By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
Two weeks ago, Mat McBride offered in this WSB comment to help the Westwood/Roxhill neighborhood re-establish a community council – a vital step, he suggested, to banding together on issues including safety and crime prevention, top of mind following word of the Roxhill Park robberies.
Last night, McBride, who chairs the Delridge Neighborhoods District Council, shepherded more than 30 interested neighbors onto the path toward making a new council reality.
By the time the meeting convened at the Southwest Branch Library, Arbor Heights neighbors – also without a community council – had been invited too.
As is traditional for many community-council meetings, they went around the room with a few words of introduction from each person present. Some said they were there because they’d been victimized by crime. Some, because they work in the area. A few were from other neighborhoods – including neighboring (and council-less) Gatewood and relatively distant North Delridge – and wanted to observe.
Reps from Seattle Police, Seattle Parks, and the Department of Neighborhoods were on hand too, by invitation. McBride described the event as “meeting number one of an open-ended series,” reiterating that he is committed to help guide the group over the next year, whether it stays one big group or breaks into, for example, Westwood/Roxhill and Arbor Heights. “Who makes that decision?” one person asked. “You do; by being here tonight, you are a founding member,” said McBride.
In the first half-hour, he offered the crowd something of a primer on how community councils work, as well as how the city-mapped “districts” (13 in all, citywide) work – explaining how most of western West Seattle is in the Southwest District, most of eastern WS in the Delridge District:
Regarding individual neighborhoods and their boundaries, McBride noted, “Boundaries are malleable.” He sketched some out on a whiteboard. Discussion rippled over whether Westwood was really a sub-zone of Roxhill, and where Arbor Heights begins and ends.
McBride also noted that neighborhood councils will help amplify voices if the City Council becomes elected by district, the current subject of a petition drive. And they also are the best way to tap into sources of city funding – grants for a variety of projects, including transportation.
“It’s really kind of up to you how you want to build it,” McBride stressed.
“How many people do you need for a meeting?” someone asked. Pablo Lambinicio, who founded an earlier incarnation of the Westwood Neighborhood Council, noted that group was down to 3 or 4 people showing up for a meeting, and that just wasn’t enough.
It wasn’t just about numbers and bureaucracy and technicalities – McBride also said it was about passion. Even anger. “An angry person is an engaged person.” And yet, there is a line: “At the end of the day, these people are your neighbors.”
Many on hand seemed passionately interested in hearing about the recent crimes and where they stood – since that was a major impetus for creating a council. Crime prevention and safety could bind a wider area together, pointed out a local business owner, who said she felt the Westwood/Roxhill and Arbor Heights areas had many things in common – such as, the recent Roxhill Park crime “is all of our crime.”
McBride noted that in addition to neighborhood councils, such issues are addressed in other venues such as the West Seattle Block Watch Captains Network and West Seattle Crime Prevention Council.
But before introducing SPD Community Police Team (CPT) Officers Jonathan Kiehn and Jonathan Flores, McBride cautioned that they weren’t just there to talk about the recent Roxhill Park crimes – but also about what they do, and how the neighborhood in general figured into the crime prevention/safety picture. Kiehn offered an overview about CPT and how “nobody really knows what they do … I find problems in neighborhoods in the precinct that are drawing patrol resources and I’m given the opportunity to creatively deal with those problems” to free up the patrol resources and avoid slowing down the emergency-response system. He noted that SPD’s Southwest Precinct territory also includes South Park. (Here’s the map of the precinct’s “sectors” – for the CPT, Kiehn generally works in the “F(rank)” sectors, Flores in the “W(illiam)” sectors.)
The robberies remain “under investigation,” was all he really could say, while saying he wants to address “the issues that caused the problem.” He briefly explained WSBWCN and the Crime Prevention Council. For any kind of group, he said, he highly recommends subcommittees, so that people can specialize in the issues they are passionate about handling – transportation, crime, etc. – rather than the entire group getting burned out.
One woman wondered if human-services resources would help address, for example, burglaries during the day. “I’m not so sure that people in need are those committing (the crimes),” Officer Kiehn cautioned. That said, he acknowledged there are resources available for solving problems, often discussed at so-called inter-agency meetings inside city government. He also suggested that people launching this group check out how other neighborhood councils do things.
Do you help set up Block Watches? he was asked. No – that’s Crime Prevention Coordinator Mark Solomon. How does city vs. county law enforcement work, since the city/county border is in this area? Officer Kiehn explained that westbound Roxbury is the city side, eastbound the county side. “And crime prevention isn’t me – it’s all you people.”
One attendee asked about overlapping problems between the two entities and whether there is a council on the other side of the line.
(Editor’s note: It wasn’t mentioned by name, but the North Highline Unincorporated Area Council is the group that represents the area, and in fact, they have a Public Safety Forum coming up tomorrow [Thursday] night, 7 pm, at the Boys and Girls Club, 9800 8th SW in Greenbridge, just over the city/county line – find out more on our partner site White Center Now.)
The group really wanted to know more about crimes including burglaries and car prowls. The former are a daytime crime; the latter, nighttime, clarified Officer Kiehn.
“We came together as a block – and that’s how prevention worked,” interjected one attendee.
As he wrapped up, Officer Kiehn explained that one way he can help the group is to teach them how they can interact with the police department – learn how best to call the police, describe suspicious people/suspects, and much more.
And McBride then reminded the group that it’s important to call in with sightings, crimes, concerns, because then SPD will know there’s an area of concern.
Time was running short – the library loudspeaker had already sternly warned twice that the branch would close at 8 pm, sharp – but Carol Baker, this region’s district maintenance manager for 85 area parks in the Seattle Parks system, took a few minutes to speak too.
She recapped Roxhill Park’s history, having been a wetland and then gone through some restoration plantings in the 1990s. “It’s not the traditional park maintenance that most of my crew does – mowing, edging, litter, Alki …” Citizen park steward Scott Blackstock listened as she spoke about how volunteers help there – “but not always enough volunteers.”
Roxhill volunteer work is often organized through the Green Seattle Partnership, she explained. Baker also said Parks is looking forward to the completion of the skatepark and playground projects, to revitalize the park. One women mentioned that it’s not a safe or comfortable place to walk any more because of so many obstacles. She said Parks prunes at least twice a year, and just completed winter pruning, taking out 15 cubic yards of material “so that people don’t feel like they’re in a jungle.”
McBride, who had co-led volunteer efforts for the playground build, told the group that the playground and skatespot are currently slated for a soft opening around February 24, with an official ceremony around spring break in April.
A few people did bring up the issue of the increasingly extensive bus parking along SW Barton the north side of Roxhill Park blocking the public’s view of park activities (suspicious or otherwise) – and it was agreed that would be brought up with Metro. By whom, it wasn’t clear – but such accountabilities part of what will be forged as the new group moves forward.
Also on hand for the meeting was Yun Pitre, district coordinator with the Department of Neighborhoods, which assists community and district councils as a liaison between them and city government.
The next meeting will be March 6th, also 6:30 pm, also at the Southwest Branch Library (southeast corner of 35th and Henderson). You can stay in touch in the meantime by joining the Facebook group that’s been set up for “WWRHAH” – Westwood/Roxhill/Arbor Heights – find it here.