(UPDATED FRIDAY AFTERNOON with letter-writing info for roundabout support)
DEPARTMENT OF NEIGHBORHOODS: Yun Pitre visited – she’s an 11-year city employee who was formerly a Neighborhood District Coordinator, now a Community Engagement Coordinator, one of four working with community groups around the city. She’s assigned to Districts 1 and 2. (That’s City Council districts, as in 7 of them, rather than the old not-numbered neighborhood districts, of which West Seattle had two.) “We’re still your liaisons to city government,” she affirmed, when asked what her role now means. HPAC co-chair Michele Witzki said she hopes the department will offer added resources. “One of the reasons they broke everything up was for equity – and now not only are we getting (fewer resources), but it seems we’re competing with some of the other (disadvantaged) neighborhoods that have (greater) needs.”
Right now, Pitre said, “my role is getting re-acquainted with district stakeholders.” HPIC’s Kay Kirkpatrick recalled Ron Angeles‘s role as a neighborhood-district coordinator years ago and his “amazing” work connecting groups and knowing what everyone was up to. Pitre said she would be able to help with some of that but won’t be able to attend every meeting, every month, in her assigned area.
“Did the Department of Neighborhoods use the Race and Social Justice tool to look at” the results of this reorg? wondered HPAC co-chair Gunner Scott. Pitre mentioned an extra position in the department that would be backing up the community-engagement coordinators, and also helping “build capacity.” On followup, she explained that could mean helping HPAC grow its membership, for example.
Scott mentioned one issue that residents often bring to the group – unhoused people living in local neighborhoods — and said HPAC often is asked who to contact to get outreach for those people, and to check back to see if that’s happened. “Call the city’s main number – 206-684-CITY – and you should get a tracking number” that you can check on, she said. Witzki asked if Pitre could help them get help for people outside encampments, some kind of outreach person who wasn’t necessarily a uniformed officer – a social worker, for example.
Scott also voiced hopes that Neighborhoods can help with outreach on issues such as HALA by providing translation services and materials in other languages. “If there are materials in (non-English) languages on the HALA website, they’re not very obvious.”
REP. JAYAPAL IS NOW A WEST SEATTLEITE, & HER OUTREACH DIRECTOR VISITED HPAC: Zach Carstensen, outreach director for U.S. Rep. Pramila Jayapal, also was a guest. First, he confirmed that she has indeed moved to West Seattle – to Arbor Heights. “She’s a neighbor now.” He gave an overview of how her staff works – the district office is at 3rd/Virginia downtown. They have a separate outreach team and a separate casework team – though many congressional offices combine those functions, he explains. His team has four people, and they are each accountable for certain constituencies/issues/elected jurisdictions – in his case, that includes the City of Seattle and the Port of Seattle. There’s another person who covers the southern jurisdictions such as Burien and unincorporated North Highline. Because of their assignments, “when an issue comes up, we are able to tackle it intersectionally,” with multiple people and multiple specialties.
He said that the issues Rep. Jayapal is most focused on during her first term have turned out to be immigration, health care, the environment, and transportation. On the second, “she is committed to trying to move the country to a single-payer system,” he said.
He noted that as a freshman congressmember and as a member of the “minority party,” Rep. Jayapal is dealing with certain challenges, but they’re doing their best to raise visibility of issues and projects anyway.
He also mentioned two bills that Rep. Jayapal introduced as lead sponsor – one codifies some environmental-justice grants to make it harder for the EPA to scrap them; the other would “create an environmental-justice czar in the executive branch.” Neither bill “is likely to advance in this Congress,” for obvious reasons, Carstensen said, but Rep. Jayapal is trying to build toward a future when changes would make them more likely to pass. Among other local issues, we asked about the status of Duwamish Tribe treaty rights; he said Rep. Jayapal had “just started to get requests” about that issue, so no updates so far.
Co-chair Scott asked about infrastructure investments for our area, and whether money might trickle down. The president talked a lot about that early on and there was some “cautious optimism” at the time, Carstensen noted, but now there’s a proposal that looks “much different,” including “zero(ing) out Sound Transit funding” for “questionable reasons” such as the ballot measure’s approval margin. They are short on details “and it’s pretty late in the year.” He also mentioned the president’s “pretty disastrous transportation budget” and saying at least the House and Senate are unlikely to pass it as-is. “There is a lot of opportunity, I think, to secure funding for priorities.” He didn’t know enough about specific projects such as the Highland Park Way roundabout, yet, though.
One attendee wanted Carstensen to hear how unacceptable proposed cuts to Medicaid are – she spoke of working with a senior citizen who is worried about what’s going to happen. “She’s going to do everything she can to stop the Republican bill,” Carstensen replied, noting that it’s heartening that the Senate has delayed action on its health-care bill.
Highland Park Elementary‘s prospective loss of a reading-tutoring program also was brought up, and the attempt to raise $30,000, and whether there’s anything that Rep. Jayapal and her staff can do to help.
Carstensen also said he hopes to have a neighborhood coffee type gathering in the area – looking for a space is a challenge.
Before this section of the meeting, attendee Diane Vincent mentioned Rep. Jayapal’s upcoming July 6th Town Hall downtown about health care.
ROUNDABOUT UPDATE: Scott segued into an update. They’re seeking letters from organizations supporting the roundabout as the city applies for a grant that it’s tried to get before. SDOT is collecting the postcards/letters – they can be dropped off at HPIC – so that they can go in with the grant application. There’ll be a template for a personal letter on the HPAC website later this week, if you’d like to write one in support of the roundabout.
(ADDED FRIDAY AFTERNOON: You can find that template here)
Witzki said community leaders had had two meetings since the Find It Fix It Walk a month ago (which, you’ll recall, included news of money to fully design the roundabout, but construction funding would still have to be found). They’re also working on a crosswalk on SW Kenyon. And a city grant for geotechnical work in the Highland Park Way slide zone is looking more likely, Witzki said.
HALA MHA DEIS: With a public hearing the next night (WSB coverage ahead), and a comment deadline on July 23rd, the Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the proposed Mandatory Housing Affordability upzoning looms large. Co-chairs Scott and Witzki cited concerns including a transit shortage in Highland Park and potential displacement if upzoning drives out small family-owned businesses where people from many cultures can shop and if it leads to raised valuations that increase taxes to an unaffordable level. “They’re giving away too much … the level of low-income housing that they’re offering isn’t enough,” Scott said, while also saying that the city is asking people to comment without adequately explaining what they’re expected to be commenting on.
MISCELLANEOUS: HPAC is using grant money to beef up HPIC wireless access in hopes of live-streaming meetings. The group also is working on a community event for fall. And committee members are needed – right now co-chairs Witzki and Scott are the only ones. … Witzki mentioned the candidates’ forum for City Council Positions 8 and 9 that the Delridge Neighborhoods District Council is presenting July 25th, 7-9 pm, at HPIC.
HPAC is going into summer break – next meeting in September – watch hpacws.org for updates in the meantime!