Category Archives: Opinion

Planning Advisory Committee discusses draft neighborhood plan

By Frederica Merrell,
North Beacon Hill Planning Advisory Committee

A rendering of the view down Beacon Avenue with 125-foot zoning. From the DPD website. What do you think of it?
A rendering of the view down Beacon Avenue with 125-foot zoning. From the DPD website. What do you think of it?
If you go to the City planning website and look at the draft Neighborhood Plan update recommendations, what do you see? There is a document on goals and strategies, some high tech drawings of various zoning options and a cross-section of a possible street improvement design. What does all this stuff mean and does it include everything folks on the hill have talked about? What should we tell DPD when we go to their input meeting on Sunday (or Wednesday night) down at the Asian Counseling and Referral building?

Those were the questions the North Beacon Hill Planning Advisory committee tried to answer Thursday night. We looked at the drawings and carefully read the Draft Goals and Strategies. We talked about the street design. Here is what we concluded in the very short period of time we have before the meeting this weekend:

There are a lot of things missing that were discussed several times in our big meetings with DPD in May and March. The document is pretty scanty, considering how much has been talked about. We are worried that all the good ideas aren’t going to get captured, organized, and analyzed. Please go look for yourself and see if you think it is complete.

Public Safety:
In spite of the fact that public safety was mentioned numerous times in meetings, there is no public safety component. Specific strategies for improving safety that have been voiced are:
Extend the Alcohol Impact Area to Beacon Hill (bans sale of cheap high-alcohol content beverages), add Parks Rangers to Beacon Hill playground/park near Beacon Hill Elementary School and Jefferson Park (the Parks Superintendent supports this recommendation and has stated so in meetings), and support legislation from Councilmember Burgess to ban aggressive panhandling, specifically at: grocery stores, gas stations, and near schools, and at arterial intersections.
Continue reading Planning Advisory Committee discusses draft neighborhood plan

Mayoral candidate McGinn visits Beacon Hill for town hall meeting

Mike McGinn speaks at Beacon Hill town hall meeting, September 19. Photo by melissajonas.
Mike McGinn speaks at Beacon Hill town hall meeting, September 19. Photo by melissajonas.
Mike McGinn had a whirlwind day in Southeast Seattle.  He started off in Columbia City, opened his new office near Othello Station, more in the ID, then to Jefferson Park Community Center at 8:00 pm.  He was up-front about being tired, but made it clear he was happy to be in Beacon Hill.

About 25 of our neighbors came to share their ideas with Mike.  He was engaging, patient, and smart.  He listened and responded thoughtfully.  He does not seem like a politician.  Will people vote for someone who doesn’t seem like a politician?  I hope they do.  Mike McGinn is working very hard to establish personal connections–he’s not slick or packaged.  He’s honest about not knowing the answer to everything.  Attending a McGinn event is a refreshing change from closely-managed rallies with talking points. 

Campaign volunteer (and Southeast Seattle community activist) Thao Tran introduced him by name, then Mike shared his personal history.  He’s originally from Long Island, New York.  His parents were both involved in public education: his dad, a school administrator, his mom a pre-K and Kindergarten teacher.  Mike and his wife have three kids in Seattle public schools.  Public education is very important to McGinn, on a personal level.  He’s committed to improving the quality of Seattle public schools.

He moved to Seattle in 1989, practiced law for a while, then founded Great City–a nonprofit striving to “enhance our quality of life, help preserve our region’s natural beauty, and make Seattle a model of economic and environmental sustainability.”  Mike explained that Great City was–in part–responsible for putting the Pro Parks Levy on the ballot and helping pass it.   Mike got the community organizing bug.  He threw his name in for mayor, believing that the race needed to be about the future.  He won the primary, and is running against Joe Mallahan to be our next Mayor.  It’s a surprise to everyone–including Mike.  He says, “Everyone expected this race to be between Nickels and someone.  It’s not–it’s between two new guys.  That gives a chance to talk about the future.  We still need to learn from the past–but let’s talk about the future.”

