(WSB photo from this year’s Alki Art Fair)
By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
“Pretty dramatic stuff.”
That’s how Seattle Parks Board vice chair Neal Adams of West Seattle described the briefing that Seattle Parks finance director Carol Everson gave last night to the board – a city-convened citizens’ advisory group – on the cuts and changes to Parks operations contained in the budget Mayor McGinn proposed late last month, six months after Everson delivered a dire warning to the board (WSB coverage here) of what was to come
As part of the briefing, Parks staffers provided the board with a document that they say will be frequently updated through the budget-vetting process – which the City Council is in the middle of now – featuring specifics on the budget’s potential effects. Covering the meeting last night, that’s when we heard for the first time that one of the casualties would be the popular annual midsummer Alki Art Fair, as part of the proposal to cut Alki Community Center operating hours to a bare minimum.
Read on for what else we’ve learned about Alki Community Center as well as other Parks programs:
Those are the petition signatures that Alki parent Lisa West showed us at Wednesday night’s City Council Budget Committee hearing at South Seattle Community College in West Seattle (WSB coverage here) – she had gathered them in less than an hour on the Alki playground, to show support for keeping the community center open.
It’s one of five centers where the budget proposal seeks to dramatically change operations. Parks’ Sue Goodwin discussed topline details of the Alki changes, noting that one of the reasons it was chosen for reductions is because of the proximity of other community centers, and the fact it has a “limited program capability” because the gym is shared with adjacent Alki Elementary. It will keep “fee-based programs that … will be managed by Hiawatha Community Center,” she explained. Here are details from a Parks document, regarding the expected fate of Alki programs:
The robust ARC-based child care program (which operates at capacity) fills one of the two programming spaces before school and both spaces afterschool until 6 p.m. Monday through Friday, and all day during the summer.
The preschool program (which operates at capacity) fills the other program space morning and afternoon.
What activities continue?
These programs will stay at Alki and/or Alki Bathhouse: Morning and afternoon Preschool, Before and After School, Friday Night Skate Night, Summer Preschool Camp, Lifelong Recreation, drop in volleyball (5 to 7 p.m. two nights per week), drop in basketball (5 to 7 p.m. two nights per week), and Parents’ Night Out (once a month).
Hiawatha Community Center will manage art workshops one day per week and youth and adult pottery at the Alki Bathhouse, and will manage some afternoon, evening, and weekend basketball practices.
These programs will move to Hiawatha Community Center: the Christmas Ship™ at Alki Beach, group guitar lessons, evening Adult Zumba, evening Adult Swing Dance, 6 Weeks to a 5K, Tae Kwon Do, evening adult Zydeco, puppet shows, and summer teen camp. Outdoor concerts will be combined with the series sponsored by Hiawatha.
We will no longer be able to offer community events such as the Monthly Art Walk, the Alki Art Fair, and the Halloween Carnival, and Family Fitness classes and the Little Dribblers instructional league are cancelled.
There will be limited hours of drop-in time for teens and seniors, and interaction with professional staff will be limited to drop-in hours.
Goodwin called the Alki Art Fair in particular “an amazing, amazing event” and expressed hope that somehow volunteer/community help could be found to keep it going – while also acknowledging that volunteer help requires management too, management that Parks won’t have the personnel to provide.
By the way, Ballard Community Center is facing a cutback similar to what’s proposed for Alki – last night, in fact, even as the Parks Board was meeting, members of the Seattle Civic Band were performing at the West Seattle Art Walk, at The Kenney, and asking for support in keeping the center open so they don’t lose their rehearsal space:
(Photo by Ellen Cedergreen)
Again, more details on the community-center changes are in the document distributed last night, which is also up on the cty website (read it here).
Back to Everson’s overview presentation for the Parks Board last night included the bottom=line details in review, including, because of the citywide shortfall, “Business as usual was not an option.” Even for the Parks Department to do next year only what it is doing this year would cost an extra $9 million, she explained, because of a variety of factors, including the $1.7 million operations-and-maintenance cost of new facilities that have come online.
She talked about the “difficult time” of handing out letters to Parks employees the morning before the mayor’s budget announcement on September 27th – 192 people whose jobs will be eliminated or changed. And other Parks staffers joined her in outlining specific effects of the proposed cuts.
The biggest changes in recap: Increased fees and charges for people who use athletic fields, boat ramps, Camp Long, Japanese Garden, picnics and ceremonies, swimming pools, tennis facilities. Parks maintenance is being slashed by a tenth. “It’s really a pretty dramatic shift in the level of service we provide when it comes to ballfield maintenance,” said division director Robb Courtney.
You’ve probably heard about the cuts in Environmental Learning Centers, including school-age programs and activities staying but other public programs going at Camp Long, unless partnerships can be found to carry on with them. Other notes including the “pruning cycle” for Parks trees stretching from 17 years to 22 years, and the loss of three people in the apprenticeship program (this was the subject of some testimony during the budget hearing Wednesday night at SSCC).
After the briefing, Parks Board members expressed a wide variety of concerns. And Parks staffers acknowledged that some of the cuts are “heading in the wrong direction,” such as the urban-forest maintenance; Courtney, asked by board member Diana Kincaid about safety hazards from unmaintained trees hit by storms, said, “We’re just going to be able to get to them less frequently.”
There also was significant discussion of one community-center change in particular – Queen Anne, to be the home of a for-profit program called BizKids. Board chair Jackie Ramels of West Seattle said that turning over a community center to a private program without having gone through any sort of a bidding or public-discussion process is precedent-setting. (Everson said the Parks Department would stand to get about $80,000 from BizKids, but noted the contract’s not signed yet.)
Adams said he was concerned that he heard mostly short-term budget strategies for what seem to be long-term problems. Parks staffers suggested discussions for long-term solutions will be starting soon – perhaps levies, for starters. In the meantime, the budget-discussion and decisionmaking process continues for the next month-plus; the next major public hearing before the City Council Budget Committee is at City Hall on October 26th. The council will vote on budget specifics between October 28th and November 12th, according to Everson’s presentation, and as was said at the West Seattle hearing earlier this week, a final vote is expected on November 22nd; cuts and changes would take effect January 4th.
Many more informational links about the budget, and how to provide feedback at, or outside of, hearings and meetings, can be found here.