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Thursday, October 19, 2006

My First Community Meeting

posted by on October 19 at 22:53 PM

I just came back from my first Seattle community meeting. Wow. The zippy topic under discussion was the city’s plan for “community renewal” in Southeast Seattle. The plan is to declare the area blighted in order to take advantage of a state law that offers financial incentives for building affordable housing and other development in poor communities. Property owners aren’t excited about the specter of eminent domain, which they fear could take control away from local—often minority—businesses and home owners. Representatives from the mayor’s office, armed with power point and microphones, attempted to explain the plan to an auditorium full of property owners (almost all of them were, by a show of hands). They repeatedly insisted that the plan was just in the beginning phases, that nothing was set in stone. (And council hasn’t gotten it’s hands on it either.) The crowd expressed it’s skepticism with lots of incredulous snorts and a few high volume comments. Then came the exciting part. Steve Johnson, the director of the office of economic development, said something about “broadly shared prosperity” that ended with “so that not everybody’s pushed out.” Immediately, the cat-calls began. “Why should anybody be pushed out?” and “Your premise is not ours.” Johnson fumbled until someone from the Southeast District Council rushed up to the stage and begged the crowd to calm down. Things really got ugly when the meeting’s organizers tried to break the audience into small discussion groups, an impasse that was eventually resolved by sending the less combative folks downstairs. One loud guy down front actually referred to the departing audience members as socialists.

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Get thee to a spellchecker, young lady.

Posted by dzienkowski | October 19, 2006 10:34 PM

You're = you are
it's = it is

it's not that hard, especially when you write for a living.

Posted by cant nobody use an postrophe roun here? | October 19, 2006 10:48 PM

Ouch. Err. I'm new at this. Thank you.

Posted by Angela | October 19, 2006 10:55 PM

ok, that was a little rough. Good reporting. Keep it up.

Posted by cant nobody use an postrophe roun here? | October 19, 2006 10:58 PM

That's not a REAL community meeting (because it sounds like it was actually interesting). Wait until you come up with recognizable nicknames for the frequent fliers at meetings.

Posted by Ginger | October 19, 2006 11:26 PM

Funny how I hear the word "socialists" thrown around like an insult constantly. Sweet leaping Jesus... it isn't as if people are being forced to collectivize their farms at gunpoint or pay 75% their income in taxes.

Not to mention that if we were a city of individualists, we'd have a pretty crappy city.

Steve's slip, though, was pretty stupid.

Posted by bma | October 20, 2006 2:19 AM

Sure, "minority owned businesses and homeowners". That old bullshit.

More like slum lords concerned about losing their cash cows. But that's not an acceptable thing to say.

We heard the same crap with "Save Our Valley" and Sound Transit. That armpit of Seattle - MLK Way - declared a "treasure trove" of minority businesses. Give me a break.

The best part was the email they sent around claiming - apropos of nothing - that black people won't go to a Starbucks. That was the level of intelligence we were dealing with then, and it sounds like the usual suspects are at it again.

Posted by It's the same old song.... | October 20, 2006 7:25 AM

Hey AV,

Okay, you're new so welcome to your one week of slack. Be precise in your reporting, you talk about the plan for "community renewal" in SE seattle and then say the plan is to declare the area blighted. AV, are you saying that the entire SE Seattle will be declared blighted in order to take advanage of a state law Or is it random parcels of land around transit? AV, all of SE seattle is not blighted and I'm sure anyone at the meeting would get up in your face about that. Eeek, maybe in a yelling way. You have come on board during a week of yelling - School Board, that meeting, I'm sure there was another one. Perhaps you can start a column called "Shout Outs"

Please Please cover the skateboard park meetings in the future. Those will prove to be lively, as well as quite important, and there are many skaters up on this here hill.

Are you experiencing jetlag...from Portland?

Posted by stone | October 20, 2006 7:38 AM

Never trust anyone with a PowerPoint presentation.

Posted by Fnarf | October 20, 2006 8:14 AM


As I understand it, declaring the whole area blighted is exactly what they intend to do, as it's the necessary first step toward establishing a Community Redevelopment District (which is a nice new market tested term for tax increment financing, which used to be illegal under Washington State Law)

Even if the City has the best intentions in the world - this is an absolutely dreadful idea that needs to be killed dead right now. And it certainly has all of the hallmarks of a done deal, at least as far as the City is concerned. Develop a policy, stage manage a meeting, attempt to divide and conquer those who have questions, and then say afterward that you had a process that involved the community.

Fuck that shit - these people were right to get mad and be impolite. There's nothing nice about running people off their property so you can bring your pet developers in (Kauri Investments and Lorig - I'm talkin to YOU).

Posted by Mr. X | October 20, 2006 9:07 AM

"Even if the City has the best intentions in the world - this is an absolutely dreadful idea that needs to be killed dead right now. "


Posted by Just the fact, Ma'am.... | October 20, 2006 9:22 AM

"Develop a policy, stage manage a meeting, attempt to divide and conquer those who have questions, and then say afterward that you had a process that involved the community."

This is the Nickels Way. Sound Transit and Seattle Monorail Project both came into being this way.

Just wait, the next step is for the PR firms to start pumping out the message that the whole scheme was a "grassroots effort."

Posted by been there done that | October 20, 2006 9:30 AM

In plain English community renewal means yuppification, and a clear out of remaining poor and lower middle class folks.

A key backdoor goal here is to show tax increment financing can “work” so that Nickels can get the state to legalize it for South Lake Union.

