With dramatic growth taking hold in Seattle, Mayor Ed Murray wants to overhaul how the City of Seattle manages city planning and capital investments across City government. He also wants to ensure that the planning process is more responsive to the needs of Seattle communities and residents. He thinks that the best approach to achieve these goals is through the creation of a new cabinent-level agency within the Mayor’s Office.
In an announcement yesterday, the Mayor said that he intended to create the Office of Planning and Community Development (OPCD) by executive order. The OPCD would be tasked with a broad range of strategic planning functions like transportation, land use, housing, utilities, and parks. Planners and technicians from various City workgroups will be consolidated into one body with the hope that increased collaboration leads to better alignment and implementation of projects and plans. At the same time, the OPCD will act as the primary source for public engagement with residents. The Mayor put his reasoning for the OPCD in simple terms:
We have moved beyond the debate about whether we should allow growth – growth is already here. When we develop new housing in a neighborhood, we must ensure we also have adequate open space, transportation and access to jobs, social services and other amenities. How we grow and how we invest will go hand in hand.
The Mayor plans to use existing staff resources to make the government restructuring work. While a limited number of personnel will be shuffled from disparate City agencies like Seattle City Light, the Office of Economic Development, and the Seattle Department of Transportation, the most substantial change will come to the Department of Planning and Development (DPD) itself.
Preliminary details indicate that all comprehensive planning and capital investment planning functions of the DPD will be elevated to the newly created OPCD. However, day-to-day regulatory planning functions like review and issuance of permits, inspections, and code enforcement will still be under the DPD banner. Although, the department would receive a new name and leadership would change in the shakeup.
The Mayor has tapped veteran DPD Director, Diane Sugimura, to play an instrumental role in the development of the OPCD. But, this will be her last big contribution to the City; she plans to retire later this year after three decades of service. In a statement, she expressed her commitment to rolling out the OPCD and reflected upon her time with the City:
My 37 years with the City have been an amazing roller coaster of activity and change. I’ve been fortunate to have been part of these exciting and challenging times. I look forward to helping create the new Office of Planning and Community Development, which will provide an integrated and equitable approach to city growth.
Nathan Torgelson, DPD Deputy Director, will eventually assume Sugimura’s responsibilities to manage a new DPD. Meanwhile, Sugimura will be joined by Kathy Nyland, Director of the Department of Neighborhoods, and others to build up the OPCD. Nyland was specifically chosen by the Mayor to offer her technical assistance on public outreach and engagement. She will develop a new approach for the OPCD to use with Seattle communities.
The Mayor has a short timeline on getting the OPCD in order. He wants to have a formal plan of how the new OPCD and DPD will be organized before submitting his City Budget for review to the City Council in September.
Stephen is a professional urban planner in Puget Sound with a passion for sustainable, livable, and diverse cities. He is especially interested in how policies, regulations, and programs can promote positive outcomes for communities. With stints in great cities like Bellingham and Cork, Stephen currently lives in Seattle. He primarily covers land use and transportation issues and has been with The Urbanist since 2014.