Delridge DESC project: Face-to-face with the city’s housing boss

By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

At 9 am last Thursday morning, city Office of Housing director Rick Hooper stood in front of TV cameras in North Seattle, next to Mayor McGinn, formally announcing the city’s $27 million investment in new low-income-housing development.

Ten hours later, he faced a tougher crowd on the other end of the city: Fifteen Delridge-area residents gathered in a living room, ready to hear his answers to pointed questions about the only West Seattle project on the newly unveiled funding list.

The city’s decision to put “up to $4.45 million” into Downtown Emergency Service Center (DESC)’s 5444 Delridge project was old news to them, and many others who live near the proposed site. But far beyond the project’s estimated $14.5 million cost, many questions have emerged, and many people have voiced frustration while seeking answers.

Among them, Betsy Hoffmeister, who coordinated and hosted the gathering at her home. She invited Hooper in hopes more information might help defuse the tension that has built between project supporters and opponents over the 4 1/2 months since the DESC plan came to light.

Thursday night, after more than 3 1/2 hours, a possible path forward seemed to emerge. But its future seemed to rest as much with who was not in the room, as with who was.

“This has been a difficult conversation for our community,” Betsy said, opening the evening – which again, we want to be clear, was not sponsored by anything or anyone official. (Monday note: In response to a commenter question, Betsy explains her background/motivation here.)

Fifteen of those she had invited, including Delridge community leaders past and present, and area residents who had participated in discussions on the North Delridge e-mail list, showed up. As each took her/his turn at opening remarks/introductions around the room, there were supporters, opponents, people describing themselves as “on the fence,” people saying they were “leaning” one way or the other.

Most voiced a particular question or concern while taking a turn, but one of the recurring themes was: Why hasn’t DESC reached out more to the community while planning this project?

Before we jump into the meeting narrative, here’s how the situation has played out so far:

HOW THE COMMUNITY FOUND OUT: First word to the community came at the North Delridge Neighborhood Council‘s regular monthly meeting in mid-June. DESC leadership had contacted council leadership (among others) to inform them of the planned 75-apartment building on property they had “under contract” in the area. (Documents obtained by community members indicate that contract was signed at least two months earlier.) Information was shared with those on hand at the meeting, including word that DESC planned a community meeting later that month at Delridge Library. We reported on the NDNC meeting here, and contacted DESC for more details the next day, publishing this followup.

1ST AND ONLY DESC-ORGANIZED MEETING: On June 27, DESC executive director Bill Hobson faced an overflow crowd in the library’s relatively small meeting room (here’s our report). Some people who wanted to attend were turned away because there was no room.

COMMUNITY TOUR: A small group of community members toured two DESC projects elsewhere in the city on September 10th. The tour was announced on the North Delridge e-mail list, but did not completely fill up. We went along and wrote about it here; three participants’ reports are published on the Delridge Community Forum site.

COMMUNITY DISCUSSIONS: The DESC project has been discussed at meetings of the NDNC and the Delridge Neighborhoods District Council (which includes representatives of area organizations including NDNC) since then, but the only meeting devoted solely to the project since the June 27th meeting was an October 11th gathering arranged by community volunteers who obtained a city grant under the name Delridge Community Forum. Their intent was to convene a meeting to get more information about the project and get questions answered. Here’s our coverage; an estimated 150 people attended, as did DESC executives and Housing director Hooper.

Almost exactly one month later, there he was, in Betsy (and Jerry) Hoffmeister’s living room. (Note: We know their last names, but not those of everyone who was there, so we are identifying speakers by first names.)

Angela, who lives by the project site, said she would be “concerned about a project that size and density, no matter who the residents were.” She wasn’t the only one to express concern that the project was too big.

Her husband, Aaron, noted that many of the project documents obtained by community members and posted online seemed to be directly cut/pasted from DESC’s application for the Aurora project on which it is about to break ground. “I feel they have tricked the neighborhood.”

Pete was the first to identify himself as a supporter of the project: “The way we have addressed the homeless issue over the years has really not worked.”

Introductions continued. Miranda said she was on the fence.

Patrick, a leader of the Delridge Community Forum project, said he wanted a solution “where we as a community can have some say in what happens.” One of his concerns was shared by others – the space that this project will take, becomes space that will never become commercial development for which the neighborhood has longed. (It’s in what’s known as the “Brandon Node,” where a mini-business district has sprung up nearby, including Pho Aroma and Olympia Pizza, as well as automotive and appliance businesses.)

Tanya, who also had been working on Delridge Community Forum, spoke with almost a sense of anguish, echoing Betsy’s opening statement about how difficulty the contentious conversations have been, saying flat-out that they are “damaging the community.” Planning a community meeting, she added, had been stressful and unpleasant: “It’s a lot to ask of community volunteers, to manage this.”

And yet throughout the night, Hooper’s answers made it repeatedly clear, if the community doesn’t organize conversations, they don’t happen. Even though his first words, in the introductory around, were that the “kinds of projects that we fund … often cause a lot of questions for neighbors and community groups organized in the neighborhoods in which these are located.” And before long, the focus was not just on conversation, but also on negotiation.

