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    Parks and Proposition 1: Oh, how to vote?

    The Seattle Metropolitan Parks District measure on the August 5 ballot is anything but perfect. But there are pluses, too.
    Gasworks Park, Seattle

    Gasworks Park, Seattle

    I've been of two minds about Proposition 1, the Seattle Parks District measure on the August 5 ballot. If it passes, it will bring in major changes in how parks are overseen and funded. A new taxing district would be created and managed by members of the Seattle City Council; the new district would dramatically increase the park system's budget and have the taxing authority to raise funds as needed.

    Many are skeptical of the plan. The Seattle Times Editorial Board, the Seattle-King County League of Women Voters and many neighborhood activists I respect are opposed. They worry about creating a new, immortal public entity and taking away the right of voters to approve park funding via levies. Proponents argue that this is the best available way to get dedicated funds for parks to deal with maintenance backlogs, park expansion, and operation expenses. Supporters of the plan include The Stranger's editorial board, the Muni League and others I also respect, like City Councilmember Sally Bagshaw and the Seattle Parks Foundation president, Thatcher Bailey.

    Seattle parks, which most of us think of as a good thing, are also controversial. Every neighborhood had a gripe against the parks department — bright lights on sports fields, crime, campsites for the homeless, inappropriate uses (remember the plan to put in a zip line in Lincoln Park?). Reel off park names — Magnuson, Westlake, Occidental, Discovery, Burke-Gilman — and you might as well be naming Civil War battlefields.

    The parks department is a little like the school district in that we tend to think well of parks in the abstract — like schools — but we often have issues with the ones nearby. Lots of Seattleites believe their parks make problematic neighbors. Some of the roughest public meetings I've witnessed have been over parks.

    Yet we also use and love them to death. The city has relied increasingly on citizen volunteers to clean, weed, protect and improve our parks, and Seattleites have pitched in with sweat equity and private donations to fill funding and labor gaps. I've been impressed with the passion that flows from the neighborhood into a park I've used all my life, Seward Park. The scale of work, dedication and funding from the community is impressive. Countless hours have been spent on pulling out ivy and marking trails. Some parks are like flourishing community P-Patches, with lots of local involvement, or as the jargon might have it, "stakeholder ownership."

    I have concerns about both the parks district and parks decision-making in general. I don't particularly like the creation of the new taxing entity that will never go away. As a rule, such entities Balkanize government into too many funding silos and public authorities tend to get too little oversight as they act in their own self-interest. The Port of Seattle is a classic example of an entity that, despite much public attention, has proved hard to control, let alone reform. Still, the creation of a new district or entity can also be a pragmatic response to other legislative inaction and tapped-out funding sources.

    I also don't like the fact that the new parks district's proposed budget assumes millions of dollars per year to operate a new waterfront park that doesn't exist yet, isn't designed, and, in my humble opinion, ought to be approved in a separate public vote once a plan is nearly final. I don't like voting money to fund operations and maintenance for a project that still has many questions to answer and where there is no final design or costs. We should be asking hard questions about adding a downtown park that requires millions of dollars a year to maintain.

    I, too, question some parks decisions, such as the proposed mountain bike trail pilot project for the Cheasty Greenspace linking Beacon Hill with the Rainier Valley. Here you see a conflict between the neighbors, the parks department, and also city policy. This greenbelt has been designated as a natural area designed to re-emerge as healthy urban forest habitat. I remember a few years ago being taken on a tour of the greenbelt by city workers who were showing off the work they'd done restoring it to a more native state. I know the area well as I used to live nearby. I remember in the '60s when the winding boulevard had the reputation as a rape corridor, which caused my mother to declare that none of her children would be allowed to walk home solo from school (Asa Mercer) via Cheasty. It has come a long way since those days.

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    Posted Mon, Jul 28, 8:25 a.m. Inappropriate

    Removing Parks from levies also frees up tax dollars to be spent on other projects. (Remember there is a limit to how much City Government officials can ask voters to tax themselves.)

    Secondly, there has been enough talk about the Parks maintenance backlog that a levy to do just that would pass voter muster.

    There are too many unknowns associated with creating this particular Parks District for me to vote for this current proposition.


