By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
“The mayor got it wrong. Ms. Nyland has it wrong, too. … We represent more than who we are in this room.”
That declaration from Willard Brown of DNDA summarized what many of his fellow members of the Delridge Neighborhoods District Council said on Wednesday night, as a key part of the meeting focused on Mayor Ed Murray and Department of Neighborhoods director Kathy Nyland‘s intent to cut city support for the city’s 13 district councils.
The meeting’s other major component: A review of the five community proposals seeking Neighborhood Street Fund grant money, which DNDC members will be re-ranking now that SDOT has completed its assessment of the top-ranked proposals and what they’re likely to cost.
DISTRICT COUNCILS’ FUTURE: Chairing the meeting, Pigeon Point Neighborhood Council‘s Pete Spalding recapped how DNDC had hosted a citywide meeting at the Highland Park Improvement Club in July (WSB coverage, with video, here) to talk about the mayor’s “shocking” announcement days earlier about cutting off city support for district councils, as part of a reshaping of the city’s “engagement” policies.
The plan has not yet been finalized, but Nyland and other city staffers discussed the topic in a briefing at noontime Wednesday, during a City Council committee meeting (last item, 2 hours, 23 minutes in):
Two of the Councilmembers who were in attendance at that meeting, Lisa Herbold and Tim Burgess, had accepted DNDC’s invitation to Wednesday night’s district-council meeting. Herbold had a conflicting commitment, however, and had to leave before the discussion really revved up.
“A lot of the criticism that are being leveled at district councils are things we’ve been asking for for years, if you go back and look,” said Spalding. “…I personally think that we collectively have done a pretty damn good job to try to push the city to help us do things. Now we’re looking to our electeds to help us to continue so that we can be a positive force for change in our neighborhoods.”
From there, those in attendance had the chance to voice whatever they wanted to say on the topic. Gunner Scott from Highland Park Action Committee said that without a district council, he would never have gotten involved. He had previously served on a city commission and felt it wasn’t listened to, and that he “felt discrimination … (despite) that commission being about discrimination.” He feels more engaged with his involvement for NDNC. He spoke about previous dealings with the Department of Neighborhoods and having been treated as if he “was stupid” despite his personal extensive experience with nonprofits and feeling he is knowledgeable in the workings of the system. He said he is “disappointed” in the “one-sided” discussion that is happening so far around district councils.
Next, Amanda Kay Helmick said the Westwood-Roxhill-Arbor Heights Community Council, which she co-founded, wouldn’t exist without the district council. “Geographic (groups) are incredibly important in this city. We live in communities.” The Department of Neighborhoods “threw our organizations under the bus,” Helmick declared. She said she had requested all the information that the mayor and DON had used to come up with their proposal. And, she said, that information revealed that “the survey results that led to the allegations that district councils are older, white, homeowners” were incomplete, because … “two district councils are missing.” She said there was an outreach strategy in 2008; in 2009, Councilmember Sally Bagshaw commissioned an audit based on one district council “that was having issues with engagement.” Nothing was done about its recommendations. So now, Helmick continued, the city’s attitude seemed to be “volunteers, it’s all your fault” that there are problems, she said they’re being told. DON has engagement liaisons that aren’t allowed to help. So this is all meant “to make us angry so we have meetings like this and talk about it and nothing gets done.”
Meantime, she noted, “The mayor is writing a resolution” to replace the one that created district councils in the ’80s but “we have not been asked to help with it, so that is top down.”
Councilmember Burgess said at that point that he’d been told the new proposal is expected to be part of the budget presentation the mayor is making on Monday (September 26th).
Michael Taylor-Judd of the North Delridge Neighborhood Council said the building in which this meeting was held – the renovated Cooper School, now Youngstown Cultural Arts Center – was the work of neighborhood leaders, as were so many things in the area. He said the city has never made much of an investment in eastern West Seattle without neighborhood reps agitating for it.
Taylor-Judd then said the DON presentation at the council earlier in the day made it sound as if the district councils’ were an “old system ripe for updating.” But, he continued, some neighborhood leaders have been engaged in a process, with city staffers for a year and a half, looking at the neighborhood’s future: “City staff were amazing, we got some materials translated…” He mentioned the last Delridge Projects Workshop in June 2015 (WSB coverage here) having included diverse participation, with Vietnamese, Somali, and youth groups, “people who have never been involved in workshops,” early in the process.
Then suddenly, more recently, he said, they were told that since the Department of Neighborhoods is making a change away from geographic outreach, they had the support withdrawn. That leaves Taylor-Judd wondering how the next Delridge Projects Workshop in early October will work: “So what is this final workshop going to be, just the older, white, homeowners (the city is so concerned about)” without access to liaisons who work with ethnic communities?” He says they’ve seen the postcard for it and it’s just in English. The city “might hire interpreters (for the event),” they were told. “So how will anyone know they’re available?” It says so on the postcard – in English – Taylor-Judd said. Overall, “it looks to me like the Department of Neighborhoods has decided that place-based community is not where (anything) is at any more.” Outreach to non-place-based communities is great to do in addition to neighborhood-linked outreach, he said, but for example, as a member of the LGBT community, he said, “am I going to have a ‘gay’ opinion about (a road project)?”