That was first raised by Vonetta. In her view, the project seems inevitable and may even have benefits – “24-hour staffing, someone [on duty] who has the cops on speed dial” – so the community would do well to consider what it might negotiate for DESC to commit to, and would also be well-advised to talk to people in other areas where DESC facilities are located, “to find out what their issues are.”

Katie stressed the humanity of the 75 potential future Delridge residents: “To me, the main thing to keep in mind is, these are people … you don’t get to choose who moves in next door to you.”

From Parie, a historical perspective: She said she had worked on the Croft Place Townhomes project, which “faced significant neighborhood opposition” and ultimately made changes in response to community concerns. That, she said, left her “a passionate believer in the importance of process,” which in turn heightened her concerns about what has occurred so far in this one, with “DESC and public funders slow to answer questions, though the process is moving fast” and in her view implying “the only possible motive for opposition is fear … That’s no reason to shut down public discourse. The Delridge community is raising valid questions that deserve a thoughtful response.” She drew applause – the only round of the night – as she added, “Delridge is not an ungracious community. We’re the ones who welcomed the skatepark instead of worrying about ‘those types of people’.”

Michael said he had gotten involved in Delridge Community Forum in hopes of fighting the fear and lack of knowledge he perceived in discussions online and offline. Though he described himself as “leaning pro,” he told Hooper that “what the city expects applicants to do in terms of communicating with the neighborhood is clearly not working.” He mentioned the privately developed 180+-apartment 26th/Dakota Cooper at Youngstown project going in not far from his home, saying its developers were all but overcommunicating about their plan, with frequent updates and check-ins, a stark contrast to the relative lack of outreach from DESC.

Mat wondered about a “saturation point, in a community that has accepted a lot of (low-income housing) already – is there a point to say ‘whoa!’?”

If only the clock could be turned back, some suggested. Betsy observed, “If DESC had come to us from the start and said ‘we have a medically vulnerable group of senior citizens currently living in doorways and (under bridges); we don’t have a facility in West Seattle yet, we’re looking at Delridge, we’d like to talk to your community …”

“They didn’t ask (us) questions,” Aaron interjected.

Betsy: “That’s the point, if they had, we would have listened so differently.” If only, she suggested, all involved could “restart the conversation.”

After a break, Rick Hooper had the floor. (By means of background – he has been interim director of the Office of Housing only since last March, but, according to the announcement issued by the mayor at the time, has been with the city for 30 years. The mayor had proposed ending the Office of Housing’s status as a standalone department in next year’s budget, but, also on Thursday, hours before Hooper’s visit to Delridge, the City Council approved a budget item canceling the department’s proposed merger with the Office of Economic Development.)

“I’m not exactly sure where to start,” he admitted – then he began with background: “We’ve been funding these types of projects, not so much ‘Housing First’ like this project, but other types of projects for homeless and special needs (people), for about 30 years, and we have about 11,000 units that we have funded over those years, in our portfolio.” The city doesn’t just write a check and walk away, he emphasized: “We periodically inspect projects, call people to task if things aren’t being taken care of well.”

He elaborated on his earlier statement that projects like this are seldom welcomed with open arms: “Projects like this engender the most neighborhood interest and concerns … Our processes set up to deal with that (controversy) have been (honed) along the way. Each neighborhood is different, each process is different. … I think it’s our belief that these are not bad projects for any neighborhood. The housing we are trying to provide is designed to meet a particularly community need that is serious and getting worse.”

He echoed what you can read on DESC’s website under the “Housing First” philosophy explanation, that “this type of housing is a better way to get their mental illness under control, to get the back … into life. We don’t feel they are a negative (influence) in a neighborhood, or cause a problem in a neighborhood. … They are not bad projects for a neighborhood if well run. So far as we are concerned, they belong, and can go, just about anywhere in the city. … So we don’t spend a lot of time thinking about, or wondering about, neighborhood characteristics of where these projects are going to go, because we have found they are not negative influences on neighborhoods.”

He cited a few of the frequently listed concerns about the Delridge project, and dismissed them quickly: “There aren’t pharmacies or services nearby – so what? There’s only one bus line – well, how often do they go out and take the bus? Vans are available to take people to the grocery store, but there’s a meal program in the building, so how often do they need to go to the store? … I’m not going to spend much time on those questions; DESC should address them – ask them.”

And yet in the next breath, Hooper acknowledged that the October 11th Delridge Community Forum meeting with DESC and others “didn’t work very well,” saying even he “had some questions.” But overall, he explained he looks at the big picture – for next year, for example, they are expecting a dramatic reduction in funding for projects like this. “The safety net is falling apart; there are more folks on the street who need help.”

