Seattle’s neighborhood fight ‘not about silencing voices’ — And a response from a ‘neighborhood villain’

The future of Seattle's neighborhood council's probably looks more like the People’s Academy for Community Engagement -- now accepting applications

The future of Seattle’s neighborhood council’s probably looks more like the People’s Academy for Community Engagement — now accepting applications(Image: City of Seattle)

Kathy Nyland, director of the City of Seattle’s Department of Neighborhoods, has responded to the backlash from groups around Seattle that contend City Hall’s push to disconnect itself from the entrenched District Council system is an attempt to silence “neighborhood” voices. Here is the main thrust — the whole thing is posted here in the CHS Community section:

Seattle is a unique city, and we are fortunate to have so many valuable partners currently at the proverbial table. Those partners play an important role and that role will continue. While we are appreciative of the countless hours our volunteers spend making our city better, we recognize and acknowledge there are barriers to participation. There are communities who cannot be at the table, while there are some communities who don’t even know there is a table. This is where theDepartment of Neighborhoods comes in.

This is not a power grab. It is a power share. At the heart of this Executive Order is a commitment to advance the effective deployment of equitable and inclusive community engagement strategies across all city departments. This is about making information and opportunities for participation more accessible to communities throughout the city.

This is not about silencing voices. It’s the exact opposite. It’s about bringing more people into the conversations or at least creating opportunities for people to participate so they can be heard.

CHS reported here on the plans to shake up Seattle’s neighborhood council system to better represent communities and align with the new district-based City Council. It wasn’t a surprise that changes were coming — a consultant had been working on documenting the system and was due to release a report on conclusions — but even though the people on the East District Council representing Capitol Hill are some of the few citizens who actually pay attention to City Hall and its inner workings, members said they were caught off guard by the abruptness and tone of Mayor Ed Murray’s executive order to begin the process to create a more equitable system to engage on neighborhood issues.

Dan Sanchez, chair of the Central Area Neighborhood District Council and a onetime CHS advertiser, wrote a rebuttal to the executive order also posted in the CHS Community section that is getting a lot of attention:

Capitol Hill Community Post | DON Response from Neighborhood Villain

You’re not a villain, Dan. But you might be part of something that is going to have to do more to share in the future.

The neighborhood councils are currently City of Seattle-supported components of City Hall’s community process to vet certain proposals and grant applications. The system is part of the fuzzy cloud of “community” that Seattle’s leaders refer to when they say they are acting on “community priorities” or tell you the “community has spoken.” The neighborhood council system mostly busies itself with city grant processes these days — the East group has been vetting these proposals for safer 10th/John crossing to Capitol Hill Station, Melrose enhancements as part of the Neighborhood Park and Street Fund process. There are also times when there isn’t much business to attend to.

In 2016, the Department of Neighborhoods will spend over $1.2 million dollars on the current council program “for outreach and engagement to Seattle residents,” according to the department. That budget including the DON employees currently in place to support it are being redirected to support a broader constituency.

“This is about making things easier and less exhaustive,” Nyland writes. “This is about connecting communities to government and to one another. This is about moving forward.”

You can provide feedback on the changes to DON:

Or, hey, if you get inspired, write a CHS Capitol Hill Community Post.

Subscribe and support CHS Contributors -- $1/$5/$10 per month

12 thoughts on “Seattle’s neighborhood fight ‘not about silencing voices’ — And a response from a ‘neighborhood villain’

  1. People knew changes were coming they just didn’t know they were not going to be part of the process. DON’s own coordinators learned about it from the West Seattle Blog the day before the announcement. City Council members didn’t even know until right before even though the Executive Order is a change to a resolution that City Council made. Kathy Nyland was on the agenda at Citywide Neighborhood Council last night to answer questions and canceled at the last minute to do a Find-it Fix-it walk that had long ago been scheduled. I find it curious that she continues to make her case in the press while continuing to keep District Council members in the dark. I also have yet to find one single District Council member who ever remembers taking a demographic survey.