Next, Michelle from Highland Park said that when she first heard about the city’s new “engagement” direction, she was shocked too, because she had been asking for interpreter help, for example. “But I’m going to talk about geography in a different way that the DON isn’t talking about – Seattle is extremely segregated. … to not put those lawyers on there, you’re not going to have interpreters, you’re not going to have other things to help that particular population. This district council has brought one of the most amazing things to Highland Park,” she said, making note of a transportation project that the district council helped them obtain, for a flashing-beacon crosswalk on Holden, “where people do 50 (mph).”
Craig from Highland Park, who’s been involved for several years, said he feels the district council is a very important place to have checks and balances, and “where you can have a voice … if you care about your neighborhood. … I hope it continues to exist, until the next mayor, who can be more respectful of neighborhoods and volunteers.”
Deborah Vandermar of the High Point Open Spaces Association spoke of her experience with the group, pitching for grants, “and HP is getting the benefit of those two grants.” Working with the district council, the system was “demystified. … High Point is probably one of the most diverse places in the city …” but through participation in the district council, it’s connected with other neighborhoods such as nearby Morgan Junction. “The district council might be criticized for being too white .. yes, possibly, but if the people who are sitting here are doing everything they can to address that issue and move forward and (help others) take advantage of all the resources that are available … then why would we destroy a system that has helped (her community and others)?”
That drew applause.
Ron Angeles, representing Southwest Youth and Family Services, talked about a long history of community engagement, not just his time as a Neighborhood District Coordinator. He talked about involvement in the ’70s in Southeast Seattle, and a feeling that area wasn’t getting its fair share of available money. He mentioned former Department of Neighborhoods leader Jim Diers. “In the north end, there were issues of land use, and neighborhood councils vs. business chambers, and how land should be allocated … but the primary issue was how decisions were being made at City Hall. They were being made in a vacuum, and it was often who could yell the loudest … one group vs. the other group … city leaders were asking groups to get their acts together and come up with someone who could unify a voice. So, he continued, then-City Councilmember Jim Street championed the idea of district councils and a citywide council. (Here’s a city PDF with the history of that process.) “From the standpoint of being a coordinator, I would go to one neighborhood group and hear great things that were going on … and (the same with another) …” and if the community councils and business groups could “come together with one voice, it would be powerful … and over time, it happened.”
At one point, Angeles said, there was concern about neighborhood councils vs. district councils. “But … it’s worked for four decades, there’s success after success after success of things that have worked in district councils. And it didn’t start with this administration. …Look at the big picture of the synergism, the ideas that people get from each other …” He sighed, heavily. “Who writes this stuff down? But we know it. The neighborhood district coordinators … what’s their role going to be? Do they go? District councils will survive … the city is growing, there are new leaders, there are old leaders … ” He went on to mention the power of having representatives from multiple neighborhoods in one room with city representatives, “and then there’s the meaningful relationship, that builds up, that’s how you get things done … how (a neighborhood rep) can call up a City Councilmember … that’s what district councils can do … and that’s what goes unmentioned … and all you hear is ‘how district councils don’t represent the community’.”
DNDA’s Willard Brown said he’s been involved with the district councils since at least 2000, and it’s how he “got involved with what’s happening in the neighborhoods.”
This is where he said:
“The mayor got it wrong. Ms. Nyland has it wrong too. This is why: We all sit here, and we represent more than who we are in this room, and for whatever reason, the fact that we are representing other people is unstated and unreflected in everything that’s been written about ‘what’s wrong with the system’. I engage, come in contact, with almost everyone in the district, working on project with schools, with affordable housing, with some of you, or with the libraries, or law enforcement … The fact is, being effective in the community. We hear their voices,, we hear their concerns, we take information to them, we represent. That decision that says we are unrepresentative fo the citizens of Seattle is (wrong) … I was offended.” He hopes that the people who trust in them will be able to continue working with them. “Don’t say you are going to replace us with a new system with all new players because that is stupid.”
Of all his work to help connect communities, he said, he thinks it’s “insane” for (the mayor and others) “to say to us we’re not reflecting the needs and wishes of our communities.”
That led to a discussion of how what limited demographic information the city has collected on district councils doesn’t even reflect who might be in the participants’ households, nor has it included information such as sexual orientation.
Mike Riedel from South Delridge’s new community council said, “A lot of the stuff you care about is geography,” cutting across ethnic and other lines. He said he’s had involvement with some city agencies, and “they treat us like there are two cities …” He is part of a recently formed community group. “I have no faith in this mayor or the Dept. of Neighborhoods or the next mayor with a new plan will lobby for us the way we lobby for ourselves … We’re trying to represent our community.”
