Thursday, March 27, 2008

Public Hearings that are neither

Part of the infamous "Seattle Process" are public hearings that are neither. That is to say that they are not public and they are not heard.

The public hearings regarding the district's sale of property provide some classic examples.

The District is selling five properties. That has been determined. Of course, there hasn't been any open discussion about it and only the smallest announcements of it. The District is legally required, when selling property, to conduct public hearings. And they have to make the required legal notices about the public hearings. They do not, however, have to make any larger or broader announcements, and so they don't. As a result, not too many people know about them, so they aren't all that public, are they?

And if you actually follow the instructions on how to sign up to speak, and you actually show up at the event, you will be allowed to speak. Of course it doesn't matter what you say. They are going to move forward with their decision that they have already made. So no one is actually heard, are they?

And there you have it! Public Hearings which are neither!

I've posted this elsewhere buy you can see it all here.

Allen School:
Notice of Public Hearing on Thursday, April 17, 2008, at 7:30 p.m.

Neighborhood Flyer


Crown Hill School:
Notice of Public Hearing on Thursday, March 27, 2008, at 7:30 p.m.
Neighborhood Flyer


Interbay Playfield:
Notice of Public Hearing on Thursday, April 10, 2008, at 7:00 p.m.
Neighborhood Flyer

Webster Playground:
Notice of Public Hearing on Thursday, April 3, 2008, at 6:30 p.m.
Neighborhood Flyer

We have already missed the public hearing on the sale of the Queen Anne Gym.

Of course there has been no notice of these sales or these hearings at Board meetings. There is no mention of them in the "News and Calendars" section of the District web site. They don't appear on any calendars. They weren't mentioned in the Calendar Items part of the Board meeting agenda. They don't appear on the agenda for the Operations Committee this week. They don't appear on the future agenda discussion items list for the Operations Committee. There is almost no mention of these meetings - or these sales - anywhere other than the tiny legal notices required by law that appeared in the classified ad sections of newspapers.

Is this how the District builds public confidence or is this how the District lost it? Is this how the District addresses perceived deficiencies in transparency or is this how that perception was created? Is this how the District addresses the fact that 97% of the public says they have no means of providing feedback, or is this representative of why the public says that?

13 comments:

dan dempsey said...

I am still amazed at why the SPS would ever sell instead of lease. Do these people see a thousand years ahead?

The NEWS lawsuit should proceed to trial before anyone sells anything. If the plaintiff wins there will be a significant increase in School funding.

I guess we are selling property because the winning candidates received around $500,000 in campaign donations. I would be waiting until the NEWS lawsuit is settled. Then we may find much better ways to serve the community than selling this property.

Melissa Westbrook said...

A lot (and I mean many, many) people cited this as a top concern for school closures. What would happen to the buildings? Would we sell off property? The district's answer, at the time, was vague.

The e-mail that closure and consolidation received was fairly evenly divided. Some said hold on to the land and lease it. (Among those, some said make as much money as you can and others said these are community assets so be fair with community groups.) Others said sell off these properties because it is one less headache (maintenance, etc.).

Given that we don't have a real property manager (one of the district's lawyers, Ron English, functions as such), I don't how they make these decisions. Clearly, these decisions have been made (as Charlie points out) and the meetings (such that they are) are pro forma.

But I can only wearily shake my head as this kind of action continues. I myself have witnessed this recently and it's very sad. The District just doesn't want, on any level from the school to the district, to have to engagement in any real meaningful dialog. They want to make decisions, announce them (to as few people as possible as few times as possible so as to avoid too much discussion, outcry, annoyance, etc.)and move on.

Good luck to anyone and any group(and I mean this sincerely) who can change this mindset. And it is a mindset because clearly it happens over and over again. And you can either say it's incompetence OR by design. The district simply doesn't have that many dumb people so I have to conclude it is by design.

dan dempsey said...

Agreed these events are not occurring by happenstance, the communication shortage is intentional.

The promise of effective new leadership has yet to emerge. You can not get much further from open and transparent than the SPS.