He addressed the siting policy and the waiver that was granted for DESC to have 75 units in the building, though the “census block” area had only room for 63 more units before maxing out at having 20 percent of its population in the very-low-income category. He said they track the number of units that are subsidized, not the number of people: “We’re concerned about buildings, we track those more than portable tenant vouchers.” And he reiterated what has been reported before, that the waiver was granted because the “census block” area had building permits granted for enough additional units that the 75 DESC units would before long still qualify under a 20 percent cap.

“You can have permits but not build,” Michael pointed out, citing the infamous “Hole” in The Triangle as a West Seattle example.

It seemed clear from Hooper’s answers, that’s just the threshold the city has chosen, not necessarily a magic number. They had to set a baseline somewhere, and they also had to chose criteria; he said they track subsidized housing because it’s something for which they “get numbers.”

For the community, Angela reminded him, it’s “not just the numbers.”

Betsy brought up an elephant-in-the-room type of question at that point: “Are we saying it would be better to bring in a building for middle-income people, is that what we are trying to say?”

Miranda: “That’s the conversation we need to have as a community.”

The same issues started circling around again: Limited service levels in the area – not just potentially affecting the residents of the proposed DESC development, but everyone who already lives there. Limited space for future development, if this one takes up three lots. And Hooper reiterated, “We don’t think any particular neighborhoods should be off-limits for these kinds of projects – we leave it up to (the organization) to choose a site.” In other words, for those who had asked “what other sites were looked at?” – that was a question for DESC, not for the city.

And there, the conversation veered toward the need to be speaking with DESC, directly. “I think there are opportunities to get together with DESC and negotiate and talk,” Hooper said. “I’ve talked with (DESC executive director) Bill Hobson regarding our expectations about notification … it’s important to engage with the community before applications come in for funding, during the review process pre-development, during preparations for construction, during construction, as it gets ready to open …”

Those in the room made it crystal-clear that the level of communication from DESC had not approached anything resembling those “expectations.”

But, they asked, regarding “negotiations” – who can help? Tanya noted that she was surprised to learn there were business organizations involved in the advisory group created by Hillman City when DESC was getting ready to build there.

“Different areas have different processes,” Hooper observed. “Decide the kinds of things you want to go in and negotiate with them about.”

Vonetta mentioned the “Good Neighbor Agreement” negotiated in connection with DESC’s Jackson Place “Crisis Solutions Center” facility, and the fact that a county councilmember (Larry Gossett) was involved with the process. “Maybe we could get (West Seattle’s County Councilmember) Joe McDermott involved.”

“What incentive does DESC have to listen to us?” asked Angela. “They are going to get what they want.”

Not necessarily so, said Hooper.

“Do we have any influence with them?” she asked.

“Yes, you do, and we can help facilitate that.”

So at this point, what was established was that “negotiating” with DESC regarding aspects of the project might be a course of action, and that the city Office of Housing could help make sure the agency is involved.

But – the question came next – who is speaking for the community? The North Delridge Neighborhood Council?

Patrick, the only member of its leadership present – though not speaking for them in an official capacity – at the Thursday night gathering, explained that council members/leaders are “split” on the project’s merits. (And it was mentioned more than once that NDNC has not taken an official position on the project.) He addressed Hooper: “You’re saying we have these roles in the process, but where? December (8th) is (already) the first Design Review meeting. … We’re treading water right now, we have no idea what to do.”

Once again, Hooper said DESC “needs to get engaged” in this discussion, and suggested that his conversations with Hobson led him to believe he would support a “community advisory committee” for the Delridge project. Asked what kind of negotiations they might pursue, he said, “It starts with, what kinds of things are you concerned about? Design Review might help to some degree … at this stage in time, you can consider a lot of changes.”

The community members pressed for more suggestions – and specifically, details of how the development process proceeds from here. Someone to create a list of, here’s what happens on this date, then this happens on this date, then this happens, and so on.

Before too much more talk of speaking with County Councilmember McDermott continued, there came a reminder that City Councilmembers should be contacted too.

However, Hooper noted, “If you’re going to talk to the Seattle City Council, one way or another, the road leads to me.” So far, he said, he already had received e-mail about this project from Councilmembers Tom Rasmussen and Tim Burgess.

How do we get started, and when? was the next question.

“This is the point (where) I turn it back to you folks – what do you think is appropriate in Delridge?” asked Hooper. “I can tell you what’s been happening (in other neighborhoods) – usually two to three big neighborhood meetings, and (that usually brings out) the people who are particularly interested in following through on some of the negotiations …”

“So there’s not anything we can do to keep this project from landing in our backyard?” asked Aaron.

Without saying the actual word “no,” Hooper’s answer seemed to be meant to imply it: “The project’s been funded; the county is making (its funding decision next week). It’s not fully funded yet – there are still other funding sources; the state has funded it … Tax-credit applications are due in mid-December, and the (State Housing Finance Commission) will make decisions in the middle of January. We hope the project proceeds.”

At least one person had a double-take at that statement. But the discussion rolled on. Some of it, onto the topic of – how could this group be empowered to negotiate on the committee’s behalf, when a group of project opponents could just as easily form and say it was representing the community?

