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Death of a Seattle Neighborhood Council
January 8, 2019
by William P. Meyers

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Democracy Crushed As Being Unrepresentative

When I arrived for what would be the final North District Council (NDC) meeting Monday night, January 7, 2019, there were just four other people in the church basement. A choir was practicing upstairs, a very good one I would say, which could be heard as if from far away during lapses in our conversation.

I have gone to most of the NDC council meetings since arriving in Seattle back in early 2017, as the member from my homeowners association was planning to depart. There were perhaps 15 to 20 attendees back then. But the writing was on the wall.

Then Mayor Ed Murray, beholden to developers, had officially detached Seattle's 13 neighborhood councils back in 2016, just a few months before I arrived. Deprived of power (minimal), staff support from the Department of Neighborhoods, and funding, the big question then was how to keep functioning. We heard all 13 of the councils wanted to continue. But slowly and surely, people started deserting.

Our meeting Monday night looked like it had a jam-packed agenda about a number of neighborhood issues, mainly sidewalks and street repairs. Since the attendees consisted of the chair and the secretary, one representative from a specific neighborhood, and one city employee who was probably there on his own time, plus moi, we mainly talked about how to get local input up to the people, elected and hired, who actually run Seattle.

The neighborhood council system was started in Seattle in 1987. Coincidentally, that was the year I exited Seattle. So I missed their entire legal existence era. Apparently it was considered a successful experiment in grassroots democracy until real estate developers decided it was not.

Seattle is a very liberal, very Democratic Party dominated city. There are so few Republicans in the city that I would guess they are outnumbered by left-of-democrat sorts. So if you are going to kill democracy, you need a lefty cover.

Murray and pals declared the councils were unrepresentative. Homeowners tended to show up at meetings, not so much the city's renters. Council members and meeting attendees were typically older and whiter than the typical Seattle citizen.

Of course you could say the same things about Seattle's elections, and prohibit home owners from voting. And as to the power structure, with all due respect for current Mayor Jenny Durkin, who I supported for election, her office, like Murray's, is not filled with renters whispering in her ears.

Mainly the neighborhood councils tended to resist rezoning to build high density residences in or near single-family home areas. Personally, I see the need for rezoning.

Killing the neighborhood councils, because they did not simply legitimize what developers wanted, seems like the kind of act worthy of Donald Trump, not the Democratic Party. A better solution would have been to take steps to ensure the councils were more representative of renters. But if you talk to renters, you will mostly find that they want more rental stock and lower rents, as long as the new high rises are built in someone else's neighborhood.

After a nice, neighborly discussion of the past and present, those attending, along with some proxy votes, decided to merge NDC into the Lake City Neighborhood Alliance. Lake City was once a small town outside Seattle. Now it is one area where a lot of high-density apartment and condominium buildings are being built. That is okay with me. It should bring more businesses to the area and make it more walkable. And help keep rent and housing prices in Seattle affordable.

See also Celebration and Anger as Seattle's Neighborhood Council System Upended.

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