Parks Superintendent Jesús Aguirre visits HPAC on quest for ‘big ideas’

August 30, 2019 12:09 am
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 |   Highland Park | West Seattle news | West Seattle parks

By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

Remember the Seattle Parks survey asking what you’d like to see in city parks?

Wednesday night, when Parks Superintendent Jesús Aguirre met with HPAC, it was a sort of in-person roadshow version of that survey.

One attendee, in fact, offered the observation that the experience was a bit like a “marketing pitch.”

But Parks facilities play a big role in the area – including sprawling Westcrest Park and youth-sports hub Riverview Playfield – so the ~20 at the meeting participated wholeheartedly, including small-group breakouts.

The meeting opened with HPAC chair Gunner Scott reminding everyone that HPAC now represents the South Delridge and Riverview communities too; the meeting was held at “historic Highland Park Improvement Club,” celebrating its centennial. (It was pointed out later to Aguirre that HPIC is a privately owned community hub – the area does not have a city-operated community center.)

After introductions, Aguirre explained Parks’ pursuit of a new strategic plan meant to span 12 years. We recorded his overview:

They “want to focus on big ideas,” the superintendent declared. “Part of the challenge is that at SPR – we do a lot.” That spans 6,200+ acres of parks and hundreds of buildings; “no matter how well funded we think we are, we’re never going to have the funding to meet all the needs of the community.”

Parks currently is budgeted at $240 million, with slightly more than a fifth of that coming from the Park District levy. Aguirre suggested that ideas could address “is there anything we should STOP doing?” as well as the more-typical suggestions for programs/facilities to add. Overall, he said, Parks is “thinking big.”

He went through his department’s mission and “guiding values,” including being part of the solution to challenges facing Seattle – not just its government – and honoring the city’s history (the Olmsted-designed parks, for example) while “also looking toward our future.” And “ongoing discourse with our community” is key too, he said, as evidenced by his appearance at HPAC.

That’s where issues started surfacing in the night’s “discourse.” Chair Scott observed that neighborhood advocates had fought to get the Myers Way Parcels preserved as greenspace, only to see the city sanction its conversion into a homeless encampment. Another attendee brought up the current controversy over a Parks plan to all but scrap the longstanding artistic garden design at Dragonfly Park. Another voiced a yearning for Parks to have someone more accountable to neighborhood-specific issues.

Neighborhood details, too – Kim Barnes pointed out Parks documentation suggesting the larger area has a community center, when it does not (Southwest, in Westwood, has long since been changed to a “teen life” center.) Barnes also asked Parks how they’re reaching out to community members who speak languages other than English. Parks’ Selena Elmer, who assisted Aguirre with the presentation, said they had extensivey used Spanish as well; Aguirre said they were going door to door in some areas to solicit feedback.

The slide deck summarized some of what’s been heard around the city already, including more programs, more accessibility, more police presence. Then attendees were broken into four groups to address fairly general questions such as “what’s working/not working” in Parks’ overall operations. One local issue of note did emerge – the upcoming closure of the Westcrest Park Off-Leash Area, as covered separately here. But overall, Aguirre acknowledged the discussion was mostly designed to hit citywide notes, and offered to come back another time to focus specifically on neighborhood concerns/ideas/issues, as well as to “learn more about the community.” (He returned to the job earlier this year, a year-plus after ending a three-year stay.) Scott suggested a tour.

But first, HPAC hopes to host another city-department director next month – SDOT’s Sam Zimbabwe. Watch for meeting details as the fourth Wednesday in September – the 25th – gets closer.

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