    Posted Mon, Jul 28, 3:45 p.m. Inappropriate

    I could not agree with you more and would go a step further. Anyone who is inclined to vote 'yes'...

    PLEASE READ CHAPTER 35.61 RCW which gives the District its authority.

    Once you find out the MPD would have the authority, among others, to buy, sell, and seize property, I guarantee you will VOTE NO!


    Posted Mon, Jul 28, 8:29 a.m. Inappropriate

    "Removing Parks from levies also frees up tax dollars to be spent on other projects. "

    Whoo-hoo, what can we spend those tax dollars on? So much money, so little time!

    Prop1 is going down. I reckon by at least 10 points.


    Posted Mon, Jul 28, 8:46 a.m. Inappropriate

    Thank you Knute. Your reasoned, fact-based analysis is a refreshing antidote to the biased approach other media outlets in town are taking. Not to mention the outright lies in the mail I received this weekend.

    I'll be voting YES.


    Posted Mon, Jul 28, 8:49 a.m. Inappropriate

    This is a really strange article along the lines of 'Here are a bunch of really good reasons why this is not a well crafted plan (and a few bad ones I can discount) but I am going to vote for it anyway'!

    The biggest reason to vote No on the Seattle Metropolitan Parks District measure is disgraceful misrepresentation and omission of important details in the Vote Yes material.

    Any user of parks should also be highly skeptical of the "maintenance backlog" which seems to be largely a "desired improvement" backlog. The parks I use are mostly quite well maintained and where they are not the problems lie with a lack of community involvement or problems with undesired users (drug dealers, transients etc) whose solution extends beyond the mandate of the Parks Department.


    Posted Mon, Jul 28, 9:47 a.m. Inappropriate

    Wait...so, WSDW, can you name one? The anti-parks campaign has a mailer out (funded by conservative activist Faye Garneau) that straight up lies.

    Fact: There have been only two levies in the history of the parks system - 2000 and 2008 - both of which were capital in nature (with 2000 including some O&M;). Not "one hundred years" of levies, as stated by the anti-parks campaign.

    Fact: Property taxes will increase less than 1%, not 20%, as stated by the anti-parks campaign.

    Fact: The City will own all of the parks in Seattle - and those can't be sold off or privatized because, you know - that's the law. Apparently the anti-parks campaign didn't read the memo.

    Proposition 1 is, as the Muni League put it, the best option in the face of limited options from Olympia. It buys back limited taxing authority lost to the Eyman 1% rule, and a Legislature that re-enacted it in 2007. It gives our elected officials another tool to govern.

    Clearly I have more faith in the ability of voters in Seattle to be competent and elect responsive leaders than the anti-parks campaign.

    Vote YES for Parks, and YES for Proposition 1.

    Posted Mon, Jul 28, 10:53 p.m. Inappropriate

    I agree that the No material includes distortions - the 20% increase is in the Parks-directed property taxes not total property taxes and that is totally misleading in the No flyer I received. However, the statements about removing accountability and writing a blank check have a lot merit

    Here are a few problems with Yes material

    1. The parks faces a $267 million maintenance backlog. Look at the list and one will see that it includes many enhancements such as improving energy efficiency, improving disability access in facilities where they have not been mandated by the ADA, expanding capacity and leveraging external funding opportunities. While these are clearly all desirable they are not what most people would describe as part of a maintenance backlog.
    2. Prop 1 is "our one and only option". Clearly rubbish since a MPA could be created with more accountability and a lower maximum cap or we could just have a new and increased Parks levy - Seattle has not yet hit the tax limits that have been curbed by the 1% rule, it just wants to spend the room under those limits on other things.
    3. Although taxes will only go up $4 per month for a $400K home above the existing levy the MPA would be created with a tax cap that that allows taxes to be increased to a percentage of property values equal to 3 times the existing Parks levy. I cannot find this anywhere in the Yes material. This unreasonable and is a strong indication that the City intends to shift all the costs of running parks onto the MPA and/or embark on some very extravagant projects
    4. The MPA has been deliberately created with minimal and indirect accountability. Why? The objections of the League of Women voters could have been anticipated and could have been addresses and hopefully will be if this proposition is rejected. There is no explanation of this in the Yes material.


    Posted Mon, Jul 28, 10:03 a.m. Inappropriate

    It's nice to read your reasoned argument for voting yes on Prop One. Seattle needs its parks to be cared for and maintained. We will all be voting YES in our household!


