By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
Popcorn and cheering.
Those were the highlights of the opening moments of this month’s Delridge Neighborhoods District Council meeting at Youngstown Cultural Arts Center this past Wednesday night.
Chair Mat McBride wasn’t kidding when he declared it was an “exciting lineup.”
The cheering was for each person in attendance, as they went around the room to have everyone introduce her/himself. Extra cheers were awarded to three community members who showed up just to see what was happening in their neighborhood. By way of explanation, West Seattle has two city-determined “districts,” Southwest and Delridge, and the council for each district includes reps from neighborhood councils and major organizations/institutions in the area. Those in attendance at this meeting Wednesday night included reps from the Camp Long Advisory Council, Delridge Neighborhood Development Association, Highland Park Action Committee, Highland Park Improvement Club, High Point Open Spaces Association, North Delridge Neighborhood Council, Pigeon Point Neighborhood Council, Seattle Nature Alliance, Southwest Precinct, Southwest Youth and Family Services, Westwood-Roxhill-Arbor Heights Community Council. City reps included neighborhood district coordinator Kerry Wade, and reps from the mayor’s office and Seattle Parks, there to talk about scheduled agenda items.
Parks’ move toward a new plan for off-leash dog areas was the spotlight topic. But first:
PUBLIC SAFETY SURVEY PITCH: Every community meeting is getting this pitch one more time, before the survey ends November 30th. You can voice your sentiments about everything from police to crime. Seattle U research intern Jennifer Burbridge, who’s been working with the Southwest Precinct, says SU will analyze the data and present it back to SPD, hoping to tailor efforts and outreach to neighborhoods’ view of SPD, for example. Some of the results will be made publicly available, though they haven’t figured out how yet. The Southwest Precinct area has provided 1,000 of the 6,500 responses citywide so far. The survey starts here.
MOBILE PRECINCT UPDATE: New Community Police Team Officer Clayton Powell told the DNDC that the new “mobile precinct” should finally be in action soon, and he expects to spend some time driving it. He’s a recent transfer from the East Precinct.
FIND IT, FIX IT UPDATE: A month and a half after the mayor and a small army of city employees, including more than half a dozen department heads, came to Delridge for a “Find It, Fix It” walk (WSB video/photo/text coverage here), his office sent a representative – Americorps intern Hilary Nichols – with an update. We photographed the handout:
A few more details – the Delridge P-Patch will get three new security lights, locations TBA; the city Office of Economic Development is working with the Delridge Grocery team and “trying to help them succeed” in the wake of their loan denial; in all, “what we’re learning on the (FIFI) walks this year are NOT ‘quick fixes’.”
When the council was asked if any other concerns had arisen, WWRHAH’s Amanda Kay Helmick voiced concern about drivers parking cars “almost in the crosswalk” recently installed at Louisa Boren K-8 STEM, starting point for the walk. SWYFS’s Ron Angeles brought up the need for interpreters so events like the FIFI walk could include more community members. DNDA’s Willard Brown brought up the ongoing dumping problems near Sanislo Elementary.
PEOPLE, DOGS, PARKS STRATEGIC PLAN: This is what was previously called the Off-Leash Area Strategic Plan, but evolved via a somewhat-under-the-radar process that’s been under way at Seattle Parks. The discussion at DNDC began with Susan Golub from parks superintendent Jesús Aguirre‘s office, who said, “We have no plan yet.” Parks was directed to come up with a plan for off-leash areas a while back, but, she continued, “we didn’t start that right away, didn’t have funding or staff” until creation of the Seattle Park District was approved by voters in August 2014, including funding to “improve off-leash areas.” So some of the Park District’s first-year funding is being used to develop a plan: “How can we improve what we have now, what is the demand for off-leash areas, what do other cities do …” The draft plan is due out in the first quarter of next year; when it’s out, they’ll invite the public to comment. They did a survey – we mentioned it here last summer, though it was announced by the Coalition for Off-Leash Areas, not by the department – and they’ve since done seven focus groups involving people who identified with certain sentiments – including people who were afraid of dogs, “because we know they won’t be organizing peple to come to meetings …” Golub acknowledged that offleash dogs are the highest source of complaints in parks and said there will soon be a team patroling parks for leash and scoop violations, an animal-control officer and a Parks staffer.
