West Seattle, Washington
Seven weeks have passed since the mayor’s abrupt announcement that the city would lurch away from the longstanding District Council system and look for new ways of “engagement.” As part of that, the Department of Neighborhoods has been running an online survey (with promotion including paid ads here on WSB and other places). The District Councils, including the two in West Seattle, are in the meantime about to resume their meetings after the traditional August break. And Delridge Neighborhoods District Council chair Mat McBride, who turned the group’s last meeting into a rally of sorts with reps from DCs around the city, has just issued an invitation in this open letter to City Councilmembers Lisa Herbold, Lorena González, Tim Burgess, and Rob Johnson, which we’re publishing with permission:
Esteemed City Council members (representing D1, At-Large, and Neighborhoods Committee),
I am requesting your presence at the September meeting of the Delridge Neighborhoods District Council meeting on Wednesday, September 21. The DNDC is very interested in having a conversation with you regarding community, engagement, and the future of the District Council system within DoN (we’ll also be ranking NSF grants that evening, in case you wanted to observe a DC in action).
District Coordinator Kerry Wade will follow up with an agenda, including specific time and location once it’s finalized. Your RSVP is appreciated.
Chair, Delridge Neighborhoods District Council
PS, in case you haven’t been following DoN’s Engage Seattle poll, it’s a good read. All responses and comments (predominantly by white middle-aged homeowners, which I suppose raises some ironic existential questions) are published. Recommended reading, and if you haven’t taken the poll, I suggest doing so.
Quite a few comments have been made in support of the District Council System (side note – good on you for making all responses transparent, even those that highlight flaws in this latest proposed revision of DoN). And they’re right to do so, the District Council System (DoN’s, not City Council’s) is vital.
Democracy has to be public. Not solely, and there’s a lot of good suggestions about how to enhance the process and increase engagement. But it’s the District Councils, through a relationship officially observed by the City, that provide this function. It is vital to have public discussion with City representatives and elected officials. It is vital to challenge assumptions. It is vital to provide a forum in which the public can champion or object to issues, initiatives, or proposals within a specific geography. Because at the end of the day, it comes down to people doing things. Not taking a poll, not reading a newsletter, not submitting a comment to a blog, but actual honest-to-goodness engagement. Communities are made of people that come together and unite over a common goal. Where technology can enhance and assist this process, it absolutely should. But without an established network and designated place for that to manifest, it’s meaningless. Community is local, friends, and you have to make local work.
So, how to accomplish this? The best solution is also the easiest – restore the DoN District Coordinator staff to pre-2008 levels.
When the cuts first came, and again when they continued, community leaders predicted the exact circumstance we find ourselves in today – the fraying of the social network to the extent that it struggles to provide its most basic functions. The District Coordinators served as the glue within each District, themselves clusters of communities. It’s a big job, and staffed appropriately, it works great – an individual with a comprehensive knowledge of the individuals and organizations operating within the District is able to coordinate and direct active and emerging civic engagement to promote or fulfill the goal of serving the community. The act of networking people is the single most successful way to disseminate information – we have never been able to improve on talking to each other (not that we should). Humans can consume a huge amount of data, and most of it is not registered as important. This is especially true of communication by local government to citizens. If you want your message communicated, you need peer-level discussions within the community. Since most City correspondence is dry and boring (on the surface, anyway), you need citizens who will consume it regardless, translate salient points as necessary to make it accessible, and explain why it’s important to care about. And then, you really need them to talk about it.
Good news! You’ve had that model in place for the last 28 years. By most assessments, it’s past the “Proof of Concept” phase. Success is built upon the enhancement and improvement of existing infrastructure. The dismantling of an established and proven institution, which is to be replaced by an untested concept, is – well, it’s a singularly terrible idea. Restore the District Councils, and commit to enhancing them through all the excellent suggestions for improvement that I’ve read from other respondents to this survey.
