Southwest District Council, report #2: More opposition to matching-fund changes; ‘Let’s Talk’ followup; new co-chairs

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:

NEIGHBORHOOD MATCHING FUND: Minh Chau Le from the Department of Neighborhoods introduced Alki resident Jackie Ramels, currently on an advisory committee recommending changes to the NMF, mostly in its Large Projects Fund grants (up to $100,000).

Ramel mentioned her rough reception at the Delridge Neighborhoods District Council last month, explaining she is a “citizen-activist” who didn’t have previous knowledge of the long-simmering tension between the district councils and the city, and felt she “got bombarded” at DNDC, not having realized the advisory committee involvement was a step into a minefield.

That said, she got part of the way into the explanation before the questions and declarations erupted again, as they had at DNDC. The idea of opening the LPF to “non-geographic-based applicants” was not popular, but even more opposition focused on the change in how applications are reviewed: Instead of going through the District Councils, which currently look at proposals and decide which to forward on for citywide review, applications would go directly to the Citywide Review Team.

Chas Redmond from Morgan Junction, long involved in the City Neighborhood Council, said “a recommendation to remove the District Councils from the process is not one that the District Councils will appreciate” because of a difficult history that ultimately resulted in “a nosedive” in applications for the Large Project Fund.

“I’m just here from the committee to tell you what our recommendations are,” Ramels said, adding that council members would have to subsequently take their concerns to the Department of Neighborhoods.

SWDC co-chair Vlad Oustimovitch subsequently explained what he said neighborhood groups consider to be “an accounting scam” in how the Large Project Fund money is handled/routed. Westwood-Roxhill-Arbor Heights CC‘S Amanda Kay Helmick then spoke up, noting she also is the Delridge District Council’s rep to the City Neighborhood Council, and mentioning the letter that council has written to the city saying that the recommendations violate existing city policy. (We published the letter in this followup.)

Redmond suggested the committee should have known its work was “violating a trust.” Ramels took exception to that. It was suggested that the City Neighborhood Council should have been involved in the process, but Ramels said she was told CNC wouldn’t talk to the Department of Neighborhoods. Redmond said the friction went back to criticism from DoN director Bernie Matsuno of the CNC’s Neighborhood Matching Fund committee (with which he was involved). The inference from several was that Matsuno set up the advisory committee to bypass the CNC.

Breaking the tension, Susan Melrose of the West Seattle Junction Association asked if the new proposals have any delineation on what percentage of the Large Projects Fund should be spent on geographic proposals vs. nongeographic proposals. Basic answer seemed to be “no.” DON’s Chau Le noted that the Matching Fund’s smaller grants, already open to both types of groups, have in the past five years been awarded to 35 percent non-geographic, 65 percent geographic.

Morgan Junction’s Tod Rodman expressed concern that a large regional organization could come in and hijack the process, so even with the non-geographic proposals, they would want the rules to ensure that they are truly community groups: “The moneyed interests in the city often hijack the process,” he noted, with professional grant-writers and other resources that can enable them to craft the proposals in a manner destined not to lose.

Redmond said that all 13 neighborhood districts have a rep each on the citywide review team that would take over authority to review grants, but that means 13 people reviewing proposals instead of at least 39 (with previous reviews now held in district-council subcommittees). He said that reducing the number of reviewers would seem to be “going in the wrong direction” for a department that’s supposed to be about neighborhoods.

What’s the timeframe? DON was asked. Chau Le said they’re “wrapping up outreach” within a few weeks. Asked about a deadline for input, she didn’t have one, but offered: “How about the end of the year?” Rodman pointed out that doesn’t work because many groups don’t meet in December. A motion was passed, basically requesting more time for consideration of/work on the proposals, since they were crafted wthout District Council input. Delridge’s letter asked for the process to be extended to March. SWDC is asking to have until March 31st so that “the organization could address this issue among ourselves” (including the groups/organizations its members represent).

‘LET’S TALK WEST SEATTLE’ FOLLOWUP: Morgan Junction’s Cindi Barker recapped what has happened in the four months since the communitywide meeting with Department of Planning and Development reps. (Here’s our coverage.) All the promises about sharing the comments and other information have not yet been kept. Barker has been talking to the city about that, and said so far, several themes emerged as the information has been slowly parsed: So much change in neighborhoods, how can people affect change, and parking challenges. Barker said that it’s important group reps stress that getting deeply involved is the main way to affect change – not just “come to the bitch session” and then don’t participate further. She said the city also will try to figure out how to reach out to groups that weren’t present at the meeting, such as renters. Another issue brought up then and still out there: What about West Seattle’s lack of a hospital? That too will take work, Barker noted, so a group will have to be convened to talk about it. She also noted that the city reps who were involved did not seem to have been given the time to work on following it up so that it can result in a dialogue. West Seattle was meant to be the pilot for a “Let’s Talk” series around the city.

FUTURE LEADERSHIP: Co-chairs Vlad Oustimovitch and Sharonn Meeks (Fairmount Community Association) are stepping down as chairs; he is stepping back completely from his many years of intensive community involvement, while she says she’ll be “hanging around.” So that led to the big question: Who would come forward to succeed them? After some discussion, Eric Iwamoto from WWRHAH and David Whiting from the Admiral Neighborhood Association volunteered to be co-chairs next year.

Other quick notes:

WEST SEATTLE LAND USE COMMITTEE: November 25th, 6:30, at the Senior Center is the next meeting of this still-in-formation group intended as a forum for a communitywide perspective on development and land-use issues. All welcome.

SENIOR CENTER MEETING NEXT WEEK: Edwards reminded everyone of the meeting next week regarding the center’s future and whether to become a “program” of Senior Services, or to go independent. Two sessions on November 11th; here’s our previous announcement with details.

NEXT SOUTHWEST DISTRICT COUNCIL MEETING: The December meeting is usually more social than business; it might be a potluck. Plans are still being formulated. Generally, SWDC meets the first Wednesday of the month, 6:30 pm, Senior Center.

1 Reply to "Southwest District Council, report #2: More opposition to matching-fund changes; 'Let's Talk' followup; new co-chairs"

  • John November 8, 2014 (7:19 pm)

    I wonder if changing might benefit the community?

    Our current system already has a very few un-elected people making decisions for the community.

    “The moneyed interests in the city often hijack the process,” he noted, with professional grant-writers and other resources that can enable them to craft the proposals in a manner destined not to lose.

    That’s quite a statement. Maybe Mr. Rodman could provide several examples.

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