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‘It would be really great to see it come back to life’ — Where is the Capitol Hill Community Council?

A 2013 vote at the Capitol Hill Community Council drew a huge crowd as the group made big decisions on how much growth above Capitol Hill Station to support (Image: CHS)

 

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The Capitol Hill Community Council has seemingly faded away after years of supporting communities on Capitol Hill. The council’s last communications came in May… of 2021. There are no more meetings, no more speaking up at Seattle City Council, no more events.

Does Capitol Hill still need a community council?

The neighborhood’s volunteer council was, as former president of the group (2013-2017) Zachary Pullin said, “a scrappy group of people that looked like and represented Capitol hill and fought for a more welcoming and inclusive neighborhood.”

Pullin said Capitol Hill’s council was special because it fought for neighborhood issues because the council wanted to be a part of change — not stop it. Change is inevitable and “the best thing we can do is to be there helping to shape that change,” Pullin said.

Elsewhere around Seattle and the region, that progressive nature isn’t necessarily the community group norm. In May, Crosscut reported on the power groups like Houghton Community Council, the East Bellevue Community Council, and volunteer entities like the Seattle Design Review Boards have in shaping issues around land use policy. Seattle has convened a stakeholder group to overhaul its design review process.

Seattle City Hall and Mayor Bruce Harrell are also considering how better to reignite the flame of community group power in Seattle after the death of the more formalized City Neighborhood Council system.

With the move to district representation of Seattle’s neighborhoods at the city council, some may argue that empowering community councils could undermine the office of representatives like District 3 Kshama Sawant. But critics of the council districts — and of Sawant — contend that the city district system and her offices don’t address and advocate for the hyperlocal, block by block needs of the city.

Meanwhile, other community councils throughout Seattle have been dominated by white homeowners, prioritized issues affecting homeowners, and have fiercely opposed efforts by city planners and leaders to increase density in the city. In late 2017, a coalition of community councils and other neighborhood groups launched an unsuccessful lawsuit over the city’s Mandatory Housing Affordability upzoning of Seattle’s densest neighborhoods including Capitol Hill..

The Capitol Hill Community Council was never formal. Formed as grassroots groups of neighbors and volunteers over the years, formats and participation levels varied. The group and its leaders and participants have been credited with making a stand to reshape key developments like Broadway Crossing at Pine and Broadway or doing what they could to reshape others like the 15th Ave E Walgreens.

The Capitol Hill Community Council was reformed in 2008 after dissolving from lack of participation and leadership. The council regained its footing matured to take on larger responsibilities like providing community input into the light rail station development. At one point headed by Seattle Gay News publisher George Bakan, the group appeared to have achieved a sustainable level of activity and managed for the most part to keep in-fighting to a minimum — not a small challenge in the mix of personalities that are involved in neighborhood activism.

The CHCC’s bylaws describe extensive boundaries that cover from Madison to 520 and I-5 to 23rd/24th Ave — yes, even Montlake is included.

An installation honoring the Capitol Hill Community Council and its volunteers can be found in the lobby of the affordable Broadway Crossing building (Image: CHS)

Meanwhile, there are other sub-community groups at play including the North Capitol Hill Neighborhood Association that emerge from time to time to speak out against issues like biking and pedestrian improvements planned for the 520 replacement project.

After four years with the Capitol Hill Community Council, and recently part of the Seattle School Board, Pullin said he hopes a progressive council can be reborn here. It is of utmost importance that this type of progressive, diverse council exists on Capitol Hill, he said.

Natalie Curtis, former president of the council from 2017 to 2019, left because the vision of community first was gone, she said.

For Curtis, lack of representation and action led to her departure. She said the weight of running the council on her own was too much and that people were using the council for clout rather than as an opportunity to better the community.

“I was running the whole council on my own when people were seeking the space, but never really contributing to this space,” Curtis said. “So working, going to school full time and running a council on my own where no one ever stepped up to help and assist in any way was too much.”

She also believes a shift in politics at the council led to the group becoming “strained and more commercialized with more people trying to meet their own agendas than the actual community advocating for themselves of what they needed and what they wanted,” she said.

Looking ahead, Pullin hopes new members can find inspiration in the council’s roots of community-first activism.

