Raucous Fort Lawton meeting

Posted on June 20th, 2017 by Sara

By reporter Steven Smalley

Some walked a quarter mile to Daybreak Star Monday night with automobile parking maxed-out as an estimated 300 people attended a public meeting held by the city to discuss plans for Fort Lawton.

Park your car and hike in

“Last night was a spectacular turnout by neighbors in Magnolia – it was packed,” reported Harley Lever, candidate for Mayor of Seattle and founder of Safe Seattle, a community group helping the homeless and addicted. 

Residents of Magnolia and others assembled to hear city officials describe their plans to convert the former Fort Lawton Army Reserve Center into a living area with 85 units of homeless housing, 100 affordable rent apartments, and 50 low end privately-owned houses. Many attendees came with the idea they would be allowed to speak. That wasn’t 100% correct, it turns out. 

“We had a court reporter and a member of housing staff sitting with that court reporter to take comments. That was indeed the form of comment the city was taking at that time,” says Alberta Bleck, Legislative Assistant to City of Seattle Council member Sally Bagshaw. “The reason for that is – as opposed to holding a public comment section where people lineup and speak for two minutes – to allow sufficient time for the presentation to happen.” Bleck was present at the meeting Monday night, but speaks for herself and does not necessarily represent Sally Bagshaw’s official position on issues. Council member Bagshaw was unavailable for comment.

Following the City’s presentation, attendees were asked to submit their statements, either orally or written at the back of the room. That invitation did not go over well with the audience which then made demands to speak.  

“I stood up and said, ‘Where is the public comment?’” explained Gretchen Taylor, vice president of the Neighborhood Safety Alliance of Seattle. “I told the person leading the presentation that she was cutting off any opportunity for us to have input. Then somebody picked up the microphone off the table and began speaking. Everybody cheered.”

All seats taken at Daybreak Star

That version of events is refuted by Bleck.

“My understanding is that the microphone, after the presentation, was aggressively taken from a city staff member,” she says. “I am very concerned that the city staff member was physically pushed when the microphone was taken from her. I would really condemn any physical act of aggression that occurred.”

That was just the beginning of the emotional displays. After five minutes of speeches by attendees, the microphone was suddenly turned off. 

“The place was livid,” says Taylor. “The crowd started chanting, ‘Turn it on. Turn it on. Turn it on.’”

Soon the audio was restored and people took turns speaking at the microphone. The fallout was only beginning.

“The [City’s] website said something to the effect of ‘public comment.’ When I hear public comment I don’t think it means speaking to a court reporter or sending an email,” says Alex Cooper, a Magnolia resident. “If that’s what I wanted to do, I wouldn’t have to leave work or get a babysitter and go to the meeting. I could do it from my computer at home. So when I hear public comment, I think it means someone’s going to stand in front of an audience with the city with a microphone, and they’re going to listen to citizens of the Magnolia community.”

Some wanted to suggest other ideas for Fort Lawton. A new high school, recently re-proposed by an opinion writer at The Seattle Times, was endorsed by several people.

“I feel the footprint at the Fort Lawton redevelopment site is perfect for a school,” suggests Valerie Cooper, Alex’s wife. “I think we should be forward thinking about what we do with our infrastructure. I think it’s a missed opportunity to not consider this site for a school. I think a high school makes a lot of sense.”

Others thought there was just no point; the City has decided.

“I agree that the city has its mind made up,” says Lever. “They are just checking off a box that they had public comments. We see this time and time again. They did this with Tent City 5, they did this with Interbay Place. The city has always had Dog and Pony shows. They have an agenda and that’s why it’s being pushed through. Seattle is tired of this.” 

“Last night’s meeting and Wednesday’s meeting are opportunities that the city is taking very seriously,” explains Bleck. “To hear from the public about this proposal – to hear their concerns and thoughts – and to proceed with a partnership with the community on whatever vision we deem the best way forward.”

Calls to Emily Alvarado at the City of Seattle’s Office of Housing were not returned. 

Round two of the City’s presentation to the neighborhood on the plans for Fort Lawton is tonight (Wednesday) at 6:30 p.m. at the Magnolia Community Center. Written public comments will be accepted.

Send comments to: OH_Comments@seattle.gov

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.