As for the upcoming District Council meetings – everyone, as always, is invited. The Southwest District Council is expecting Parks Superintendent Jesús Aguirre at 6:30 pm Wednesday, September 7th, at the Sisson Building/Senior Center in The Junction (California/Oregon).
The Delridge Neighborhoods District Council mentioned above will be on Wednesday, September 21st – as Mat McBride wrote, time and location to be finalized, and we’ll publish an update when that happens.
Story by Tracy Record
Video/photos by Patrick Sand
West Seattle Blog co-publishers
“Let’s not throw out the whole system – let’s make it better.”
That was the theme last night for a gathering of longtime community volunteers who were, at times, furious:
“We are owed an apology. In a city known internationally for volunteerism, we have a mayor who has vilified volunteers … it’s inexcusable.”
At times, gracious:
“What resonates in this room is the hope and optimism you all bring to the table.”
And at times, incredulous:
“The news last week was a surprise.”
That last declaration is how Mat McBride, chair of the Delridge Neighborhoods District Council, began last night’s gathering, a dramatic expansion of what was supposed to be a routine, “sleepy” monthly edition of the DNDC’s meeting, and instead, because of a mayoral decree a week earlier, became a rally of reps from the city’s 13 NDCs. Here’s our video of the entire gathering, in two parts:
The objective, as McBride described it, was to show that the “13 District Councils … are representative of more than the narrative we are currently being cast by … that a bad decision has been made, and that bad decisions can and should be reversed.”
That “narrative” was the July 13th mayoral declaration that the groups should be thrown on the scrap heap (WSB coverage here), replaced to a yet-to-be-outlined “engagement” system with an appointed “Community Involvement Commission,” because members are allegedly mostly older white homeowners. (The survey that made the proclamation has been called into question, as has the inference that the volunteers should be cut loose because of their age, race, and economic status.)
“Right now if you read the [regional] press, you’ll see a story that district councils have 15 people … tend to be white, tend to be old, tend to own houses. (But) when a district council gathers, hundreds, thousands of people are represented at the table … we are a representative democracy. It is not true, the story that’s currently being told.”
We counted at least 60 people in the room at Highland Park Improvement Club; McBride greeted them all in DNDC style – cheering and hand-waving – calling out the names of each Neighborhood District Council that was here, and then asking for a show of hands from those representing other groups, such as the community councils that feed into the ND councils.
He acknowledged that some of what’s in the report – the need to expand the groups’ means of outreach – are things that district council members agree with, things they’ve been suggesting, requesting, for years.
So what is it these groups DO do?
By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
As first reported here on Sunday, this week’s monthly meeting of the Delridge Neighborhoods District Council has expanded to a call for, in effect, a summit of neighborhood-district council members and supporters from around the city. Wednesday’s gathering at Highland Park Improvement Club will come one week after Mayor Murray cut short a City Council-ordered review of the neighborhood-district-council system by declaring he intended to cut city ties to and support for the councils.
More on the meeting below – but first: We now have the report that was due out last Friday, expected to start the next phase of a conversation about the 13 councils, until the mayor’s move on Wednesday. Read it here. It’s the Department of Neighborhoods‘ official response to the City Council’s Statement of Legislative Intent (SLI) from last year that “required the (department) to develop a plan to reorient its programs around the new City Council district structure with a primary focus on the Neighborhood District Coordinator (NDC) program and a goal for more equitable community engagement.”
The report dated Friday (July 15th) incorporates mentions of the executive order the mayor unveiled and signed two days earlier. It declares:
Ballots for the August 2nd election go out next week, and Seattle voters will be asked to decide two ballot measures, both of which will be discussed at tomorrow night’s Southwest District Council meeting. As described on the King County Elections website, Proposition 1 replaces the expiring current city levy “to fund: housing for low-income seniors, workers, and households, and the disabled and mentally ill; and homelessness prevention and reduction programs, including emergency rental assistance for at-risk families.” Initiative 123 “would establish a public development authority to build and operate an elevated park and other amenities along the waterfront integrating one block of the existing Alaskan Way Viaduct into the design.” Tomorrow’s SWDC agenda says two speakers are scheduled for the Housing Levy, but that anti-levy speakers were “unavailable for the meeting”; for I-123, one pro speaker and one con speaker are scheduled. The meeting is at 6:30 pm Wednesday at the Sisson Building/Senior Center in The Junction, California/Oregon).
