Monday, January 20, 2014

District Council Boundaries

City Inside/Out: Districting Dilemma

Elections by district means big changes are in store for the Seattle City Council. All nine council members will have to run for re-election in 2015 under a charter amendment approved by voters in November that creates seven council districts and two at-large positions. Will fresh leadership emerge from Seattle’s neighborhoods? What will happen to the city’s 13 neighborhood district councils? Joining host Brian Callanan in the studio are Suzie Burke, co-sponsor of the successful charter amendment; City Councilmember Mike O’Brien; and Laine Ross and Alexis Gallegos, co-chairs of the City Neighborhood Council.


To CNC and district colleagues—

Rumored proposals to reduce the district councils from 13 to 7, and realign their boundaries with the new City Council districts, miss a point that is absolutely central to the basis and purposes of the district councils:  The district councils exist to represent not only those who live in Seattle, but also those who work or do business in Seattle.  The original City Council Resolution 27709 and its successor Res. 28115 (both available on the CNC web site) state in identical terms that “Each neighborhood district shall have a District Council consisting of representatives of all community councils and neighborhood business organizations within the district who wish to participate.”

In the 1987-89 establishment of the number, size and boundaries of district councils, it was recognized that jobs and businesses are not distributed around Seattle in the same proportions as are residents.  Thus, in 1990 the five district councils (Central, Delridge, Downtown, Greater Duwamish, and Lake Union) each included less than 6 percent of the City’s population but had a larger (in some cases a far larger) proportion than that of Seattle’s jobs and businesses.  The other district councils (whose residents ranged from 7 to 14 percent of the City population) had more residents within their boundaries, but most also had much fewer jobs and businesses. 

The rumored proposal to reduce the district councils from 13 to 7 and realign their boundaries to match the equal residential populations of the new City Council districts would greatly disadvantage district councils in the part of their mission to represent those who work or do business in Seattle, as many of these do not live in the district where they do business, or even within the City limits. 

By cutting almost in half the number of district councils, the rumored proposal would also hamper the district councils in reaching out to their residential constituency.  And it would depart from another requirement in Res. 27709 and Res. 28115, namely that the district boundaries “shall correspond to the extent possible with other City service areas such as police, health and parks.”

The proportions of residential population, jobs, and businesses among the district councils have undoubtedly changed somewhat since the district councils’ founding.  Full discussion of the residential and worker/business constituencies of the district councils, and any reduction or realignment, requires an update in the numbers. 

Some years ago in a budget cutting move, the Mayor and City Council eliminated the City Demographer position (formerly in the Department of Planning and Development), but entirely as a result of a multi-year effort by CNC and the district councils, the Mayor and City Council re-established and funded the City Demographer position. CNC and the District Councils particularly had made the case that figures produced by the City Demographer would help neighborhoods to recognize and reach out to their constituencies.  Unfortunately, when the City Demographer position was reinstated, the position was assigned to the Planning Commission, which has used the City Demographer for other purposes.   

I suggest that the CNC or its co-chairs urgently request that the City Demographer produce new breakdowns of the residential population, jobs, and business licenses within the current boundaries of each of the district councils.  We need this information in order to adequately defend and continue the mission of the district councils to represent both those who reside in Seattle and those who work in or do business in Seattle. 

Chris Leman  (206) 322-5463
Lake Union District Council representative to the City Neighborhood Council 


1) Thank you Lane and Alexis for discussing this topic at the East District Council.

2) There was a general feeling at the East District that we were happy with the present boundaries.

3) Given the rumors about City desires to realign the District Council boundaries I would like to suggest this  simple compromise:

a) No District Council Boundary shall cross a City Council District boundary.

b) Within each City Council District the citizens of that District may divide the area into as many District Councils as logic, demographics and geography dictate.

4) Rationale:

a) If a District Council is split between City Council Districts, there will be confusion as to which Councilmember to contact (and each may claim that it is the other one's responsibility).

b) Many of the the City Council district boundaries neatly encompass much or all of a couple of existing District Councils, and the division lines within the City Council District would be easy to decide upon (eg East & Central, Southwest and Delridge, Greater Duwamish and Southeast). Alignments north of the Ship Canal seem less simple and would benefit from citizen discussion. (Overlay  map: )

c) The City Council Districts encompass areas too large for effective District Council representation and typically comprise multiple obvious neighborhood areas.

d) I expect we would finish up with about 14 District Councils.

e) Realignment of District Council boundaries would be an obvious task for the proposed Mayor's neighborhood conference.

( I would happily discuss this at future CNC meetings, but cannot make the Jan 27 meeting )

Andrew Taylor
Chair, East District Council

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