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Friday, February 8, 2008
Last updated 12:43 a.m. PT

Residents to get a chance to air wish lists

Conference offers a place to lobby city for funds

By DEBERA CARLTON HARRELL
P-I REPORTER

It's been more than 50 years since Bitter Lake residents agreed to annexation with Seattle, hoping for improved streets that included sidewalks, planters, crosswalks and drainage.

"We are still waiting," said Richard Dyksterhuis, who like many other residents plans to attend Sunday's Citizens' Budget Conference to meet with city officials and lobby for more funds.

Bitter Lake and other residents throughout the city say the budget process can be helpful -- and exasperating. Yet many say understanding how neighborhood plans are funded is critical at a time of city growth, competing needs and limited dollars.

"There are tangible benefits that come from neighborhood planning and getting involved now," said Chris Leman, chairman of the City Neighborhood Council, which is sponsoring the conference. Leman said that by May, 2009-10 budget decisions already are being made.

Neighborhood plans, and funding street and public safety improvements, parks, human services and other needs -- will come under increased scrutiny in the next month.

Mayor Greg Nickels next week will unveil his proposal for updating 10-year-old neighborhood plans. In early March, there will be a citywide forum on neighborhood planning, sponsored by the University of Washington.

On Wednesday, the City Council, which called neighborhood planning a priority in 2008, extended to Feb. 25 the deadline for public comment on the city's comprehensive plan, the blueprint for growth planning under the state Growth Management Act. Neighborhood plans are part of that plan.

For Bitter Lake residents, their longtime focus is Linden Avenue North, a dangerous eyesore amid increasing senior and multifamily housing developments. A few sidewalks on Linden between North 130th Street and the Shoreline city limits at North 145th Street . give way to city-owned shoulders with muddy potholes and ruts from four-wheelers. They are lined with the parked cars of the homeless.

Linden was to have the final link of the Everett-to-Seattle Interurban Trail, but is instead a hazard for pedestrians and bicyclists, forced onto gravel by speeding trucks avoiding nearby Aurora Avenue North.

"We're getting over 2,000 housing units, and there's still no way to walk," longtime resident Gloria Butts said.

Their persistence finally yielded $800,000 in the mayor's 2008 budget, recently passed by the City Council, to help fix up the street. But Dyksterhuis and others say that to make it a complete street -- safe, properly drained and a citywide amenity with a completed Interurban Trail link -- will take more money than that.

The Seattle Department of Transportation has money to design the Interurban Trail link along Linden from North 130th Street to North 145th Street, SDOT spokesman Rick Sheridan said. It likely will feature 6-foot- wide sidewalks and a bike lane on either side of the two-way street, but more funding is needed to build the link, he said.

"Bitter Lake took it upon themselves to become an urban village and took the growth -- a huge number of housing units along Linden," said Sally Clark, chairwoman of the City Council's Economic Development and Neighborhoods Committee, who toured the area last year, as did the mayor.

"Linden is a classic example of where we should make investments," Clark said. "Aurora Avenue is nobody's pedestrian dream, so let's really make Linden a safe and attractive place for people to walk through."

Getting involved in the budget process has paid off for neighborhoods such as Georgetown, said Kathy Nyland, chairwoman for the Greater Duwamish District Council, one of 13 geographic citizens groups that compose the City Neighborhood Council. Since 2006, the neighborhood fought a city proposal to site an intermodal waste facility there -- and won.

"That wasn't in our neighborhood plan, but it is a perfect example of a neighborhood being listened to," Nyland said. "What's so great about this conference is that you can come up with an idea, throw it out -- and somebody will direct you to the right person to talk to."

Boyd Pickrell, president of the Southeast District Council, said the area's budget concerns are wide-ranging. "A lot of people are frustrated with the process; it seems arbitrary sometimes," Pickrell said.

"The process tends to make things competitive -- neighborhood against neighborhood rather than a more comprehensive approach. A lot of people think it has to be a broader conversation than just any one neighborhood."

FOR MORE INFORMATION

The Citizens' Budget Conference, featuring speakers and panels of city elected and appointed officials, will be held from noon to 5 p.m. Sunday at Seattle Center House, third-floor conference rooms. The conference is free and open to the public.

For conference agenda, visit goto.seattlepi.com/r1256

or call Chris Leman: 206-322-5463

P-I reporter Debera Carlton Harrell can be reached at 206-448-8326 or deberaharrell@seattlepi.com.
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