(ADDED 12:12 AM – meeting video, in three clips, at story’s end)
6:37 PM: We’re at the Joint Training Facility in southeastern West Seattle as the city meeting “to decide what will be done with the Myers Way Properties … not a hearing, but simply to get ideas from the public” gets under way. Forrest Gillette is moderating. We’ll be updating as it goes.
First from a lineup of five city reps is Hillary Hamilton from the Department of Finance and Administrative Services, which is in charge of managing real estate and what happens to it if the city doesn’t need it, as is the situation with this 33+-acre site. She says this is happening “about halfway through” the process of deciding the property’s fate; but she also points out it’s not a formal public hearing – that will happen when this gets to the City Council, likely in September – so there won’t be time for comments from everyone, but there are “comment sheets” in the room.
6:44 PM: Second speaker is Seattle firefighter Colin McElroy – part of the site is proposed to be used as an expansion of the Joint Training Facility, which is where the meeting is happening, and his role is to explain “what happens here.”
He says his main job is at Station 14 in SODO but he “moonlights” here teaching structural-collapse training: “Our goal is to train firefighters all around the region that will help us prepare to help you guys if there’s an actual emergency – that emergency most likely being an earthquake.”
(2010 WSB photo by Christopher Boffoli, during training at JTF)
He says JTF needs more room to expand training areas, to move “noisier and dirtier operations” toward the south side of the site (further from their neighbors, a large retirement-residences complex (Arrowhead Gardens) to the north), to add parking, and to store some of their larger “props” inbetween their use, rather than having them sit in place and take up space.
Next speaker represents the broker/developer perspective, Al Robertson from NAI Puget Sound Properties.
He says that industrial-based businesses “are being forced to relocate out of the Seattle area,” but this is one of the few sites “that can support continued employment opportunities here in Seattle” because it’s zoned for industrial and light manufacturing. So that’s what he’s talking about (though no client or prospective developer was mentioned). “The intent of a commercial application would be to share 17.5 acres [about half the site] with the Joint Training Facility” which would take about five acres, he says. He says the site could support 100 to 300 jobs. The rest of the site, ~17 acres, offers the city a chance for a “park environment … and wetland enhancement,” he says.
She begins, “There are a couple things left out of the site’s history … starting with John Beal, a local environmental hero,” who restored Hamm Creek and was advocating for the Duwamish. She explains how he got involved in a “battle to the death” with the city regarding the Joint Training Facility development. She says that what happened to him and his work has left her skeptical about what development on the site now would lead to. She shows photos taken on the site as well as a rendering she says show “what 13 acres of warehouses look like.” Right now, she says, the site is not creating to air or water pollution and “is a buffer between the residential and industrial areas, (but) if it gets developed it’ll nudge right up to all those houses … I don’t think … the only value is in developing it.” She says it’s “nice” that the Fire Department wants “more stuff” but contends people also want “more” greenspace, and that this could be used for green job training as well. “100 years from now, are we going to look back and say ‘gee, we’re glad we got those warehouses’?” Someone in the back chants, “Commons! Commons!” likely a reference to the downtown greenspace that didn’t happen.
7 PM: Mary Fleck from Seattle Green Spaces Coalition, which also wants to keep the site as green space, is the next speaker. She calls out names of various communities to ask who’s here from where, and gets replies from Highland Park, White Center, South Park, Top Hat, even Normandy Park. “This is not just a West Seattle issue,” she declares, explaining why her group has been reaching out around the city.
Up on the screen, she has a slide of the four principles her groups want to see in a “Myers Community Plan,” including a “meaningful visioning process” in which “the community decides what’s going to happen next.” “This is not just an empty old gravel pit,” she says. The trees have value in the ecosystem, she says, “part of the web of life.” She also speaks about Hamm Creek, and water flowing through this site “to the Duwamish River.” And she challenges the city to apply its Equity and Environment Agenda to Myers Parcels’ fate, while also mentioning that 1,600 people have signed their online petition to put the potential sale on hold.
