Whether it’s Cal Anderson Park replacing its synthetic turf, Garfield Community Center expanding its operational hours, or Volunteer Park getting repairs in the service yard, much depends on the August 5 voters’ pamphlet and what citizens decide in regards to Proposition 1.
Prop 1 asks voters to approve the formation of a Park District, run by city council, to generate permanent funding for parks by taxing home and landowners while also keeping the current income generated from the City’s General Fund.
Previously, Seattle parks have been funded primarily through levies that voters approved once every seven years. During the recession, however, funding for parks was drastically cut, and right now, as the 2008 Parks and Green Spaces Levy is about to expire, Seattle City Council members are looking at a $270 million backlog on park maintenance and repair requests. They need to find monies for replacing leaky roofs, worn-out boilers, and upgrades on critical electrical equipment.
“There are parks that need a lot of attention,” said Norma-Erin Espinosa, President of the Cal Anderson Park Alliance. “Things need to be fixed: graffiti; bad crowds come in and make it uncomfortable for park users to be there. Cleaning up parks, providing activities and events, making it more available to the community, and activating the park helps to keep all the negatives things down. With the Parks District we feel that the parks that need all the help will benefit sooner than with levies.”
The economic depression not only peeled back dollars for park maintenance, but also cut operational hours at community centers and many parks and recreational classes were shut down completely. If the Park District is approved, programs for seniors, programs for people with disabilities and under-served populations, and programs supplementing little league players, would all be restored and expanded.
Supporters for forming a Park District include government officials and a variety of community organizations like the Woodland Park Zoological Society, The Stranger, and Teamsters Local 117, and many others.
While it seems that nobody dislikes the benefits that such funding would provide, various city residents, including some park activists on Capitol Hill, are frustrated by the proposed measure. They worry that taxation provided by a Park District can be abused by elected officials, and feel that we should construct another park levy instead. Some of those opposed to Prop 1 includes the League of Women Voters, The Seattle Times, Our Parks Forever, the Washington Policy Center, and Kay Rood, an activist who persisted in securing funding to renovate Cal Anderson Park.
Don Harper, chair of local political committee Our Parks Forever, is concerned about accountability and funding. “Once we vote it in, we can’t vote it out. It takes only a simple majority to create a metropolitan parks district,” said Harper, “and the public never has another vote on removing it. We can’t do an initiative or a referendum.”
With a Park District, Harper would prefer the charter to allow for a right of initiative, in which people could vote on whether to keep the district.
“Until we can change the rules in the RCW [Revised Code of Washington] that creates a metropolitan parks district, the best way is still through the levy,” said Harper, “where we have a direct vote on the accountability on these excess funds that we need to use to get our parks back into shape, both from the neglect that was caused by the mayor and the City Council from the past 16 years, and the accelerated problem of lack of funding during the recession.”
Seattle City Councilmember Tom Rasmussen explained why he felt opposition to Prop 1 was unfounded. “Nothing we [council members] do today under the current system is done without a lot of public input, without process and recommendations. I think that’s fear mongering on the part of opposition, either intentionally, or they just don’t understand that the proposal is basically a better and more certain way of funding our parks’ needs.”
Rasmussen readily admitted that home and property owners always look at whether they can afford taxation or not. He still feels that the new Park District, and increasing property taxes, is absolutely necessary for the city’s sustainable future.
Brad Kahn, volunteer for the campaign Seattle Parks for All, said, “if this proposition passes it would be the single most progressive decision we’ve ever made for Seattle parks.”
“We are the fastest growing city in the Midwest,” Kahn said, “especially in a neighborhood like Capitol Hill. We need to not only keep up with that growth, with housing and transportation and things like that, but we also need to make sure that people have a way to get outside and connect with their friends and go for a run, or to sit under a tree and throw a ball with their kids,” said Kahn.
“It’s new to Seattle, but there are 16 others in the state of Washington, so we would be number 17. That’s hardly on the cutting edge of funding mechanisms.”
Voters can learn more at: www2.ci.seattle.wa.us/ethics/votersguide.asp