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Seattle Metropolitan Parks District: A tense 'yes'

Both sides expect the initial count, somewhat narrowly favoring the new funding mechanism, will hold up.
Gas Works Park (2012)

Gas Works Park (2012) Evan Blaser

Seattle Prop. 1, the vote to create a new Metropolitan Parks District, turned into a Rorschach test on public trust.

On Primary Night August 5, the voters seemed to be passing the new Parks District, 52.3 percent yes and 47.6 percent against. It looks like Prop. 1 will pass — advocates aren't declaring victory yet, but you wouldn't know that from how they celebrated at Belltown's 5 Point Cafe when the numbers rolled in at 8:15 Tuesday night.

The pro-Parks crowd whooped and cheered when the numbers were announced. Their relief was palpable. A small lead was more than many had expected in what was a tight race. Thatcher Bailey, president of the Seattle Parks Foundation, couldn't conceal his delight. "Holy shit!" he yelled. Some had expected the "yes" votes to trail in the early count, and the campaign believes it will pick up momentum in the later ballot are counted due to their get-out-the-vote efforts.

The surprise lead didn't come by accident. Just before 8 p.m., Prop. 1 leader and City Councilmember Sally Bagshaw rode in on her bike, nervous and breathless, having just hand delivered a single ballot from a neighbor to the courthouse at 7:30 — "the last vote" she joked. The pro-parks campaign claimed to have made over 40,000 phone calls to voters. They were leaving nothing to chance. Responding to the first numbers, Bagshaw declared giddily, "This just proves everybody loves parks!"

Meanwhile, in the Queen Anne Hill living room of the "no" campaign's chairman, Don Harper, the mood was resigned. "We lost," Harper told a crowd of about 20 supporters. Carol Fisher, the campaign's vice chair, said, "I was surprised we did as well as we did."

In terms of park love, both sides claimed to be the most ardent. The "Yes" campaign called itself "Parks for All," and the "No" campaign upped the ante by declaring "Our Parks Forever." Of course, the only thing "forever" about parks is squabbling over them. But no one was willing to cede an edge on parks love to the other.

Still, two starkly contrasting views of government were outlined in the campaign.

Parks district advocates believed they were trying to solve a long-term and systemic funding problem that stemmed for tax limits laid down by Tim Eyman's anti-tax initiatives and the legislature. They wanted to find solid, permanent funding for parks operations and maintenance and expand and improve the system. What's not to love?

Anti-Prop. 1 advocates painted a darker picture: the district as a kind of Darth Vader intent on condemning your property, selling off parks and building unwanted stadiums. It was painted as an example of out-of-control government out to feather its own nest. The one thing everyone agreed on, other than a love of parks, was that the vote would raise taxes — that was the point.

In a city where everybody purportedly loves parks, the vote was relatively close. If we love them so much, why did nearly half of the electorate vote "No?" Why did the "Yes" campaign have to raise nearly ten times as much ($367,000 vs. $38,000) to get just over half of the vote?

Chart: Bill Lucia

Some of the closeness could be attributed to the small summer primary turnout. Some also to a general aversion to higher property taxes. The measure was also complex — creating a new public authority that overlapped with the city council with new powers to tax. It even looked complicated on the ballot, something that often raises doubt. If voters are confused, they often default to “No.”

Brad Kahn, chairman of the Seattle Parks Foundation, which worked heavily for the measure, says that supporters knew from the beginning the proposal "was never going to be a slam dunk." Said Kahn, "It was going to be a heavy lift from day one." He accused the "No" campaign of misleading claims and "black helicopter" paranoia about the plan. Even in tax-friendly Seattle, an uphill climb was expected, and the "No" campaign won over many doubters, including The Seattle Times editorial board and the League of Women voters — hardly tin-foil types. A big chunk of Parks District skepticism resided with the grassroots, neighborhood activists who are frequently suspicious of City Hall.


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Comments:

Posted Wed, Aug 6, 10:10 a.m. Inappropriate

Bottom line, voters look to be making the right choice - parks (and recreation) are a smart investment that pays dividends for property owners (higher property values) and residents (maintaining Seattle as a destination city, boosting city revenues).

Seattle population (singles and families) will only continue to grow - our parks (and recreation) need to grow and improve with it, without Eyman-esque caps dictating otherwise.

Posted Thu, Aug 7, 8:56 p.m. Inappropriate

Families? In Seattle? Who you kidding?

Posted Fri, Aug 8, 9:12 a.m. Inappropriate

Not kidding. There is a $19 million project to reopen Seattle's Lincoln High School as "a comprehensive high school" by 2019. "This project will address projected high school enrollment growth in central and north Seattle with approximately 1,600 seats."

http://bex.seattleschools.org/bex-iv/lincoln-building/

The District is projecting "about 60,000 students by 2020."

"Seattle Public Schools has released its annual spring enrollment projections for the 2014-15 school year. An estimated 52,400 students are expected to attend school in the district this fall – an increase of 1,300 students over the year ending in June.