Miranda suggested approaching opponents: “We need to talk to them.”

Even the issue of talking to DESC, however, wasn’t a sure thing. “I don’t understand why we have to go to DESC,” said Patrick. “The city is funding it.”

“DESC is the agency that is moving into your neighborhood,” repeated Hooper. “They are going to be maintaining this over time. That’s where you need the relationship.”

“But if we are giving them money – city, state, county – I don’t understand why they are not listening to us,” Patrick pressed. “They came to our community and said (in so many words), ‘You’re getting this’ … That’s not how to make friends. They basically came to our community with boxing gloves on. I want to work with them and make a solution.”

That was still not quite a consensus. Michael attempted to draw a comparison with any project a neighbor might seek to build, regardless of what their neighbors think. The difference, he was countered, is that “We’re not funding that! (with taxpayer dollars).”

The anger at the city seemed misplaced, Michael continued: “They’re not building it.”

Hooper interjected, “We’re funding it, and that’s why I’m here tonight.” He offered to call Hobson and invite him to a meeting with community members.

“Will you be there?” someone asked.

“I will come help get it launched,” Hooper promised, while saying that on an “ongoing basis” he would have to see if there were staff members to pick up the ball and run with it. At that point, as he had several times earlier, he stressed that the size of the commercial space in the building might be up for negotiation. (It is not formally specified in the online permit-application files, so far.)

What about reducing its size – 50 units instead of 75? he was asked, especially considering the Hillman City DESC building was reduced to 50 units from its original 80-unit proposal. Hooper said that would be a point to discuss with the agency.

The meeting then turned to informal conversation between the residents regarding how they might proceed. Hooper’s role in the discussion was clearly over, and, after he said again that “my office wants to remain involved … to do what we can to try to get this on course,” host Betsy gave her blessing for him to go. By then it was after 10:30 pm. Not having planned for a 4-hour meeting, we excused ourselves a few minutes later.

What happens next in terms of community conversation is up to the community; those who participated in this informal gathering, the volunteers on the Delridge Community Forum project, North Delridge Neighborhood Council, and anyone else interested. Dates of interest include:

*NDNC meets tomorrow night, 6:30 pm at Delridge Library, with “DESC update” near the top of the agenda, right after officer elections.

*The county’s Regional Joint Recommendations Committee is scheduled to decide on a half-million-dollar funding request for the Delridge project when it meets at 9:30 am this Thursday on Mercer Island (location and other details here), rescheduled from an earlier meeting after Delridge community members voiced their concerns and committee members tabled the item so they could investigate those concerns.

*The first of at least two Southwest Design Review Board meetings to review the project is set for December 8th, 6:30 pm, Youngstown Cultural Arts Center (4408 Delridge Way SW).

Websites of note:

DESC’s webpage about the Delridge Supportive Housing project
Delridge Community Forum’s site, with links to many documents its members have researched and procured through public-records requests
“A Concerned Delridge Neighbor Questions the DESC Project” website, with more research and questions about the project
WSB project-coverage archive (we have gone back and tagged each relevant story “DESC Delridge project” so that they can be found in one spot – you can also follow this category via RSS; scroll down the WSB sidebar to the list of “categories,” each of which has an RSS link after the category name)

19 Replies to "Delridge DESC project: Face-to-face with the city's housing boss"

  • ??? November 13, 2011 (10:32 pm)

    Again thanks to WSB for investing significant time to community issues and careful reporting.
    A few details of the meeting I would still like fleshed out.

    I would like to know how this meeting came about, how many were invited, how many couples (such as opponent couple Angela& Aaron), who decided who the 15 people in attendance where, how they got Rick Hooper to attend and who Betsy Hoffmeister is?

    From WSB intro, “there were supporters, opponents, people describing themselves as “on the fence,” people saying they were “leaning” one way or the other.” I would also like more reporting on how many in each of those categories.
    Reading WSB coverage of this small exclusive event, I get the sense of more opposition with stronger opinions against. But I am not sure.

  • Tasha Mosher November 14, 2011 (6:58 am)

    For the record, I would like to add that DESC staff did attend three community clean-ups and plantings at the Recovery Garden on Brandon and 26th. They were invited after Bill Hobson indicated (at the packed out forum held at the library) that he and his staff would like to become involved with community events. While Bill Hobson never attended any of the Recovery Garden events, his colleagues and at least one of the DESC residents did and were willing to talk about the work that they do.

