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Why to vote no on Prop 1’s metropolitan parks district

One of Woodland Park Zoo's elephants Credit: Credit: nappent/Flickr

A Seattle ordinance for the creation of a Metropolitan Parks District (MPD) will be on the ballot this August as Proposition 1. Since we are long-time advocates and volunteers for our parks, you may wonder why we oppose Proposition 1 and recommend that you do the same. 

State law (RCW Chapter 35.61) limits the content of the ballot measure to four things: (1) the name, (2) who sits on the Board (the Seattle City Council, in this case), (3) the geographical boundaries, (4) the tax rate of $0.75 per $1,000 of assessed value. If citizens vote to approve the MPD, a permanent taxing district with broad powers granted by the state, is created.

The League of Women Voters of Seattle-King County recommends that the public vote no on Prop 1. 

Their website states: “The League’s recommendation is based upon several of its long-held ‘good government’ positions.” Establishing a completely separate, permanent government entity with broad powers but only vague and non-binding rules for how decisions will be made now and in 20 or 50 years does not meet one of their most fundamental principles of good government. “While the League has long supported parks and appropriate funding for parks," the organization writes, "the current proposal goes beyond a simple funding mechanism and creates an entity that lacks adequate accountability to the voters.”

Once created, how the MPD wants to do business is up to the whims of the MPD Board. How much money from the general fund will go to Parks? That’s up to the MPD Board acting as the Seattle City Council. What pet projects will be funded? That’s up to the City Council acting as the MPD Board. What will be the actual tax rate? That’s up to the City Council acting as the MPD Board. How much selective listening will be exercised? That depends on the desires of those same individuals who keep changing their acting hats. 

The truth is, state law grants the MPD broad authority to build stadiums, buy more elephants for the Woodland Park Zoo, privatize our parks, finance a waterfront park, etc. — all without your vote. This is very different from levies.

Now, those who advocate for the MPD tell us they have spelled out everything: how the MPD will operate, how they will have oversight committees, how they won’t decrease the money flow to parks from the general fund, how they have defined categories for spending, how they will listen to us. They say that’s all included in the interlocal agreement. Well, guess what else is in that interlocal agreement. Item 6.1 says all the promises they have made regarding accountability and use of funds can be “terminated upon the provision of 180 calendar days notice.” How can you have true and honest accountability if those being held accountable can change their own rules?

Should we change a park levy system that has worked very well since the 1900s? No.

We, along with all Seattle voters, support park levies. We trust the voters.

The MPD is permanent. While it will take only a simple majority vote to form an MPD, citizens can’t vote to dissolve it. For that matter, if an MPD is created, we will never again be able to vote on any park matters. An MPD takes away our vote forever. The accountability that comes with measurable outcomes is lost. 

We are a grassroots group that agrees with the League of Women Voters. We love our parks and want to support them. We believe in the power of the vote at the ballot box. We understand accountability is gained through binding operational rules and named projects. We support good democratic practices. We believe the investment of time to get it right the first time is worth it, especially in this case when do-overs aren’t an option. The MPD does not pass the test for good democratic government.

Vote No on Proposition 1. Help us preserve the citizens’ right to vote on taxes and programs that are the lifeblood of our parks.

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