    Posted Tue, Jul 29, 7:11 p.m. Inappropriate

    So much for voting privacy.


    Posted Wed, Jul 30, 5:52 p.m. Inappropriate

    I also went down about the same logical path as Knute: I'm not sure the mechanism is perfect, but I looked at the 6-year plan with about half devoted to major repair/maintenance of neighborhood parks and community centers. Overall, I think it's a reasonable plan that will improve my life, my family's life, and my community. Parks has had and will have controversies, even today's story about shutting off the beach showers, but nothing is perfect in the mortal lands. I don't see what purpose is served by starving the parks so that we can have a levy pageant every six to eight years. The General Fund already spends $89 million per year on Parks, and we don't seem to think that needs more accountability than is already present in the budget process, the Parks Board of Commissioners, the various citizen advisory and Friends groups, etc. Lastly, this is chump change! A $4 tax increase per month is $48 per year, the cost of a pizza, big salad, and a beer or two. Even at the maximum tax rate, which the Council will not dare to even discuss for a decade, the MPD tax on a $400,000 house would be $300. I get that much value out of Green Lake in a month. I am just not that interested in PRINCIPLES!!! when the money we are talking about is trivial to the average Seattle household.

    Posted Mon, Jul 28, 10:08 a.m. Inappropriate

    I would say major donors on both sides are conservatives. Foundation/Forterra and Zoo.and Aquarium supporters get tax deductions. And Charles Rogers waterfront group is also a charity, correct? And all threee of those are in the top 5 contributors. The MPD budget is a sweet deal.for the private Zoo, forterra, Aquarium...a nonTransparent Zoo gets to breed and cage animals.for thier profits while we finance. Aquarium will get in on new Waterfront. And Forterra brokers the private entrprise introductions of vendors and contractors, etc..Will the maintence backlog be addressed? I wish.
    But it also is a package with a terribly cruel bent to it when it further funds the Zoo and shuts all the local activists up.
    I'm voting No. Can't wait for the next one though!


    Posted Mon, Jul 28, 6:26 p.m. Inappropriate

    A great city requires great parks, including a great zoo and aquarium, and, yes, a world-class waterfront park. Investing in these resources will pay off in increased tourist spending, city revenues, and, yes, property values (well in excess of the property taxes paid). Allowing them to languish and decay, on the other hand, is penny-wise, but pound-foolish. The choice is between looking forward and looking backward.

    City council members elected by districts, the voters in which care for and love their parks, will be far more accountable and responsive than a separately elected parks commission. There is no reason to believe a parks commission would be any more accountable or transparent, which means not at all, than the Port Commission.

    Posted Mon, Jul 28, 10:27 a.m. Inappropriate

    The reason so many Orgs support Prop 1 is because it takes away the Park Levy from Voters schedule. Please ask the Chair of the local Sierra Club board why she let John Muir's Sequoia emblem grace the posters for this political manuever? E.g., The coal train goes thru Carkeek. Is there a plan to lobby City Council to make Parks coal free by city mandate? Or do they just want parks levy to go.away to make room for their own levy?


    Posted Mon, Jul 28, 11:08 a.m. Inappropriate

    Skip is spot on.

    The big argument against Prop. 1 is that the MPD will lack sufficient public oversight on future tax increases. The city council will largely be in charge of those funding/tax decisions---does anyone seriously think if future council's were to push for a large MPD tax increase it would not be a huge issue that would impact their re-election if the public was opposed? The opposition seems to be engaging in a bizarre big government/big taxes paranoia.

    It is time for us to have smart, stable, long-term funding to assure we have great urban parks, community centers and green space for all of citizens for generations to come. Yes on Prop. 1.

    -Kenan Block


    Posted Mon, Jul 28, 12:21 p.m. Inappropriate

    Kenan, how many council members were voted out of office when the stadiums were approved over the objections of the public? How many were voted out when the tunnel was approved contrary to the public vote? The Council has a long history of doing what they want and ignoring public input because there is little, if any, consequence.


    Posted Mon, Jul 28, 1:42 p.m. Inappropriate

    Wouldn't that suggest, then, that voters actually accepted those decisions -- even if you didn't? Or are you just saying that voters are too stupid to vote people out of office?

    In that case, I'm not sure how having a directly-elected MPD Board (as some have called for) or asking voters to pass levies is an improvement on the problem, either...


    Posted Mon, Jul 28, 1:57 p.m. Inappropriate

    It's not a matter of stupid, it's a matter of focus. Incumbents have a huge advantage and have to screw up pretty badly, and pretty close to election time, and have a decent opponent, in order to get the boot.

    I tend to agree that the directly elected board option for an MPD is only somewhat better. It does provide more direct accountability to the specific tax and spend decisions for the increased property tax. My problem is more with the policy error of having a taxing body removed from most checks and balances. The MPD statute is a leaky sieve in that regard.

    I believe the MPD structure is ripe for abuse: permanent; vast powers* including public-private partnerships (like the Zoo, like Building 11); no check by an executive; no direct check by voters under City law; major decision making by the regulated department and non-elected insider committees.

    * Anticipating the Yes mantra--the ILA is not legally binding. The permanence of the structure means volunteer public oversight to prevent abuse will have to be permanent as well.

    The mantra is not "perfect is the enemy of the good." It is "imperfect is the enemy of the good" because we'll have a heck of a time making good come out of the MPD over time. Vote NO.


    Posted Mon, Jul 28, 6:58 p.m. Inappropriate

    "no check by an executive; no direct check by voters under City law; major decision making by the regulated department and non-elected insider committees."

    The Parks Department will continue to function as before, under the administration of the mayor. Most of the funding for parks will continue to come from the general fund. The role of the MPD (and city council operating as its commission) is solely to authorize tax rates sufficient to pay for the park department budget.

    The notion that the MPD (which is simply the City Council) will become a Frankenstein monster is absurd. You'd almost think it was some kind of creeping Green Peril, for all of the hyperbole opponents have engaged in.

    If you don't like the decisions of your directly elected representatives, vote them out. That's how democracy works.

    Posted Tue, Jul 29, 7:15 p.m. Inappropriate

    No, it suggests nothing of sort. You're assuming that all voters use factual information or historical knowledge in their voting decisions. That's doubtful.


    Posted Mon, Jul 28, 8:15 p.m. Inappropriate

    Oh no, it'll be death by a thousand tax increases.


    Posted Tue, Jul 29, 7:15 p.m. Inappropriate

    To Kenan, " if future council's were to push for a large MPD tax increase it would not be a huge issue that would impact their re-election if the public was opposed."

    So, right, angry voters230 un-elect them after the damage is done? They might be gone; their decisions would not be still be with us.

    Posted Mon, Jul 28, 12:16 p.m. Inappropriate

    The frustrating part is that the MPD proposal _COULD_ have been written to include direct public oversight, but was not. The proponents also seem to gloss over objections with a simplistic "support our parks" mantra that is irritating to those of us who have invested thousands of hours supporting our parks.
    The timing of the vote, in the summer when many are out of town, also seems sneaky. Finally, little is said that the Woodland Park Zoo, which was taken "private" many years ago and recently reminded us that they do not need to respond to public information request because they "are not a public institution", will be getting $3 million a year out of the pot.
    Too much about Prop One simply smells funny. Vote NO.


    Posted Mon, Jul 28, 12:46 p.m. Inappropriate

    On Friday, Superior Court judge confirmed that the Zoo's use of public money is insulated from public disclosure: http://rescuenews.net/2014/07/25/judge-rules-woodland-park-zoo-can-keep-secrets/


    Posted Mon, Jul 28, 2:55 p.m. Inappropriate

    There is no need to make a forced choice at this time between a flawed MPD proposal and levies. Let's take time and get it right.

    Voting NO in this election will allow a better designed MPD proposal to come forth. A good proportion of the present opponents would support a better structured MPD.

    The port commision is poor comparison for how an independent MPD board would act because that electorate is larger and more diffuse. Most people don't know what the port commission does, but everyone knows about parks and the electorate being only Seattle would be more aware and responsive to performance of an independently elected board.

    Those who monitor Seattle Parks closely know that the City Council doesn't have much time for it and that quality of its oversight is not great. Council members are judged on many issues other than parks and that makes it likely they would be less accountable for park issues than and independent board with member performance judged solely on park issues.


    Posted Mon, Jul 28, 3:02 p.m. Inappropriate

    If the MPD (aka Seattle Parks District) passes next week, any decisions made by the current Seattle City Council sitting as the MPD Board of Directors WILL BE PERMANENT. Sure, voters could toss out every single member of City Council in 2015 (but terribly unlikely that all would go, given the terrific advantages of incumbency, as louploup points out), but the decisions they will have made regarding a Metropolitan Parks District would not be undone by their exit. The MPD would be PERMANENT.

    I'm voting NO on PROP 1, NOW.

    Posted Mon, Jul 28, 3:29 p.m. Inappropriate

    "Oh, how to vote?"

    This is an extremely easy and extremely obvious vote: NO


    Posted Mon, Jul 28, 4:06 p.m. Inappropriate

    RCW 35.61.130 provides that:

    "A metropolitan park district has the right of eminent domain, and may purchase, acquire and condemn lands lying within or without the boundaries of said park district, for public parks, parkways, boulevards, aviation landings and playgrounds, and may condemn such lands to widen, alter and extend streets, avenues, boulevards, parkways, aviation landings and playgrounds, to enlarge and extend existing parks, and to acquire lands for the establishment of new parks, boulevards, parkways, aviation landings and playgrounds.

    "The board of park commissioners shall have power to employ counsel, and to regulate, manage and control the parks, parkways, boulevards, streets, avenues, aviation landings and playgrounds under its control, and to provide for park police, for a secretary of the board of park commissioners and for all necessary employees..."

    "Th e board of park commissioners shall have power to improve, acquire, extend and maintain, open and lay out, parks, parkways, boulevards, avenues, aviation landings and playgrounds, within or without the park district, and to authorize, conduct and manage the letting of boats, or other amusement apparatus, the operation of bath houses, the purchase and sale of foodstuffs or other merchandise, the giving of vocal or instrumental concerts or other entertainments, the establishment and maintenance of aviation landings and playgrounds, and generally the management and conduct of such forms of recreation or business as it shall judge desirable or beneficial for the public, or for the production of revenue for expenditure for park purposes...

    Posted Mon, Jul 28, 4:35 p.m. Inappropriate

    Berger has tried to write a balanced article that in the end is superficial and simplifies the matter of how to fund our parks without really investigating where the $267 million is going to be spent and who will really benefit.

    This has not been a democratic process. There should have been a levy on the ballot as well so the people would have a choice. There has also been alot of misrepresentation, misinformation and manipulation in the political process.

    Even though over 80% of the citizens who attended the 3 public meetings about how the parks should be funded voted for a levy, the advisory committee, appointed by Sally Bagshaw, chose to support a park district. The blueprint for a park district was drawn up by Ken Bounds in a 2012 report funded by the major supporters of a parks district (the Parks Foundation, Zoo and aquarium), all of whom will benefit financially if Prop 1 passes.

    Proponents of Prop 1 "Save or Parks" mantra is an exaggerated scare tactic. Over half the money they claim they need to address deferred maintenance and restore parks to it's former glory. is going to buy more land, develop more parks, hire more people and create new programs.

    The reason parks has fallen so far behind on maintenance is they chose to spend the money elsewhere. Nobody is asking "What happened to the $135 million they get annually from the general fund, fees and donations?"
    Parks needs to be audited before we give them twice as much money as they got from the last levy.

    How about the ethics complaint filed against promoters of Prop 1 for releasing a phoney telephone survey to the media supporting prop 1 that they paid for.

    How about the fact that opponents of Prop 1 had to take the city to court to clarify the ballot explanation so voters would know that a park district could "levy an annual property tax of 75 cents per $1,000" which is a lot more than the 33 cents they are starting with, and " as a separate taxing authority from the city of Seattle, they could levy additional property tax above the current "lid" restrictions that state law imposes on Seattle."This is about a new stream of revenue for the city that citizens have no control over.

    And no one is talking about the million and a half dollars the city is going to get in interest because parks has to borrow $10 million from the city in 2015 because the new property taxes do not go into effect until 2016.

    The Seattle Times caught Ken Bounds telling a little lie last week when he said if Prop 1 failed there was no recourse for funding the parks. Citizens can advocate to put a levy on the ballot in February.