  • Betsy Hoffmeister November 14, 2011 (7:58 am)

    Hi! thanks for asking.
    I’m Betsy and I hosted the meeting with my husband and kids. I’m a neighbor on 26th. Quick response right now since I’m getting ready for a Pathfinder fieldtrip.
    Jerry and I have lived in West Seattle since 2000 and moved to Delridge in 2006. We were founding members of the NDNC and were the origingal co-Vice Presidents.
    I’m no stranger to neighborhood activism. A few years back, I attempted to organize to improve the playground at Greg Davis park, this turned into the KaBoom project at the Delridge Community Center, where I helped a group of neighbors organize hundreds of volunteers to build a new playground in a day.
    I’m also a community volunteer with the organization La Leche League, helping hundreds of mothers and babies throughout West Seattle and the city every year.
    I also used to work for Chief Seattle Club, a social service agency for Native Americans and First Nations people — most of whom are elderly, indigent, ill, and many are mentally ill.
    If you google my name you’ll easily see who I am!
    I was feeling really sad because I saw how neighbors were fighting with neighbors, and I saw there was a lot of fear about the proposed facility. I took the initiative to drive over to the Rainier/Hillman facility with 4 other neighbors, not in any organized sort of way, and talked to the Chamber of Commerce and took a tour of the DESC facility. I was really impressed and took away the message that the DESC is a good neighbor, the residents are vulnerable “the least among us” and the kinds of people who tend to freeze to death in doorways every winter in Seattle. The kind of folks I saw at Chief Seattle Club.
    I invited Rick to my house because I know him socially. I invited about 25 of my neighbors, some whom I know have been involved, some who just expressed an interest through the NDNC forum. I only invited 25 people cus frankly, my living room just isn’t that big.
    My hope was to break the tension and see if there was any way to move forward. My goal was to get Rick to answer some questions, but also to have Rick LISTEN TO US – LISTEN as we expressed our fears and hopes. I wanted to help the dialogue be civil.
    To my amazement, it was completely civil and productive.
    I will say that Tracy’s reporting, while precise, doesn’t reflect the nuance of the meeting. Overall, while the feeling was one of inevitability, there were neighbors who specifically said they welcome the facility. One neighbor said she felt honored to welcome such needy people into our community. Another neighbor said he felt that such facilities are desperately needed, as his own relative had died, homeless, of a drug overdose. Overall, I think we felt like “the city and DESC are going to build it, let’s make it the most positive experience, the most beneficial building for OUR NEIGHBORHOOD that we possibly can.”

    I d on’t even have time to re-read this and edit it, i’m so sorry I have to go to school right now, but I welcome friendly dialogue.

    Thanks, friends,

    • WSB November 14, 2011 (8:22 am)

      Thanks, Betsy. That’s worth linking toward the start of the story, for anyone else who doesn’t recognize your name, so I’ll do that.
      Sorry, I’m not much of a nuance person, nor a color-commentary writer, either. There could have been an entirely separate story written from the latter perspective – Katie had to wrangle her toddler daughter, who eventually fell asleep on her lap; Betsy and Jerry’s children played clamorously and cheerily elsewhere in the house; tea and treats were offered to visitors. Took long enough to distill 3 3/4 hours of notes (including the last 3/4 on paper when my battery expired) over the course of three days, and some of the participants’ personal observations would tend to go on the cutting room floor when there is otherwise such a voluminous stack of questions, answers, and suggestions to report. I believe someone was taking notes on behalf of the group, so a more-inside perspective should be available whenever/wherever that is posted.

  • kgdlg November 14, 2011 (9:19 am)

    I just want to say thanks for involved neighbors and the WSB for providing such even-handed coverage of this issue. It is a testimony to how much people care about our community in West Seattle that folks on all sides are expressing their opinions here. Wherever you fall on the issue, be thankful that we have committed citizen activists and the WSB to help get the word out on issues like this.

  • DW November 14, 2011 (9:51 am)

    With all the transportation needs in this city, one wonders what $27 million could buy in terms of paving, sidewalks, etc.

    Sadly, Seattle will always pick social programs over infrastructure and economic development.

  • ??? November 14, 2011 (10:24 am)

    Thank you WSB and Betsy for clarifications. I was not criticizing WSB for its coverage of such a tough and controversial subject and I thank WSB for journalistic neutrality.
    Betsy and family, I appreciate that you brought together both sides of the issue and were lucky enough to have personal access to Rick Hooper.

    Typically, the negative responders to anything new are more vocal. Any negative outrage tends to get more ink and generates response.
    I inquired about the balance because I was, and still am, unsure.

    I am clear as to my position in the DESC project, I support it.

    As such and not being at the meeting I think a couple of elements in the WSB need be addressed.

    “Betsy brought up an elephant-in-the-room type of question at that point: “Are we saying it would be better to bring in a building for middle-income people, is that what we are trying to say?”

    Miranda: “That’s the conversation we need to have as a community.”

    I agree with this.
    There has been little discussion of the the Critical Areas much larger project just up Delridge.
    WSB – “To recap: 58 apartments, 3 houses, 1700 square feet of retail, and 77 parking units are planned. They’re excavating 88,000 cubic yards, but Pollock clarified that’s not “below street level” – they’re cutting it out of the existing site. “We are putting a building into a hillside that’s currently green,” he acknowledged.”

    I think in the context of DESC, this project and the larger 190 unit Cooper at Youngstown should receive equal scrutiny, especially in the context of the other “elephant in the room,” discrimination.

