Seattle’s new mayor has promised a “neighborhood summit” within his first 100 days in office. No date is set yet, not even a format, but the person who’s organizing it came to the Highland Park Action Committee‘s January meeting to talk about possibilities. That leads off our report from the meeting Wednesday night:
PLANNING THE MAYOR’S NEIGHBORHOOD SUMMIT: Kathy Nyland explained she has been “borrowed” from Councilmember Sally Bagshaw‘s office to help make that happen – saying neighborhood involvement is a passion of hers, ever since she arrived in Seattle more than a decade ago. She has lived in Georgetown for more than a decade and wound up involved with just about every group imaginable, followed by a couple political campaigns, and then came her work for the city. “I’ve been given this task of the Neighborhood Summit – AND … I’m here to find out what that ‘and’ might be.”
Nyland said she has been talking with people in other areas of the city about “their issues” – but: “Nothing’s been decided yet, it’s not a predetermined meeting (yet) … there’s been no planning meetings so far …” She asked the group, “When you hear ‘neighborhood summit’, what do you envision? What do you want it to be? What would a ‘neighborhood-friendly’ mayor look like to you?” HPAC co-chair Carolyn Stauffer said she’s glad for starters that the mayor’s office knows about this neighborhood at all. The first suggestion: Focus on how to help make neighborhoods successful; for example, the Highland Park Improvement Club has been working to make its almost-century-old building, host to HPAC meetings and much more, more of a community hub, but zoning rules get in the way, the property taxes have shot up …
Regarding what “neighborhood summit” might mean, it was also suggested the phrase evoked a negative sentiment because, “I don’t think we need a thing where all neighborhoods come to one giant meeting – there is neighborhood specificity – issues that are important (to each neighborhood)” and might not get addressed. Nyland observed that neighborhoods’ issues have some similarities and yet each neighborhood winds up “inventing the wheel over and over again” as it tackles an issue that someone might already have solved. Perhaps she said a Neighborhood 101, to help people navigate the city and its policies, would be good. “It would be the first step of an ongoing conversation.”
Perhaps, another attendee offered, it should be a forum for the mayor to listen and assist in “common issues” between communities – and figure out how to “change the culture at the city,” a culture perceived as currently responding with “I’ve heard you” but needing to respond with “Let’s work together to try to get that done.”
She was then put on the spot with a couple of pointed questions: What does SHE think the mayor could actually do with the summit?” And: What’s the objective, beyond having the mayor look like he cares about neighborhood issues? What will be said that the city doesn’t already know about? How will it not be a waste of time?
Nyland said the mayor heard often in the campaign about neighborhood relationships and how they were handled a certain way under the previous administration, but believes it can be better, with more seats at the table, etc. That led to a question about the rumor that the number of “neighborhood districts” served by the city will be cut to match the new City Council districts (that for example would turn West Seattle into one district, whereas it is currently split into two – Southwest and Delridge). Nyland insisted the city is not currently leaning any particular way on that.
Other issues raised: How to bring more residents into the neighborhood discussion process – about two dozen people were at the HPAC meeting, for example, but hundreds more in the neighborhood. And cooperation/collaboration between schools, local governments, local neighborhood reps, is a challenge.
And finding a way for neighborhoods not to feel as if they are an “underdog” when dealing with the city – a feeling reinforced by the discovery that developers have a standing meeting with the Department of Planning and Development – how can that sort of access be replicated for neighborhoods and residents? Why is information so hard to come by?
Nyland said she identified with that, from her neighborhood-activist days, drinking lots of coffee and stumbling into information at 1 am.
Another question the mayor could answer: What does the city expect of its neighborhoods? “Absence guidance and direction, we make up our own stuff. … We don’t know anything about stuff. We just show up.” HPAC has a history of some intense issues – fighting off the jail that the city ultimately decided it didn’t need at all, the homeless camp that occupied city-owned land for two years without official permission – feeling as if it has had to “do the dirty work,” while they’d like to say to the city, “help us out here!”
Even simple changes could make a big difference – keep city departments open later, like 7 pm.
Ultimately, no conclusions or promises, but Nyland thanked HPAC for inviting her to come have a conversation about the summit – whenever, wherever, whatever it turns out to be.
EMERGENCY COMMUNICATION HUBS: Cindi Barker came to speak with HPAC about Highland Park’s “hub” – and hoping it doesn’t have to be decommissioned for lack of a point person (the people who’ve held that volunteer role previously have all had to hand it over, and the person who’s handling it now is moving out of state). Someone needs to step up before March, or else HP won’t be able to have a hub – citizens can’t be told “go here in case of crisis” if there’s nobody to make help happen. There is some training and some drill participation expected. West Seattle has been a leader in the “hub” world around the city, and there are now three dozen around the city, with more than a dozen additional ones coming online because of a city grant. If HP loses its hub, the Delridge P-Patch will be the nearest one – two miles away. Mat McBride, visiting chair of the Delridge Neighborhoods District Council, mentioned that there’s a benefit to being part of this – some extra communication capability, via radio equipment (compact but powerful) that goes with the hub. If you have any interest in involvement but weren’t at the meeting, contact HPAC leadership.
NEIGHBORHOODS REPRESENT IN THE PARADE: Barker continued on to a second topic – she wants to get every neighborhood/community group into the West Seattle Grand Parade this year, so the thousands who line California SW can see how much involvement and dedication there is in neighborhoods around the peninsula. Stay tuned for more on that.
MISCELLANEOUS MEETING NOTES: “Our concerns are being heard” regarding road safety on Roxbury, said Stauffer, mentioning the plan for a mid-February meeting about it – HPAC joined with Westwood-Roxhill-Arbor Heights Community Council and North Highline Unincorporated Area Council to advocate for that.
*A similar study of SW Holden is being requested – perhaps a light at Holden/9th could result, or a roundabout, it was suggested.
*HPAC is supporting a push for more safety on Delridge by the Boren building; Craig Rankin provided an update. (As we write this recap, we’re at a Friday morning meeting related to this – watch for that story later.)
*Planning has begun for work to improve access into the park surrounding the Highland Park Spraypark, with a $374,000 grant obtained for it.
*The City Light surplus site at 16th/Holden might be a great place for Green Stormwater Infrastructure.
*”Depaving” project continues outside at HPIC – raingardens are installed now, taking all the building’s rainwater. Next: A bench made out of utility vaults will be installed, instead of standard signage.
*HPIC’s Corner Bar has another Robert Burns Scottish-themed night coming up (haggis and all).
*This year’s wine-tasting event is coming up in May, and they’re welcoming planning-committee members now. It sold out last year, for the first time, and this year will have room for about 150 people.
*A local resident who’s been researching HP history spoke to the group for the last part of the meeting. Our notes don’t do the presentation justice – we’ll just say, if you have a neighborhood council, consider coming to one of its meetings, you never know what you’ll learn!