    • Fair enough. One media “insider” thing you should know — the announcement about a media conference the West Seattle Blog posted was sent to most stations, papers, and sites in the city. WSB is super fast and awesome on nosing out important neighborhood news so had it up within minutes. Just want you to know it wasn’t an announcement the city was trying to hide or anything. I think we posted later that same day about it. Why DON didn’t say some of the things it’s saying now in the media conference announcement I don’t know — but it might have helped.

      Question, then, to you, Dan. Why do you say you and other district council participants won’t be part of the process when Nyland has clearly asked for your feedback and participation?

  2. Ending the current Neighborhood Council system is awesome. Major props to the Mayor. Capitol Hill Community Council has been a rare bright light in the system. Most of these councils are homeowner NIMBY driven – to point of being almost exclusionary. I once lived in the Ravenna-Bryant neighborhood – it was impossible to get any information from the Ravenna Bryant Community Association in terms of meeting information, which they’d post on their website at the last minute – and even then the meeting location would be somewhere else. And the whole group was run by a tiny cabal of NMBY homeowners. These undemocratic groups are just getting hoisted on their own petard by a Mayor that is justifiably fed up with their intransigence and parochial attitudes.

    • Maybe at some point it was hard to find information on the Ravenna-Bryant Community Association, but it takes all of about 5 seconds to Bing them and see they have all the information splashed on the top of the website. This descriptions sure looks like a secretive “cabal” of NIMBYs to me… Working to make NE65th safer for bikes and pedestrians and supporting the housing levy, definitely a cabal of angry old Trump voters out to stop the Mayor at every turn.

      From: http://www.ravennabryant.org/
      The RBCA board of directors meets the first Tuesday of the month, 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.. All community members are welcome and encouraged to get involved!

      Autumn 2016 board meetings are:

      September 6
      October 4
      November 1
      December 6

      Ravenna Eckstein Community Center
      6535 Ravenna Avenue NE
      Seattle, WA 98115

      The board does not meet in August. Enjoy National Night Out!

    • There is a valuable conversation that could be taking place. I know no one who believes that community councils in Seattle are as inclusive as they should be. However, many of the comments in the press (“Seattle Times”) and in blogs are not based in fact and, unfortunately, get in the way of a productive conversation.
      A couple of things:
      One. The opinion piece by David Rolf in the “Times” is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of what District Councils are and what the Mayor’s executive order does. The District Council I’m familiar with (Central Area) meets monthly and mostly acts as a place for City of Seattle departments to spread information which is then shared among the community groups who send representatives to the District Council meeting. Also, a couple of times a year the District Council reviews and rates applications for grants from the City.
      If there are community groups that are “always arguing against new development, always arguing against smaller units, relaxed parking requirements, accessory dwelling units and any type of affordable housing for low-income people or renters” as the “Times” opinion pieces asserts (emphasis added), they are not District Councils.
      The reduction of support by the City of Seattle for District Councils will have no effect on the problem identified by Mr. Rolf and others who have expressed similar thoughts.
      While the executive order has little or no impact on the advocacy of community councils, even if the complaints were directed at community councils (as opposed to district councils), some commenters such as Mr. Rolf tend to make assumptions and generalizations which are not accurate. I can’t speak to every community council or community club, but the community councils in the Central Area and Capitol Hill do not and have not engaged in the advocacy which Mr. Rolf asserts such councils “always” do — arguing to prevent affordable housing and social service agencies and emergency housing in our neighborhoods.

      Two. For those who think their community council is not speaking to their interests or advocating their point of view, it would be incredibly easy to change things. Community councils are composed of a relatively small number of people, most of whom really want more participation by their neighbors. Yes, the extent to which participation generally takes place in person at meetings is a barrier. One of the Mayor’s points, I think, is that the City will work on an increased focus on different ways for participation. Great idea. He’s not the first to have it. All of the effort that the City can make to help councils do what they want to do —increase participation — is welcome.
      But there’s another part to that. One commenter posted saying that he would not even try to participate in a community council because it would be like “joining the Republican party and trying to change it.” Not so. Community councils are not organized around a set of immutable principles and policies. Even a handful of people can have a big impact on community council activities positions.
      Those involved in community councils want more effective ways for others to participate. But, those who could participate, but choose not to do so are missing an opportunity available right now.