    ““You can have permits but not build,” Michael pointed out, citing the infamous “Hole” in The Triangle as a West Seattle example.”
    True, but it should be noted as WSB did earlier, “BULLETIN: ‘The Hole,’ aka Fauntleroy Place, goes for $32 million.”
    Any private group spending those bucks, is highly unlikely not to have go-ahead development plans, and not carry them out.

    Parie, ““Delridge is not an ungracious community. We’re the ones who welcomed the skatepark instead of worrying about ‘those types of people’.”

    Really? Even in the context of the outrage of the defeat of the 35th and Myrtle ‘Skate Spot’ and a groundswell of community support in response to that, we still had opponents;
    “Wrong time for costly project:
    Much of the year, these skateparks are not in use due to bad weather. It does help to have good lighting and well-placed security cameras, but how can we even think about funding this expensive project with so many budget problems at this time?
    My disabled relative needs food, shelter, basic health care and medications. She’s been homeless much of her life. What about her??
    Comment by Concerned — April 25, 09

    The best thing about this news is that the good skater kids from the Myrtle neighborhood will be heading down to Delridge for healthy and fun recreation, and all the bad kids will have a nice quiet, unpopulated field up at Myrtle to hang out and make trouble in.”
    Comment by MLJ

    “I have no objection to a skate park, however the location in this particular park, I do not agree with. Why not put it up closer to the community center, replace the existing tennis courts that have rarely been used. With the building in the neighborhood (where two or more homes replace one home) we are losing grass area’s to play at a quick rate. I believe we need to keep the park area as much as possible, and replace an area of the park that isn’t used nearly as much.
    Putting it up closer to the actual community center building would not only keep our grass area, it would allow users of the skateboard park easier access to the building. Living in this neighborhood, there have been many times accidents occur at this intersection and cars end up on the lawn of the community center.”
    Comment by Cathy D

    “No money for what is realy needed in westseattle like a park and ride. But the city has enough money for toys.”
    Comment by foy-boy — February 12, 11

    No money for what is realy needed in westseattle like a park and ride. But the city has enough money for toys.
    Comment by foy-boy — February 12, 11

    “I can’t believe this expensive project still has a green light amidst all the problems there are in our economy now.
    The above comment from a person who lives near the site also is a clear sign the construction bill will be even higher because of long-standing drainage problems in the area.”
    Comment by * — June 2, 10

    Consistently flowing through all of this, is resistance to change.

  • DelridgeV November 14, 2011 (10:41 am)

    I think Tracy’s article did a wonderful job giving voice to neighbors’ frustration over what appear to be communication failures by both DESC and the city, leaving residents feeling that no one is taking their concerns seriously. The part not covered in great detail was the piece about how the community can harness its very real power to impact the development, through direct negotiations and the land use regulatory process, though in truth that discussion was very preliminary. Vonetta

  • Mel November 14, 2011 (1:28 pm)

    Wow. From WSB’s description Hooper basically told everyone concerned, “you can’t fight City Hall, so don’t bother.” In the face of what seems like reasonable questions, he got dismissive and borderline combative.
    I don’t care whether you’re for or against, that attitude should be troubling to everyone.
    We need a severe purge in our City government, and I would suggest Hooper is one of the employees whose salary we citizens should no longer be paying.

    • WSB November 14, 2011 (1:53 pm)

      Mel, always interesting to hear how words come off to someone who wasn’t present – but just to be clear, since it’s the words I put to pixels, it was NOT AT ALL a dismissive/combative tone or attitude. Nor, however, was it apologetic or placating. It was very matter-of-fact, no nonsense: The city thinks these projects are great, no harm to a neighborhood, usually stir up a lot of concern and fear, but work out OK. (My summary, of course, not his words.) However, he also was very clear that he thinks there is lots of room for negotiation regarding potential impacts.
      What nobody asked – and, as I was reporting the conversation, not participating in it, I could not ask – was: So if a community does NOT express concern or ask questions, there’s no obligation for DESC or whomever else to reach out to ask “so are you OK with this, is there anything you would like to request of us?” Because it was very clear, the bottom-line message to community members, pro/con/otherwise, was “The ball’s in YOUR court.” – TR

  • kgdlg November 14, 2011 (2:35 pm)


    I am only speculating here, but I think that the reason the City is so straightforward here about the whole concept of DESC asking if their development if “OK” with the community is because of Fair Housing Rules. Basically, Fair Housing mandates that there be no discrimination in housing based on a variety of things – here is a good summary on the Tenants Union site (, and disability such as mental illness is definitely covered by these rules. So if the City were to go out and say that every neighborhood could decide who gets to live in their community, it could be a violation of Fair Housing, technically speaking, in this case, since it is a project for homeless mentally ill persons. This is a federally mandated law that came out of the Civil Rights movement and is the primary legislation that ended “red lining” against certain minority and ethnic groups that was prevalent in the US, and especially Seattle, prior to the 70s.