(Left, map of 13 Seattle “neighborhood districts”; right, map of 7 Seattle City Council districts. Both from seattle.gov)
By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
When the city Department of Neighborhoods cut its staff of neighborhood-district coordinators 5+ years ago, neighborhood advocates were upset, to say the least.
Before the cuts, the city had one coordinator for each of the 13 neighborhood districts, including the two that comprise West Seattle – Delridge and Southwest.
It would be OK, city leaders assured local community leaders – while cutting three of those 13 jobs, they were restructuring the remaining coordinators into teams by region, with this area part of the South Region, to be served by three.
But in the years since – without any further announcements – it’s dropped to 8 coordinators for the 13 districts, and the regional structure has eroded, like a bluff falling into the sea as it’s battered by waves.
Now a potential tsunami is on the way – a formal review, stemming from City Council marching orders last year, looking at whether the 13-neighborhood-district system should realign with the new 7-district City Council map – and whether the district coordinators’ work as community-to-city liaisons should change.
By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
Tonight, the Southwest District Council‘s June meeting includes a discussion of an in-progress city review that could eventually determine whether the SWDC and the city’s other 12 district councils continue to exist.
One of the arguments for district councils is their advocacy for their respective jurisdictions getting their fair share of city attention and money, in programs like the Neighborhood Street Fund.
Since their last monthly meetings, members of both SWDC and its eastern West Seattle counterpart, the Delridge Neighborhoods District Council, have decided which five community-proposed NSF projects they’re forwarding to the city for consideration.
1st-through-5th-ranked by the Southwest District Council (western West Seattle):
1. Improvements at Harbor Ave SW & SW Spokane Street
2. Improvements at 39th Avenue SW and SW Oregon Street
3. Rapid Ride Bus Stops, Morgan Junction
4. Improvements on Fauntleroy Way
5. Traffic Circles, Sidewalks, and Safety Improvements in Arbor Heights
1st-through-5th-ranked by the Delridge Neighborhoods District Council (eastern West Seattle):
1. Modernize the Intersection of 16th Ave SW & SW Holden Street (Highland Park)
2. (tie) Complete SW Barton Street
2. (tie) Roundabout for Highland Park Way/SW Holden St
4. Brandon St Sidewalks (Delridge to High Point)
5. Safety Improvements to 26th Ave SW and/or 25th Avenue SW (Connecting Chief Sealth HS and the Westwood Village Bus Hub)
Both sets of decisions followed project-proposers’ presentations at the respective district councils’ meetings, and review of written applications – this document explains the criteria for evaluation.
No project is guaranteed funding just because the district council supports advancing it; the city’s pot of money is finite, and the Neighborhood Street Fund is citywide, opening for applications every three years, available for
up to $90,000 $100,000-$1,000,000* for a project making it all the way through the process. But sometimes even projects that don’t get NSF funding land on SDOT’s radar. If you’d like to know more about any or all of the 10 aforementioned proposals, scroll ahead (or jump from the home page) for more details on each, excerpted from the community proposers’ applications – sometimes brief, sometimes detailed: Read More
Two community-proposed projects are seeking Southwest District Council support for their applications to get Neighborhood Park and Street Fund money – one on Beach Drive, one on Harbor Avenue. Both were presented at this month’s SWDC meeting, which also included a briefing on the upcoming work to re-replace earthquake-safety cushions on the Fauntleroy Expressway (west/southwest end of the West Seattle Bridge).
