AS-IT-HAPPENED COVERAGE: 2749 California project & neighborhood districts’ future @ Admiral Neighborhood Association meeting

July 12, 2016 7:19 pm
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 |   Neighborhoods | West Seattle news

7:17 PM: We don’t often report live on neighborhood-council meetings, but tonight’s Admiral Neighborhood Association meeting has at least two hypertimely guests – Councilmember Lisa Herbold (as previously announced) and Tom Lee from Madison Development Group (which is redeveloping the PCC site at 2749 California SW) – so we’ll be updating as it happens.

First, we’re in a variety of quick updates – including the eighth summer of the ANA-presented Summer Concerts at Hiawatha series. The first concert (six Thursday nights, 6:30 pm, east lawn at Hiawatha Community Center) is July 21st, with Smokey Brights performing – here’s the full lineup. (WSB is a co-sponsor again this year.)

7:29 PM: Tom Lee from Madison is talking about the 2749 California SW project now, a last-minute agenda addition. As we noted in our coverage this morning when PCC (WSB sponsor) announced it would be part of the project, he’s noting the company’s other projects in the area, including Spruce and Element 42. He’s accompanied by reps from Hewitt, the architect for the project, whose Julia Nagele said: “What we’re here to do tonight is to just give you a taste of what we’re going to be bringing to the Design Review Board for our Early Design Guidance” – that meeting is July 21st. “We’re looking for neighborhood input on what you guys like, what you don’t like, and what’s important.”

The architects are putting up a few boards – too dark in this room to photograph but they say they’re the ones already available online, as linked in our earlier coverage. (Here’s the “design packet” on the city website – remember that at this stage in Design Review, it’s all about size and shape of the buildings.) They say they’re working on incorporating the California SW bus stop between the building’s two entries. They are also working on options for how to get the truck traffic into and off the site. “Code compliant” would have the trucks exiting the alley onto Lander, but they are pursuing the possibility of an exit onto California instead.

hewitt

Their goals include the building being “a good neighbor … good place to live … good place to shop,” recognizing that the grocery store will be more than a place you just run into and out of, but also “a community hub.” They’re also working on how the building will respond to Hiawatha Playfield across the street. The site is 300′ long and 113′ deep. Hewitt is showing a “preferred option” that breaks up the building “into five pieces” over the grocery store.

One comment post-presentation – Mark Wainwright (a past ANA president) suggests that, since the neighborhood already has been through supermarket redevelopment – most recently, Admiral Safeway – the project team come out and walk some of those projects. Asked how long the new lease with PCC is, Lee replied “20 or 30 years – it’s a long-term lease.”

7:44 PM: Now it’s Councilmember Herbold’s turn. She mentions that the topic she was to address, the future of Seattle’s neighborhood districts, is suddenly “politically charged” (the sudden announcement of an impending mayoral action would be why). First, she’s giving background info, before getting to the latebreaking developments – that the mayor is “announcing a new system that we haven’t had a chance to review.” As she notes, the original directive to review the district situation came from the City Council. The fact a new system is about to be announced without final council input is unusual, to say the least.

The draft report, she mentions, talked about how to ensure district councils could be more inclusive. She notes that the district councils whose demographic information was included in the draft report was incomplete and at least three years old. “From our perspective, this was just their first cut at this work … my response at the time was yes, district councils could be more representative of our city … but I didn’t believe there was anything inherently undemocratic about the district council system, but that we should figure out ways of supporting (them) and (setting up metrics). … People who have been doing this work have been spending their time and their energy … and it’s a little bit disrespectful to throw out the system and set up a new one.”

Nonetheless, as she pointed out, the one-line preview emerged today, “and we’ll find out more tomorrow … how that is going to be implemented (we don’t know).” She said she will seek to ensure the City Council has a role. “There will be some changes that have to be made to different kinds of legislation that (set up) roles for the District Councils,” which, she recalls, were set up by an ordinance – “an intent document” – almost 30 years ago. “I think the challenge right now is to figure out where we have some input. If there are funding decisions to be made, that will likely be made in the context of the city budget process, which begins in September.”

