We’re at The Hall at Fauntleroy, where City Council President Richard Conlin is one of four councilmembers here (with Tim Burgess, Nick Licata and Sally Clark) for the “town hall” meeting tackling three topics: Youth violence, public schools, and tree protection. The latter is one of his signature issues, so our photo shows him facilitating one of the small-group discussions into which the meeting has split. Almost 100 people are here, and we’re in the second round of small groups – based on a show of attendee interest, each small-group round has had two groups talking about youth violence, one about schools, one about trees. The facilitators are asking participants for their ideas regarding those issues – and after this round of discussions is over, we’ll all hear brief reports on those ideas; we’ll add a summary here later, and “what happens next” – the gathering is scheduled to continue till 9. After sitting in on the tree conversation, we’re now in a youth-violence session; in both, participants have announced themselves as being from other areas of the city – this is the only council “town hall” south of the Ship Canal this time around, and we’ve heard from people so far who are here from Beacon Hill and Rainier Beach, among other areas (a few from the north end too – Capitol Hill and Magnolia). 8:58 PM UPDATE: The meeting has wrapped up. Will add the toplines soon. 11:35 PM UPDATE: Read on for our full report:
Some of the discussion hit close to home – particularly the issue of tree preservation. The photo shows the greenbelt that resumes just south of The Hall at Fauntleroy; nearby resident Gary Dawson mentioned those trees as an example of a major problem getting in the way of the city’s push to expand the tree canopy: The city’s existing trees, like these, are not being taken care of — Dawson spoke of vines choking the trees, which he sees as being in grave danger during future storms. Another participant mentioned a different city problem: Getting shuffled from department to department when trying to deal with a tree issue. “Why is the Department of Transportation in charge of trees?” she asked in frustration.
Others spoke of the unavoidable conflict between tree growth and urban development – evergreens growing up into power lines, or sending roots down into sewers – and the costs those conflicts can bring, including the expense and effort involved in trying to keep trees trimmed to avoid them.
When there is no conflict, when it’s a matter of saving trees from being cut down in the process of development or redevelopment, what kind of incentives might help encourage that? Conlin asked.
Local environmental entrepreneur Steve Richmond spoke of an idea for which he’s trying to gather support: A way to officially rate homes and lots for their abundance of tree cover, lack of invasives, use of rainwater, potentially resulting in some sort of rating that could bring, say, a break on property taxes. “Instead of a regulatory stick, we need an incentive carrot” to encourage more tree preservation, he said.
Patti Mullen, president/CEO of the West Seattle Chamber of Commerce, recalled a decades-old apple tree she enjoyed while a longtime renter on Alki; she told of discovering that after the property was sold and she had moved, the tree had been cut down so a deck could be expanded. Perhaps, she said, there could be a way to identify a tree like that as some kind of “heritage tree” so that its value could be considered/discussed before a project goes forward.
As the tree discussion concluded, Conlin said the issue will come before the City Council next month; we’ll be on the lookout to see what’s proposed.
The biggest issue of the night, by design and by attendee interest, was youth violence; unlike the previous council “town hall” earlier this month in northeast Seattle, this one had a keynote speaker – Dr. Gary Slutkin from Chicago Ceasefire, which has been tackling street violence in that city:
His main point: Rampant violence is an epidemic and needs to be treated – in the medical sense of the word (he is an epidemiologist) – as such, by dealing with it scientifically, strategically, and methodically.
slutkin … flash back to 100 years
This epidemic, he contended, is one of “learned behavior – what people think their friends think they are supposed to be doing,” and it’s a changeable behavior: Think back 30 years, and a third of the people here would have been smoking in this room, he said, but we changed that, same way behavior changed in favor of seat-belt use in cars, condom use to stop sexually transmitted disease, etc.
To make the change that keeps violence from spreading “exactly like an infectious disease,” he explained, new types of work, and workers, are needed; he talked about the “violence interruptors” that work for his group in Chicago, to “stop the spread, interrupt transmission.” However, he was careful to note, it’s not only workers who can help – “the community making a big deal of it, that becomes one of the messengers, saying ‘we don’t want that here’.”
(On the screen behind him, as he made that point, was a photo of an anti-violence protest in Chicago.)
He raced through a many-slide presentation which apparently he had given elsewhere in the city earlier in the day; some of the more intriguing slides showed areas of Chicago where his group has worked, and the results they say they have achieved (here for example is a webpage about one of them, Logan Square).
He acknowledged potential skepticism, but insisted success is possible, as was the case in disease epidemics of the past — “plague, smallpox, leprosy, typhus, all receded … when the strategy was improved.”
Later, we sat in on one of the second-round youth-violence small-group discussions, facilitated by Mariko Lockhart, recently hired to run the city’s Youth Violence Prevention Initiative, which is budgeted for $8 million in the next two years to focus on three areas of the city, including ours, where Delridge-based Southwest Youth and Family Services is the lead agency.
Many of the people who participated in that discussion identified themselves as being from other areas of the city – Rainier Beach, Beacon Hill, North Seattle, Pioneer Square. Some discussed neighborhood-specific concerns, and at one point a man identifying himself as being involved with the North Precinct Advisory Group all but took over the discussion, handing out cards to other participants who said they were frustrated in dealing with police or community groups in their neighborhoods.
Lockhart shared a few observations as well, including having heard from young people that they feel dehumanized when people avoid looking at them, talking to them, even walking past them, just because of the way they look or the way they dress. They want respect, she explained.
Respect cuts another way, said a man standing behind the circle of chairs: “For the homeless, who we otherwise just throw away.”
Betty Patu of Rainier Beach, who’s running again for Seattle School Board, talked about “matching funds to keep kids off the street” having successfully worked in the late ’80s, with programs available “9 am to 9 pm – the community came out and provided those programs, I don’t see much of that any more.”
Lockhart said that extra hours for centers will be part of what the Youth Prevention Initiative money pays for. One thing it won’t pay for, however, is parental education, which came up after one participant asked about it, and it was clear that was a disappointment — during the recent gang-violence forum at City Hall (with panelists including Lockhart), there was a plea for getting parents some help and reinforcement in keeping their kids out of trouble. A woman from Capitol Hill summarized, “Parents can’t be blamed for this (youth violence), but they need some help in this.”
Lockhart offered some logistical details about her program, saying that within three weeks, all three focus neighborhoods will be up and running: “The first priority is to identify people who need help, and then to identify resources.”
Before the group discussion concluded, one observer suggested the expectations were alarmingly low, since a 50 percent success rate is projected; Lockhart countered by saying that experts from elsewhere in the country think that expectation is actually on the “ambitious” side, and allowed that some citizen education may be needed to explain that: “Communicating WHAT we are doing is an issue for us,” she acknowledged.
We didn’t get to sit in on one of the education discussions – which had School Board President Michael DeBell and Vice President Steve Sundquist (of West Seattle) in attendance — but Councilmember Clark summarized them toward the meeting’s end, with key points including a need for more volunteer help in schools – including strategies for enabling that in communities where students’ parents don’t have the time to do it – and also a realization that you don’t just teach students to be successful, but also to be “significant.”
No grand promises as the meeting concluded just before 9 pm — but you can keep an eye on the council in the months ahead to see if any of the ideas translate into action. You can track their meetings and committees in a wealth of links from the council’s main page on the city website: seattle.gov/council – and we’ll be watching, too.