McGinn stayed after his presentation to review the North Beacon Hill neighborhood plan in progress. Photo by melissajonas.
McGinn stayed after his presentation to review the North Beacon Hill neighborhood plan in progress. Photo by melissajonas.
The Beacon Hill town hall topics included bringing jobs to the Hill, making it easier for small businesses (including home businesses) to survive and grow, making our parks safer and improving internet connectivity on the Hill and around the city.  McGinn addressed concerns from two neighbors about a gun ban in parks violating civil liberties by saying that he supports the proposed ban because he believes it will make our parks safer.

McGinn’s campaign is run entirely by volunteers.  He rides his bike, takes mass transit, and relies on rides from supporters to get to events.   He’s gotten the most press from his vocal opposition to a deep-bore tunnel replacing the Alaskan Way viaduct.  Neighbors asked Mike about the tunnel and how he would do things differently.  He laid out a clear, succinct argument.  Google “Mike McGinn tunnel” to hear it.

I was more interested in how he felt/what he thinks about all the other issues facing Seattle.  We’ve heard a lot about how McGinn opposes the tunnel.  It turns out McGinn supports a lot of other things:  improving public schools, supporting neighborhoods, making Seattle safer, saving money, creating a broadband public utility, and lots of other things.  His campaign established a website so you can share your thoughts:

Are you registered to vote at your current address?  Have you researched the candidates and the issues on the ballot?  Be a good neighbor; be an informed, engaged voter.  Attend meetings, read materials, talk to your neighbors.  We are choosing a new mayor for the first time in eight years.  This decision will shape our neighborhood for years–if not decades–to come.

Neighbor-to-neighbor: Parking woes in the RPZ

Photo by Wendi.
Photo by Wendi.
What are your experiences with the new RPZ (Restricted Parking Zone) in Beacon Hill?

Since 2003, I’ve parked my car in front of the house on the concrete area between the sidewalk and the street. There are two spaces and the curb is cut to allow car access to the area. The car doesn’t block the sidewalk. We considered this area a parking strip. According to the brochure left on my windshield, the City considers it a planting strip and it is illegal to park there.

I’m not the only person on our block to use this area for long-term parking. If I park on the street, I have to move my car every 72 hours–even if I have nowhere to go. I thought parking on the parking strip was responsible; I’m frustrated that it’s not allowed.

We chose this neighborhood in part because the location encourages and supports leaving the car at home. I walk to Red Apple and restaurants and we both take mass transit to work. We have cars because occasionally we need them–but rarely every 72 hours.

How does a law that requires every car in the city move every 72 hours encourage people to get out of our cars? How is parking in a paved area with curb cutouts worse than parking on the street?

Does anyone know the process for initiating changes in parking policy?

Commentary: Beacon Hill’s internet service needs improvement

T-shirt slogan that many Beaconians can identify with. Photo by Will Glynn.
T-shirt slogan that many Beaconians can identify with. Photo by Will Glynn.
by George Robertson

(Editor’s note: This commentary was originally sent as an email to several members of the Seattle City Council today, as well as to the Beacon Hill Mailing List. Coincidentally, this evening our Broadstripe internet service was out for more than one hour.)

After comparing notes with some of my neighbors about their internet service, I thought I should ask once again for some relief from the dismal internet service we have on Beacon Hill. I have written to council members before on this topic and I have uniformly gotten referred to some bureaucrat by whichever elected council member I wrote to. Each time the bureaucrat was very nice, asked a couple of questions, and described the service we have, and refreshed the picture of whatever stage the City was in at the moment in negotiations with the monopoly providers of cable. And then they would sum it up by telling me that we have great internet service. If this is going to be another replay of that merry-go-round, just delete this message. If you actually give a damn about the ability of this city to incubate new small business in the south end, then please read on and reply.