SWDC is one of West Seattle’s two groups of representatives from community groups and organizations in what the city defines as this area’s two neighborhood “districts” – Southwest, primarily western WS, and Delridge, eastern WS (see the map here). When it’s time for NPSF applications, the councils review proposals and make recommendations to the city. The criteria include “Projects must cost less than $90,000 as determined by SDOT and Parks” and “The project has widespread positive impact on the neighborhood as a whole.”
The photo atop this story is part of the area involved in the proposal from the Beach Drive SW Neighborhood Committee, formed for the application:
By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
Hours after Mayor Murray officially unveiled the $290 million, 7-year Housing Levy renewal/expansion, it was the centerpiece of this month’s Southwest District Council meeting.
First – here’s the overview flyer:
The briefing was led by Office of Housing director Steve Walker, with colleague Maureen Kostyack. He first tried to explain where HALA (the Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda) and the levy overlap, and where they don’t.
Voters have elected “to tax themselves for affordability” since 1981, he said, segueing into the levy-specific discussion.
This will cost you about $10/month if you have a home around $480,000 in value – double the $5/month for the housing levy that’s expiring, according to Walker, who added: “In the end, the levy’s about people … How can we create an opportunity for our children to be able to live in Seattle? … At the pace we’re going, that’s not possible. How can we be sure people aren’t displaced by the community and the community connection they have?”
Kostyack summarized the three areas the levy is intended to address (the city team was supposed to have a slide deck but couldn’t get the setup to work, so they improvised without it):
By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
Elected to represent District 1, charged with making decisions affecting the entire city – how will newly seated City Councilmember Lisa Herbold balance those roles?
Her Q&A appearance at tonight’s Southwest District Council meeting offered an early glimpse into how she hopes to do it.
If you don’t have time to watch our video, read on!
While Herbold is one of four first-term councilmembers – three representing districts, one elected at-large – she is the only one who was already at City Hall, having spent more than a decade and a half working for Councilmember Nick Licata, who chose not to run again. “In some ways, it’s the same job, in others, different,” she mused tonight.
“So you started (off) knowing where your parking space was,” one attendee suggested.
“I don’t have a parking space,” Herbold laughed.
She later joked that a benefit of district representation is that she can get anywhere within a few minutes – to a meeting like this one, for example, at the Sisson Building in The Junction – “then go home and get into my jammies.” (She lives in Highland Park, a central location for a district that includes South Park as well as West Seattle.)
In a far more serious vein, Herbold had a lot to say about the committees she’s on – including acknowledging reading a WSB comment or two from people puzzled by the catch-all committee names, such as the one she’s chairing, the Civil Rights, Utilities, Economic Development, and Arts Committee:
The Southwest District Council was not among the community groups canceling December meetings. Members gathered to hear a briefing on the most-discussed issue before city leaders right now, housing – specifically, the Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda, aka HALA.
Mayor Murray’s policy-office director Robert Feldstein led the briefing, sitting in for HALA outreach manager Jesseca Brand. “HALA is going to come roaring like a freight train,” explained Cindi Barker, who represents West seattle Emergency Communication Hubs on the SWDC and was a member of the HALA advisory committee.
Feldstein recapped all the basics, which you can review on the HALA website, summarizing: “We think if you build more housing, it reduces the total costs.”
From Wednesday night’s Southwest District Council meeting:
TERMINAL 5 ENVIRONMENTAL REVIEW: Admiral neighbors who have gotten their wish – for a full environmental review of the Port of Seattle’s Terminal 5 modernization plan – returned to the SWDC to talk about the issues on which they would like to see the community focus, as the “online open house” continues at T5EIS.publicmeeting.info, and as next Thursday’s “scoping meeting” approaches.
By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
Along with the City Council races, the “Move Seattle” levy – Seattle Proposition 1 – is the biggest thing on your soon-to-arrive ballot. A mini-forum with reps from both sides headlined this month’s Southwest District Council meeting, along with a Port of Seattle update on the Terminal 5 modernization project, and a briefing on a new project for the West Seattle Timebank.