This continues the five-year trend of enrollment growth that began in 2009, after a decade of declining enrollment. During the last five years, enrollment grew by more than 5,000 students – from 46,000 in 2009 to 51,000 this year. Next year’s expected enrollment growth of 1,300 students means the district will be serving 6,400 more students next year than in 2009."

http://saveseattleschools.blogspot.com/2014/05/ed-news-roundup_27.html

Posted Wed, Aug 6, 11:23 a.m. Inappropriate

Typical Seattle/Western Washington Liberal, anyone who doesn't agree with their opinion or the raising of taxes for any purpose, must be a TEA Party member or fan of all of Tim Eyman's initiatives. Pathetic echo chamber deserves what they vote for.

Cameron

Posted Wed, Aug 6, 5:23 p.m. Inappropriate

You're the one labeling people you don't agree with as "typical" and "pathetic"...

Posted Thu, Aug 7, 6:06 a.m. Inappropriate

Thanks for proving my point, you can find a pattern of denial from many writers and commenters here at Crosscut. If someone doesn't suppport a Parks/Pre-School/ Homeless/Illegal Alien/Bicycle Path/ Transit Tax and Spending package, they are obviously a far right, conservative, Christian, Tim Eyman supporting Tea-Party member who should be voted off the island. It happens over and over again.

Cameron

Posted Thu, Aug 7, 12:44 p.m. Inappropriate

If they vote their way for policy reasons, great. If they do it for their own wallet, unless they're truly poor, it's selfishness over patriotism.

mhays

Posted Wed, Aug 6, 9:25 p.m. Inappropriate

As the fastest growing city in America, with one of the strongest and most diverse economies, Seattle is absolutely getting what we deserve. And now we can ensure we have well-maintained parks that serve everyone in the city. Troll elsewhere.

hbkahn

Posted Thu, Aug 7, 6:07 a.m. Inappropriate

You can't ensure anything with the MPD. Troll elsewhere.

Cameron

Posted Thu, Aug 7, 8:57 p.m. Inappropriate

Explain what kind of diverse economy Seattle has. It's all tech driven, that's not diversity.

Posted Wed, Aug 6, 12:02 p.m. Inappropriate

City Council's strategy worked: Put something controversial on the August ballot when turn-out is sure to be small, couch it as progressive, have lots of volunteers and send out lots of cheery mailers that obscure the fact that you're creating a new permanent governing entity with taxation authority....It's virtually certain that a high percentage of the "yes" voters thought it was just another levy...

Posted Wed, Aug 6, 1:26 p.m. Inappropriate

I'm one of those tax-and-spend liberals you hear so much about, but even I vote against propositions that smell funny. And this one stank to high heaven. (Yes, I actually read it.) So why did it squeak by? Money, baby. Well-funded propoganda. It was bought and paid for.

nwdenizen

Posted Thu, Aug 7, 8:58 p.m. Inappropriate

Yes it was. And THAT should be illegal.

Posted Thu, Aug 7, 12:33 p.m. Inappropriate

"Or perhaps they balked at the fine print." Ya think?

I voted NO because of the fine print, not because of the taxes. I and most Seattle voters have consistently supported funding to parks so that argument was bogus.

The amount of money spent by the proponents of the measure overwhelmed the meager resources of the opponents and money talks.

nwcitizen

Posted Thu, Aug 7, 4:38 p.m. Inappropriate

Confusion or ignorance about the difference between levies and independent, irreversible taxing authorities is the reason for this mistake. And Seattle moves another few inches closer to the drain.

jmrolls

Posted Thu, Aug 7, 8:55 p.m. Inappropriate

A tension has developed in my beloved Seattle (beloved Seattle no longer exists is my point of view).

This paragraph sums up the problems very well. Seattle is no longer a place for the solid middle class of all age ranges. That's a disaster.

From the article
" ..... the frustrations of older, middle-class voters who feel they are paying the lion's share of the costs of growth, yet getting few of the benefits.

For one thing, our current economy favors young Amazonians, not the older North Enders.

Seattle was once a solidly middle-class city, yet prosperity is passing many by.

Taxes go up, traffic gets worse, things are more crowded — all so rich techies can live the good life in a South Lake Union high rise and ride a pricey toy trolley?"

Is this really the Seattle people want? I sure don't. I moved away, and return for some business dealings, which are painful due to the mess that is Seattle and King County traffic jams. The war on cars has got to end.

Posted Fri, Aug 8, 1:01 a.m. Inappropriate

The YES campaign attempted to keep the $0.75 per $1000 figure away from the public. Contrary to the YES campaign, $0.75 per $1000, at a time when housing costs are rising, is a lot of dollars for some families.

The NO campaign received nearly half the votes and they were outspent nearly 10:1. Imagine if the NO campaign had the dollars to educate the citizens.

From Crosscut and I agree:

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.

Time will tell.

Watching

Posted Mon, Aug 11, 1:34 p.m. Inappropriate

How you come up with "millions of dollars" in maintenance costs for what will be passive open space is beyond me. Care to cite a source?

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