The first thing you have to take seriously is that there is a problem. The second is that it won’t be solved without adding new competitive service provider(s) to Beacon Hill. By competitive, I mean services with higher real delivered, as opposed to advertised, upload speeds than Comcast and Broadstripe offer to their business class customers now, and with much better net neutrality in bandwidth management practices.
Continue reading Commentary: Beacon Hill’s internet service needs improvement

Reader Opinion: North Beacon needs higher density

Higher density near the Columbia City light rail station. Photo by Matthew Rutledge.
Higher density near the Columbia City light rail station. Photo by Matthew Rutledge.
(We recently asked a few people to write their opinions about House Bill 1490 and how it relates to Beacon Hill. The bill was altered and no longer directly affects the Hill, but Andrew Smith still has a few things to say about density in our area.)

By Andrew Smith

Recently House Bill 1490 has started a discussion in our region over density and transit-oriented-development. Originally the bill required cities to create zoning packages that would have allowed increased density in a half-mile radius around all light rail and commuter rail stations. In a recent revision, that requirement was scaled back to apply to only communities defined by the Puget Sound Regional Council as “growth centers”: Auburn, Downtown Bellevue, Overlake, Everett, Federal Way, Kent, Lakewood, Lynnwood, Puyallup, Redmond, Seatac, Capitol Hill, Downtown Seattle, Northgate, the University District, Downtown Tacoma, and Tukwila. I imagine many in Southeast Seattle breathed a sigh of relief when they read that, as many in that area were very concerned about increased density changing their neighborhoods. However, I’d like to make the case for increased density in these areas, focusing my argument on Beacon Hill, and point out that while increased density could change the neighborhood, that change might be a better change than what will happen if density is prohibited.
Continue reading Reader Opinion: North Beacon needs higher density

High-poverty schools “sacrificial lambs” in school closures?

Sable Verity has a post up alleging some fairly unsavory behavior involving a School Board member and Arbor Heights PTSA members in West Seattle, in which they are working to target high-poverty schools in order to save the more affluent Arbor Heights. She quotes an AHPTSA co-president, in an email to the group, as saying: “…If we want to keep Arbor Heights open, we need to give them a sacrificial lamb…” This is relevant to Southeast Seattle because one of the schools targeted was allegedly Rainier Beach High School, which was targeted specifically because its closure would apparently free up enough money for the District to save Arbor Heights. I’m not sure what to make of all of this cloak-and-dagger, but I am certain that no child and no school in Seattle Schools should have to be someone’s “sacrificial lamb.”

On a related topic, Dick Lilly at Crosscut has another in a series of editorials about the current school closure fiasco that touches on some of the very things that have bothered me most about the current process. Here are some examples:

“School performance should not be a criterion for closure, because the success of a program is the responsibility of the superintendent who appoints the principal and district policies on how much is spent on what…

“Building condition should not be a criterion because, again, the order in which schools receive funding from the Building Excellence and other capital levies for major maintenance, renovation, or complete reconstruction is a decision made by the superintendent and board.”

Some schools and programs are being selected for closure because of perceived failure, when that “failure” often seems to be a direct result of District choices to neglect a particular building or program. Unfortunately, children and families are having to bear the brunt of this neglect. (Though, not in North Seattle, unless they go to an alternative school.)

Guest Editorial: Schools and the cost of consensus

by George Robertson

(Editor’s note: this is a guest editorial, and as such, reflects only the opinions of its author, which may or may not coincide with the opinions of the editors. Would you like to write an editorial for the Beacon Hill Blog too? Email us.)

School closures in Seattle are simply a necessity caused by our unwillingness to pay more taxes and the absolutely irreducible minimum costs of operation. In Seattle now, the closures are far from an unreasonable action. Unlike so many tax revolt-driven consequences of democracy, this one makes lots of sense. Seattle has 80% of the buildings in operation today, that we did with double the enrollment in a time more than thirty years gone by.

