‘Let’s Talk: West Seattle’: What has (and hasn’t) happened since the ‘talk’

(WSB photo, June 28th)
By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

Almost six months after a city-organized event that was envisioned as a prototype for conversations with neighborhoods around the city, a West Seattle community advocate laments that months of following up have shown the “experiment in communication has not worked out.”

Held on the last Saturday morning in June, the event titled “Let’s Talk: West Seattle” was announced as being for “encouraging civic engagement around development issues” – a chance to discuss those issues in a big-picture context, instead of the usual one-development-at-a-time.

That morning, the upstairs meeting hall at the Senior Center of West Seattle buzzed with mostly informal interaction between 20+ city reps and 40+ attendees, milling around information-laden easels. There was a short stopdown to hear from two city department heads in attendance, Diane Sugimura of the Department of Planning and Development and Bernie Matsuno of the Department of Neighborhoods. Then, as noted in our report on the event, they later joined in a breakout conversation with a dozen or so attendees. By the time that wrapped up, two community members, Cindi Barker and Wayne Scamuffa, had volunteered to be liaisons with the city departments in attendance (which included SDOT) to be sure that comments were followed up on.

Separate from that, organizers had promised followup communication. Note the right side of this board that was on display near the entrance to the meeting:

(The promise to publish comments here on WSB was news to us, but as we told someone that morning, we’d be happy to oblige if/when they were provided. Electronic versions of all of the morning’s boards, including info on West Seattle growth/development, were published in our report.)

Some time after the meeting, we attended one followup conversation in which the local advocates tried to help city reps strategize getting followup information out. More time passed. Last Thursday, Cindi Barker finally sent DPD contacts a note expressing exasperation that it just hadn’t worked out.

The very next day – Friday, December 19th – a followup appeared on the DPD blog-format website Building Connections (see it here).

It wasn’t what Barker and Scamuffa had hoped for and been working toward. She forwarded the link to other community leaders/groups over this past weekend with a note saying in part:

If you were at the meeting, you know that Wayne Scamuffa and I volunteered to help facilitate with DPD and the Department of Neighborhoods (DON) to help promote an ongoing dialogue and to see if more voices could join the conversation (more than the folks who were able to come out to a Saturday morning event). But this experiment in communication has not worked out. Wayne and I met with DPD and DON several times to help figure out how to work this new model, and have had months of emails. But in the end, the DPD is neither staffed nor prepared to have an on-going conversation with this community.

Her note shared the DPD site link, and continued:

Please share with your community members and particularly anyone who you knew attended, as I do not believe the DPD will be sending direct information to the people who attended and signed in on the attendance rosters.

If you go through all the material linked in the Building Connections blog posting, you will see that they provided back what they heard about a proposed “town center” and where participants thought people would be living in 2035. The 4 major themes that DPD thought they heard were about so much change, shaping growth, parking, and the desire for a hospital, and so they provided links to existing city programs for people to visit for further information.

The survey link under the topic of improving outreach and engagement would be useful to all of us who are trying to reach more people who don’t seem to be connected in our traditional outreach methods, so please take that survey.

Here’s the direct link, in case you miss it going through the city’s update. Barker’s note continued:

As Wayne and I worked with city staff on this, it really became clear that this pilot was launched without forethought as to how follow up would actually occur and without the staff resources to get the initial feedback back to the community, much less sustain an ongoing dialogue.

It’s ironic that the very forces that motivated this pilot project, the high level of development in Seattle and West Seattle, are very forces consuming the DPD staff. There has to be a better way for the city to work with all its constituents. Maybe it is time to ask Mayor Murray out for a community meeting?

(Barker, by the way, is not viewing city-community interaction through inexperienced eyes; she has been a community liaison for a variety of initiatives over the years, including, currently, serving on the advisory committee for the mayor’s Housing Affordability Agenda.)

To our knowledge, no other “Let’s Talk” events have been scheduled elsewhere in the city – this was the first and so far the last. Some further followup material might yet be made public; Barker says the DPD point people are talking about getting the additional feedback sheets out after everyone’s back from vacation, just before New Year’s – even then, though, she points out, that’s still just a “meeting recap,” rather than a step toward an ongoing dialogue.

8 Replies to "'Let's Talk: West Seattle': What has (and hasn't) happened since the 'talk'"

  • skeptic December 24, 2014 (8:28 am)

    Having worked with the DPD, this response does not surprise me at all. If they are going to bail on these meetings at least get my permits completed on time…jeez.

  • bando December 24, 2014 (8:54 am)

    They don’t have the resources to follow up with the community because they are dedicating those resources now to chasing down anyone who puts food scraps in their trash.

    • WSB December 24, 2014 (9:02 am)

      That’s actually Seattle Public Utilities. But the funding all eventually comes from the same city budget …

  • Jissy December 24, 2014 (11:21 am)

    I’m SHOCKED!!! (Said with immense sarcasm!)

  • DiverLaura December 24, 2014 (3:45 pm)

    People are not surprised by this because it follows past experience. Over-promise, under-deliver by a well meaning but under thought out concept.

    It seems the public liked the general concept, no? Perhaps we should turn things on end.

    Donna Sandstrom with The Whale Trail has started an amazing thing with the monthly Whale Trail guest speaker series, I mention this because due to her diligence she has been able to set up talks that allow the public to ask questions directly to the experts in their field (in this case, some high end players in Orca whale and Salmon conservation, including folk from NOAA, Puget Sound Partnership and the likes)
    Perhaps a discussion series with the assorted folks mentioned, where two or three an evening came and gave a quick overview of who they are and what they manage. The interested public could attend and ask questions. No promise of ‘follow up’ these could be more informative meetings, similar to the Whale Trail talks.
    Sadly I don’t have the time/energy to spearhead something like this, nor any kind of feasibility study. I have my hands full as it is, but instead of just grumbling, I’m offering up something outside of the box that could theoretically be a method of interaction between agencies/departments and the public.

  • whereweirdworks December 24, 2014 (10:35 pm)

    what is needed is new DON and DPD leadership. and where are the people running for our district in all of this?

    This is the stuff of our elections. Or should be. What actions have our candidates taken about any of this. They need to be prepared to identify their actions thus far. Talk is very cheap. Action speaks volumes but so does inaction. Cindi Barker should have run for a position representing District #1 because she doggedly commits to the most pressing and urgent matters that are not sexy like the environment or transportation or crime and have the least acknowledgment. The smart crew knows of what I speak.

    Seminars don’t seem likely to get any commitment from the city. This neighborhood would activate by the dozens if there was follow through from the city side. We all knew better, though. Did we not?

    I suspect so. But Cindi will not give up and will still pursue constructive paths. A meeting with the Mayor is it. With DPD and DON, of course. haha. Fat chance. ;)

  • Dis December 25, 2014 (12:46 am)

    Agree 100% re: Cindi Barker! She gets results, and she does it in the nicest way. I can’t say the same of several of the current candidates.

  • LS December 25, 2014 (11:15 am)

    I agree this needs to go directly to the Mayor as a start as he has advocated open and transparent communication on his watch. It does not sound like this is happening.

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