Mayor Murray announced in July that he wanted to sever the city’s ties with neighborhood councils.
TThe last time Mayor Ed Murray faced a backlash from Seattle homeowners “not in my backyard” (NIMBY) – and from Seattle weather, which served as their de facto megaphone, he quickly surrendered.
It took a week.
Faced with the worst housing affordability crisis in Seattle since World War II – a crisis that manifests itself every day in soaring rents for tenants, the growing number of homeless or displaced people out of town and the racial segregation – Murray lost his backbone and withdrew from his call from his own housing committee for greater density in the city’s single-family neighborhoods.
Single-family areas occupy 65% of the city’s land, and the idea was to allow developers to build more units in these areas so that more low-income people, young people, and people of color could afford to spend. ‘to live. With a median Seattle home price of over $ 660,000, these areas are now almost off-limits to anyone who isn’t wealthy or already owns a home. (Fifty-two percent of Seattle residents are renters.)
As he capitulated in the fight to dezone some of Seattle’s single-family areas, Murray blamed the Times to “derail the conversation” away from his attempts to tackle what he called modern-day “economic apartheid”.
Right now, we are in the midst of yet another attempt at this kind of derailment.
This time it is the related issue of neighborhood councils – what union leader and SEIU 775 president David Rolf calls “neighborhood cartels”.
As part of a system established in 1987 and not updated since 2001, the city uses this advice to inform its policies on land use, zoning and urban planning. But according to 2013 data from the Department of Neighborhoods and city auditors, Seattle’s neighborhood council system, supported by nine full-time city workers and $ 1.2 million in funding, is largely dominated by white homeowners. middle-aged who have the time and resources. participate as volunteers.
Mayor Murray announced in July that he wanted to cut the city’s ties to these neighborhood councils and hijack them to do their own thing, without local government support. The city intends to create a city-wide “Community Participation Commission” – what this will look like is not yet clear – to fulfill the role the councils previously played.
Since the mayor’s announcement, the Times The opinion section published several editorializing articles against the movement, and its commentary sections were overflowing with angst and outrage against the city. In turn, city inboxes were inundated with angry, sometimes threatening emails (including one that allegedly referred to rat poison). A spokesperson for the Neighborhoods Department said: “Emotions run high. “
To be clear: there is absolutely nothing wrong with being a white landlord over 40 and being active in your neighborhood group. Volunteering at the local level? It is to be applauded.
But the way the current Seattle neighborhood council system works is Institutional Racism 101, folks. A privileged demographic should not have a disproportionate, state-funded influence over public policies and the city’s real estate landscape.
Kathy Nyland, Director of the Neighborhoods Department, matches the older white population. Before joining the city, she was also a member of a district council, representing the Georgetown neighborhood. Now she is the driving force behind the decision to sever ties with the councils and revamp the system. She knows firsthand how exclusive the advice is, so when an angry resident emailed her accusing her of “taking power” and told her there was no obstacle in the way. participation in district councils, she replied in an email, obtained by PubliCola: “Some people work at night; Some people have no transport; Some people do not speak English; Some people have other obligations … In a meeting[s] work for some, the truth is they don’t work for everyone. We want to expand access points and provide more opportunities. Everyone has a voice and it’s our job to hear them. “
Nyland, whose mantra is “this is power sharing, not power grab”, also received positive ratings. Leslie Smith, director of the Alliance for Pioneer Square, wrote in an email: “The Downtown District Council has been largely controlled by the same few people and the same downtown interests that controlled it for years and years … Please stay the course. . ”(Downtown District Council response?“ No comment. ”) Nyland received a similar note from a member of the Roosevelt Neighborhood Association, who said that while the association includes a lot of great people and is technically open to all, “-the groups represented such as minorities, tenants, students and the homeless are not actively encouraged.”
In the pages of Seattle weatherColumnist Danny Westneat – who helped the mayor back down during his last clash with the NIMBYs – is back now, bravely defending what he believes are unfairly maligned neighborhood councils. Responding to an editorial by Rolf, who said the councils had “elevated selfishness to an art form,” Westneat argued that city officials are “divorced from reality” by making connections between counseling and the affordable housing crisis. He didn’t bother to come up with ideas on how to make counseling more inclusive. The Times Editorial board has crammed together, calling on city council to fight against the mayor’s plans. But Murray seems to have the support of most of the board members. (District 1 representative Lisa Herbold believes the neighborhood council system needs to be improved by creating new forms of community engagement, not eliminating it.)
Assuming Murray doesn’t back down and can rally more of the city’s landlords to his plans to increase equity in the neighborhood council system, the fight will be in the city council chamber by the end of the day. end of September. This is when the mayor will send a law to codify his plans into a municipal decree.