By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
Got something you wish your City Council representative would help with? You should have been at tonight’s Southwest District Council meeting, SWDC’s first one in two months (like many community/neighborhood groups, SWDC leaves August off the meeting calendar). The centerpiece of the meeting was a multi-issue update from, and Q&A with, City Councilmember Lisa Herbold – taxes, transportation, and more.
COUNCILMEMBER SPOTLIGHT: SWDC invited City Councilmember Lisa Herbold to come speak to, and hear from, SWDC. She addressed some issues she’d been asked about before the meeting – for example, she said SDOT acknowledged it should have done some neighborhood outreach before its late-night work to convert 59th/Admiral to an all-way stop (as they told us for this followup). She added that SDOT said this was a community-requested project, with support from Alki Elementary‘s principal and PTSA, and they will be monitoring the “functionality of the intersection” for six months – pedestrian counts, collisions, compliance among other things. Tony Fragada, who represents the Alki Community Council on the SWDC, said his group had agreed that something needed to be done to slow traffic there.
Next update: She said the city’s planning to continue using the new Your Voice, Your Choice participatory-budgeting process for upcoming funding processes, as it did for the Neighborhood Park and Street Fund. But, she reminded, the city has an executive change coming up – a new mayor – and her priorities (whichever woman is elected mayor) will come into play.
Pete Spalding, who represents the West Seattle Chamber of Commerce on SWDC, said that it was ironic that when community members were invited to help vet the hundreds of proposed NPSF projects, most of those who showed up were district council members, and they were provided very little information on the projects – unlike the old process, which involved district councils, city departments, and a more thorough vetting of a smaller number of projects. Not having project proponents present to explain their ideas was a problem, too, compared to the previous process, resulting perhaps in “some very valuable projects going by the wayside,” Spalding suggested. Tamsen Spengler, who represents the (updated) Morgan Community Association on SWDC, said the meeting she went to was attended by only nine people – three of whom did happen to have proposed some of the projects under consideration.
A discussion ensued including the potential role of the Community Involvement Commission, which also had come up just before Herbold’s arrival, segueing into the start of her appearance, SWDC was discussing this new city group that was originally billed as replacing the district-council system. One appointee, Jeniffer Calleja, is from District 1 (West Seattle/South Park), and there was some debate about whether she is meant to “represent” this area on the commission. Herbold said, yes, it’s fair to say she does, in terms of having a voice from this area regarding the funding decisions that the group might be making. (Calleja was not in attendance when the CIC met for the first time last month; WSB was the only news organization to cover the meeting – here’s our report, with unedited video of the entire event.)
How the CIC would be involved in grant-funding decisions – whether it’ll be involved – hasn’t been decided yet. But the upcoming budgeting process will likely involve some decisions about process, as well as expectations, as Herbold put it.
Spalding also asked that SDOT and Parks “do a better job of screening” the ideas before they reach community consideration – bringing up one glaring example, a proposal to take out the 47th/Admiral traffic signal which not only is just two years old, but was also a community-requested project at an intersection where a pedestrian had been killed. Herbold said there’s a balancing act to be done when deciding how to screen community ideas, if it’s supposed to be a true community-driven process; Department of Neighborhoods rep Yun Pitre also noted that this year’s process was somewhat abbreviated.
Herbold also had been asked to talk about the City Council’s pursuit of a high-earners’ income tax, and she began by passing out copies of her response to the Washington State Republican Party‘s list of a dozen concerns about it – basically, a debunking document. (You can see it here.) What’s happened since the council passed it? “A number of lawsuits have been filed … happily, the City Attorney (along with other legal help) has met in pre-trial conference with the folks who are suing the city …they have agreed (appearing before a judge last week) that they weren’t going to conduct discovery and that would allow us to move forward with combining the opposition lawsuits,” which will as a result be heard together. The initial motions will be heard November 17th, “and at that hearing the judge will have oral argument in the courtroom, with the time split between the three plaintiffs and the city, and there’s a question about (possibly getting) a larger courtroom because there’s a lot of public interest in the case.”
How much will this cost the city to fight? Spalding asked. Herbold mentioned that the City Attorney’s Office has a budget of around $250,000 for outside counsel. And, she said, the costs are likely to be offset by revenue the income tax would bring in. What about people moving outside Seattle to get away from the tax? Herbold said that for one, people make decisions about their cities of residence for other reasons, not just cost, and for two, they believe that other jurisdictions will implement income taxes if and when Seattle wins the case.