Toplines on all of the above follow, plus a few extras:
(Empty Terminal 5 as seen during the port’s community tour last month; photo by Karen Berge)
Now that Shell has suspended its offshore-drilling plans for Alaska, what’s in the future for Terminal 5 in West Seattle, which was planned to be the Shell fleet’s offseason homeport? Will the turn of events affect the Port of Seattle‘s T-5 modernization plan? Find out firsthand at next Wednesday’s Southwest District Council meeting, where a port rep is on the agenda to brief the SWDC. The agenda also includes a discussion of Seattle Proposition 1 – the $930 million “Move Seattle” levy on the November ballot – and a presentation about the West Seattle Timebank. All are welcome at the meeting; SWDC members are reps of community councils and organizations around western West Seattle. The meeting’s at 6:30 pm Wednesday (October 7th) at the Sisson Building (home of the Senior Center of West Seattle), southeast corner of California SW & SW Oregon in The Junction.
Summer’s ending, and community/district councils are resuming their regular meeting schedules. That means our coverage is back in gear too. No substitute to being at your nearest community meeting yourself – but we’ll do our best to keep you up to date otherwise. Here’s what happened at last night’s Southwest District Council meeting (besides the two notes we’ve already published, regarding the Junction Plaza Park art project and Port of Seattle boat tour):
NEW ADMIRAL WAY SAFETY PROJECT PROPOSAL: SWDC co-chair David Whiting, president of the Admiral Neighborhood Association, announced that SDOT will be at next week’s ANA meeting with an update on revisions to the SW Admiral Way Safety Project, first outlined at ANA’s April meeting (WSB coverage here). While SDOT does plan a standalone meeting this month, Whiting said, this will be the first chance for the community to take a look at changes made (as SDOT director Scott Kubly hinted at in July) after vigorous community feedback earlier this year, as well as new parking/traffic studies by SDOT. ANA meets at The Sanctuary at Admiral (42nd SW & SW Lander), 7 pm Tuesday (September 8th).
TERMINAL 5 COMMENT DEADLINE TOMORROW: Friday’s the last day you can comment on the Port of Seattle‘s proposal for the shut-down-last-year cargo terminal on the east side of West Seattle, pointed out Jim Wojciechowski from the group of neighbors who put up the “Yes! Environmental Impact Statement” signs around the area.
(Port of Seattle graphic/photo)
“They’re not calling it an expansion, but it’s an expansion.” As we reported last month, a new comment period was opened because the city system lost a month’s worth of comments submitted via an online form.
Wojciechowski recapped that the port project would involve, among other things, thousands of pilings and 12 new cranes bigger than the ones you see now. He says Terminal 18 to the east on Harbor Island would be perfect for the big-ship handling, but the port is insistent on using Terminal 5. “What we’re asking them to do is do it right, but they’re giving no indication of any concessions to the neighborhood – they just are going to do what they want to do.”
Transportation issues were at centerstage during this month’s Southwest District Council meeting, which had a few agenda changes from what had been announced in advance.
DON ARMENI BOAT RAMP PARKING: SWDC heard first from Paul Hage, who is opposed to the new non-boater-parking crackdown at Don Armeni. We reported on this in April; the city insists it’s not a change in policy, but rather, stepped-up enforcement.
Two SDOT spotlights filled most of the Southwest District Council‘s April meeting, including SDOT director Scott Kubly‘s third visit to West Seattle in five weeknights, reviewing toplines of and answering questions – many questions! – about the draft Transportation Levy to Move Seattle. The other SDOT presentation recapped this year’s Arbor Heights microsurfacing plan.
From this month’s Southwest District Council meeting, another discussion about whether to design the Fauntleroy Boulevard project with underground power; more details on the Port of Seattle‘s upcoming community boat tour (and how you can get on the list for it), and other toplines:
By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
It’s not the Department of Neighborhoods‘ job to get more people to apply for its matching-funds grants, its director told West Seattle neighborhood leaders Tuesday night.