    My interpretation of Hooper’s statement is that he is basically telling neighbors that they can fight DESC however they want. On DESC’s 1811 project the hotel next door spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on a lawsuit over the course of several years on this very same topic, and they lost. I think Columbia City fought the very same kind of project over there, and all the reports I have heard from my friends who live nearby is that it has not been a problem at all.

    I think I have blogged my support of this project here in the past. I guess I just want everyone to think about the slippery slope that is this issue, when it comes to fair housing. If a neighborhood can stand up and say no to mentally ill persons, who else could they say no to? It seems this is the very reason that the Fair Housing Act exists.

    On a personal note, I am not a resident of Delridge, so I have not been blogging regularly about this project. (I would, however, welcome this kind of project in my adjacent neighborhood to Delridge).

    I guess I want everyone to think about Isaiah Kalebu when it comes to mental illness and possible violence. He is the best recent example of an un-medicated paranoid schizophrenic who was bouncing around in our community (W Seattle, White Center and Burien), without any residential support network. Without anyone there to watch over him and get him on a regular scheudle of taking his meds and being accountable to our society and city. Given the state of our society and economy right now, there are LOTS of Kalebu’s already in our communities, many homeless, already making us all very unsafe. And with GAU going away, this will likely only get worse. In my opinion, this is the single biggest reason to support this project, because it will actually make us safer, because people here will have 24 hour monitoring, health care and support and there will be repercussions when they do not follow rules. It is a very strict environment. (I am NOT implying that this project will house extremely violent offenders, because it won’t, Kalebu should have likely been in Western State a long time ago not a building like this. I only use this as an example of where the actual threat it, which I don’t perceive to be here. Simply that in general, we should be seeking to create environments where the mentally ill are supported and given the structure to succeed, especially when it comes to access to regular medication.)

    Like I have said before, I am thankful for the WSB for creating a space for all sides of this argument to speak and be heard. It is very important.

  • ??? November 14, 2011 (3:03 pm)

    Thanks again TR.
    Two people reading the same words can come to a completely different conclusion.
    The city nor DESC is responsible with engaging the community in what are outside their respective charges.
    In fact neither entity should go beyond, as it just churns away tax payer dollars.
    I question Mr. Hooper billing city hall for the private meeting described or DESC using precious development dollars to engage the neighborhood when such engagement just results in more time, more expense, more delays and compromises that keep more homeless at risk on the streets.
    The city, as outlined by TR, has no duty or funds to address anything beyond its code issues.
    DESC is only required to comply with the same code issues.
    Simply put, “if you see a pile& smell a pile, why intentionally step in it?”

  • MyEye November 14, 2011 (4:10 pm)

    Code issues are a concern in regards to this project. On DESC’s application it states that it will, “Create affordave low-income housing accessible to public transportation, particularly in locations within one-half mile of light rail and bus rapid transit stations,” which it is not.
    Additionally a waiver had to be granted to build units above and beyond the city’s guidelines on how much low income housing is to be proportioned for a given neighborhood.
    From my understanding of a great deal of the posts a majority of the people aren’t saying no to the mentally ill. They are saying no to a poorly thought through, poorly implemented plan being rammed down their collective throats.

  • ??? November 14, 2011 (5:45 pm)

    Without seeing what My Eye is referring to, pertaining to DESC’s application, it is sounds like his quote is in respect to DESC’s general guidelines as opposed to legal development codes.
    A waiver being granted would have been in the arena of codes. Since it has been granted, at least that code issue has been laid to rest. I am not aware of any process to rescind.

    In terms of code issues the 58 apartments, 3 houses, 1700 square feet of retail, and 77 parking units and excavating of 88,000 cubic yards of a Critical Area kicks off a whole different level of code challenges as development was recently prohibited in these areas. The code is complex with a series of variances, exceptions, waivers and exemptions defined with additional requirements mandated to pursue each of these.

    Most people are not comfortable admitting a bias against the mentally ill (the PC police will react), although quite a few exceptions are present in the posts to WSB.
    Others are opposed to housing the homeless.
    Many others are opposed to helping people with drug and alcohol disabilities.

  • North Delridge Neighbor November 14, 2011 (7:30 pm)

    Many thanks to you, WSB, for keeping our community in the loop as things develop with this very important issue. I agree with “???”, it would be really helpful, and appreciated, if we could learn of such events with as much advance notice as possible. There have been a number of events recently that I would have liked to attend and could have done so if there had been a bit more lead time. It would also be helpful to find out who’s organizing such events and how to get in touch with them, or if there’s anything one can do to be get on the guest list.

    All in all, I’m grateful for all the information you’ve provided, without which there’d be little else to do but make a feeble attempt to get the details and worry all the while.

    Thanks again!

