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First Test Of The District #6 Open House System

by Kirby Lindsay Laney, posted 9 March 2016

 

On March 3rd, District #6 Seattle City Councilmember O'Brien held an open house at the Fremont Branch Library.  Photo by K. Lindsay Laney, Mar '16

On March 3rd, District #6 Seattle City Councilmember O’Brien held an open house at the Fremont Branch Library. Photo by K. Lindsay Laney, Mar ’16

In 2013, Seattle voters chose changes to our City Council system, to give our neighborhoods more focused representation, and a specific ear to our concerns, by district.  Districts were drawn based on population, and neighborhoods like Fremont now have Councilmembers who represent us, specifically.  The area of Fremont (west of Aurora, more or less,) fell into District #6, and in the Fall of 2015, voters here elected incumbent Councilmember Mike O’Brien to be our representative.

On March 3rd, Councilmember O’Brien hosted his first District Office Open House that allowed the general population to come meet their district representative, and share issues and concerns.  At the Fremont Branch Library, Councilmember O’Brien made himself available to the roughly 20 people who stopped by that afternoon (from 3p to 6p.)  And, while they patiently waited their turns, most graciously shared, when asked, the reason they’d come.

Criminals In The Neighborhood

Based on these anonymous interviews, Councilmember O’Brien heard a very wide variety of concerns.  Only one topic came up more than once:  criminals/drug users camped around the neighborhood(s) of Seattle.

Two residents from Greenwood/Ballard spoke with the Councilmember about problems around Sandel Park.  Residents living near the neighborhood playground have experienced a sharp rise in crime since several recreational vehicles have begun parking on the streets there.  One resident distributed flyers, encouraging neighbors to contact Seattle Police about illegal parking, along with the phone number of Councilman O’Brien’s office.  The flyer advises, “The squeaky wheel will get the grease.  Keep the pressure on and get these criminals out of our neighborhood.  Call everyday!!”

The Seattle City map of Council District #6.

The Seattle City map of Council District #6.

The residents not only put their concerns and request for action to the Councilman, they also spoke with Brendan Brophy, of the Seattle City Attorney’s office.  He had stopped by as the City Attorney liaison with the North Seattle Police Precinct, and listened to the residents explain how the campers have endangered summer concert plans for the park.

Councilmember O’Brien also listened to another resident asking about ways to clean up the discarded drug needles littering his neighborhood.  He wanted to know who to call to get this cleaned up.

Finally, a resident living near Fremont Canal Park also alerted Councilmember O’Brien about the rampant problem there of discarded needles and criminal activity.  The Councilmember said he had heard about it.

Advocacy By Representatives

Among the people who came to see the Councilmember, a few came to represent advocacy groups, including two members from the Fremont Neighborhood Council (FNC.)

With backhoes and bulldozer sounds floating in from a nearby development, two FNC Board Members spoke to the Councilmember at two different times.  Both reported that they had talked with him about housing:  affordable housing, HALA, neighborhood planning, land use, zoning, etc.  Transportation concerns also came up, and concerns over the Restricted Parking Zone (RPZ.)

City Councilmember Mike O'Brien spoke with a constituent, while others spoke, in the far back of the room, with Brendan Brophy of the City Attorney's Office.  Photo by K. Lindsay Laney, Mar '16

City Councilmember Mike O’Brien spoke with a constituent, while others spoke, in the far back of the room, with Brendan Brophy of the City Attorney’s Office. Photo by K. Lindsay Laney, Mar ’16

COLA/WOLF also sent a representative.  The Citizens for Off-Leash Areas (COLA) has a newer partner organization:  the Walkers are Off-Leash Friends (WOLF), a professional organization for licensed dog walkers who support COLA policies and practices.  Right now, Seattle Parks Department provides 14 off-leash areas that cover an entire 25 acres of land.  When compared with the resources provided in Vancouver B.C. or Portland, Oregon, and considering the dramatically higher number of dogs, and dog owners, that live in Seattle, this is a very low number.  The representative from COLA presented factual data she’d brought to the Councilmember, advocating for more funding and land.

