Dept. of Neighborhoods budget: Like ‘cutting an arm off’ vs. a leg

By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

One day after facing the City Council Budget Committee to explain the cuts proposed for her section of city government, Department of Neighborhoods director Stella Chao faced what arguably could be considered a tougher, and even more personally involved, group: The West Seattle neighborhood-group/organization reps who comprise the Southwest District Council.

“We took a big hit,” Chao acknowledged – including a 22 percent cut in the Neighborhood Matching Fund program, which has helped pay for community-generated projects such as parks and traffic projects.

But the part of that “big hit” which concerned the SWDC members even more was the proposed closure of the Neighborhood Service Center in The Junction and the elimination of the Neighborhood District Coordinator job headquartered there – a job held by Stan Lock, who sat just two seats away, and has declined comment on the proposed job cut since it was announced.

As Chao listened to member after member declare that even if the center itself had to be lost, Lock’s role is too vital to cut, for the health of the neighborhood and the issues it’s dealing with, she reiterated: While it’s important for her to hear, the people who most need to have the case made to them, are the City Council members who will be here in West Seattle for a public hearing next week.

Read on for more on her appearance and other major discussions at SWDC last night, including a shorter discussion of the Seattle Public Library‘s proposed cuts, and an update on Alaska Airlines’ “Greener Skies” program, which could change Sea-Tac approach paths in this area:

Chao spoke first about the proposed reductions in the Neighborhood Matching Fund: “You can’t do a 22 percent cut without a lot of pain.”

They’d already gone through some in that part of the DON operation, she explained – seven staffers cut over the past three years, and now, she said, there is nothing left to cut but the amount of money they award for community proposals that can demonstrate they would match the grant amount in money/volunteer materials and time.

For the Large Project Fund, she expects the same number of projects will be funded, with less given per project – it had previously been $75,000-$100,000. But for the even-more-popular Small and Simple Fund, fewer projects will get money, period.

SWDC members didn’t ask followup questions about the Matching Fund – they were already girded for what was ahead. First, Chao mentioned a little about the Historic Preservation cuts in the budget, which would end surveying/inventorying work in neighborhoods (West Seattle, as she noted, has been inventoried already – you can see the results here). Then, the Neighborhood Service Centers.

For background: City government divides the city into 13 districts – each of which has a District Council of neighborhood group and other organizations’ reps, and each of which has a Neighborhood Services Center and District Coordinator who’s based there. West Seattle has two: Southwest, whose coordinator Stan Lock is based in the NSC at 42nd/Alaska in The Junction, and Delridge, whose coordinator Ron Angeles is based in the NSC at Delridge/Brandon.

Seven of the city’s NSCs would be closed under the mayor’s proposal, saving, according to Chao, almost a million dollars a year, in personnel and facilities costs. The West Seattle center is the only proposed closure of one that takes payments; Chao said it has the lowest number of payment transactions, but acknowledged that’s not the best criteria on which to assess a center’s community impact; it also, she noted, is the one that’s closest to another (Delridge). Still, with its lease expiring at the end of this year anyway – it’s part of the site on which the Conner Homes two-building development would be built – the ax is poised. But the cutting of the coordinators attached to those districts, Chao said, “is the most painful part of these budget cuts.”

Several SWDC members then made their cases for keeping Lock. Co-chair Erica Karlovits of the Junction Neighborhood Organization said losing him “would be a huge loss … and we’re going to fight for him.” It’s not a personal matter, she elaborated: “There’s a huge amount of growth and development happening in our neighborhood, a huge transit change about to happen, the neighborhood-plan update process determined (The Junction) was one of the neighborhoods to look at (for a plan update) in the near future … Stan’s been a lifeline, putting us in touch with resources that we need,” as a council as well as a neighborhood. (He coordinates and plans not just the monthly meeting, but also other communications inbetween.)

Next, Fairmount Community Association‘s Sharonn Meeks: “I feel like this proposed budget cut is a direct erosion of the efforts of all the volunteers who have come forward and dedicated their time, including this entire group. … We are moving from being a little quiet neighborhood [south of The Triangle] into the middle of a huge planning process, with issues including safety, transportation, planning … We need Stan and we don’t want to lose this institutional memory we have here,” as well as the ear he keeps to the ground, watching for and alerting others to issues.

Also from Fairmount, Nancy Driver offered a direct example of a neighborhood benefit that wouldn’t have happened without Lock’s work – the Gateway cleanup in fall 2008 (WSB coverage here), bringing together hundreds of volunteers as well as some city help to tackle the area from Walking on Logs up to 35th/Fauntleroy, long-neglected and not the responsibility of any particular city agency to maintain. She recalled dealing with city departments while planning it – “getting timely responses was not easy at all,” but Lock persisted. “We need Stan here to help us accomplish those things.”

Fauntleroy Community Association‘s Vlad Oustimovitch wondered how the Southwest council would be able to function without the assistance of a coordinator – would the Delridge coordinator be tasked with assisting both groups? Chao said that while there’s “no hard and fast plan” at this point – “that needs to be developed with district councils and the unions representing the district coordinators” – the ideas so far would indeed include the possibility of assigning two councils to each coordinator, while also prioritizing what they do, suggesting that some of what they’ve taken on are “enhancement” rather than necessity.