    • Fully aware of their website and the posted schedule. Let’s just say their openness to anyone outside their immediate inner circle is limited to non-existent in practice. I can recall going to their meeting place, finding the place locked up tight, now signs or anything – and then only by sheer accident found their little circle “meeting” at a table at the bar below Third Place Books.

      And forget about emailing them if they don’t know who you are.

      I was a single family homeowner in the neighborhood, who supported upzoning. It didn’t fit their idea of what the neighborhood “wanted”.

  3. I appreciate all that Bill posted and want to add that I would like to see an accounting of the time that those employees time is used to serve the district and community councils. Squire Park Community Council produces and distribute a quarterly newsletter with no help from the city as do most of the community councils in the Central District and the District Councils and city budget do not provide any real outreach tools. Those on an email list receive announcements from the coordinator and contacts were listed on the DON;s website (maybe not now). One comment was about applying

  4. The screen seemed to freeze while I was writing and as I was trying to unfreeze it, it posted. This is the post that I was trying to finish:
    I appreciate all that Bill posted and want to add that I would like to see an accounting of the time of employees’ time used to serve the district and community councils. The Coordinator for Central District Council seems quire busy with other DON and Neighborhood Service Center duties. Those on an email list receive announcements from the coordinator and contacts were listed on the DON;s website (maybe not now). I cannot speak for East District.

    Squire Park Community Council produces and distributes a quarterly newsletter and has a website with no help from the city budget or staff, as do most of the community councils in the Central District. I think if Kathy Nyland visited Squire Park CC or Central Area Neighborhood District Council (CANDC) she might be aware of the challenges and the diversity. I have not been aware of representatives on the CANDC who opposed the upzoning. It is around the edges that people, not just those active in the councils ask for tweaking resulting in better design. Neighbors beyond the councils usually attend a variety of meeting for information on development in the neighborhoods and comment. The really good architects and developers seem to take note and appreciated the comments. Our neighborhood comments usually include a desire for more affordable housing and more family friendly units. Accommodations for families with children seem to be left out of much of the new large developments. So far I think most of the developments have been better and will be better with the suggestions. Our neighborhood also takes an interest in reflecting the neighborhood history and character through the arts. We take an interest in transportation, transit and park issues and support local businesses.

    I agree with Bill that CANDC mainly acts as a place for City of Seattle departments to spread information which is then shared among the community groups who send representatives to the District Council meeting. Also, a couple of times a year the District Council reviews and rates applications for grants from the City.

    As for groups that aren’t meeting where and when they said they would, the group the city appointed to do an update for our neighborhood plan has been guilty of that on more than one occasion. The Mayor has a staff of paid employees. Does he now need to appoint and control neighborhood volunteers? Does the city want to support some type of election system with proportional representation? Isn’t the Ctiy Council the elected body that can make changes to the legislation that created the district councils? What legal standing does this executive order have? Improvement can always be made, but why dis many volunteers who have sit through meetings, create reports and content for newsletters, reach out to retrieve information to distribute in the neighborhood.

  5. Nice spin, Ms. Nyland, but I don’t buy it. The Mayor’s action, with Nyland’s complicity, is clearly meant to silence the voices of those in our neighborhoods who are not anti-development but who are concerned about the pace and the quality of the changes in the areas where we live. Silly me, I thought that the head of the Dept. of Neighborhoods would actually be an advocate for our neighborhoods and not a shill for the Mayor and his developer friends.

  6. It seems that I have to post comments in sections. Is there a word limit? I want to add that I would like to see an accounting of the time of employees’ time used to serve the district and community councils.

  7. The Coordinator for Central District Council seems quire busy with other DON and Neighborhood Service Center duties. Those on an email list receive announcements from the coordinator and contacts were listed on the DON;s website (maybe not now). The accounting should reflect the amount of time for direct service to the District Council itself. I suspect that much of their time is spent doing the work and sharing information as directed by DON and that the councils serve as conduit of information, much from other City Departments. This is not all bad, but it should not be looked at service to the Council as the City would have to find another means of checking those boxes. Finally, it is the end of the post and I can still see the “post comment’ button.