ECC Sept. 16 Public Meeting with city officials covered RapidRide, creating business alliances, parks, and possible community center

Whatever happens next with the Seattle Department of Transportation’s RapidRide J line along Eastlake Avenue East, it remains with the Federal Transit Administration, leaving Eastlake in the dark for now as to the fate of the proposed transit line.

That was the main news from Sept. 16 Eastlake Community Council-sponsored virtual public meeting with Department of Neighborhoods Director Andrés Mantilla, the Office of Economic Development Director Bobby Lee and other city officials. Malik Davis, legislative assistant to City Council member Alex Pedersen, also attended the meeting and provided the J Line information.

Davis said he had spoken the day before with Garth Merrill, the SDOT manager of the J Line project, who said that information was submitted to the federal agency, but nothing has been heard for some time. Davis said SDOT repeated that it intends to complete the J Line project as currently planned. However, the City does have financial obligations to complete the project, which may be in jeopardy because of the budget crunch.

Davis said SDOT believes the federal agency is still reviewing the 400 comments received as part of the environmental review process. The FTA invests more than $12 billion annually to support and expand public transit.

The ECC has been working with SDOT to determine if there is a way to mitigate one of the major impacts of the J Line project – removing parking on Eastlake Avenue East to accommodate dedicated bike lanes. The ECC had a productive meeting with SDOT in January, but the virus has shut down any subsequent contact.

About two dozen Eastlake residents joined the virtual Zoom meeting Sept. 16.  City officials generally talked about how the City was coping with the impact of the coronavirus, especially its impact on neighborhoods and the lack of opportunity for residents to interact with each other.

One specific question from the ECC was about the usefulness of neighborhood business associations. Theresa Barreras, director of Business Development for the OED, said one of the effective models neighborhoods were using involved creating “alliances,” where businesses, residents, property owners and others joined together. “It takes effort and time,” she said. The Phinney-Greenwood area is a good example, she said, of a group trying that model.

In answer to a question about trying to create a community center in Eastlake, Andrés Mantilla, DON Director, said City departments, especially Parks and Recreation, are focusing on maintenance and do not want to get involved with anything that requires a new building. He said, however, that working with developers can often create space for community groups.

Mantilla also suggested the neighborhood identify aspects or services a community center-like space would best serve the community as a first step, e.g., child care center. 

Both Lee and Mantilla said Eastlake, like all communities, needs to be clear about its identify and engage in the formation of their identity. One participant said businesses in Eastlake should be brought into any process to establish an Eastlake identity.  The ECC board is also working on programs to integrate Eastlake platforms so that they all reflect a single Eastlake identify.

The question of re-establishing neighborhood district councils was raised.

Mantilla said flatly that there was no plan to re-establish the councils. However, he said the department is working on improving the “feedback loop” from neighborhoods to the City

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