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Group solidifies to represent community in light rail station development process

An effort to create a solidified bloc to represent community needs in the process to develop the Capitol Hill light rail station’s retail, housing and community space took a step forward as the Capitol Hill Community Council last week voted to join the Capitol Hill Champion group. The group is described as a “joint venture” between the Council and the Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce and is being shaped to present a unified front in dealing with Sound Transit, the government agency building the light rail system and the station that will become the central transportation hub for the area when it comes online in 2016.

In presenting the proposal for the Council vote, interim Chamber director Michael Wells said Sound Transit needs to be pushed to recognize the community’s desires as the process plays out to put the land around the light rail station to use. “Sound Transit is not a developer,” Wells said. “They make the trains run on time.”

Council meeting attendee George Bakan said he supported working with the Chamber. “We must take control of some of that land to put it to good community use,” Bakan said.

Here’s a passage from a document describing the group that was presented during Thursday night’s meeting of the Community Council as attendees discussed the opportunity and voted to participate. The entire charter document is attached to this post.

The Capitol Hill Champion is a joint venture of the Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce and the Capitol HillCommunity Council that will rise to this challenge. The Capitol Hill Champion will advocate with decision makers to implement the policy changes, public investments and private partnerships necessary to realize the Capitol Hillcommunity’s vision for redevelopment on and around the Link Light Rail Capitol Hill Station. 

The initial focus of the Capitol Hill Champion is the redevelopment of Sound Transit’s surplus property at the CapitolHill Station and the creation of a comprehensive urban design vision for Broadway. The TOD Recommendations Report prepared by Schemata Workshop and Makers serves as the basis for the work in this initial phase.

Using the TOD Recommendations Report, the Champion has begun and will continue to advocate on behalf of theCapitol Hill community with all appropriate parties. Working with the Champion Advisors and the community at large, the Champion will translate the recommendations outlined in the TOD Recommendations Report into specific, actionable policy proposals that will then be presented to both the Chamber of Commerce and the Community Council for ratification by the normal decision making process of each organization.  As the policy proposals are ratified, the Champion will continue to advocate for execution of the community vision.

The main engine of the Champion group will be a steering committee made up of a mix of Chamber and Council members:

  • Catherine Hillenbrand (chair, Chamber and Community Council member)
  • Jennifer Power (Community Council Officer)
  • Chip Ragen (Chamber Board member)
  • Zef Wagner (Community Council Officer)
  • Mike Mariano (Chamber member)
  • Betsy Hunter (Capitol Hill Housing, Chamber member)
  • Michael Wells (Interim Chamber Executive Director)

You’ll recognize a few from the CHS community in that mix. Power contributes to CHS under the Comrade Bunny handle and Mariano is an occasional poster — he added this call for advocates for the Champion process to the site in February. Meanwhile, Ragen & Associates is CHS’s site sponsor.

All of this intertwining and interconnection can make for a ‘small world’ when it comes to neighborhood advocacy. Dennis Saxman, a neighborhood advocate himself and frequent attendee at Council meetings, opposed the plan and said he doesn’t think the group has done enough to reach out to the entire Capitol Hill community. He says the upcoming Capitol Hill Community Council elections are a case in point. Saxman has provided documents to CHS he says show that Capitol Hill Housing, a nonprofit developer of low income housing, has helped recruit candidates for the June 17 election. Indeed, the sole candidate for secretary in the upcoming election is Josephine Wong, CHH’s chief operating officer.

In reviewing the information provided by Saxman and checking around on rules governing nonprofits and community groups like the Council, CHS isn’t aware of any wrongdoing in the actions of the nonprofit developer — and, if Thursday night’s show of hands of anybody still considering a run for an officer position is any indication, the council is going to need all the help it can get filling its leadership team for the next year. The only hand to go up last week — Bakan. He’s no slouch, by the way, having guided the Seattle Gay News since 1983.

