Mayor Murray’s decision to cut the City’s ties with the District Councils is not about fixing a bureaucratic system that is insufficiently “inclusive,” as he claims. In fact, the Mayor is destroying an alternative seat of authority that could challenge his plans for zoning and land-use in the city. In the process, he is repudiating a 30-year commitment to citizen participation in government.
The original resolution establishing the District Councils asserts a vision of strong neighborhoods with real power and access. The resolution passed by the City Council in 1987 proclaims these five objectives:
- To create a partnership between the City and its neighborhood in order to provide the neighborhoods with tools and resources for planning and development which reflect their needs and values.
- To design City plans, regulations and programs to suit the diverse character and development patterns of the City’s neighborhood.
- To strengthen and coordinate City departments’ responses to neighborhood problems and requests for help.
- To foster cooperation and consensus among diverse interests within neighborhoods and to encourage the constructive settlement of disputes involving neighborhood groups, prospective developers, and the City.
- To facilitate communication between neighborhoods regarding common concerns.
These principles were the foundation for the robust neighborhood planning process that occurred during the 1990s (under the direction of the visionary Jim Diers), and it’s this concept of shared power that Mayor Murray wants to kill.
We suspect the real reason for the Mayor’s summary execution of the District Council system is that those councils were invested by the City Council with actual power over land-use decisions. Resolution 27709 (in “Attachment A,” sections 6 & 7) gives the District Councils an explicit role in controlling zoning, and in reviewing revisions to the Comprehensive Plan:
Section 6 – Neighborhood Planning
- Paragraph c): Community Overlay Zones may be recommended to permit implementation of unique zoning controls proposed in neighborhood plans which have been approved the the [City] Council.
Section 7 – Comprehensive Plan Updates
- Paragraph b): The District Councils and neighborhood organizations shall play advisory roles in the updating of the comprehensive plans in the areas for which they are responsible including participation in the scoping of priorities and review of staff recommendations.
- Paragraph c): Neighborhood plans, including neighborhood-generated plans whose land use recommendations have not yet been implemented by the City, shall be given primary consideration in the scoping of issues for comprehensive plan updates. [emphasis added]
Does this sound like the process Mayor Murray has used to roll out HALA or the Seattle 2035 Comprehensive Plan update? On the contrary, the Mayor has created an extemporaneous circus of hand-picked committees conducting secret deliberations, followed by fruitless “focus groups” and “charettes.” Not only is he missing the point – he is ignoring the law.
We think the Mayor’s decree against the District Councils is a preemptive strike to eliminate any possible suggestion that neighborhood plans have legal standing in the Comp Plan review process. The Mayor is peremptorily overriding the long-standing intent of the City Council that neighborhoods should have a central – indeed, a “primary” – role in land-use decisions. We suggest, with the Seattle Times, that the Council should not tolerate this arrogation of power by the Mayor, which diminishes and insults our democratic process.