Opinion: The appeal process and not showing your hand

by Frederica Merrell

There has been significant interest in the appeal that I filed with the Hearing Examiner’s office on January 29. I love that people in our community are engaged, reading, and looking at what is going on around them. Our Beacon blog is an amazing venue for keeping up on stuff that’s important to us and not likely to be followed anywhere else.

An appeal is a quasi-judicial process with rules and procedures. The Hearing Examiner runs the show and our examiner Sue Tanner is very capable and experienced. She is charged with impartiality, efficiency, expediency, transparency and equal access to all, even those without a lawyer or legal training (like me). There are lots of areas where appeals are used, including the appeal of an environmental determination (SEPA appeal) like mine.

So there is the person filing the appeal (me), the agency or party whose action triggered the appeal (the city’s Department of Planning and Development, or DPD) and the Hearing Examiner. Other people can enter into the discussion too, and anyone can come watch any step of the process down at the Hearing Examiner’s office on the 40th floor of the big tower at 700 Fifth Avenue (Seattle Municipal Tower). I assume the records on the process are all open to the public.

Last week, I had my Prehearing Conference. This is a time to meet, go over the paperwork that is being filed, make sure everyone has each other’s addresses, and create a mutually agreeable calendar for the steps being taken. I noticed that most of the time was taken up with the calendar. In order to do the calendar all the likely steps in the process have to be laid out. Right now, DPD is going to find some information for me and also try to narrow the scope of the appeal. They felt it was too broad. I will get some time to look at the information they provide and respond back. We will both draw up a list of “exhibits” that we want to share with each other in the hearing. We will both draw up a list of “witnesses.” The time frame for all these steps are laid out and we came to agreement on a hearing date of April 7 at 9:00 am. Anyone who wants to watch the hearing can come.

The excellent media folks at our blog asked me some specific questions about the appeal. An appeal is kind of like a poker game. One important strategy for winning the game is not showing your hand. So I’m not going to answer a lot of specific questions right now while I am in the middle of the process because I want to win my hearing determination! I do encourage you to read information that is readily available. If you haven’t read the full appendix of the North Beacon Hill Update, you might want to do that.

Some other great stuff to look at: check out City Council committee meetings on a good computer where you can see the videos. I recommend the last couple of meetings of Councilmember O’Brien’s Seattle Public Utilities and Neighborhoods Committee (SPUNC) and Sally Clark’s Committee on the Built Environment. Her last meeting was particularly interesting and I am going to go back and look at the whole thing again. This is a very interesting process to me because I have never filed an appeal before. I am learning as I go. If you want to know why I filed the appeal, come to the hearing! That is where I lay out my arguments before the Hearing Examiner and DPD makes their arguments too. Until then, we don’t reveal our arguments. Hope to see you on April 7!

Frederica Merrell was the North Beacon Hill neighborhood planning co-chair from 1998-2000, and is the co-author of Seattle’s Beacon Hill.

9 thoughts on “Opinion: The appeal process and not showing your hand”

  1. Hi Frederica, thank you for this article. This whole process seems mysterious to many of us so I’m happy to at least hear your side of the story. I look forward to hearing more in April.

  2. The poker game analogy is very apt. The chips you are playing with are the values of every house and commercial property on Beacon Hill.

  3. Brook’s point regarding stakes is valid–only it’s not just Beacon Hill on the table, it’s Beacon Hill, N. Rainier, and Othello. I hope someone in the other neighborhoods and/or the larger media starts examining the motives of the group who filed the appeals. As someone who hasn’t hired a lawyer and lacks legal training (like me), these documents certainly appear to have been prepared with assistance from an attorney.

    DPD’s cards is transparent. Everything they do is required to be recorded, and the records must be accessible to the public.

    The stakes are incredibly high for everyone in SE Seattle, including service providers (nonprofit and commercial), commuters, current and future residents, students, and commercial property owners. This is not a game.

  4. Right at the beginning of the video linked in the post, Tim O’Brien states exactly what the impact of the appeals has been so far: due to the delay, none of the three plan updates will be included in the 2010 Comprehensive Plan. Assuming the appeals are overturned, they will be included in 2011 Comprehensive Plan.

    Given the economic situation, that almost certainly means less money available from the city at the time when the plan goes into effect. That means more delay, and a very real possibility that Beacon Hill will get shoved to the back burner as other priorities present themselves for city action.

    I don’t know what the motives behind the appeals are, but I know that the likely outcome of them is to extend the status quo. Most people who participate on the blog and BH mailing list seem to think the neighborhood is in need of momentum. How does putting up roadblocks like this, especially with such unfortunate timing, generate momentum?

  5. As a third-generation Beacon Hill resident who loves his neighborhood and wants it to develop to its full cultural and economic potential, I have to say that I’m quite disheartened by this appeal and this accompanying blog post justifying it.

    Yes, participating in the neighborhood planning process is absolutely great and a means of building community. But we should also keep in mind that many more of our neighbors don’t participate – not because they aren’t as invested in the outcomes (quite the contrary) – but because of their citizenship status, English language competency, their work/life schedule, access to internet, etc. My block, located close to this proposed urban town center, is constituted by neighbors and friends who are students, Spanish-speaking graveyard shift workers, and monolingual Chinese-Americans with kids. We all wish that our neighborhood felt more like a community, but please consider that access to the planning process is NOT equal.

    I’m honestly hurt to hear the poker metaphor being employed in a discussion about building a livable, walkable, and vibrant cultural nexus for a neighborhood that has been deprived of such a gathering space. As Melissa wrote, it is NOT a game, and we need to stop conceptualizing it as such – it suggests antagonism, competition, winners and losers, strategy and deception. Instead, let’s imagine how we can create new possibilities, multiple routes to achieve multiple “wins” for all.

  6. Adding to Chris’ excellent point about increasing diversity/seeing more representation in the neighborhood planning process: the meetings at ACRS were incredibly diverse and very well attended. I’ve never seen anything like it, and I was thrilled to be part of it. As much as I appreciate the North Beacon Hill Community Council and all who serve on committees, it does not reflect the ages, income levels, or cultures of my block or the streets I walk with Tica.

    The ACRS meetings included interpreters, it was an accessible building with ample parking, near light rail, and on several bus lines. Information about the meetings was shared in several languages and across venues: postal mail, at community centers, community newspapers, online… It was an awesome, inspiring example of how community input can be collected.

    People in our community who will probably never attend a council meeting (much less a committee or sub-committee) meeting came out to share their thoughts about the updates for their neighborhoods. How much would it cost (and where would the money come from) to begin that process again?

    These appeals disregard all those voices and are beginning a process that excludes large portions of our community. I’m grateful that we have the blog; I hope N. Rainier & Othello neighbors find a way to engage in this conversation.

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