But DoN director Bernie Matsuno acknowledged that a “conversation” is needed before her department tries again to make changes to the rules for who can seek the funds and the process for vetting them.
Her appearance before the Southwest District Council – with Delridge District Council members in attendance too – came shortly after a round of proposed changes was widely panned by leaders in both of West Seattle’s city-drawn “districts,” and subsequently shelved.
She faced questions about that as well as other issues, including her own status in city government, not yet reconfirmed by the full City Council despite Mayor Murray’s voiced intention a year ago to keep her on.
The agenda’s out for the year’s first meeting of the Southwest District Council, and the headline guest is Bernie Matsuno, who is about to start her fifth year as director of the Department of Neighborhoods. SWDC members, who are from community councils and other key organizations around western West Seattle, might well have some pointed questions, given, for one, the recently scrapped recommendations to change how some city matching funds are handled. All are welcome at the meeting, 6:30 pm Wednesday (January 7th) at the Senior Center of West Seattle (Oregon/California). It will also be the first meeting for new co-chairs David Whiting (Admiral Neighborhood Association) and Eric Iwamoto (Westwood-Roxhill-Arbor Heights Community Council).
By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
We’ve learned that the city has scrapped proposed changes to the Neighborhood Matching Fund process – changes strongly opposed by West Seattle’s two District Councils.
This came to light after the Department of Neighborhoods sent out a news release today containing deadlines and other information about this year’s process and timelines for seeking the NMF grants. Noting that the announcement made no mention of the proposed changes, we asked DoN spokesperson Lois Maag to verify that they indeed were not being implemented; Maag confirmed that it’s “status quo” for this year, and said that council chairs had recently been sent word of that.
The proposals primarily involved who could apply for the grants and who from the neighborhoods would vet applications. They were presented (and criticized) at the Delridge Neighborhoods District Council‘s October meeting (WSB coverage here) and the Southwest District Council‘s November meeting (WSB coverage here). The potential removal of District Councils from the application-vetting process was a particular sticking point.
We confirmed tonight with DNDC chair Mat McBride that DoN indeed had sent word the changes weren’t going forward. In her memo, department director Bernie Matsuno said in part:
… Over the past year, an NMF Advisory Committee deliberated and developed several proposals for the program. Due to the feedback received regarding these recommendations, we are not moving forward at this time. … We will continue engaging the community and having a more robust conversation about any possible improvements to the NMF program.
Meantime – if you are interested in finding out about this year’s grant opportunities, all the information is in the full news release made public today. One West Seattle-specific date – those interested in applying for a grant from the Large Project Fund (deadline May 4th) must attend a workshop, and the only one in West Seattle is set for Tuesday, March 10, 6 pm, High Point Community Center (6420 34th SW).
Meet David Whiting and Eric Iwamoto, new co-chairs of the Southwest District Council:
Passing the torch was part of the short official agenda for last night’s monthly meeting of the SWDC, which includes reps from community councils and other key organizations around western West Seattle. Whiting is president of the Admiral Neighborhood Association and Iwamoto co-chairs the Westwood-Roxhill-Arbor Heights Community Council.
This past year’s co-chairs got a fond farewell – Sharonn Meeks of the Fairmount Community Association and Vlad Oustimovitch from the Fauntleroy Community Association.
The major item on the short agenda was a followup on proposed Neighborhood Matching Fund grant changes, which have drawn concerns from district councils around the city, especially because those groups would be removed from their role vetting applications for grants before they move to citywide review. (We covered last month’s discussion at the SWDC and, before that, to the Delridge District Council, as well as the letter written and sent by the latter.)
So far, no changes have been implemented, reported Neighborhood District Coordinator Yun Pitre, city liaison to the SWDC.
They’re the biggest grants the city offers to neighborhood groups – and big proposed changes in the process and eligibility are leading to big pushback from neighborhood advocates, as evidenced again when the Southwest District Council met on Wednesday night. That tops our second report from the meeting (first one is here), which concluded with the election of new co-chairs for next year: