California Place Park: Design workshops end – now what?

By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

Much has changed since the first public discussion of possible changes to little California Place Park in North Admiral – and much has not.

What has changed:

*After going through the design process funded by a $15,000 city matching-funds grant, the proposal for possible park changes does not include anything resembling a children’s play area.

*The so-called “southern triangle” of city-owned land, southwest of the park itself, is now under Parks Department supervision since the process brought to light the fact it was somewhat neglected SDOT-owned right-of-way.

*Life has changed for one of the leaders of Friends and Neighbors of North AdmiralManuela Slye is moving her Admiral District home-based bilingual Cometa Playschool — which some critics had suggested was a motivation for proposing park changes — to part of the former Prudential NW space about two miles south.

What hasn’t changed:

Those opposed to any changes in the small triangle of lawn and trees remain resolute, particularly nearby resident Jan Bailey, who has spent many hours standing in the park with her NO CHANGE TO PARK sign, gathering almost 700 petition signatures, and brought her sign and flyers to last night’s meeting, greeting neighbors at the door, then keeping vigil at the back of the room.

Also unchanged, one stark reality: The fact that intensive community fundraising would be needed to make any changes to the park.

At last night’s meeting, numbers emerged for the first time, along with design concepts presented by well-known Seattle landscape architect Karen Kiest — who chaired the Seattle Design Commission until recently. And some of the tension that in particular marred the first of the three workshops re-emerged, briefly.

But first, a little background, if you’re just joining this story:

California Place Park is a triangle of land bordering Admiral Church and the California/Hill intersection. Until Manuela Slye came to the Admiral Neighborhood Association last June to share a proposal for a possible “play area” there, touching off months of meetings and sometimes clamorous controversy, some say they weren’t even aware it was a park – there’s no sign bearing its name, only a small green sign warning of the city leash/scoop rules. And in fact, it’s been revealed along the way that some of the land that’s part of the park isn’t even recognizable as open space – there’s asphalt over a section on the north side, and church landscaping over some of it along the west side.

Slye and others interested in possible park additions formed Friends and Neighbors of North Admiral, pursuing a city Small and Simple matching-funds grant for $15,000 to hire a landscape architect to lead design workshops and come up with a vision for the park. In the meantime, they held public meetings of their own, even before the grant was awarded.

Once the grant was finalized and FANNA made a landscape-architect hire, that triggered another public process, which started with a pre-meeting of sorts in November (WSB coverage here) and then moved into the design workshops. (All our stories are archived here, newest to oldest.)

Now, on to last night.

Attendance was down from previous meetings; about three dozen people were in the room, and if you scanned it, you could see many held the bright-green “NO CHANGE TO PARK” flyers that Jan Bailey had passed out at the door (see photo above).

FANNA’s Steven Gray began with a quick outline of the next steps in the process; we’ll recap those at the end of this article. Landscape architect Kiest then reviewed the main points of feedback from the previous meetings: “We heard that people like green spaces. We heard that people are interested in safety and security. People agreed the ‘Southern Triangle’ could use some change. There are a lot of options, and our goal in life is to get down to fewer options … to ‘smoosh’ the options into a draft plan for your review.”

What she called “themes” that emerged from the second design workshop included interest in repairing walkways, a curving walkway through the park, a larger lawn, a natural edge, seating (none of which exists in CP Park now aside from the bus-shelter bench), a “playful” landscape, and “buffered” plantings along the road frontage.

She subsequently designed options she said could be phased in, noting they were presented earlier this month to the Parks Department, which — whether money was raised for the park or not — would have the final say on any changes to California Place.

The “first step,” Kiest said, could be to make the walkway go around the trees, respecting the “existing park edge.” She added, “Everything else is just frosting on the cake.”

Since, she half-joked, features have to have names, this one would be called the Wonder Walk.

It could be bookended by markers celebrating the neighborhood’s history, including the cable car that used to go down the hill to a ferry dock. Briefly shown at the meeting – a hand-drawn document from the “Sherwood Files” at the Parks website, detailing more of the park’s history:

Along the walkway, there could be a Learning Landscape – “that could involve more native plants – the superintendent of parks (Tim Gallagher) is very interested in that.” And seating was envisioned – Kiest showed examples, such as a “whimsical” bench at Broadview Library, or even a “seating circle” that she said could mix grass and stones.