“Could the outcome [of the process] be more offleash parks or elimination of offleash parks?” she was asked.
The latter was unlikely, Golub said, but regarding the former, Parks has heard loud and clear that some are just too small. “There might be some expansion … we have an estimate of 150,000 dogs in the city, 112,000 dog owners, they’re looking for ways to recreate with their dogs offleash … so we need to recognize that as a demand in the city, and have to balance that with (park use for everyone) including people who don’t want to be around offleash dogs …”
Another question: Is Parks looking at new parkland (for off-leash-area expansion) or using existing parkland?
The OLA policy says “our policy is to look at non-Parks land first,” said Golub.
What kind of outreach has been done so far? She wasn’t sure how the focus groups had been chosen but said they’re very aware of the need to work harder at obtaining diverse feedback, since the organized off-leash-area-advocacy community is mostly a “middle-class, white community.”
Also noted: There’s been interest in specific hours at parks for off-leash use – for example, in another city it’s 9 pm to midnight, in yet another, it’s 6 am to 9 am: “We have been asking people about that in the focus groups.”
Back to “where” – Golub insisted they won’t expand in regional parks such as Lincoln, Discovery, Seward. “We’re going to look for areas. But what we heard in the survey and in focus groups … people want offleash areas they can walk to from their homes … we’re going to have to balance that but … you’re not going to put that higher than our environmental ethics.”
Those ethics were highlighted in a comment from West Seattle naturalist and botanist Stewart Wechsler, who mentioned the preponderance of dogs in parks and the damage they can do, tearing up vegetation, churning up the soil, leaving it vulnerable to weeds. (We covered this issue earlier this year.)
It was pointed out that while West Seattle has a large dog population – and that increasing density will increase that too – it has very little off-leash area, just the one at Westcrest Park in Highland Park, toward the southeastern edge of WS.
Next, the Seattle Nature Alliance, which had two reps at the meeting – Denise Dahn and Mark Ahlness – took its turn on the topic. Dahn read a statement – see it here – saying they’re concerned with some of the issues that Parks is bringing up. They advocate for passive use, wild nature, wildlife, etc. She said she attended a focus group and left the meeting with deep concern. SNA wants the process for the plan to be put on hold until “some critical problems could be resolved.” (Their letter to Parks is here.) The Alliance “support(s) off-leash recreation in appropriate places,” but believes the process so far has not been inclusive or impartial, and that it’s been “misleading.”
Dahn said the offleash area options presented at her focus group included 6 never tried in Seattle. Among them:
*Unfenced offleash areas in regional parks where dogs could run free at certain times of day
*Offleash on nature trails
*Offleash on beaches
She said those last two received unanimous yes votes from all the dog owners in her group, and “this is the crux of our concern.”
She expressed concern that the process will be very short regarding public meetings, once a draft plan is made available, and while the “offleash group will be prepared” – it has a formal stewardship relationship with the city, Golub noted – most of the public is unaware that this process is even under way, but deserves to have months of notice, not weeks (this online timeline indicates 2 weeks). Also, Dahn observed, other “important stakeholders” – such as Audubon, forest stewards, Seal Sitters – have not been invited into the process so far. So that’s why they are asking Parks to put it on hold and “restart.” Off-leash use is “indisputably high-impact recreation, and Seattle Parks have traditionally been reserved for low-impact. At what point did any form of high-impact recreation become an option?”
Some around the room chimed in that they hadn’t been aware this process was under way either – including chair McBride, who is involved with Parks as a volunteer, and district coordinator Wade. It emerged at this point that the discussion at DNDC hadn’t been suggested by Parks but instead by SNA, who suggested that the council “might want to know about this.” The alliance itself has its roots in another Parks issue that did not come to light widely until the department had been working on it for a while, the scrapped 2012 Lincoln Park GoApe plan.
The Delridge Neighborhoods District Council meets on third Wednesdays, 7 pm, at Youngstown Cultural Arts Center. No regular meeting in December, though; the group voted to gather informally and voluntarily at the Highland Park Improvement Club‘s Corner Bar event on December 4th.