7:08 PM: Marie Pino from the White Center Community Development Association notes that some voices are missing tonight, and for a variety of reasons, including that news of the prospective sale hasn’t been circulated widely, nor in multiple languages. She explained how WCCDA got involved with “a group of environmentalists” – emphasizing “the need to halt the sale … to engage with the community to vision” what could happen to this large site “next to White Center.” She adds, “there’s no need to pit environmental equity against economic equity.” Pino said that it’s good news that some of the proceeds, if there’s a sale, would go toward helping those experiencing homelessness, but that doesn’t speak to what’s being done with the rest of the money.
7:12 PM: Sili Savusa, who is executive director of WCCDA, is speaking next.
She says that they’re seeing families of color “being pushed further and further south because of projects like this.” And she says it’s a constant struggle about getting community voices involved in projects like this: “More often than not communities of color have been engaged or involved in a conditional way, not in a real meaningful way.” For one, she said, this is Duwamish Tribe land – “how much thought has been given to the needs of the Duwamish Tribe?” She says city government needs to “let us, help us be part of the solution. … Unless the community’s voices are involved, it’s meaningless.”
The meeting’s now in a break until a Q&A period at 7:26 pm.
7:19 PM: Never mind the break – Mary Fleck from SGSC took the microphone and said she’d learned that while her group was asked to speak, nearby community groups were not, so they would be speaking during the “break.” First one up, Gunner Scott, chair of Highland Park Action Committee, which has already sent a letter asking the city to put the sale on hold.
Second, Lora Suggs from the South Park Neighborhood Association. Both say they hope the city will do a better job of community outreach as this process proceeds. They are followed by Dejonnee Roder, who says she is a prospective purchaser of the land, representing ArcEden, “a green cemetery that basically focuses on land stewardship – we don’t look at land expansion, we look at vertical … incineration not by fire, but by water.”
She says an “influx of baby boomers” will need these services, and that greenspaces for children will be created too.
She’s followed by a board member from the North Highline Unincorporated Area Council, Elizabeth Devine, who suggests that other neighborhoods should contribute to the need for space – somewhat satirical. “In each case, Seattle weighed green space versus commercial development – in each case, green space won. What’s the difference between those neighborhoods and ours? Follow the money.” She says Seattle should think of this area’s wellbeing too, and she gets a raucous cheer.
7:27 PM: That’s it for the unscheduled speakers, and on to a Q&A panel. First question is for Robertson, asking who he represents. He says he’s a “real-estate consultant.” (Here’s the website for his firm.) “To clarify things, we’re talking about a portion of the site … it’s not all or nothing.” Next he is asked if he lives anywhere near an industrial zone. He says yes – he lives in a “noisy” area near the train tracks in Queen Anne/Magnolia. “Do you like living there?” His reply: “You get used to it,” and he goes on to suggest that many people in such areas “enjoy” living there.
Next question is about whether a cost/benefit analysis has been done regarding losing the greenspace in this area. FAS’s Hamilton says no, their directive so far is the goal to recover the money that’s already gone to the homelessness program. After that, a Top Hat resident has a question for John Ovitt of Seattle Public Utilities, who hadn’t spoken previously. “Facilities strategic planner … basically here to represent SPU’s interest in the training facility itself.” So, the questioner asks, he is not here regarding any interest in the drainage situation here, regarding water running off the hill and into Hamm Creek and the Duwamish? No, he said. She continues to shout her point about pollution and water quality “affecting every one of us who live here.” The moderator cuts her off. Next question: The city was directed to do a green analysis of the city, and its due date was today – where is FAS at, in delivering it? Hamilton replies that it was indeed due today and “submitted today to the City Council late in the afternoon and I’m sure that tomorrow morning we’ll be able to share it with you.”
7:37 PM: How is the site being managed – is there a plan? FAS is asked. Hamilton says that they send someone here at least once a week, and that they are working with a specific police officer who is in turn working with the homeless people who have been camped in the area. But, is there a plan? the questioner stresses. Mike Ashbrook of FAS takes the microphone next. He mentions there’s “a list of priorities that we clean up.” Next question is from a nearby resident who said that they heard from SPD that people were “directed here.” (Editor’s note: When the city was working on setting up an “RV safe lot” nearby, SPD indeed said they were using the space outside the Myers Way gate on the west side of the street as a “staging zone,” and we reported that here. The “safe lot” plan has long since been scrapped.)
