The beach at Madison Park Credit: Seattle Parks and Recreation Department
As the current parks levy expires, Seattle voters are being asked to renew support for neighborhood parks and community centers. While some have worked to make this issue complex, it’s actually quite simple: Proposition 1 will provide stable, dedicated funding to take care of Seattle parks and continue investing for the future. Period.
Everyone claims to love parks. Yet in my family — as I suspect in yours — love means we have a responsibility take care of each other. It means we plan for and invest in the future. The same is true for our parks and community centers.
Right now, Seattle is failing to truly love its parks. We have a $267 million backlog of deferred maintenance, caused by poorly conceived Tim Eyman initiatives, the Great Recession and challenges related to parks levies, which create a political imperative to dangle shiny ornaments in front of voters while neglecting the parks we already have.
As the fastest growing city in the nation, Seattle's demand for parks is only increasing. And our current system disproportionately impacts lower-income people, as we increase user fees and price people out of our public sports leagues and programs at community centers.
That’s one of the reasons that El Centro de la Raza, Neighborhood House, Seattle Human Services Coalition and Southwest Youth and Family Services have joined dozens of other groups in endorsing Yes on Proposition 1.
For the first time, Proposition 1 would create a stable, dedicated source of funding to take care of Seattle neighborhood parks and community centers. It will provide funding to keep community centers open and to maintain ballfields. Today in Seattle, neighborhood advisory committees can invest private donations to keep community centers open longer hours. The net result is that some community centers in higher-income neighborhoods are open much more than those in lower-income neighborhoods. Without stable funding, this trend of “pay to play” will continue.
As any homeowner knows, there is always repair work to do. Imagine owning a system of 465 parks, 26 community centers, 185 athletic fields and 120 playgrounds. The list of repairs is long and grows every day. Without funds to maintain these investments, many will fall further into disrepair, impacting public safety as well.
Nobody wants this to happen, since we all agree Seattle loves its parks. The real question is how we will take care of the parks we have and ensure everyone has access to them. And how will we invest for the future growth that we know is coming?
Proposition 1 is our single best chance to change the current dynamic, with the majority of funding invested in maintaining our existing parks. It reflects more than a year of work by a citizen’s advisory committee, Mayor Ed Murray and the City Council, and has earned the endorsement of Mayors Murray, McGinn, Nickels, Schell, Royer and Rice, among many others. And it will cost the owner of a $400,000 home $4 more per month.
Opponents claim to love parks but offer no solutions for the current situation, other than more of the same. Let me be clear: If you love parks, you invest in them.
There is no “Plan B” if Proposition 1 does not succeed, other than more Seattle process that revisits the same well-worn path the citizen’s committee already walked. In the meantime, our maintenance backlog grows, access to community centers remains limited and “pay to play” stays the norm.
At the national level, the public sector is under constant attack by the Tea Party and its ilk. In Seattle, we can invest in the public realm and embrace good governance by officials who will soon be elected by district. In short, we can do better.
Seattle is a great city, which is one of the reasons people want to live here. Parks are the physical places where we come together as friends, neighbors, and families. Parks make Seattle a great place to live, which is why Seattle loves its parks. Loving parks means investing in them; there is simply no way around it. Please join me in voting Yes on Proposition 1 to renew our commitment to Seattle neighborhood parks and community centers.