“There are tons of capable and willing and able people to be part of the type of work we did,” Pullin said. “I certainly hope that there are some people out there who would be willing to take up the mantle. I know that it doesn’t always have to be the people that it was and there’s many people out there who would love the opportunity to be leaders in their community.”

The Pike/Pine Urban Neighborhood Council, a land-use review group made up of mostly industry professionals around development and architecture, believes community councils are important as they allow local voices to inform politicians about the needs in our neighborhoods, chair of PPUNC John Feit said. As long as both diversity and different incomes are addressed, Feit said there should be more councils in Capitol Hill.

“We spend so much time talking about race and sexual orientation and religion. I think we don’t spend enough time talking about the diversity of incomes as well,” Feit said. “Income touches all those things, your race determines in part your income, your sex, and orientation in part determines your income. So that kind of diversity too, because income and career and education, I think, offers a lot of perspectives that we don’t talk about enough.”

Through organized meetings and socials every month, the Capitol Hill Community Council held the community and people of power in the neighborhood accountable, Pullin said. By offering a space for members to talk about their concerns and hopes, the council centered on marginalized communities’ voices. The purpose of the monthly meetings was to help people realize who their neighbors were, an ever-growing diverse community.

“If she’s got a home in north Capitol hill, that’s worth millions of dollars, you are our neighbor,” Pullin said. “And if you happen to unfortunately live in a doorway of a business, because you can’t afford to live here because rent is too high or you’re experiencing homelessness, you are also our neighbor. We cared about everything from affordable housing to supervised consumption sites, to better transportation and sidewalks and thinking about how to make that community reflect back at the people, who they are, who they were and who they hope to be.”

Based on his experience with the council, Pullin said he is proud of the many accomplishments the council achieved in the year’s before its most recent hiatus. The push to create a law that requires landlords to provide voter registration to new tenants in Capitol Hill was among the accomplishments that the council was proud of, Pullin said.

In 2017, the council created the nation’s first renters commission, a space for renters to weigh in on issues around Seattle. Looking back, Pullin appreciates how members came together.

“Just being able to have a space to come together with people felt really nice and I think that those were probably the most affirming activities. I think it often gets lost because people want to see results and about productivity as opposed to building a community as an important element,” Pullin said.

To best represent Capitol Hill’s neighborhood with a diverse group of people was the council’s goal, Pullin said. “Our goal was to support that everybody has a voice and for so long a lot of people didn’t,” he said.

Curtis is open to helping anyone who wants to continue the vision of the council. “If anyone’s interested, I still have all of the bylaws, all of the paperwork, all of the documentation,” Curtis said. “So if anyone would love to take the front and take the reins and create something new within that space, I’m more than happy to meet with anyone.”

 

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ProbablyACoincidence
ProbablyACoincidence
14 days ago

Did Zachary DeWolf change his name?

It would be good to note that, since he’s a public figure and former elected official, and ideally to state why.

oliveoyl
oliveoyl
14 days ago

Why would he need to explain his no longer going by DeWolf? He went by Zachary Pullin DeWolf before and this not only seems like a personal decision that is none of our business, but also not remarkably hard to follow.

abe smith
abe smith
14 days ago

i recently phoned Sawant office to inquire if there is currently an ongoing community neighborhood meeting to represent the Capitol Hill Community, not unlike the old Pine/Pike community meetings. As usual, i got the greeting on her voicemail stating that she’s unavailable at this time. After leaving several messages over the past several years, I have never had a call back or email response from her office.

David
David
13 days ago
Reply to  abe smith

Oh, you just need to mention that you are from a national media outlet and you’ll get a call back right away. Obviously she’s not going to respond to just some member of the community. I mean, what’s in it for her?

Nomnom
Nomnom
12 days ago
Reply to  abe smith

Same. I’ve never once received a single call back or email response from Sawant, my elected official. Yet any other member of Seattle gov returns my emails and phone calls. It’s weird, as if she’s not on the council to actually help the people who elect her but for other reasons… :/

Summer of love
Summer of love
11 days ago

It would be nice to see it come back together IF it is can be a forum for making this a vibrant neighborhood rather then a forum for virtue-signaling around progressive politics and identity. No we do not need or want a heroin injection site in the neighborhood to further attract and enable addicts.