The new city took its name from a local water body, Lake Burien, which had been named for pioneer Gottlieb Burian (or Van Boorian, 1837-1902), whose name was somehow transformed to "Burien." Earlier attempts to incorporate the area had suggested Highline as the name for the proposed city. The idea of becoming a city was presented to voters in 1954, 1960, 1961, and 1984, but in each case they turned the measure down, the last time by a margin of three to one. The only direct political influence the unincorporated area had on local government was through a single member of the King County Council and the county executive.
By 1989, plans for a third runway at Sea-Tac International Airport and uncontrolled urban growth were enough for citizens to form a committee to investigate incorporation once again. Multifamily dwellings had increased by 33 percent during the previous 10 years and committee chairman Arun Jhaveri stated that Burien had become "a dumping ground for the county to have the apartments" (The Seattle Times, February 13, 1992).
The committee commissioned a study that projected that existing taxes would cover projected expenses of a new city. In December 1991, the King County Boundary Review Commission approved the boundaries of a proposed city of Burien, which did not include the White Center area. Incorporation critics claimed that this was to exclude the low-income neighborhood from the new city's tax base. Proponents stated that during community meetings, White Center residents did not express an interest in incorporation.
A few weeks before the election, consultants hired by the State of Washington published recommendations for a floating bridge to connect the Kitsap Peninsula to Vashon Island to Burien. This possibility of a major state highway cutting through the community would dramatically change its character. On March 10, 1992, Burien voters approved incorporation by a margin of two to one.
A primary election on May 19, 1992, narrowed city council candidates from 22 to 14. On September 15, 1992, the voters selected a seven-member interim city council and Mayor Arun Jhaveri. The official incorporation was set for midnight, February 28, 1993 and the community celebrated the event starting at 9:00 p.m. on the 27th.