Candidates who have declared candidacy for June 17:

  • President: Norma Jean Straw
  • Vice President: Mike Kent
  • Secretary: Josephine Wong
  • Treasurer: None
  • At-Large Representative: Zef Wagner
  • At-Large Representative: Jennifer Power
  • At-Large Representative: George Bakan

At this date, none of the positions are contested as the Council seats three at-large reps. And, of course, the treasurer slot needs a candidate. In last year’s election, Power defeated Charlette LeFevre from Museum of Mysteries for the role of president. Interested candidates can declare up to the night of the June 17 election but must declare a week in advance to have their experience and candidate statements included in the election documents. Interested candidates should e-mail

With this slate of candidates, CHS will also face some further ‘intertwining and interconnection’ — Kent write on this site as MRK. How we manage to balance contributing to a community group and contributing quality, useful information on the site is an important issue for CHS. We think it can be done and is necessary. The overlap of the involved and those we call the passionate is significant in this neighborhood — and everywhere, really. There are limits, of course, and CHS will always put integrity first. And it’s not new. I served as president of the Council as it was re-formed two years ago. Nobody else would do it.

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7 thoughts on “Group solidifies to represent community in light rail station development process

  1. Justin, were you at the same meeting that I attended? Josephine Wong may be the sole candidate for Secretary, but she, Michael Kent, and Norma Jean Straw and Zef Wagner are all people listed as interested in running by Chris Persons in an email to Anna Markee. Betsy Hunter, Catherine Hillenbrand, Mike Mariano and Michael Wells were all involved in the TOD Working Group, a rather exclusive little affair unless you were a developer or otherwise connected to Capitol Hill Housing. The Chamber had Capitol Hill Housing manage that work group. Now, a number of the same people show up as members of the “Champions” group. Do you really think this is healthy for neighborhood and community participation? As I asked Betsy Hunter and Chris Persons: “Could you explain to me how selecting candidates for the Capitol Hill Community Council is part of the mission or purposes of Capitol Hill Housing under its corporate documents? Why wasn’t this process made transparent and open to community members who regularly attend Capitol Hill Community Council Meetings? I believe such a process contravenes the values that have been the subject of discussion at the last two Board meetings.” Neither ever replied to me. So maybe you can answer my question, Justin. Why should one nonprofit and its employees and contractors dominate neighborhood processes? It truly isn’t one of its powers under any of its incorporation documents. I have another question: Why hasn’t the Capitol Hill Community Council been able to grow its membership and truly representative leadership in over 2 years? Lack of a deep leadership pool and steady membership is never an accident.

  2. It is entirely incorrect that the Capitol Hill Chamber used Capitol Hill Housing to “manage” any part of the Sound Tranasit discussion process.

    The Chamber does see Capitol Hill Housing as a valuable partner in these discussions – being that they are the primary advocates for affordable housing on the Hill. In fact, all of the people mentioned in Mr. Saxman’s post are actively engaged Hill residents who spend an inordinate amount of time volunteering to make the Hill a better, safer place for all of us. I would think that for that alone they deserve some thanks, not scorn.

  3. “Champion” is stacked heavily with Chamber members. Does the CHCC believe that among all members of the community, the Chamber of Commerce deserves the greatest voice? If so, why? Does the CHCC have the authority to give away their other constituents’ representation to a professional business lobby?

  4. The Capitol Hill Chamber is hardly what I’d call a professional business lobby. Our members include residents, arts and nonprofit groups as well as the small business owners that the Hill loves. There are two members of the Capitol Hill Community Council sitting on the Champion steering committee, three chamber members and an unaffiliated resident. That’s hardly stacking the deck.

    I’m confused by anti Chamber sentiment, I must admit. The Council has been an active participant in this process, voicing residential and neighborhood concerns all along. And the folks in the Chamber work very hard to advocate w/ the City for a stronger, safer neighborhood in ways that go far beyond business concerns. If there are internal Council concerns, by all means, address them. But the Chamber is not the bad guy in this process. (BTW, I think the Council has done amazing work in the past year and should be commended for it. Volunteer neighborhood work is hard work. It can be exhausting. The folks who show up and do that work should be commended for their committment to the hood.)

  5. Over many years and many projects, Capitol Hill has lost its voice as a community when dealing with the city due to 1)too few people who cared enough/had the right skills to be involved as neighborhood activists, 2) lack of coordination and agreement between Hill resident and business concerns, and 3)internal division. For the first time in at least 30 years there is a committed, integrated group that is moving ahead and getting results. How about supporting them? Volunteer to help. Plenty of work to go around.