Anonymous said...

Seems like the school is getting completely ripped off. 7.5 million on Queen Anne for what is going to be 30 condos (all of which will go for at least a million). Not to mention that the developer doesn't even have to pay a dime for nearly 2 years.

Read

Anonymous said...

The construction companies and future landowners must be the same people on the Alliance Board and other foundations who reap the profits of these decisions which are made behind closed doors.

Close a school building, sell it to a TAF and let them run their business, etc. It seems like there are influential parties who will end up with privately run businesses sneaking in charter-like schools without the voting public having any say. Look at Orca - kicked out of its building for the New School who gets a new building while Orca waited and fought to be k-8 for years. Makes no sense. New School ends up with a business in Seattle and the public school gets the scraps.

Anonymous said...

These sites aren't all being sold to developers for huge profits. At least I hope that's not the case with the Allen School.

The Phinney Neighborhood Association, which has leased the site for the last 25 years, hopes to purchase the two buildings on the site to provide a permanant home. As someone who lives in the community, I really hope this happens. I would much rather the PNA continue to use the site to provide the myriad of community services and classes it does so well as opposed to the site being torn down and turned into more gigantic townhouses and condos.

But it the PNA does purchase the site, it is going to take a bunch of money to complete much needed maintance and upgrade to make the site healthy, safe, and accessible in the long run. Perhaps those kind of costs are why the schools want to sell them.

So I disagree with the characterization that all the potential buyers are craven developers who are manipulating public resources with campaign donations. But I definitely agree that, given the history of what happened at Queen Anne, the process should be made as transparent as possible.
-Scott C

Charlie Mas said...

Let's say that the PNA does buy the Allen school site, as is expected to happen. There is no reason to believe that the PNA will hold that real estate in perpetuity. The PNA could sell that building and land and use the proceeds to purchase a different site. If the District sells the building to the PNA for anything less than full market value, the Neighborhood Association can make a quick profit on it and come out liquid. In fact, it might be foolish for them not to do so.

When the District sold the old Beacon Hill School to El Centro de la Raza, part of the deal precluded El Centro from selling the building for ten years. If El Centro could sell the building they would have all of the money they would need to replace it in deluxe style AND put excess cash in the bank.

Anonymous said...

So I disagree with the characterization that all the potential buyers are craven developers who are manipulating public resources

A community center isn't a bunch of multi-million dollar condos. I don't know anyone on Queen Anne who is dying to see more condos in the neighborhood. If they are going to be condo's, where are the kids going to high school, what about elementary or middle???? Oh yeah, they knocked over the high school for to build the condos. Duh. At least they need to get A LOT of money for the property, because that is the current freight on QA.

Anonymous said...

Charlie Mas Said "If the District sells the building to the PNA for anything less than full market value, the Neighborhood Association can make a quick profit on it and come out liquid."

You raise good points. I am pretty sure in the case of the Allen school that they are planning to raise a bunch of money to improve it if the PNA does purchase the site. So in that particular case, I don;t think they are planning on flipping it. They better not.

I think the idea of having specific language written into the sale that prevents an organization from flipping the property would be great.

It seems like the Queen Anne Gym sale indicates that the days of below market value sales by the district may have passed. But I ultimately agree vehemently that these proceedings really need to be done in the full light of day. To do otherwise would taint all the organizations involved.

Anyone going to the hearings?
-Scott C

Anonymous said...

>It seems like the Queen Anne Gym sale indicates that the days of below market value sales by the district may have passed.

How so? QA is one of the most expensive areas in the city. The price is very low. And when giving developers what amounts to a 2 year interest free loan, it seems the days of selling out for too little is alive and well in the Seattle School District.

Anonymous said...

It was sold for almost 3 mill over the assessed value. 7.5 million for 1 acre seems to be in the ball park. Especially with the white elephant demo that will be part of the cost. That transaction seems pretty reasonable. Especially compared to the previous one.

Anonymous said...

Yeah right, whose assessment?

Anonymous said...

Read the article.