1. A timely example of why district councils may not be the best gateway and one-stop-shop (as it's been since 1987) for community involvement, showed up in a recent report from a Seattle Department of Neighborhoods staffer who attended the June meeting of the Northwest District Council. (Mayor Ed Murray recently issued an executive decision to move away from the district council model, and create a city outreach model that doesn’t rely on one entry point for community input, nor necessarily on geography.)
At the June 22 meeting, where six district council members and three other local residents met, they voted down the request of one civic group, the urbanist Greenwood Phinney Greenways group, to join the district council.
The community greenways movement, with chapters all over the city, advocates for pedestrian and bike funding, recently demanding more money for “Safe Routes to Schools” programs be included in the $930 million city transportation levy.
The DON staff summary reports:
The District Council weighed this application; some members felt the group was not geographically based—didn’t have actively participating members at meetings (the spokesperson for the group told the District Council three people usually come to their meetings). The District Council voted, with 3 in favor, 3 opposed. Therefore, membership was denied.
The irony of six members, of a supposedly macro group, voting down a group for only having three members regularly, is noteworthy.
At the same meeting, the Aurora Licton Urban Village group was admitted.
2. One of the theories about the mayor's executive orders on district councils, is that he believes the district councils will come out against upzones and expanding urban villages, two key pieces of his housing affordability and livability agenda (HALA).
For starters, I’m not sure how that conspiracy theory, recently posited by the Seattle Times , makes the mayor look bad. If exclusive groups are necessary to shut down the upzones (city surveys found that the people who attend district council meetings are whiter and older than most of the city, and are overwhelmingly homeowners, while the majority of the city rents), perhaps the real takeaway is that the upzones are only an affront to a privileged few.
However, it’s also not clear that all the neighborhood groups are against the upzones, also known as the “mandatory affordable housing” plan that trades upzones to developers for a requirement to build affordable housing. The North Beacon Hill Council, a member of the Greater Duwamish District Council, sent the results of a survey they recently did in all of Beacon Hill to the city council’s planning committee. Their survey tallied the following results, which indicated support for Murray’s HALA plan: “55 percent of respondents Agreed/Strongly Agreed with expanding the Urban Village” and “Support zoning changes to single family areas in the Beacon Hill Urban Village to put the Mandatory Affordable Housing (MHA) program in place” came in at “51 percent Agreed/Strongly Agreed.”
3. The District Councils have complained that they were not consulted in the Seattle Department of Neighborhoods’ survey to determine their demographic makeup. Asked about this, DON strategic advisor Tom Van Bronkhurst explained that between 2012 and 2015, as part of the city’s Racial and Social Justice Initiative (overseen by the city’s office of civil rights), all city departments included demographic surveys at their neighborhood meetings—DON included. As part of that exercise, DON district council liaisons who staffed district council meetings conducted the survey. The results on district council demographics were based on two sample meetings in 2013 and 2015. DON presented the findings to the city council when DON made its recommendation to revamp the way the city does outreach. They say the new system will still include district councils, but, in an effort to hear from more groups, the new process won’t make district councils the sole entry point to engage with the city.
Of those that responded to the survey, the Excel spreadsheet of the results shows that every single person (out of about 150 people) was Caucasian, 84 percent were at least 40 years old, and about 85 percent owned their own home.
4. In non district council news, please read our report on this week's city council civil rights committee meeting where council heard the results of a workers' survey on the need for "secured scheduling."