The Real Surprise in Durkan’s Staffing Announcement Was Who Wasn’t Mentioned


Last Friday, MayorJenny Durkan announced the departure of Seattle Department of Transportation director Scott Kubly, who got in trouble over his role in promoting a now-defunct bikeshare company affiliated with his former employer, and Patricia Lally, head of the city’s Office for Civil Rights. Durkan replaced both Kubly and Lally with interim directors from outside the city—former SDOT director Goran Sparrman and former Youth Violence Initiative director Mariko Lockhart. Kubly reportedly lobbied hard to keep his job, but that was probably never in the cards—his fans saw a visionary, big-picture leader, but his detractors inside and outside the city saw an outsider (from Austin by way of D.C. and Chicago) who threw elbows at too many people.

Durkan also announced a number of department heads she plans to keep, including Office of Housing director Steve Walker, Human Services Department director Catherine Lester, and Department of Education and Early Learning director Dwane Chappelle.

One name that wasn’t on either list was Department of Neighborhoods director Kathy Nyland, the onetime Georgetown neighborhood activist who emerged as one of the most transformative figures of the last four years. Nyland reorganized and attempted to remove the deadweight from DON (her email signature: “New Day, New DON!”, which had been the city department where miscellaneous programs went to languish, and to reimagine the concept of “neighborhoods” itself, to include the renters, immigrants, and newcomers who actually make up the majority of the city. Nyland’s dedication to inclusiveness riled the old-guard neighborhood movement—single-family homeowners, mostly white baby boomers, who tended to oppose changes that would add new people, particularly “transient” renters, to their” neighborhoods.

Those old-guard activists lost big during the last election—NIMBY darlings Jon Grant, Pat Murakami, and Bob Hasegawa lost decisively—but are hoping Durkan won’t realize that their time has passed.

The biggest rift between Nyland and the old guard came when Murray announced that the city would no longer fund or staff the 13 neighborhood district councils, and would dedicate the money they had spent supporting the councils to other purposes. Nyland took the brunt of the blame, as neighborhood activists accused her of failing to get their input and shutting them out of the system they have dominated for decades.  On the campaign trail, Durkan talked about “bringing back the district councils,” and said she thinks “the city has quit listening to the neighborhoods’ needs.”

They haven’t—they’ve just started listening to underrepresented people, too—and as Nyland has pointed out, when you’re used to being the only voice in the room, inclusion can feel like an affront. But neighborhoods are made up of renters, immigrants, night-shift workers, and young people, too. It would be a shame if complaints from activists who want to restore things to the “good old days” of Seattle circa 1990 were successful at pushing out an effective advocate whose work is just getting started.

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9 thoughts on “The Real Surprise in Durkan’s Staffing Announcement Was Who Wasn’t Mentioned

  1. Pingback: News Roundup: Everything But 501

  2. As a white baby boomer who was only able to buy a house in Seattle because they were still something regular people could buy in 1978, I agree with you 100% that renters, newcomers & immigrants are our neighbors.

    I’ll ask you this question only because I have no idea who else to ask: Why are so many apartment buildings being built instead of condos? Thanks.

    • Easy answer. Washington State Condo law leaves developers on the liability hook for 10 years for construction flaws. So developers have been building apartments, institutional landlords will hold them for those 10 years, then Seattle will see a massive wave of condo conversion tenant displacements. Seattle City Hall will be completely blind-sided and will eventually impose stringent regulations on all landlords, excepting on the institutional landlords — who will have written themselves a loophole.

    • Nope, it was almost all condo development in the mid 2000s up to the 2008 crash, when mortgages became harder to get and the buyers vanished. The developers switched to apartments, and they haven’t switched back yet, although they’re starting to.

      • Mike, it looks like there are a bunch of revisions to the condominium act in 2008 and 2011. Could these possibly be related to the sudden contraction of condominium construction?

        Of course the financial crisis caused condo construction to end… however, it seems that town home and single family home construction (out in the far reaches of the suburbs where there is more land) have picked up since then, but condo construction has not.

        Personally, I’m hoping condo construction will increase. With houses so expensive, condos should provide a lower cost option for home ownership… though that isn’t really the case right now with condo supply so constricted.

  3. Cut her loose. Her Alma Mater, the Georgetown Council, epitomized white home owners dominating the conversation, even suing to drive out market based low income housing because of addiction. She was a plaintiff in a nuisance suit. Lots of skeletons here, if anyone cares to ask around.

    • Yes!!! Burn them out of their homes. Oh — wait. Neighborhood activists are why kitchenless aPodments didn’t become Seattle’s standard for entry level rental housing. You want anti-youth? Legalize out-sourcing domestic cooking, common hallways 36″ wide and housing under 225 square feet per unit.

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