Learning about the 'State of the District'

Over the weekend Mayor Greg Nickels made a short appearance at a public meeting to respond to audience questions concerning the future of Rainer Beach and Southeast Seattle.

Nearly one hundred residents filled the Rainer Valley Cultural Center's auditorium to see what was in the future for their diverse and impacted neighborhoods. The appearance is the first since Seattle voters ushered him back into office on Nov. 8, and while scheduled to field questions for an hour Nickels announced he had to leave after only answering three audience questions.

Before Nickel's took the stage the Southeast Seattle Action Committee discussed their accomplishments in the prior year and their goals for 2006. The 12 person group comprised of business owners, police officers, parks advocates, and teachers outlined an action agenda for 2006, a year that will see many changes in the South End, including the affects of Sound Transit's light rail connecting Seattle with the Sea-Tac area.

The outline of the Action Committee seemed to focus on business and job creation, development, education and workforce training. Public safety, arts culture, and public space development were also addressed.

A lot of the talk centered on plans for Southeast Seattle to finally have a "main street" that can be a destination point for shoppers and commuters along sections of Rainer Avenue. Additionally, concerns about the introduction of light rail and how traffic and parking needs will need to be addressed before the project if finished were floated around.

After the mayor departed, the Action Committee fielded about a dozen more audience questions. The only question that seemed touchy with participants concerned affordable housing for middle and low-income residents.

While the committee calmly discussed who would be best suited to answer the question, one audience member sternly asserted that "it's an important question."

The response centered around the cities plan to increase affordable housing options that offer better first-time home buyer assistance programs and financing below market rates. The city officials also said local government will strive to support non-profit housing developers such as the five that were funded in 2005 and created 478 additional affordable housing units in the area.

Another touchy question was the increased gentrification of the area's neighborhoods with a specific mention of Rainer Beach. Several members of the committee agreed that gentrification has been happening and will probably continue. However, the officials went on to say that instead of gentrification they will also see a revitalization of the area as certain neighborhoods become the focus of new development.

As a member of the public safety group, South Precinct Captain Tom Byers discussed public safety in this crime heavy area of Seattle. Byers stated that the key factor in making Rainer Beach safe would be more police presence. Some of his suggested solutions included assigning two beat-walk cops to the Columbia City area, adding more bike officers to the precinct staff, and increase the number of youth programs in the school system that better promote youth-officer relations.

While the mayor's appearance seemed rushed and informal, his action committee did succeed in providing audience members with a lot of information while managing, for the most part, to properly and sufficiently address the questions of area residents.

In an effort to increase audience attendance and participation, the meeting was preceded by a lunch catered by Café Ibex and Tammy's Bakery. The Columbia City also handed out movie passes for movie passes for the latest Harry Potter movie: they were available on a first come basis. During the meeting, free childcare was provided to ensure interested parents could fully participate in the information sessions.

Brian Kerin may be reached via editor@sdistrictjournal.com.[[In-content Ad]]