A representative from the Green Lake Community Council (GLCC) also came to present that organization’s concerns and issues with the Councilmember, whom he described as ‘a friend.’  The friend also mentioned that he would personally encourage Councilmember O’Brien to support the City buyout of the Pronto Ride Share program, as he is also with the non-profit that plans to manage that program.

This stood in stark contrast with the resident, who lives in Fremont but one block outside District #6 – in District #4 – and came early to speak with Councilmember O’Brien (who chairs the Council Transportation Committee) specifically to ask him to kill the purchase of the bike share program, and find another solution to this problem.

History, With The City Council

Jesse Perrin, of City Councilmember O'Brien's Office, spoke with residents about criminal campers in the Greenwood neighborhood.  Photo by K. Lindsay Laney, Mar '16

Jesse Perrin, of City Councilmember O’Brien’s Office, spoke with residents about criminal campers in the Greenwood neighborhood. Photo by K. Lindsay Laney, Mar ’16

As an incumbent, Councilmember O’Brien brings to his representation of District #6 a history of wider city service.  This may be why several people stopped by to talk to him about work he’d done, or projects he’d shown interest in, previously.

One visitor came to thank the Councilman for his help last year.  She works with the after-school program in the Yesler Terrace Housing Project, and Councilmember O’Brien’s words at a meeting of concerned residents gave them a lot of relief and hope for the redevelopment of their community.

A couple came to ask the Councilmember about a proposal to have the City sell a large property along the Duwamish River to a developer – and use the money to fund programs to house the homeless.  The wife described the proposal as ‘short-sighted.’

A tour company owner also spoke with the Councilmember, urging him to reconsider creating new city regulations about using drivers & narrators.  According to the tour operator, licensed tour companies already must follow all federal and state regulations.  More layers of regulations could inhibit the industry – and deter the start-up of new companies.

Projects In Process…

Two District #6 residents came to talk about delayed city projects.

An East Ballard resident came to ask the Councilmember to keep supporting, and funding, the long-delayed development of the 14th Avenue NW linear park.

Seattle City Councilmember Mike O'Brien talking with Erik Pihl, a representative from the Fremont Neighborhood Council.  Photo by K. Lindsay Laney, Mar '16

Seattle City Councilmember Mike O’Brien talking with Erik Pihl, a representative from the Fremont Neighborhood Council. Photo by K. Lindsay Laney, Mar ’16

Another resident argued for support for the Ballard Greenways plan to solve a pinch point on the north-south route along 6th Ave NW, at 65th Street.  This approximately 2-mile route disconnects at 65th Street, where 6th Ave NW takes a jog.  Ballard Greenways has applied for the City Neighborhood Park & Street Fund to build a solution tested using a pilot program.  Final decisions on NPSF projects will be made by the City Council.

See How It Goes

As this was the very first District Open House held by Councilmember O’Brien, he and his staff chose a very open format.  Every visitor asked to sign-in and, in order, they had time (starting with 15 minutes and going down to 10 as the afternoon progressed, and more people arrived,) to speak one-on-one with the Councilman.

According to staffer Jesse Perrin, they will assess how this went, and look at format changes for future Open Houses.  Open Houses may be held monthly, and rotate among the four Seattle Public Libraries in District #6 (Fremont, Greenwood, Ballard and Green Lake Branches.)

The Fremont Branch Library, with demolition going on behind it, in March 2016.

The Fremont Branch Library, with demolition going on behind it, in March 2016.

Perrin kept watch on how many people attended this first Open House, and when they arrived.  Particularly given that some, like Fremocentrist.com, only received notice of the Open House a few days before it took place.

Everyone who spoke with me seemed pleased to have a chance to speak with their City Councilperson, and in the casual and, for most of us, readily accessible surroundings of the Fremont Branch Library meeting room.  In its early years, many are still learning the ways of the City Council District program.  It remains to be seen, for instance, if the opportunity to speak directly with their City Councilperson is still something most constituents want – and will use.

 

 


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©2016 Kirby Laney.  This column is protected by intellectual property laws, including U.S. copyright laws.  Reproduction, adaptation or distribution without permission is prohibited.

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