At that point, Spalding asked Councilmember Burgess, who had been listening, to join the discussion. “Based upon what you’ve heard from us tonight, and from the Dept. of Neighborhoods this morning,where’s the council in this whole process right now? It seems to us that the mayor can’t really do a lot of what he wants to do without the council making some changes to city resolutions.”
We videorecorded the next 16 minutes:
The toplines: Burgess acknowledged the announcement of the mayoral/Neighborhoods plan seemed “fumbled.” As for what happens next, he said the council was mostly waiting for the mayor’s budget plan on Monday.
He was followed by the co-chairs of the Southwest District Council, David Whiting and Eric Iwamoto, who spoke of how their DC decided earlier this month to continue on no matter what (WSB coverage here), but are mystified by what the city is trying to do.
Cindi Barker of the West Seattle Emergency Communication Hubs pointed out that she had heard lots of city language change recently, including the comprehensive plan (Seattle 2035), trying to excise the word “neighborhood” wherever possible. She also pointed out that she is a representative of a group aligned with a topic rather than a specific neighborhood.
So is Tamsen Spengler of the West Seattle Timebank, who said she has a longtime organizational background and she was “offended” to be told she didn’t.
Spalding thanked everyone for “speaking from the heart.” Then one more voice from the corner of the room:
Kirk Bentley said he wanted to come and tell the district-council reps “thank you … for doing largely thankless work.” He follows what the group does, read reports and previews on WSB, and tracks what’s happening even if he’s not able to be at the meetings. “It’s important that what this group does continues to happen. … Hopefully the council and the mayor will make really smart choices about what happens next.”
“The council will,” quipped Burgess, evoking the first major laughter of the meeting, which ended shortly after, with Spalding saying “Remember, this isn’t the end … it’s just a continuation of what we’ve been doing.”
We will be covering the budget announcement on Monday and will report on what’s proposed on this topic as well as others.
Now, back to the first part of Wednesday’s meeting:
NEIGHBORHOOD STREET FUND PROPOSALS: As the Southwest District Council did earlier this month, the Delridge NDC is now re-ranking the top community proposals for this grant fund’s every-three-year funding cycle, so the community applicants were invited to re-pitch. (Here’s the citywide list of what’s still going through the system. Follow the link for each one – or, in each minisummary below – to see the full SDOT-created summary and cost estimate.)
Amanda Kay Helmick from WWRHAH spoke on behalf of the SW Barton corridor bus-stop vicinity safety proposals (“Barton Complete Street”), which SDOT says would cost $1.2 million, saying the need had been proven over and over again.
Gunner Scott from HPAC declared, “People have died,” when advocating for the Highland Park Way/SW Holden roundabout that’s proposed for the fund this time, estimated by SDOT to cost $1.3 million. “It’s ridiculous that we’re doing ‘The Hunger Games’ because these all are very much needed.” He also pointed out that the area is densifying, with multifamily projects (like this one) on and near the area. It was also noted that about the neighborhood has been campaigning for safety there (we’ve seen the documentation of this) for 70+ years.
Eric Iwamoto from WWRHAH spoke about his proposal for pedestrian improvements in the Chief Sealth International High School/Westwood Village area, along 26th SW and 25th SW/Trenton ($465K is SDOT’s estimate). He said that if it helps, he would advocate for at least one of these two projects, “I’m willing to settle for half.” Ron Angeles asked about a frequent challenge in that area, keeping a gate open so Southwest Athletic Complex could be walked through. Iwamoto mentioned that the gate often is locked, so students wind up walking through a greenbelt area – which has been the scene of some robberies and other incidents.
The next project was also pitched by HPAC’s Scott, 16th and Holden ($875,000 SDOT estimate), where there’s a need for a left-turn lane (he mentioned crashes) and other pedestrian features.
Finally, a co-submitter of a project for sidewalks along SW Brandon ($616K SDOT estimate) spoke about the need for them.
The NDNC reps have one week to consult with their organizations and get their rankings in to the city.
ANNOUNCEMENTS: Lots of them – so in case you hadn’t already heard about some or all of these events:
September 25th, Seattle Summer Parkways on Alki
September 25th, the Delridge Neighborhood Communication Hub will be one of four hubs “activated” during the Disaster Relief Bike Trials that start at 11 am that morning from 61st/Alki in connection with Seattle Summer Parkways.
October 1st, 9:30 am-2 pm work party & restoration event at the Delridge Wetlands site, announced DNDA’s Scott. All welcome.
October 1st, Southwest Youth and Family Services is having its annual fundraising gala at Metropolist in SODO, announced SWYFS’s Angeles.
October 8th, 9:30 am-noon, the Delridge Projects Workshop will be at Southwest Teen Life Center (2801 SW Thistle), all invited to come talk about various projects including SDOT’s Delridge Way Multimodal Corridor Project as well as other city departments’ projects. A resource fair is planned too, said Department of Neighborhoods District Coordinator Kerry Wade.
The Delridge Neighborhoods District Council meets third Wednesdays, 7 pm, at Youngstown Cultural Arts Center.