OUTSIDE CITY HALL | New mayor's team brings much of the same

Last month Mayor-elect Jenny Durkan announced her transition team, a 61-member body she described as “the best of Seattle”. But a closer look at the team shows that it tips heavily towards the status quo and suggests more of the same.

In fact, much of her team reminds us of former Mayor Ed Murray’s Housing, Affordability, and Livability Agenda (HALA) Advisory Committee. Appointed in the first year of his term, that committee went on to recommend an aggressive plan to upzone, remove regulations, and give more tax breaks to developers–recommendations City Hall is now trying to ram though over widespread community objections.

By and large Durkan’s team is chock full of big business types, developers (both for-profits and non-profits), big labor poobahs, and a smattering of more mainstream human service providers. And is there any city citizens committee that David Rolf (SEIU Local 775), Paul Lambros (Plymouth Housing Group), and Maud Daudon (Downtown Chamber CEO) don’t get appointed to? And what blue ribbon committee would be worth its salt without a former Mayor or councilmember to guarantee “continuity”?

And we can say the same thing about Durkan’s recently announced choices to staff her office. She has filled these positions with insiders, folks tied to pro-development and developer interests, and past department heads going back to the Royer administration from decades ago–folks skilled at ensuring business as usual.

With the exception of a handful representing civil rights, racial justice, and immigrant rights groups (great people, we might add), the bulk of Durkan’s transition team is a pretty good reflection of Seattle current power structure.

What’s stunning about Durkan’s team is its lack of anyone who could legitimately be described as a leader from Seattle’s diverse neighborhood and community council movement. At least there was one neighborhood leader added later to Murray’s HALA committee at the request of one councilmember.

Last we checked there were over 250 largely geographically based groups , primarily community councils and a few neighborhood based small business organizations listed on the city’s “Seattle Communities Online Database.”

Literally several thousand people across our city are meeting weekly doing what they can collectively to influence the larger decisions affecting their communities. There really isn’t any other place where people come together regardless of race, age, employment, income, or politics, working with a common purpose to shape their future. It is their shared geography that brings them together when their lives otherwise would not touch.

Nearly all these community councils and neighborhood business groups are democratically run, electing their officers, conducting extensive outreach into their communities, and following Robert’s Rules of Order. They are in fact the closest thing to democracy and direct action we have in our city.

And contrary to the myth promoted by many city officials who accuse neighborhood-based groups of being exclusionary (including amazingly even the head of the city’s Office of Neighborhoods, Kathy Nyland), they generally are as economically and racially diverse as the area of the city they represent.

(Parenthetically, we acknowledge that the “Neighborhood District Council” system needed an injection of more racial, age and economic diversity. But this was a formal city-established system drawing largely from groups with capacity to send volunteers with time on their hands required for regular participation. Instead of using this real concern as an excuse to eliminate the District Council system, city leaders could have reformed it to ensure diverse participation. After all, this was their creation in the first place.)

It’s shameful how these grassroots efforts – the thousands of volunteer hours – continue to be marginalized and intentionally de-legitimized by our elected leaders, especially councilmember Rob Johnson, in their pell mell rush to accommodate developers and push for city-wide upzoning. And sadly, newly elected Teresa Mosqueda seemed to absolutely revel in these sentiments during her campaign.

But back to Durkan’s clear decision to turn her back on the neighborhood movement. She does so at her own peril. The neighborhood movement is as riled up as we’ve ever seen in our collective decades of involvement in city politics, as witnessed by the joint appeal of the city-wide HALA upzone plan filed recently by 26 community-based organizations.

And these neighborhood groups may be even stronger today under a district election system and far more potentially capable of shaping city elections if they wield their power right as we head to district elections only two years away. Most of the seven councilmembers elected by district seem oblivious to this latent power as well.

Durkan also seems to have sidestepped appointment of anyone you could legitimately describe as a housing or homeless advocate or even one of the edgier human service advocates leading the charge for tenant and homeless rights.

Apparently, those most active and outspoken around housing and homeless issues, the future of neighborhood business districts and our neighborhoods, those most affected by the city’s “Build, baby, build” mentality–none of us fall under our new Mayor’s definition of “the best of Seattle”.

JOHN V. FOX and CAROLEE COLTER are coordinators for the Seattle Displacement Coalition, a low-income housing organization. More information can be found at www.zipcon.net.