Will other taxes go away if this one is added? Herbold vowed that they would – “we just won’t go out for the renewal of (a certain) levy,” for example. That was met with some skepticism. But Herbold argued passionately that this wasn’t just another tax they were seeking – “we don’t want to use (the current taxing mechanisms) any more. … Of all the states, we are the number one most regressive” in how people are taxed.
Spalding also brought up that it’s not just “high earners” who would have to deal with the tax, but that many small businesspeople would be taxed on their earnings – though he and Herbold, it was clear, disagree on how the language in the tax law would be interpreted. She insisted that it only affects profits after expenses.
Two visitors said there’s an illegal marijuana grow operation in their neighborhood and they’ve been working with law enforcers for six years, almost to the point of police getting a search warrant and going after the operation, but they’re concerned that prosecution might not be pursued because of feedback they’ve been getting most recently. And, they were told to pursue the issue with their councilmember. Herbold said that if it’s an operation that thwarts a for-profit industry, there IS an interest in prosecuting – “the city went through a couple years of enforcement efforts to shut down all the unlicensed (marijuana) businesses, and this is equally important.” SPD ultimately makes the enforcement decision, but Herbold invited the neighbors to contact her so she can be the “squeaky wheel” and see what she can find out. She also asked if they’ve reported it through other channels such as the city Department of Construction and Inspections; the neighbors said they had – but they didn’t know if an inspection had been done. They were advised to pursue the complaint online so there’s a trail.
Another visitor thanked Herbold for her work on an issue involving his children and a difficult custody battle involving a “reunification program” (the type that was the subject of this Washington Post report). “It’s just a horrific case,” and he said Herbold and her staff had been helpful simply by asking questions.
Next visitor brought up concerns about Longfellow Creek, where the trail is overgrown and badly maintained and “you need to bring your own clippers to go for a walk.” He said there are also lighting problems, but that City Light – for which he said he worked for 37 years – won’t do anything about them because they’re on Parks land. He’s also talked to arborists, requested trash cans along the trail, pointed out overgrown fire hydrants. “They’ll do Delridge (Way), but they won’t do side streets,” he said. He’s lived in the area for 10 years and just wants the city to maintain its property.
One attendee had a quick question: When is the Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda‘s Mandatory Housing Affordability final Environmental Impact Statement coming out? Herbold said she had just put out that question herself – as the council had requested a chance to review it before it went public – and the first version of the answer is “any day now.”
Will she stay on the same committees when decisions are made in a few months? Too soon to say, she said, though she acknowledged that she’s very interested in the issues that have come before the committee she chairs (Civil Rights, Utilities, Economic Development, and Arts).
Got a question or issue for Councilmember Herbold? Her contact info is here. And her next “in-district office hours” are coming up 2-7 pm Friday, September 29th, at South Park Community Center (8319 8th Ave. S.).
WESTSIDE NEIGHBORS’ NETWORK: WNN’s Judie Messier provided an update on this “village” that’s been created to support West Seattle-area residents who want to “age in place” – to not be forced out of their homes as they get older, even though people now “live in dense isolation, and aging is a risky business.” It’s a “member-driven organization” with members providing support to, and asking for support from, each other. Seattle already has three villages, out of more than 200 nationwide. The group is now a 501(c)(3) and is launching a “founding member” campaign – while the official launch date is January 1st, they’re recruiting founding members right now, people who are willing to pay their 2018 dues in advance. Eleven people have signed up already – and one advantage, Messier said, is that founding members’ dues are “locked in for life.”
WNN has two tiers of membership – social membership and full membership (explained here). They’re also planning a sponsorship campaign to raise money to help those who can’t fully cover membership on their own.
Questions? Presentations are scheduled at many other upcoming community meetings; you also can contact WNN by going here.
LEADERSHIP: The SWDC board members – co-chairs David Whiting and Eric Iwamoto and secretary Vicki Schmitz Block – are ending three terms as of the end of this year, and successors are needed. It’s a relatively light time commitment – maybe 90 minutes a month outside of the meeting, said Whiting. They’ll continue to represent their respective organizations on the council (Admiral Neighborhood Association, Westwood-Roxhill-Arbor Heights Community Coalition, Fauntleroy Community Association, respectively), but it’s time for a leadership change, emphasized Schmitz Block. Nominations (of yourself or someone else) are welcome.
NEXT MEETING: Since SWDC meets first Wednesdays, it’ll be 6:30 pm October 4th, at the Sisson Building/Senior Center in The Junction.