Posted by MR T | October 20, 2006 10:14 AM

public meetings are stupid.

Posted by stupid is as stupid does | October 20, 2006 10:46 AM

...but they shouldn't be!

Posted by Mr. X | October 20, 2006 11:10 AM

10 and even 14. Agree. This is why I don't do these staged "public meetings." They mean nothing and are only token, condescending gestures.

Posted by Gomez | October 20, 2006 11:10 AM

"As I understand it, declaring the whole area blighted is exactly what they intend to do"

Which whole area? The previous poster asked if it was all of SE Seattle. I rather doubt it is -- after all, Mount Baker is in pretty good shape. ;) Is it the whole Rainier Valley corridor? Does it extend onto Beacon Hill in any way?

Posted by litlnemo | October 20, 2006 4:19 PM

FWIW, one of my pet peeves is that every one who doesn't live in SE Seattle thinks that all of SE Seattle is one neighborhood, and a bad one at that. News for y'all -- SE Seattle is big. Beacon Hill alone is huge. There are "bad" parts of SE Seattle (by North Seattleites' standards, but not that bad otherwise), and there are good parts, and most of it isn't that different from the North End.

Anyway, if you are going to cover SE Seattle, please explain which part you're covering. Saying "the city’s plan for 'community renewal' in Southeast Seattle" is about equivalent to saying "the city’s plan for 'community renewal' in North Seattle" -- in other words, it doesn't mean much without more details.

Posted by litlnemo | October 20, 2006 4:26 PM

The 'community renewal area' stretches from I-90 on the north all the way down to the city limits (8 or 9 miles?) The western border is the top of Beacon Hill and the eastern border forms a jagged line between Rainier and the pricier Lake Washington addresses.

My sweet little house sits on a corner. On one fenceline I have school district property that the SHA has been salivating over for more than 6 years. They want to wrap it up in their Rainier Vista redevelopment with for-sale condos selling for up to $450k. I've already been threatened with eminient domain once via a Windermere agent from the the California Ave office who claimed to be representing the SHA. When contacted by a lawyer on my behalf they brushed it off as a 'misunderstanding.'

On the other fenceline I have a serious case of blight - a crazy packrat neighbor who has built up a disgusting ongoing health hazard. He has no garbage service, just bags it and leaves it on his property. I have been begging the city for help for over 4 years. The rats (from the garbage) and mosquitos (from the stagnant water in his yard full of derelict fish tanks) are putting me and everybody in the neighborhood at risk. I called the rat patrol, the health department, the fire department, and the dpd (who I've been contacting for so long that I've seen them through a division name change.)

It's ridiculous. Does the city purposely allow deplorable conditions to persist so they can easily swoop in, declare blight, and grab the land? It sure looks like it. I feel like I could lose my home at any minute -- not because of anything I've done, but because the city sees an opportunity to pick up land cheaply by allowing this kind of behavior.

A message to anyone who thinks the problem lies with the people in SE Seattle: You're dead wrong. There are good people here working hard with meager means -- and they are actively trying to make a difference. If there's any blight here it's the city's fault. I can guarantee the city wouldn't let conditions like my neighbor's exist in Madrona or Mount Baker or Queen Anne or West Seattle (where the mayor lives) or Capitol Hill or the UDist or Seward Park or ...

Posted by tiffany | October 21, 2006 1:48 PM

Thanks for the information, tiffany. Do you know how they are defining "the top of Beacon Hill"? Is it right up to Beacon Ave, or...? Depending on the definition, this might affect us directly as well. And having been through one eminent domain battle (with the library -- we won that one) I hope to never have to deal with another.

When I read about this elsewhere -- the P-I, I think -- the implication was that it was just Rainier Valley, not the entirety of SE Seattle (except the lake-facing parts), and so I think there's a serious lack of communication going on here. Certainly no one I know on Beacon Hill has been talking about this.

And calling this entire part of the city "blighted" ... that's crazy. If Beacon Hill is blighted, so is Lake City, Greenwood, and most of Ballard.

Posted by litlnemo | October 21, 2006 3:07 PM

If a neighbor has a crappy house that's a hazard to the neighbors, it's not necessarily the city's fault. It's the owner of the house's fault.

I live on Beacon Hill and there is a renter down the street with three loud outside dogs and a yard full of shit. I've complained to the city, and they've been very responsive, as far as their abilities allow them to be.

The trouble in this case is the absentee landlord who doesn't care what happens to the neighborhood or the house as long as she gets her rent. You see the same problem in Lake City, the CD, Boulevard Park, Rainier Beach - any of the "lesser" neighborhoods.

The reason you don't see that in the more affluent neighborhoods is because the property is worth too much. Sure, there are renters on Queen Anne, West Seattle, Seward Park, etc - but the landlords care more about their property because its worth more.

Slowly but surely that is changing in SE Seattle because of the value of real estate, but the real trouble lies with the slumlords.

Posted by catalina vel-duray | October 21, 2006 4:26 PM

It's the city of Seattle's responsibility to enforce housing and public health codes. That's why the DPD and DPH exist.

Posted by tiffany | October 21, 2006 9:29 PM

Correct. But the land use and public health codes are written the way they are for a reason: So the homeowner won't be overly intruded upon. Slumlords (and certain trashy homeowners) take advantage of that. In more prosperous neighborhoods, housing prices take care of those problems.

Posted by Catalina Vel-DuRay | October 22, 2006 8:12 AM

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