“At this point, it’s like cutting off an arm, versus cutting off a leg,” she summarized, “…a very very difficult situation. I would encourage you to make your voices heard, but help the (City) Council by being proactive in helping them figure out where the priorities are.” When the council comes to West Seattle for next Wednesday’s budget hearing, they need to see and hear from everyone with concerns. Her parting words about Lock: “Believe me, we know how good Stan is.”

At the end of the meeting, council members briefly discussed strategies for next week’s budget meeting. Admiral Neighborhood Association rep Jim Del Ciello, vice chair of the City Neighborhood Council, warned that those running the meeting might try to “manage” comments – but, he urged, take the time they allot you – you have the right to it. The group also will be writing an official letter in support of keeping the Neighborhood District Coordinator. Karlovits also urged everyone to go back to the groups/organizations they represent and get letters of support, too. It’s not just a matter of somebody helping with coordination, Redmond suggested – it’s a matter of public safety: Neighborhood matters are where there are more eyes on the street.


LIBRARY BUDGET CUTS: A Friends of Seattle Public Library rep visited to stress the drastic nature of the proposed $3.7 million cut – including not just the much-discussed proposal to change the status of some libraries, including the Delridge branch, to “gateway” libraries without full-fledged librarians on duty, but also a cut in the budget for obtaining materials. While not formally part of the brief presentation, Seattle Public Library’s Jane Appling was there too, and she stressed, “There’s a great deal we don’t know about implementation of the plan.” SWDC co-chair Redmond voiced concern that two branches in already-disadvantaged communities, Delridge and South Park, are targeted for the status change, and are not well-served by transit that would allow people to travel to other areas to get full-service-library access.

CRIME TRENDS: Southwest Precinct Lt. Norm James said residential burglaries have gone down in the area five of the past six months and remain below the monthly average (56), while car prowls are down for the third consecutive month. “Things are really looking good,” he enthused. “People are going to jail … and we appreciate (the community’s) help” in watching for, and reporting, suspicious activity.

ALASKA AIRLINES’ GREENER SKIES: As was the case at last month’s Alki Community Council meeting, this presentation – though an Alaska rep was not present at that one, and was for this – was combined with general information about Boeing Field, aka King County International Airport. Half a dozen people in all were in attendance (the entirety of the spectator gallery at one point, aside from us).
Alaska’s Megan Lawrence gave the presentation about Greener Skies (here’s the official Alaska section about it). You may recall hearing about this a year ago – it involves jets reducing engine power and “gliding” into Sea-Tac, which means they can turn sooner, rather than, as often happens now, flying far north before turning around and heading south toward the airport. This would require use of a satellite-based navigation system – compared to the current radar-based systems – which Alaska has pioneered, and already has on all its jets.

This would save fuel and reduce noise, Alaska contends – if up to 85% of Sea-Tac carriers were equipped with it, as envisioned, 2.1 million fewer gallons of fuel annually, “like taking 4,100 cars off the road each year.” It involves mostly flights to the west of Sea-Tac – in other words, the ones we see here most often. But precisely how this would affect West Seattle still isn’t clear; more turning would happen over Elliott Bay, but how low the planes would fly, Lawrence couldn’t say.

This isn’t going to happen any time soon; it was suggested last night that at least three years of environmental review would be required. But Alaska has done test runs each of the past two summers, and says they recently had a “kickoff meeting” with the FAA to start moving the proposal further along. They expect there’ll be a public hearing of some kind before any final approval.

STREETS FOR ALL: City Council candidate (next year) and former Highland Park Action Committee chair Dorsol Plants is making the rounds of community groups to solicit support for Streets for All, which seeks to have the city commit $30 million a year to make streets more walkable/bikable. Plants talked about his daily two-mile commute – from Highland Park to SSCC, with many close calls along the way. “I’ve been nearly hit multiple times.” The city has promised improvements but not kept those promises, Plants contended. The 34th District Democrats have endorsed Streets for All, and Plants is hoping that the SWDC will too – that would involve having a council rep on the Streets for All committee.

NEW LEADERSHIP: Susan Melrose from the West Seattle Junction Association and Tony Fragada of the Alki Community Council are now in line to take over the SWDC co-chair roles as of January, when the terms end for Karlovits and Redmond.

3 Replies to "Dept. of Neighborhoods budget: Like 'cutting an arm off' vs. a leg"

  • cjboffoli October 7, 2010 (3:52 pm)

    How interesting about the “Greener Skies” initiative. Much of landing an airplane already has to do with mastering power management. If the Space Shuttle can glide to a landing from the edge of the atmosphere without propulsion, why not airliners. Disappointing though to hear about a three year delay for environmental reviews. Seems like something that proposes to lessen pollutants in the air, reduce noise levels, and consume significantly less fuel would be something they’d want to fast track.

  • Baba October 7, 2010 (8:24 pm)

    @cjboffoli , with all due respect, you chose the wrong time… Is’t there the new season of Dancing with the Stars on? Who cares?
    Sarcasm off.

  • Baba October 8, 2010 (3:46 pm)

    Newly released July figures show 41.8 million Americans on food stamps (or SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, to use the new de-stigmatized terminology). That’s an 18% jump from one year earlier and 1.4% from June.
    . As long as sheeple are fed and clothed, who cares?
    No sarcasm this time…

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