Next question is about potential loss of tree canopy and various statements made by city reps. “Why should we believe you now?” Hamilton replied by mentioning the map of the parcels, saying the areas shaded in blue are where the bulk of the trees are and that’s what they’re recommending be kept as a “natural area.” Regarding the past, “I am not a water expert … we know mistakes were made … we know there were fines … the city created a new wetland along the Duwamish that’s fairly substantial … I understand there might be some concern about trust.” And she said they have been working with the Army Corps of Engineers regarding wetlands.
Next comment/question is from someone saying she’s a Queen Anne resident and that retaining this land is “in the interest of the entire city.” She urges those who want to express an opinion to e-mail email@example.com. And she asks what’s next for engagement. Hamilton says they plan to spend the next month or so meeting with “small community groups,” and are taking requests. “If we need to set up another large community meeting, we can certainly do that.” Will you notify everyone who signed in tonight? Short answer: Yes.
Then: “Why is the City of Seattle prioritizing industrial development” instead of government-developed housing to get people out of homelessness? Hamilton replied by pointing out that it was the first time “affordable housing” was mentioned tonight, and reiterated that they looked closely at this site to see if it could be used for housing – but the lack of infrastructure, no water, sewer, electricity, made that almost impossible because of the “extra work” that would need to be done. “Access to services and transportation” also were a challenge.
Going back to drainage – what happens when the Greenbridge-connected land atop the bluff west of this site is developed? Where will that water go? asked the next questioner. The following question included a mention of some of the campers off Myers Way, including one who built a water feature known as “The Grotto,” and what might happen to them; Hamilton said she doesn’t know, yet.
7:52 PM: TreePAC’s Turnbull said the city had said it’s recommending keeping the treed slopes from being developed, and she thought that was required because of the Environmentally Critical Areas law. “Some of it is developable,” Ashbrook noted, echoed by real-estate rep Robertson. That was followed by a comment/question saying that the online petition against development does not seem to have been taken into account. Hamilton says she doesn’t know if the petition came to their department. Daniel Bretzke, who is working with the comments, said that those who had e-mail addresses have been included in the summaries.
Next person mentions the climate-change crisis and suggesting that possible housing uses should take into account things that haven’t been done before; she mentions a few examples from elsewhere in the world. “Are you guys trying to be innovative?” and taking the “science of global warming” into account, she asks. “Are you looking ahead … and trying to be a leader in that and look for new innovative ways to address those problems?” Hamilton encouraged the speaker to write those comments to FAS, the Office of Housing, the City Council. “Our goal now is to bring all the different kinds of ideas we heard to the mayor’s staff, and look at possibly revising the recommendations.”
Next question: Again, how many people do they “need” to hear from – is there a magic number? Hamilton: “We want to hear from everyone who cares.”
“I think you’re missing the point,” retorted the speaker. “At what point do our voices have an impact on what you’re going to do?” Applause resulted. Hamilton then said: “It’s ultimately the council who has to make the decision.”
“Where are they?” (None are in attendance.)
Next question was also a “where” – where are members of the community who speak the languages that translators are here for “but don’t seem to be working,” for example? Bretzke said that outreach would continue; Hamilton said that they have met with some groups already and are offering different ways to “reach out … if your group wants to hear from us, talk with us, let us know, please.”
If you have a comment on the Myers Way Parcels’ future – firstname.lastname@example.org is the address to use to get it into the record. And with that, it’s 8:02 pm, and the meeting is over.
ADDED 12:12 AM: Below is our video of the meeting, in three clips. We’re missing the first two speakers because of camera trouble (sorry about that) – so it starts with the broker who spoke third. The first clip runs until what was supposed to be a break; the second clip covers the community members who spoke at that point; then another short break followed, and our third clip picks up the rest of the meeting from there.