Whatever the new system turns out to be, she said she hopes it will involve more people, not fewer, than what is in place now. She also notes that there have been past efforts to dismantle what was considered a world-class neighborhood-involvement system – neighborhood planning, the matching funds – set up under past Department of Neighborhoods director Jim Diers.

Herbold concluded, “I will pledge to keep you as informed as I can be, and share with you whatever information and opportunities that might arise for advocacy from you to the city … but where I am right now, I don’t know how these recommendations coming from the mayor are going to (engage) the council (or not).”

First question – does the mayor’s action dissolve neighborhood-level groups like this one? No, said Herbold, as these are freestanding groups. The main effect would be the staffing that district councils have had from the Department of Neighborhoods. “If you continue to meet as a district council” – for example, Admiral NA is a member of the Southwest District Council, along with other western West Seattle groups and organizations – there wouldn’t necessarily be any access to help from city-employed neighborhood-district coordinators. Budgetary changes would require City Council approval, Herbold says.

Also, points out David Whiting, ANA past president, who is co-chair of the SW District Council, the district councils currently meet in venues that require some nominal rent payment, so concerns would include where that funding would come from, if not the city. He subsequently asks Herbold if she had seen any sort of preview copy of the second report on the neighborhood-district evaluation, and she says she had not, though sometimes council central staffers get previews, and she will check if they did.

The Q&A is open to other topics, it’s mentioned, and another attendee asks about the Seattle Police Officers Guild contract vote and overall oversight. “One of the objectives of this contract is to implement recommendations of the Police Commission,” she notes. “We’ve been engaged in bargaining for almost two years now … We really hope they will vote for it because I think the contract goes a long way toward supporting the recommendations of the (commission).” She mentions that there was “a leak” of not only the contract proposal but also the city analysis “that basically (suggested the city) ‘won'” and that, she says, has led to current talk of a “no” vote.

An ANA member goes back to tomorrow’s district-council-dismantling announcement, saying it seems “disrespectful” to all the work neighborhood council volunteers have done. Councilmember Herbold says that one of the offshoots of the new City Council district system is that they’re hearing from more constituents, and she hopes that will mean more collaboration between residents and their representatives.

Another ANA member says he’s concerned about city spending “and it feels like property taxes are going out of sight.” He also says that the “process” seems to be taking forever on some projects, such as the SW Admiral Way Safety Project, and asks where that stands. Herbold says she thinks more community engagement is ahead (which is what we’ve been told, but without a date – the webpage still says “mid-2016”). Flyers are forthcoming, and possibly some “walk-and-talks.” It was also pointed out that SDOT reps were due twice at the Alki Community Council and canceled both times, and that they haven’t accepted invitations to come to this council – “they seem to feel they no longer need to come to the community councils,” suggests one attendee who’s been involved.

8:22 PM: Since Herbold had suggested getting involved in the budgeting process to possibly have some effect on what’s happening from here, an attendee asks what’s the most effective way to do that. “A variety of approaches” is what she suggests – “mix it up, some phone calls, some group e-mails, some individual e-mails, mix up your interaction with the decisionmakers … it sort of conveys the sense that you’re in advocacy mode from all different sides.” To influence the mayor’s budget proposal, Herbold says, get your comments in by the end of this month. And she’ll know more tomorrow what the council’s process will be “for considering these changes … and I might have different advice. It’s quite possible there’ll be another presentation before the Affordable Housing and Neighborhoods Committee before” any budget changes related to this are made.

In response to the next question, the councilmember says some of the language in the first draft of the report on this suggests “a fundamental misunderstanding” about what city councilmembers’ staffers do (in relation to the suggestion they will do all the work that neighborhood-district coordinators – like Kerry Wade, who is here – do). “Council staff is focused on policy work and budget – to the extent that council staffers get involved in implementation of work that departments do, is because something’s fallen through the cracks in the department; we’re a safety valve.”

The meeting ended shortly thereafter; ANA is taking August off and will be back in action the second Tuesday in September, 7 pm, The Sanctuary At Admiral.

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