Way back in 2010 the Capitol Hill Community Council gathered at their usual spot in the Cal Anderson Park shelterhouse to start discussing the alignment of the First Hill Streetcar. The meetings may have seemed a bit presumptuous to a newcomer, that this freewheeling, volunteer-led neighborhood group with fluctuating community interest could somehow steer a multi-million dollar transit project.
But out of those meetings came a series of proposals on how the streetcar ought to be positioned on Broadway and how it would interact with the protected bike lane. Three year’s later Capitol Hill saw the fruits of that labor. Current CHCC president and Seattle Gay News publisher George Bakan said the streetcar proved the council’s potential for influence was real.
“You have to understand some history… There’s a tremendous value on neighborhoods in this city and the City Council and people that are part of the city infrastructure really respect that,” he said.
Next month, the community council will be voting in two new at-large officers and a new treasurer. Membership on the council is open to anyone who lives, works, or volunteers on Capitol Hill and voting on all issues occurs with those who happen to be present. The council’s bylaws are here. If you’re interested, find out more at the council’s next meeting on Thursday, May 22nd.
In its official capacity, the CHCC is part of the city’s extensive neighborhood involvement structure whose members are connected on various levels of city affairs to vote on things like neighborhood matching grants and budget priorities. Ostensibly, CHCC feeds into the East District Council, one of 13 district council’s in the city. Representatives at the district level make up the City Neighborhood Council. But the seeming formality of the structure is about as deep as City Hall’s actual influence over the council runs.
Community councils are only as strong as the community that supports them, so it’s not a given that Capitol Hill’s group has been able to position itself to be among the city’s most active. Since the success of the streetcar proposal, Bakan said the council deliberately began tackling larger city-wide issues that impacted Capitol Hill.
Among those was the council’s well-attended April meeting on a $15 an hour minimum wage. Bakan, who is running for his third one-year term in June, said he found that by holding meetings on hot topic issues, the council can muster more community participation and thus more influence at the city level to get the neighborhood’s opinions heard.
“The council’s reputation doesn’t trail back to any one person,” he said. “If you have a vivacious meeting, people say ‘Ok, I need to listen.'”
What the council isn’t so well equipped to do is influence private development projects, Bakan said, although that doesn’t prevent some inevitable kvetching over unpopular buildings.
In the coming months Bakan said he would like to focus on more arts-related issues, following up on a successful meeting earlier this year. “I can’t think of a single art idea that Capitol Hill wouldn’t welcome. If it happens in an urban environemnt, it can happen on Capitol Hill,” he said.
The council’s next big project could be pushing for a new Capitol Hill arts district, Bakan said. CHS wrote about the proposal earlier this week. Bakan encouraged anyone with an interest in shaping the policy to reach out to him, or better yet, get your butt down to a meeting.
The Capitol Hill Community Council meets every third Thursday at 6:30 PM at the Cal Anderson Park Shelterhouse — except for this rare exception on May 22nd. Learn more at capitolhillcommunitycouncil.org.