Tonight’s meeting at the Alki Community Center on behalf of the Parks and Green Spaces Levy Citizens’ Advisory Committee was all about public input — no votes were taken, no decisions were made; those are up to the City Council (and Mayor) eventually, but first, recommendations come from the 28 committee members, including West Seattle’s Bruce Bentley, Sharonn Meeks, and Pete Spalding, all of whom were on hand tonight (along with several others). Here’s some of what those on hand wanted the committee to consider when deciding what might go into a new parks levy this fall:
First and foremost, a reminder – there’s no guarantee a new parks levy will be on this fall’s ballot. The City Council wants one — they took an opinion poll (surveying about 600 citizens by phone) that suggests two-thirds of voters would likely support one — but the mayor doesn’t want one on the ballot this year. So that wrinkle has to be ironed out. A “petition” was on the wall at Alki CC tonight for meeting-goers to sign, showing their support for the ballot measures.
As explained by Tom Byers from Cedar River Group, a consulting group that’s helping facilitate this part of the pre-levy process, the advisory committee is already working within a variety of parameters, such as a $140 million/six-year limit for the prospective levy, and a tight timeline — the “drop-dead” date to come up with something for the fall ballot is only about two months away.
Without a new parks levy, he said, there will be a dramatic drop in the amount of money spent on park acquisitions and improvements — two-thirds of the money spent in those areas now comes from the Pro Parks Levy, approved by voters in 2000 and expiring now.
Byers also explained the $140 million figure was determined by the fact a $75 million Pike Place Market levy already is ballot-bound this fall, and those two numbers combined would not take any more of a tax bite out of homeowners’ wallets than is taken now.
So with parameters including a $ limit, the open question remains which projects would be funded if such a levy is proposed and passed. The citizens’ committee already has taken a list of more than 500 projects — from previous public meetings and previous neighborhood processes, it was explained — and whittled it down to just a bit more than 100. Tonight’s input will be taken into account too, it was promised, even though the West Seattle meeting was a late addition to a list that originally only had three public-input meetings, in other areas of the city. (Longtime Alki-area activist Alexandra Pye voiced concern tonight that word of the meeting hadn’t circulated widely enough to reach everyone who might have been interested, particularly those who like her don’t have Internet access.)
Some of tonight’s attendees came from outside West Seattle — after the backstory and ground-rules opening presentation, it was time to split the room into three “breakout groups,” and the one we sat in on included participants from Maple Leaf, Rainier Valley, and South Park.
As a city rep said toward the meeting’s end, after the three breakout groups had reported back to the re-unified audience, the concerns and suggestions sounded the same themes over and over. Among them — acquiring park space for areas of the city with the most density, creatively using underutilized public space, more gardens, better access to Seattle’s miles of shoreline.
Participants came to advocate for specific areas of recreation interest, as well — such as improvements for the West Seattle Golf Course (with a golfing advocate noting that wouldn’t even necessarily require levy money, since the golf fees pay for so much — just department support) and for area swimming facilities.
Cindi Barker from the Morgan Community Association mentioned the Morgan Green Crescent; Donna from Maple Leaf talked about the reservoir-lidding project that’s been accelerated in her North End neighborhood (and got some tips from Barker post-meeting, since Morgan has been deeply involved in the Myrtle Reservoir lid-park process); Sandra Melo voiced concern that the park-space possibilities of the Denny Middle School site be maximized, once the current school is demolished after its replacement is built on the Chief Sealth High School campus.
Concern for parkgoers’ safety was discussed too; one participant wondered if the newly launched Park Rangers program might expand this way. And there was a plea for major projects to be spread around the city, instead of being focused in just a few areas.
Side issues kept cropping up, such as concern about safe walking routes to parks present and future, particularly in neighborhoods without sidewalks. These may not be part of the levy, but they certainly were brought up within earshot of decisionmakers — West Seattle-residing City Councilmember Tom Rasmussen, who chairs the Parks Committee, attended tonight’s meeting as well, and was monitoring this particular circle when that came up.
The fact that all these issues are undeniably tied together also arose earlier in the meeting, with another call for park help that won’t be found on the ballot — veteran volunteer Ken Shaw told the crowd, “Funding is never going to cover everything we all want to see done … My experience volunteering leads me to believe, we need everybody.”
The next major opportunity for public input will be at the Advisory Committee’s meeting at Seattle Center on June 17th. If you can’t make that meeting, you can send comments via e-mail — firstname.lastname@example.org — and/or answer a survey that’s available online at this page in the Council’s section of the city website.
But first, advisory-committee members get together tomorrow night for another look at what’s on the list of prospective projects, including what came up tonight; they are supposed to make their recommendations to the City Council by the end of this month, so that the issue of “levy or no levy” can be worked out by the council and mayor in time for that August deadline.