In the year 2015 the City of Seattle reorganized City Council representation. The City now has a councilmember for each newly created geographical district. Districts were equalized to about 90,000 people in each.
The Wedgwood neighborhood in northeast Seattle is centered along 35th Ave NE with NE 85th Street at its midpoint. In the district divisions process, Wedgwood got cut in half (north-south) with NE 85th Street set as the boundary between District 4 (blue section on the map) and District 5 (pink). This could work out to have some advantages in more interaction with more City representatives, since Councilmembers Rob Johnson and Debora Juarez each represent part of Wedgwood.
Geographic neighborhood identity in Seattle
Division into geographical areas with a representing City Councilmember was meant to bring attention to the unique issues of each section of the city. It is well-known that what people care about the most, is the geography of what is closest to them: their houses, streets, schools, and business/shopping areas.
For this reason it was bewildering to me that in July 2016 then-Mayor of Seattle Ed Murray issued a statement that it “isn’t fair” to have geographic representation. Page four of Frequently Asked Questions about Executive Order 2016-06 said that “the very nature of having a structure geared toward geographic areas does not lend itself to fair and equitable representation…..” It seemed to me that this statement was in direct contradiction to what had just recently been done in reorganizing City Council districts as representatives for geographic neighborhoods.
Regional councils made up of neighborhood volunteers
The mayor’s July 2016 announcement was addressed to the neighborhood volunteers who serve on councils in thirteen geographic areas around Seattle. One of the thirteen, the Northeast District Council, has sixteen seats at the table to include Wedgwood and other nearby northeast neighborhoods such as Inverness, View Ridge, Matthews Beach and Magnuson Park.
Each participating group in the Northeast District Council, such as Wedgwood, sends a representative to the NEDC meetings where issues of concern to all of northeast Seattle are discussed.
In times before the edict of the mayor cutting off this relationship, City departments such as that of street and traffic work, would come to the NEDC to discuss issues. The representatives would then take that information back to report to their neighborhood groups.
An example of NEDC work was the May 2016 meeting pictured here. The NEDC representatives voted to endorse a Wedgwood street fund request. Then NEDC forwarded the info to the City’s Department of Transportation to do cost estimates and construction plans. Ultimately this project did not receive top ranking and was not funded, but some other northeast Seattle projects did get put through.
The mayor’s Executive Order in July 2016 stated that he was cutting off the official relationship of the City with the thirteen district councils (including NEDC) and they would no longer have an official standing to give input. The mayor’s announcement came across as though he was saying “I’m NOT LISTENING to you any more,” to the district councils of the City of Seattle. When you cut someone off in mid-sentence to say that you will no longer listen to them, that is guaranteed to just make the communication issues worse. Nothing could be more ironic than telling the City of Seattle’s Department of Neighborhoods to ignore the neighborhoods.
Is the Wedgwood group going to dissolve?
Since that July 2016 announcement, I (Valarie) have received inquiries as to whether the Wedgwood Community Council will dissolve. The point of confusion is that the mayor’s announcement was directed not to the grassroots neighborhood groups like Wedgwood’s, but to the district (regional) councils like Northeast District Council.
Neighborhood councils (community councils) and district councils have had an official standing with the City since 1987, in early years when the City’s Department of Neighborhoods was formed. A Department of Neighborhoods employee had been assigned to each district council but that support ended as of January 1, 2017.
The NEDC and the other district councils have become just a group of people sitting at a table, with no official recognition from the City of Seattle. However, the NEDC has continued to meet for mutual support, despite withdrawal of support from Seattle’s Department of Neighborhoods. It makes no sense that the City’s own Department of Neighborhoods has been directed to cut off relationship with the people who care the most about their neighborhoods.
How do Wedgwood volunteers represent the neighborhood?
The Wedgwood Community Council (WCC) was created by activists in 1987 when the Seattle Department of Neighborhoods encouraged grass-roots organizing.
The volunteers of the WCC advocate for neighborhood issues, interacting directly with City Councilmembers Rob Johnson (District 4) and Debora Juarez (District 5) as well as City departments for parks, streets, utilities and many other concerns. Wedgwood has no Chamber of Commerce and so the neighborhood council often receives requests and concerns from the local businesses.
The WCC interacts with City programs such as Safe Routes to Schools, a division of the Seattle Department of Transportation. In recent years the WCC has been successful in applying for street funding such as the sidewalks around Wedgwood School on NE 83rd and NE 85th Streets, and a sidewalk along NE 95th Street. Both projects were completed in 2017.
The WCC took an official position of advocacy for the Greenway on 38th/39th Avenues NE which provides a quieter side-street route for pedestrians and bicycles, and that project was completed as far north as NE 89th Street.
In 2016-2017 the WCC hosted meetings as requested by the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) regarding bike lanes on the arterial 35th Avenue NE. The WCC often does serve as a hosting organization to arrange public meetings, as was done in the example of these meetings as requested by SDOT.
Ongoing projects of Wedgwood community volunteers
A project which is not yet complete is for a pocket park in Wedgwood at the northwest corner of 35th Ave NE and NE 86th Street, address 8605 35th Ave NE. It is called the Morningside Substation because there was once an electrical substation on the site.
Wedgwood volunteers have been interested in obtaining this site since the year 2000, and in 2008 the volunteers officially began working on a request to create a pocket park. The long process has caused many volunteers to give up and quit over the years.
The Seattle Parks Department finally acquired the Morningside Substation site in 2013 and then said that Wedgwood must wait its turn for development funds, scheduled for the year 2019.
In the meantime, in 2015 Wedgwood volunteers applied for and received a small grant to create the Picnic Place, a usable public space for the neighborhood to enjoy. This is just one of the recent initiatives of the Wedgwood volunteer neighborhood advocacy organization.
The WCC also organizes fun neighborhood activities such as the Community Picnic first held in September 2016 and repeated in 2017, held at The Gathering Place at the Hunter Tree Farm, 7744 35th Ave NE.
Wedgwoodians were invited to come out for food, music, childrens activities and getting to know neighbors. At the event Wedgwoodians could meet WCC volunteers, ask questions about neighborhood issues and hear about ongoing advocacy efforts. The activity was so successful that in September 2017, Wedgwood’s two City Councilmembers wanted to “have a table” to be present at the event.
Another long-time organizing activity of Wedgwood volunteers is the annual trick-or-treat in the business district along 35th Avenue NE. Volunteers distribute flyers to businesses to publicize the day and time, and serve as crossing guards during the event.
The annual trick-or-treat in the business district is a fun activity for kids and it also provides businesses with an outreach opportunity. The Wedgwood businesses may give out treats to kids and also info flyers or other promotional materials to the parents.
Will there be a change in policy?
This neighborhood council for Wedgwood will continue its efforts to make Wedgwood a good place to live. The Northeast District Council has also continued to meet, even without City support. No mayoral edict will cause community activists to give up representing the neighborhoods which we love. With the tumultuous politics of the City of Seattle in the year 2017 and the election of a new mayor, it is possible that the current destructive policy of ignoring neighborhood councils, may eventually be reversed. Stay tuned…