So Many Public Meetings, So Little Time

Andrews Bay

By Jeannie O’Brien

I have ants in my house.

We bought our home in 1997. Built in 1909, it was already remodeled many times. One hundred years later we embarked upon its most extensive remodel. We hoped our resident ants would be displaced and not find their way back to invade our home, as they had been doing every other summer for a month or two.

No such luck. Perhaps they spent the year we were out inviting their friends and family to our new home where they planned to reside. When we returned, so did they, with a vengeance. Not just every other year and not just in the summer, we are inundated year round.

My ants are like public meetings. You won’t notice them for a day or a week, but they are there, annoying you. You know that you need to do something about them – attend, speak up, tell your friends and neighbors, call the exterminator, set out traps and bait. And then you may feel that you have wasted your time, because no matter how much effort you put in, the result is the same.

Nothing has changed. The ants remain.

I used to care more about lack of notice, learning about tax funded projects after final decisions were made. Frustrating, but not compared to the anger when notice is provided, public comment is received yet is entirely disregarded. Just like my ant population increasing exponentially after Monday’s exterminator visit.

Our democracy is all about process. We meet, we legislate, we discuss, we research, we provide oral and written testimony, and when we want something as simple as a sidewalk repair or a traffic calming circle, we put in a request, take a poll, survey residents for their opinion, get others to sign on with approval and then present before a district council to maybe get some tax dollars for the project from a limited fund. My ants are snickering about my wasted time. After all I’ve done, they are healthier than ever.

Remember when Bonnie Bosworth respectfully asked Mayor McGinn and city staff to look into a simple problem: cars parking on both sides of Seward Park Ave in front of Kline Galland creating daily congestion on a neighborhood thoroughfare and clogging up the bike lanes? Almost two years later and nothing has changed. The congestion has only increased, especially during rush hour.

I attended the Draft EIS meeting regarding the placement of the 2.4 million gallon storage tank in Seward Park. Of the eight attendees who spoke, seven were against placing the tank in the tennis court location. The eighth speaker didn’t express a preference. Not one spoke in favor of the tennis courts location. A few written comments were in favor, but the majority of written comments were also against the tennis courts location.

What did SPU decide? To place the 2.4 million gallon storage tank at the tennis courts location. Tennis court neighbors are appealing this tax payer funded decision using their own after tax dollars.

Toll I-90? Bow-tie traffic redesign at Rainier and MLK? Privatize city-owned moorages at Lakewood and Leschi? Increase building heights at Rainier and McClellan? Reallocate low-income housing fairly throughout the city?

So many meetings, so many ants.

Andrews Bay, Seward Park, Lake Washington. Photo/hishma

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1 Comment on "So Many Public Meetings, So Little Time"

2 years 9 months ago

I love this metaphor (analogy? I can never decide)!

I think, though, that “democracy” is one thing, but “representative democracy” is another. At the end of the day, we are electing people to make decisions. If those decisions are not favorable to most of us, then we vote out those people.

I’m not convinced that works too well. Candidates now seem to get elected (or not) based on big issues. This person likes bikes, that person wants stronger police. So, while those issues define the election, smaller decisions like the storage tank, or even building a new arena (how is that small?) become non-factors in the election process.

We also allow too many decisions to be made without oversight. I can’t vote out SPU, can I? No. So why do they get to decide where to place a storage tank? I don’t know if the City Council needs to explicitly vote on that one item, but maybe they do. But they won’t. The Council-members are off the hook, as it was SPU’s decision, not theirs. And even if they did vote on it, well, is that council member going to get voted out based on that single thing? No – the council-members are at-large. I’m not sure the entire city cares about a storage tank.

Personally, I’m not too worried about the at-large thing. If enough people have enough issues with someone, then that person doesn’t get elected – cumulative. The storage tank nor Seward Park Ave will not sink McGinn, but it will add to the water in his boat. It certainly is not a positive. I am more worried about systems that legislate decision-making authority to unelected groups. Those seem nearly impossible to fight back against.