    • WSB November 14, 2011 (8:28 pm)

      Just in case it wasn’t clear (re: NDN’s comment about advance notice):
      The Thursday night gathering was not an open public event. This was a private citizen’s private gathering at a private home. She invited people, and eventually invited me as the only journalist who has been closely covering this process – she was under no obligation to do the latter, nor to announce the gathering in advance. There is no law requiring that gatherings attended by individual unelected public officials (or elected ones, for that matter) be publicized.
      As for everything else – we publish word of events as soon as they are known – and we, unlike others, do not even wait for official news releases; if we hear about it, if we see it on a webpage or an e-mail list, if it is a public meeting, we go with it. We published the Design Review date for the DESC project on Nov. 6th, when we first spotted it on a city webpage, albeit with a “tentative” notation:
      That was four days before the official notice went out on the city’s Land Use Information Bulletin (as we noted in an addendum to this roundup):
      We keep an events calendar that has notice of regular community-council meetings (like the North Delridge Neighborhood Council one from which I’m just back) weeks, months in advance – NDNC, for example, meets the second Monday of each month – as well as many other meetings and events all over West Seattle. We read City Council agendas to look for mentions of items of interest to West Seattle so we can call them to folks’ attention. We lurk (with permission) on every neighborhood mailing list we have ever heard of, including more than half a dozen in eastern West Seattle alone, so that we can get early heads-up of what’s happening. If you are interested in this issue and not already on the North Delridge e-mail list, I suggest you subscribe – I believe there’s a link on the NDNC website – I have been subscribed literally for years; it’s a Google Group, so you could try searching Google Groups. The Delridge Community Forum volunteers are putting out lots of info including stuff they’ve found out that I’ve never even heard of, like this Joint Recommendations Committee – when last I looked at the DCF website earlier today lots of info about that meeting was the lead item.
      Also: We have a “last call” of sorts every single day, our morning preview item “West Seattle Monday” or whichever day, with reminders about the key meetings/events happening that night. All of that info is directly from our events calendar, where in 98% of the cases it’s already been listed for days/weeks, maybe even months, but we figure it’s worth banging the drum one last time. – TR

  • ??? November 14, 2011 (10:58 pm)

    TR is once again right, “There is no law requiring that gatherings attended by individual unelected public officials (or elected ones, for that matter) be publicized.”

    This small, well-connected and private group as well as WSB’s unusual coverage of their private get-together provides an interesting peek into the way things get done at all levels in our community.

    TR is hard to fault for her constant vigilance and release of scheduled events, both ahead of time and on the day of.

    Than you WSB for providing this timely service that was always needed and never before existed.

  • LStephens November 15, 2011 (4:35 pm)

    From TR’s post: What nobody asked – and, as I was reporting the conversation, not participating in it, I could not ask – was: So if a community does NOT express concern or ask questions, there’s no obligation for DESC or whomever else to reach out to ask “so are you OK with this, is there anything you would like to request of us?” Because it was very clear, the bottom-line message to community members, pro/con/otherwise, was “The ball’s in YOUR court.” – TR

    Having worked for a real estate developer for many years, I would like emphasize what TR is pointing out here. As a community Delridge has a unique and HUGE opportunity to affect neighborhood change and improvement by negotiating with the developer (DESC) for community benefits and enhancements that can be related to the project.

    As an example, on the Northgate Target building, the developer (my former employer) built a new street, sidewalks, a park and ride, a new signalized intersection on Northgate Way and a small park; they added better security lighting and construction measures as just a part of the project negotiations with the Northgate and Thornton Creek neighborhood associations.

    While they have done an extremely piss-poor job of community communication and relationship building that has seemed to start so negatively, DESC will still have to have a big vested interest in working with the community. Because the project is in part funded by City money, the community can easily bring City and media attention to the project by attending meetings, writing letters and email to the City and the agency.

    However, from my outsider’s viewpoint, Delridge does not appear to be an “organized voice” and by that I mean that there appear to be multiple groups having meetings, the NDNC doing nothing because they are “split opinions” and the court of public opinion on the blogs, but not a cohesive or coordinated effort. While not everyone has to agree or be for/against the project, a somewhat united group with concerns will have a far greater chance of affecting what will happen on the project.

    On a last note, as Ms. Hoffmeister did some investigative work by visiting several of the other DESC projects, it may be worthwhile to contact some of the neighborhood organizations where those projects are located and ask them for their DESC story and any insights they may share on this similar journey.

    Delridge, do not underestimate your community voice and influence! It is still early in the game and you are not without power as a community.

  • Delridgian For Reasonable Development November 28, 2011 (9:20 pm)

    Thank you Tracy for your in-depth reporting, WSB for providing the online avenue, Betsy for opening your home and being as proactive as ever, and everyone else (for and against) who have been seeking to open the channels of dialogue about this project. My wife and I would love to be at more of these meetings in person but, with 3 young kids, dual incomes, church, and everything else that comes along with those responsibilities, it’s usually just not possible. So, thank you for keeping people like us in the loop.

    I wholeheartedly agree that the communication about this project has been nothing short of horrendous- especially given its nature and scale. While my wife and I don’t support this project for a myriad of reasons, we do feel that DESC would have gained a lot more respect had they been open and transparent about the project long before it was approved. Keeping the community in the dark (whether intentionally or not) was the worst approach they could have taken.


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