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First Avenue Mainstreet Meetups: Working Together to Find Solutions

On a windy, overcast evening in February, a group of business owners, human services providers, community advocates, Seattle Police Officers, Economic Development experts, and other community members gathered at Ancient Grounds on First Avenue to discuss economic development in our Downtown Community. This meeting, called the First Avenue Mainstreet Meetup, brought together a variety of voices and backgrounds to address public safety concerns and ways we can work together to solve them.

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Photos courtesy of Alberta Bleck

I welcomed all of our guests to the meeting and gave a brief description of the good work that is going on in Downtown right now to address the concerns that many of us witness on a daily basis.  I believe it is critical that people on our streets have the shelter and services they need. It is equally important that police enforce current laws surrounding health and safety on our downtown streets.

I will continue to push for ways we can support residents and businesses in making sure their customers feel safe, while simultaneously providing the services the vulnerable people on our streets deserve.

Steve Johnson, Director of the City’s Office of Economic Development, spoke about the important work OED is doing to support businesses in Seattle. He informed the group about the Grow Seattle Program, an OED led effort facilitate business growth in the City. Through Grow Seattle, the City offers business planning and technical assistance, loans, business advocacy, data resources, an energy conservation program, and much more. My favorite quote from Steve’s presentation was this: OED is “venture capital to empower local businesses.” Steve encouraged businesses to pick a block or two in the City and imagine what we could do collectively to bring vibrancy and innovation to our streets. For more information, see Grow Seattle’s webpage at http://www.growseattle.com/, or contact Steve at oed@seattle.gov.

CaptFowlerSpeaksCaptain Chris Fowler, the leader of the West Precinct, spoke about street disorder programs from the perspective of the Seattle Police Department and the West Precinct he commands. Captain Fowler informed us of Chief O’Toole’s mid-and long-range planning processes, emphasizing that we cannot “arrest our way” out of civility issues. What we can do is smartly and strategically address crime so that those who wish harm to people or property are stopped while we maintain the rights of all Seattleites to demonstrate peacefully according to their First Amendment Rights. Captain Fowler told us about the wins that had been accomplished in the summer of 2014 and SPD’s plans currently in line with these efforts moving forward.

The Neighborhood Response Team is another new effort led by the Seattle Police Department that is making a real difference Downtown. Created in December, this seven-member squad (six officers and one sergeant) patrol the downtown core to tackle persistent, low-level crime such as shoplifting, public urination, and drug use. Officers connect people to social services in addition to issuing citations to repeat offenders. These patrols are already making a difference in terms of decreasing criminal behavior in our streets and parks.

Joshua Curtis, Executive Director of the Metropolitan Improvement District (MID), was the last to address the group about the important work that is taking place at the MID and DSA. MID was created in 1999 and I have noticed a real difference in the way Downtown Seattle looks and feels. I have lived Downtown in the same building for fifteen years and as a daily walker I can tell you the streets are much cleaner, there is less graffiti, and Downtown simply looks better. I have also heard numerous stories of people who were provided second chance jobs as “Downtown Ambassadors” and were able to persevere through hard timed in their lives to get to a better place. Joshua told us about the variety of services the MID offers to business owners, such as pressure washing the sidewalks outside of businesses and graffiti cleanup. MID is a critical partner in creating a vibrant Downtown.

The meeting continued with introductions of the other guests in attendance. Sergeant Paul Gracy, who leads the West Precinct’s Community Policing Team, summarized the role Community Police play, focusing on chronic problems and finding long-lasting solutions. Sergeant Moss discussed downtown patrols and the challenges police officers face in addressing encampments on a day-to-day basis.

Victoria Schoenberg from the Parks Department discussed the downtown parks and the challenges inherent in maintaining and activating Parks in the downtown core, as well as the critical role Park Rangers play in educating and assisting park users to comply with laws and Park Code.

Paul Lambros, Executive Director of Plymouth Housing Group, spoke about issues of homelessness Downtown and how providing low-income housing was a critical step in keeping our entire community safe.

Lisa Daugaard, Deputy Director of the Public Defenders Association and a leader in Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) discussed the necessity of sufficient resources to which officers and other LEAD staff can refer vulnerable citizens. Lisa is a strong believer in community-based prevention, which is embodied in the LEAD model, where the SPD, Human Services Providers, Community Court, and others support people in finding housing stability and the services they need.

Ben Franz-Knight, Executive Director of the Pike Place Market PDA discussed the unique and varied community that coexists in Pike Place, including low-income and market rate housing, medical services, food vendors, small businesses, and others. I loved Ben’s characterization of the Market as an “Intentional, supportive community.” My goal is to create that same network of support on First Avenue and our larger Downtown Community we would be able to meet the challenges we face with mutual care and respect.


MelindaGiovengoSpeaks

Our last speaker, Melinda Giovengo, Executive Director of YouthCare shared the history of the good work her organization has been spearheading, starting with the Orion Center which opened in 1974. Melinda spoke to the tremendous need of vulnerable youth on the streets and asked the group to consider supporting YouthCare in any way they can to support the intensive mental health outreach and other crucial services YouthCare provides.

We ended the evening with a brief question and answer period and then allowed discussions to flow freely as guests spoke to each other regarding particular areas of interest.

The First Avenue Mainstreet Meetup was an important opportunity for many Downtown interests to discuss what matters most to them. But this is only the first step. I will continue to convene meetings like the First Avenue Mainstreet Meetups where business owners and community members can share their perspectives with those who are working on these issues. This embodies my philosophy of instilling long-term change: working together to find solutions. If you would like to have a Mainstreet Meetup in your community, please let me know at Sally.Bagshaw@seattle.gov, or call my office at (206)684-8801. I look forward to seeing what we can accomplish together!

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