One suggestion discussed at the previous meeting has largely come off the table – the idea of moving the bus shelter to allow more of a streetside view into the park – so it didn’t figure into any of the designs (and wouldn’t be under city jurisdiction anyway).

Then, the “corner opportunity” – Kiest’s design of an “entry plaza” envisioned an “ornamental,” curved seating wall, perhaps including some plaques, and landscaping.

In what Kiest said she could envision as “phase 2 in a (financially) uncertain world” – drawing somewhat rueful laughter – the asphalt-buried northern section of the park “would be a wonderful extension,” dubbed the Full Stretch:

Finally, she showed some potential changes for the “southern triangle” – extended walls, some seating, drainage improvements (which Kiest said would be more up to Seattle Public Utilities) – seen at the bottom half of this sketch:

Next, Kiest discussed cost estimates for the elements of her design presentation. The “southern triangle” wasn’t covered, since it technically wasn’t part of what she was hired to review. Otherwise: The “first step,” including site prep, grading, irrigation, planting, onsite improvements, offsite pavement, could cost from $160,000 to $240,000, she said. Expanding the project to the “larger frame” by converting the paved portion on the north side back to usable park land would add $80,000 to $119,000 more. So the top potential price tag would be around $360,000 – the lowest potential price tag, $80,000 for the low end of just converting the north end.

Once the cost review discussion was over, that’s when the meeting got a little tense: A park-change opponent said, “Can we have a show of hands of who’s on board with you (Kiest)?”

The landscape architect did her best to deflect the attempt to call for a vote, stating clearly and repeatedly, that’s not what the meeting was for – opinions were supposed to be discussed in the “small group” participation that was scheduled to happen next, then presented to the larger group.

The park opponent insisted on continuing: “There are those of us who are totally against any change to the park, and I really don’t think those of us who are against any change in the park are being listened to.” Another voice: “I just don’t get it. It feels like a majority in the room are opposed to it. I’m very frustrated, as a taxpayer.”

Kiest attempted to calmly defuse the debate: “I want to be clear about a couple of things. This is a planning grant we are working under that was approved. Your input has been incredibly helpful. I understand you have an organized group …”

“So does the other side,” interrupted an attendee.

“Yes,” Kiest acknowledged, “but I don’t know why you are here (at a design workshop) if you are opposed to any change in the park.”

That drew what we might describe as the loud verbal equivalent of en-masse eye rolling. (Kiest later apologized, following some one-on-one conversations during the small-group discussion, saying she did understand they were there to make sure it was known they opposed park changes.)

During the small-group discussion, attendees were to look at the proposed designs and talk about what if anything they would like to see done, and any other ideas they might have. Kiest and FANNA leaders, including Manuela Slye (who’s expecting a baby in a few weeks) and Ann Limbaugh, circulated to answer questions; at one point, Kiest could be seen talking with a woman who was waving her hands and gesturing quite animatedly.

When the group reconvened, Kiest pointed out Parks and Neighborhoods city reps who were in attendance, and started calling on representatives for individual tables, starting with a woman who wanted to show a bag full of tree roots she said she had collected at the park:

She said the roots had been dug up by crews working at the site earlier in the week with jackhammers: “I wanted to express my disgust and concern on a couple of different levels,” she said, explaining that this is what many feared might happen to the roots of the park’s big existing trees if any kind of work was done. “I’m starting to like the idea of a ‘Wonder Walk,’ and historical facts on markers, but is more of this going to happen if that occurs?”

Kiest tried to reassure her that “surface root” damage shouldn’t harm the tree, adding: “Typically when we do new sidewalks, we put a root barrier down at the edge, a liner that keeps the roots growing down rather than buckling the sidewalks.”

Continuing around the tables, several representatives simply wanted to say they were against any change to the park. Of those who had comments about potential changes, one voiced support for adding seating and history markers; another said the “corner opportunity” should be a priority, while also suggesting that just tackling the northern section might be an OK option for those whose attitude he characterized as “don’t mess with my park”: “Do everything outside the existing boundaries,” he suggested cheerily, “and then everybody will be happy!” (Laughter ensued.)

