August 13, 2016 – The Future of Neighborhood and District Councils

[Video is here]

As just about everyone now has heard, on July 13, 2016 Mayor Murray called a special press conference, and with a flourish, signed an Executive Order dissolving the City’s support for Neighborhood District Councils.  The City has supported the District Council system for nearly three decades since it was created by Council resolution in 1987.

Surrounded by a small crowd of white supporters, the Mayor said the District Councils didn’t reflect the diversity of the city and that instead he would personally appoint a “Community Involvement Commission” to advise him as to other means of obtaining community input on City initiatives.

Almost immediately,  District Council Groups, beginning with Delridge, began to call special meetings to assess the meaning and impact of this change. The Department of Neighborhoods has been directed to have new legislation ready by September.

While the Mayor and the city have worked to removed neighborhood planning from the Comprehensive Plan, Portland in its adopted its 2035 Comprehensive Plan in June of 2015, is taking a different approach.  In the introduction to its Community Involvement section, the Plan states:

The results are better – more durable, equitable, and accountable – when a diversity of Portlanders are involved in the scoping, development, implementation, monitoring, and evaluation of plans and investment projects. No one person, agency, organization, or business can provide all things Portland’s diverse communities need. Collaborative partnerships and inclusive community participation in planning and investment decision making are essential to creating and sustaining a prosperous, healthy, equitable, and resilient Portland.

It is the City’s responsibility to promote deep and inclusive community involvement in planning and investment decisions. A new paradigm of community involvement and engagement – one that supports intercultural organizing, recognizes that diversity is an advantage, and works to achieve equitable outcomes – must be embraced and paired with Portland’s neighborhood organizations to create a robust and inclusive community involvement system.

Can Seattle replicate the Portland model?  Seattle residents are diverse, in terms of housing, income, heritage, and ages.  But everyone lives in a distinct geographic area/neighborhood.  Can we keep our neighborhood organizations and pair them, as Portland does, with other forms of diverse community involvement?

On Saturday, August 13th, we will explore the history, and possible future of Seattle Civic Engagement. How did the City get input from citizens before?  We have Channel 21.  We have public hearings.  We have the Internet.  Who is left out?  What is a better way?

The Mayor denounces community meetings that meet in the evening, but the Council meets during the day (and has public hearings in the evening as well) making it difficult for working people to engage.  The Mayor hand selects “advisory” groups like the HALA committee which largely represented development interests.  Where is the “diversity of interests” there?

We have invited a distinguished panel with solid credentials in community involvement – Seattle style:

  • Nick Licata, recently retired long-term City Council Member;
  • Jim Diers, Seattle’s first Director of Neighborhoods;
  • Lee Carter, a long- time community activist in the Central Area;
  • Kathleen Braden, recently retired geography professor from Seattle Pacific University and a member of the most recent City-Wide Review Team which reviewed and made recommendations on neighborhood project grants;
  • Carol Burton, from the Magnolia/Queen Anne District Council, has supported forest restoration, Friends of Parks, and was also member of the most recent City-Wide Review Team;
  • Tom Van Bronkhorst, Department of Neighborhoods

Can Seattle replicate the Portland model?  Seattle residents are diverse, in terms of housing, income, heritage, and ages.  But everyone lives in a distinct geographic area/neighborhood.  Can we keep our neighborhood organizations and pair them, as Portland does, with other forms of diverse community involvement?

(We also expect to be joined by additional representatives from District Neighborhood Councils across the City).

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