    I commend Berger for being against putting mountain bike trails in Cheasty Park. (See article in today's Seattle Times.) I wonder if he knows the same organizations promoting Prop ! are donating money that will turn this beautiful natural habitat into a playground for mountain bike enthusiasts.

    Posted Mon, Jul 28, 9:25 p.m. Inappropriate

    You have given a wonderful summary of several reasons to vote NO on Prop 1. I want to add emphasis to the need for an audit of our Parks Department. As one who loves our Parks and has contributed thousands of hours and thousands of dollars to Parks in the last 10 years I believe our Parks Dept has far too many planners and far too few maintenance persons.

    Having a surplus of planners in the Parks department creates the need to acquire more land for them to utilize their planning skills. We need fewer planners and far more workers!

    And, since you mentioned former Parks Supt Ken Bounds, every voter should know that Ken Bounds played a major role in creating the Parks Foundation (which is a good idea), but he has also has a conflict of interest because he has more recently been contracted and paid by the Foundation to advise them/us.


    Posted Mon, Jul 28, 4:41 p.m. Inappropriate

    If you are still undecided see what the League of Women Voters has to say. Their Board voted unanimously to recommend a NO vote because the MPD is not good government. They write that while the League has long supported parks and appropriate funding for parks, the current proposal goes beyond a simple funding mechanism and creates a separate governmental entity that lacks adequate accountability and citizen participation and oversight.

    Posted Mon, Jul 28, 7:42 p.m. Inappropriate

    1. Too much power, not enough accountability and 2. Maintenance must be budgeted in real time, not deferred for future generations nor reliant on whopper taxes to occur at all. We're going to have to put some pressure on electeds to make that happen, needless to say. Vote NO on Prop 1. Vote NO because you love parks. Ask for accountability. Keep your voice in the system. Check out the Port of Seattle and Seattle Public Schools, both taxing districts like this would be. How's that working for us? I'm not satisfied, myself.

    Posted Tue, Jul 29, 10:38 p.m. Inappropriate

    At least we get to vote for a School Board and Port Commission!


    Posted Mon, Jul 28, 11:54 p.m. Inappropriate

    It doesn't make sense-to me- that there is some Union support for the MPD measure.

    There are not likely to be many more union jobs created by Proposition 1 unless the unions are hoping to get contracts to build "the fabulous, waterfront park" that rich, downtown property and business owners advocate.

    City Council has already indicated they'll appropriate several million dollars for maintenance of the grand, waterfront park that hasn't been built.

    Since it's unlikely that "average" property owners would tax themselves to build a park that will mostly benefit tourists and downtown landowners, the MPD will be used as the "vehicle" to subsidize park construction (estimated to be about $500 million dollars).

    City officials must have made some promises to Union Leaders to assure them that they would benefit.

    Maybe someone can explain those details.

    It has been reported that some "City Officials" have attended meetings of various groups and indicated that money from the MPD will be dedicated (in a few years) to the creation of that new, waterfront park that will enhance property values nearby.

    Back to jobs-------

    For example, if hours are restored to community centers, the employees will work for "ARC" (the non-profit, Associated Recreation Council). I believe those would be non-union jobs.

    It's my understanding that zoo and aquarium employees work for those non-profits in non-union jobs.

    The Seattle Parks Department-I believe- would be obligated to go to bid for major maintenance contracts like roofs and plumbing. Most of those contracts are unlikely to go to union members.

    There must be reasons that are not transparent why some Unions have endorsed this measure that is detrimental to the majority of Seattle's property owners.

    .....just some more issues to consider.

    Posted Tue, Jul 29, 6:41 a.m. Inappropriate

    Everyone hired will be an employee of the City, and thus eligible to join City unions. This is a jobs measure, which is why the unions support it. It also provides stable revenue for jobs, which is another reason unions support.


    Posted Tue, Jul 29, 2:12 p.m. Inappropriate

    Really--are Zoo employees union? How about Aquarium?


    Posted Tue, Jul 29, 6 p.m. Inappropriate

    good analysis and discussion...... I keep hearing about only two parks levies in the last hundred years? I can remember four in my short life already: 1991 for about 70 million, 1999 for 80 million, 2000 for 200 million and 2008 for around 150 million.


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