Nobody has rectified this waste, because no neighborhood faction can accept that their pet school is going to be one of the goners. I am getting pretty old, and my mother, who was full of advice too, died in her mid-nineties about 15 years ago. I was struggling with my daughter’s school district over facilities issues back then. Her advice then, was to accept that no action of government, or even of a school board, would ever be right. That is, she meant, really right. No decision would stand up to close scrutiny as logically impeccable and wise in all ways. She suggested then, that it is important to just try to precipitate some action that improves as much as you can, in the time available, on no action. And then when it comes time to decide, just make sure that you do decide, and then proceed to make it become a prompt reality.

The money we have pissed away not deciding this question for a decade would build you a very nice school to replace that dilapidated junk pile next to Jefferson Park. Had we done it when we were still prosperous, it could have paid for at least some new teachers to reduce the student/teacher ratio in the classrooms of the remaining schools during that last decade. But we could not agree, so we bickered and delayed. We ran the district inefficiently for another ten years with a budget that was perpetually on empty. Now with no reserves and a huge district budget disaster looming, we have no choice; the money saved will merely reduce an impossible budget shortfall, and prevent perhaps some of the layoffs and class size increases we will suffer in balancing the costs of public education with the money we’ve given the district to pay for it. We are doing this now, at a time when bailing out ourselves with unemployment compensation is competing with the schools for our tax money.

That was smart. I should have listened better to my Mom, when I had the chance.

George Robertson is a long-time Beacon Hill resident. His website is

“Beacon Hill est omnis divisa in partes tres…”

On the Beacon Hill mailing list today, Mike Cheney asked the question:

“Why has the hill been broken up into 3 sections? You have north beacon, mid beacon and south beacon. Seems like creating divisions in one huge neighborhood could lead to prejudice and a further division of neighbors. Aka my neighborhood is better than yours kind of thing then you end up with even a bigger problem.”

This is an interesting question. Why is Beacon Hill divided into three parts on the city’s neighborhood map, informal as it may be? Unlike Mike, though, I wonder why it’s not divided even more. The Hill is huge. Look at a Seattle map. Beacon Hill is too big to be one neighborhood–it’s really a meta-neighborhood, a large area containing several smaller neighborhoods. North Beacon has its own personality that differs from South Beacon and Mid Beacon. Each area has concerns that the others do not have. For example, North Beacon has sidewalks almost everywhere. South Beacon… not so much. So it makes sense that South Beacon would have sidewalks as a priority, while people in North Beacon would prioritize other things.

A successful, sustainable neighborhood is, ideally, defined by a five-minute or 1/4 mile walking distance from center to edge, and being relatively self-contained and walkable. It would contain about 5,000 residents, and local schools and businesses to serve them. Basically, it’s an area that is small enough that people can easily access local services within the neighborhood, while being large enough to support those services. (It sounds a little small by sprawling modern Seattle standards, but small neighborhood units like this used to be in place here. Look at any old Seattle neighborhood that was built-up before the 1930s, particularly along one of the old streetcar routes, and see how every half mile or so there is a small clump of old commercial buildings, now mostly used as residences. The rise of the car and modern zoning practices have killed a lot of the old neighborhood business districts.) Incidentally, this is approximately the same size as a census tract.

Look at a map: a walk down Beacon Avenue from north to south is more than five miles. To get some perspective–as the crow flies, five miles north of the North Beacon business district “junction” is the University of Washington. Five miles east is Mercer Island. Five miles west is Alki Point. Five miles northwest is Queen Anne. All very different places from Beacon Hill. You can see that Beacon Hill is a pretty huge area! Even dividing it into three zones gives you three “neighborhoods” that are larger than the ideal neighborhood unit.

Each area is going to have its own unique concerns and issues (for example — people in the area near Beacon and Stevens care about what happens to the Stevens Place (Triangle) Park on Beacon, but people who live three miles south on Beacon don’t have any particular interest in that issue), and I don’t believe that recognizing that is a bad thing. I think even smaller neighborhoods on Beacon Hill would be useful, if it meant that we had more of a “community” within our neighborhoods. Folks in South Beacon already feel somewhat marginalized by the focus on North Beacon, and eliminating divisions within the Hill would probably worsen that perception.

Please tell us what you think by commenting here on the blog.