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 has worked 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 housing, 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 says 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 the Wedgwood Community Council, sends a representative to the NEDC meetings where issues of concern to all of northeast Seattle are discussed. City departments such as that of street and traffic work, come to the NEDC to discuss issues and the representatives then take that information back to their neighborhood.
An example of NEDC work was the May 2016 meeting pictured here. The 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 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.
Is the Wedgwood Community Council 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 neighborhood groups, but to the district (regional) councils like NEDC. District councils have had an official standing with the City since 1987. A Department of Neighborhoods employee has 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.
What does the Wedgwood Community Council do?
The Wedgwood Community Council (WCC) was created by activists in 1987 when the Department of Neighborhoods encouraged grass-roots organizing. The WCC is still very much alive today, and is not planning to dissolve. 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 streets, utilities and many other concerns.
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 to be completed around Wedgwood School on NE 85th Street and a sidewalk along NE 95th Street. Both projects were completed in 2017.
The WCC advocated for the Greenway on 38th/39th Avenues NE which provides a quieter side-street route for pedestrians and bicycles, and that project has been completed as far north as NE 89th Street.
A project which is not yet complete is for a pocket park in Wedgwood at NE 86th Street. The WCC has been working on this request for eight years. The Seattle Parks Department finally acquired the site in 2013 and we are now waiting for development funds. In the meantime, the WCC applied for and received a small grant to create the Picnic Place, a usable public space for the neighborhood to enjoy. These are just some of the recent initiatives of the Wedgwood Community Council, a 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. Wedgwoodians were invited to come out for food, music, childrens activities and getting to know neighbors. At the Picnic, 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, two City Councilmembers wanted to “have a table” to be present at the event.
Another long-time organizing activity of the Wedgwood Community Council is the annual trick-or-treat in the business district. Volunteers distribute flyers to businesses to organize the day and time, and serve as crossing guards during the event.
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 Seattle in the year 2017 and the coming election of a new mayor, it is possible that the current destructive policy of ignoring neighborhood councils, may be reversed. Stay tuned…