We remain cautiously optimistic that Seattle’s new mayor will manage city projects with all stakeholders at the table. We hope she will look at neighborhood groups as viable listening posts for valuable input.
At a recent neighborhood mayoral candidate forum, more than 150 neighbors heard both candidates express support for Seattle’s established community councils, associations and clubs. Former Mayor Ed Murray’s administration had discounted these groups, characterizing them as being run by “old white homeowners” and lacking in broad community engagement. With no support from the city, these groups have pressed on with websites and email lists that have encouraged all neighbors to attend community meetings and make direct contact with elected officials on emerging topics.
Taking center stage at this forum was the Highway 520 bridge replacement, which will impact a number of Seattle neighborhoods. Other issues included City Hall’s assault on single-family zoning, illegal homeless encampments and street-traffic management.
We were encouraged that Cary Moon and Jenny Durkan said they valued neighborhood input on such critical topics … but we’ve heard that before.
Seattle’s neighborhood groups can provide valuable input on these issues, and we look forward to a new mayor who actually listens and acts on the voices of impacted neighborhoods. We are fortunate to live in a city where an informed citizenry can prevent government overreach, but it hasn’t always worked that way, as ideologues pursue their own agendas.
Moon and Durkan say they respect the efforts of neighborhood activists from the ’70s and will support the City Council’s 2016 resolution to preserve four columns from the original R.H. Thomson Expressway, which would have cut a devastating swath through the Washington Park Arboretum and city. Informed citizens pressured elected officials to stop that project, and the four columns should be a reminder to all of that fight. We hope similarly informed neighborhood groups can curb such overreach on several fronts.
The numerous and significant impacts on thousands of Seattle residents from the $4.5 billion 520 bridge project are a good example of the need for City Hall and the state to pay attention to what the neighborhoods have to say. These impacts have mobilized residents to raise legitimate fact-based suggestions for improvement of this mega project. At the request of impacted neighborhoods to our legislators, the Washington State Department of Transportation appointed an ombudsman to help mitigate the project’s impacts from noise management to condemnation of the Montlake Market property, cut-through surface street traffic and many other issues.
Seattle neighborhoods do not dispute the value of the bridge replacement, but we will continue to raise health and environmental concerns, and we will hold the state accountable. We are asking that Seattle’s next mayor appoint an oversight committee for the project. Such a group would bring all stakeholders together, including the WSDOT ombudsman, to expedite the bridge replacement while striking a balance with neighborhood impacts.
Informed impacted neighborhood volunteers will not be silenced as the state — with the aim of completing the project more cheaply and quickly — tries to exceed Seattle’s noise ordinances, worsens surface-traffic congestion or seeks to amend previous commitments.
Seattle’s new mayor also can expect neighborhood support on the need to increase mental-health and addiction services for the homeless and a housing-voucher system that can make a difference. However, the next mayor will hear from neighbors seeking an end to illegal encampments in parks and policies that allow RVs to become fixtures on neighborhood streets.
We remain cautiously optimistic that the new mayor will manage city projects with all stakeholders at the table. With transparency and balance, we hope she will not turn a tin ear to neighborhood groups, and instead use them as viable listening posts for valuable input that will retain the city’s unique character while bracing for increasing population and all the infrastructure challenges that come with it.