By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
Whatever you’re concerned about, Mayor Bruce Harrell wants you to know he is working on it – or has just hired, or is about to hire, someone who will be.
That was the theme during his first guest appearance answering questions from the District 1 Community Network during its monthly meeting online tonight.
MAYOR HARRELL: This was the mayor’s first appearance at any public West Seattle community-group meeting. He opened by saying he’s trying to be “transparent in what we’re trying to do,” taking action “with kindness, with data … we don’t mince words … we work seven days a week.” D1CN prepared questions in advance to start with. First, he was asked about city neighborhood-district councils, which were supported by the city until two mayors ago. (D1CN is a hybrid successor to what were the Southwest and Delridge Neighborhood District Councils covering west and east West Seattle respectively.) Harrell said he hired Greg Wong as Department of Neighborhoods director to determine “in neighborhoods, what works best?” He said he hopes to have, “maybe by end of summer,” “a strong recommendation on what the new kind of neighborhood network should look like.” He asked for neighborhoods’ input on that.
Regarding public safety/homelessness, he was asked “what part of Operation New Day would apply to District 1?” The mayor said his criteria apply to both situations – he tries to “hit (people) with the data,” ergo his newly unveiled homelessness-data dashboard. He says he’s aware of the challenges. After opening up the data, he says, next step is to talk with police and homelessness advocates. D1CN facilitator Cindi Barker pointed out that the dashboard undercounts West Seattle encampment; that info needs to get to Deputy Mayor Tiffany Washington.
What’s being done to get staffing back up at the Southwest Precinct? Harrell shot back with a question, “have you had mayors come to your groups before in the first six months?” He said he was asking that because “the narrative has changed regarding public safety … I inherited a demoralized police department with low numbers, a lack of systems to recruit police officers … I don’t condone a racialized, militarized approach to policing, I just want everyone to be safe.” He said people are demanding answers fast. In “two or three weeks, we’re going to release what I call a public-safety plan,” which will address recruiting strategies, goals, and more. He said he’s stuck because of laws on the books, asking the council for permission on so many things. So he’s asking for patience. He mentioned the term “hot-spot policing” while acknowledging that’s a controversial term for some, but he says it’s a fact that some people and areas are repeat problems. He says he feels good that by the end of his term he can get SPD back up to 1,300-1,400 officers.
Also talking about “the hand (he) was dealt.” he brought up today’s news that millions of dollars worth of parking tickets had to be refunded because of a ripple effect from “the defunding era.”
On to affordable housing and the lack of HALA MHA-funded housing being built in D-1. He said he’s “not happy at all” with how the MHA program is working, though it’s “generating a lot of money.” It’s being assessed right now – how much money it’s generating, where that money is going – with his recent hire of Maiko Winkler-Chin as Office of Housing director. In the big picture, he’s looking at how to get affordable housing built more quickly.
Then a question about parks/facilities and open space – how will he invest in what the city has? He noted today’s announcement that a new community center is out of reach for Green Lake. He noted that the Parks Superintendent job remains open. The Southwest Teen Life Center/Pool‘s aging, mentioned in the question, is “on (his) radar.” He said he’d talk to Councilmember Lisa Herbold about what should be prioritized.
What about transparency and accountability in general, given that it was such a cornerstone of his campaign? He noted that the Durkan administration funded “$30-$50 million” to community organizations working on public-safety alternatives and they’ve met with dozens of those groups to try to find out where the money’s gone and is going.
Regarding the West Seattle Bridge – how will he keep an eye on traffic issues after it reopens? Harrell noted the Department of Transportation director position is open too. He’s looking for a “decisive leader with a sense of urgency to find that balance between infrastructure, bike safety, slowing the speeds down, capital project cost containment … a person who really knows how to read the balance sheet and is good with numbers.” He also wanted to be sure his team got credit for “getting the logjam broken” on the concrete delay that stymied part of the bridge work for a while.
The mayor’s assistants said “one more question” at that point. So he was asked about land use – promises made about Highland Park planning, status of White Center annexation, efforts on South Park economic development. Harrell said he needed more history about the Highland Park planning promises. Regarding South Park, he needs more background on those promises. The White Center part of the question went unanswered.
Mayor Harrell promised to return. (He’s also scheduled to talk with another local group later this month – the West Seattle Transportation Coalition, on June 23rd.)
Also at the meeting:
REDISTRICTING: Katie Stultz represented the Redistricting Justice for All commission. She said her key point was advocating for people to get involved in the drawing of new city-council-district lines. Here’s their priorities:
This is the first time since the charter amendment that set up the 2015 launch of by-district elections that new districts are being drawn. The timeline is continuing to play out in the months ahead, with new maps to be adopted by year’s end. She showed draft maps her group is working on, while stressing none is an official recommendation of theirs so far. D-1 has to add territory so the question is where – add the ID and SODO, for example? “How far north should D-1 go?” asked Stultz. She recommended that when people voice opinions to the Redistricting Commission, they get very specific, even down to street names. Here’s the city website with info on how to get involved in the process.
POLICE UPDATE: Southwest Precinct commander Capt. Martin Rivera said the Alki emphasis will start this weekend … They’ll focus on hot spots in other neighborhoods too. Crime hasn’t changed dramatically in the past month; in gunfire cases, they’re tracking the casings, and finding multiple incidents involving the same guns. He said 2nd/Michigan, 15th/Barton are encampments “that are going to have some action taken” as well as Andover – and he says it’ll be more than you’ve seen before.
ANNOUNCEMENTS: Reminder of the scaled-down Morgan Junction Community Festival on Saturday, June 18th, with Bubbleman at 11 am and musician Gary Benson afterward … ArtsWest launches its next play “Miku” in two weeks … August 6th is the date for this year’s Duwamish River Festival, at the new People’s Park on the river … Highland Park Improvement Club will be kicking. off fundraising for its new building with a 2-7 pm festival Saturday, June 25th, at Riverview Playfield, the first anniversary of the fire that gutted HPIC’s building. Three live bands, a beer garden, and more will be featured … On June 30th a pop-up chamber-music concert will happen in High Point, 11 am, with a portable stage on a truck in the lot between Bridge Park and Elizabeth House … A Fauntleroy Fall Festival fundraiser is set for next Tuesday night at Endolyne Joe’s (9261 45th SW), so if you dine there that night, you’ll be giving the festival a boost.
NEXT MEETING: D1CN meets online, 7 pm first Wednesdays, so the next meeting will be July 6th.