Yet another table suggested benches would be OK but “avoid building targets for taggers” — that drew applause. There was another suggestion of incorporating the historical references into the walls of the bus shelter.

Longtime Admiral neighborhood activist/advocate Dennis Ross was among the last to speak; he said, “I think spending close to $400,000 here is not cost-effective. We already have a lot of the pleasant things that a lot of people are talking about talking about that won’t cost anything to keep … your cost estimate fullblown is close to 400K; there’s no money in this economy.” He did acknowledge that improvement to help disability accessibility would be OK, and reiterated that the bus shelter should not be moved.

After reps from each table had spoken, Kiest summarized that she heard people “feeling better” about sidewalks and benches, and also noted that a petition is being circulated to turn the “southern triangle” into a P-Patch community garden, though there is some question whether the space is large enough, she said.

Finally – at the conclusion of her third meeting, two of which had more than a few uncomfortable moments, she asked those in attendance to applaud themselves just for showing up.

As Gray had explained at the start of the meeting, Kiest will write up a report within the next month and a half or so; that will go to the Parks Department and will be posted on the FANNA website at The group is hoping to have an event May 24, probably at the park itself, to celebrate “all the energy and effort that everyone has put into this” — regardless of what side they are on.

And perhaps the most telling thing: It will be up to FANNA to decide what they want to pursue. Even with budget crunches, there is city money available — for example, the Parks Levy’s “Opportunity Fund” – but no option is likely to come without the requirement of an exhaustive fundraising and volunteer-pledge-gathering drive. The group plans to meet once Kiest’s report is out to talk about where to go from here.

As for park-change opponents, Jan Bailey came over and talked to me after the meeting ended, after most of the room cleared out. She said her group would also be deciding what it intends to do if any proposal for park changes should move forward.

6 Replies to "California Place Park: Design workshops end - now what?"

  • chas redmond April 18, 2009 (3:06 pm)

    Seems to me that a whole lotta folks in that section of Admiral now know a whole lot about each other and their preferences, public speaking abilities, smiles, frowns and whatnot. To me it seems that once again a community has grown and enlarged upon itself and matured slightly more. That’s pretty much a win for everyone. My hat’s off to everyone involved and for being that deeply vested in your community. It’s one of the reasons I love living in West Seattle. We care and we show up and we continue to care. Whatever happens, that’s a great stretch of California Avenue – I’m always wandering around that part of town.

  • Jim Del Ciello, VP Admiral Neighborhood Association April 18, 2009 (3:31 pm)

    I concur with my fellow West Seattle colleague and neighbor Chas Redmond. While I was not able to attend the the first two “design” workshops, I did attend the last one. I fully expected to see and hear all the rancor I experienced when the initial community meeting took place at Hiawatha Park many months ago. Instead I was pleasantly surprised! I do sense that the community DID become engaged and at the end of the day, we all acted upon the Parks Department’s advice: namely, “just remember that while you debate, you are all still neighbors too!”

  • TR April 19, 2009 (8:12 am)

    I’ve lived in North Admiral for 2 years, and one of the reasons I moved here was because of the abundance of open spaces (Hamilton Viewpoint, Hiawatha, Alki, Duwamish Head) here. Thanks to the wonderful neighbors that keep beautiful gardens, trees, and green strips, our entire neighborhood is very parklike! We are truly blessed.
    It’s one of the reasons I don’t support any changes at California Place at this time. Although I do thing the park could use better maintenance, I know that there are neighborhoods throughout Seattle that could use the funds from the city and any we could fundraise for project that are much more needed than this. Having lived in several of these neighborhoods before, I struggle to justify the expense in one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in Seattle, especially when so many people are struggling.
    Perhaps those that would raise funds for this park would consider joining their efforts to another “friends” group in an underserved community?

  • WSB April 19, 2009 (11:06 am)

    (…editor’s note, TR above is NOT WSB editor TR…)

  • barbara mc April 21, 2009 (10:09 am)

    Unkind, cruel, hurtful remarks made under the
    guise of blog anonymity.

  • WSB April 21, 2009 (11:04 am)

    Comment to which 10:09 am refers to has been deleted.

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