber of Commerce supported incorporation. So did many residents unhappy with what they saw as the County's failure to regulate growth in the area. Voters approved creation of the city of Federal Way by a 2 to 1 margin. Voters also approved incorporation of SeaTac, by a narrower margin.
Before Federal Way could incorporate, a city council was needed to enact laws for the new city. A May 1989, primary reduced a field of 37 candidates to 14 finalists for the 7 council seats. In September, voters chose Debbie Ertel, Mary Gates, Jim Handmacher, Joel Marks, Bob Stead, Lynn Templeton, and Jim Webster as the first Federal Way city council. The council selected Ertel as the first mayor, and set February 28, 1990, as the official incorporation date.
A Day of Celebration
Leaders of the incorporation campaign and advocates of slowing growth predominated on the new council. Council members spent the five months between their election and the incorporation date working on new development regulations, completing their work by adopting strict new standards at 10:42 p.m. on February 27, 1990, less than two hours before the incorporation deadline. At midnight, when Federal Way officially became a city, council members celebrated at Gates home.
All 58,000 residents of the new city were invited to celebrate the incorporation at a ceremony held the evening of February 28, 1990. More than 300 people attended the celebration, which was held at the Sportsworld Lanes bowling complex. It featured a large birthday cake, a baby grand piano, champagne toasts, speeches, and a congratulatory letter from President George Bush (b. 1924).