With the passage of Proposition 1 on August 5, Seattle voters have approved the creation of the Seattle Park District, which allows the city to raise property taxes to create a fund allocated specifically for park expenditures.
Despite creating contentious debate from both proponents and opponents of the ballot measure in the weeks leading up to the election, Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Michael Wells says that now, after the dust has settled, residents of the neighborhood will soon see how the Park District will benefit them.
“I’m pleased, obviously,” said Wells. “The chamber endorsed Prop 1, and we think it is the most reasonable way to manage our park’s financing. I don’t see any downsides. A lot of the opponents had issues with how it was funded or how it was governed, but we didn’t have the same concerns. I only see this as good news for Capitol Hill and Cal Anderson.”
The property tax is expected to cost the average home owner between $70 and $200 a year, based off of property value. Previously, the city and county had resorted to using voter-approved levies that had left an estimated $270 million maintenance backlog from a lack of adequate funding.
For parks like Cal Anderson, one of the most popular outdoor destinations in the neighborhood and the city at large, Wells says that one of the first effects of the additional funding provided by Prop 1 will open up new opportunities for usage of the park, which will in turn help drive out any criminal activity.
“We spend a lot of time on Cal Anderson Park around safety issues and activating them,” said Wells. “We do a lot of events in the park and support a lot of other organizations that do events in the park through sponsorships or manual labor, whatever we can do since we believe that activation of the parks drives out a lot of the bad or dangerous elements of the park, so the more activation the better. So even though the money won’t come in until about 2016, this will allow for a lot more services in the park.”
In addition to more events that will help increase patronage and decrease criminal activity in Cal Anderson, Wells also stressed that the main priority of the Prop 1 funding at Cal Anderson will be to increase staff, particularly in the form of more frequent patrols from park rangers.
“The concierge program, right now, has about eight weeks of funding,” Wells said. “Once the Parks District goes into effect, we’ll have more opportunities for funding of ranger time and concierge time, and hopefully more recreational activities and equipment as well. What we really need is consistent staffing, so that’s what I’m most looking forward to for Cal Anderson. So I think the Parks District a good thing for Cal Anderson Park and Capitol Hill, and we’re really pleased.”
Outside of increased staffing, Wells said that the top priorities of the Parks District funds will be to help deal with maintenance, including equipment repair and replacement as well as beautification.
“The maintenance of these parks is a big deal,” said Wells. “Number one for us is always graffiti. We should hopefully see quicker and smoother graffiti removal, replacement of broken facilities in bathrooms and cover stations as well as lights and whatever else needs to be fixed. So all of those things are a piece of the puzzle, so upgrading the maintenance of the park are our two top priorities.”
However, Wells also added that once the budget for staffing and maintenance has been covered, the Parks District funding will leave hopefully leave enough for the addition of more activities at Cal Anderson, including more outdoor events and possibly the addition of more organized sports as well.
“There is the possibility of doing more intermurals and more physical activities, and more organizational activities with groups… things like the Jockstraps and glitter rugby match will be possible. We’re already a pretty active park with things like the movies to Halloween to Fourth of July, but the more stuff we can do, the better,” said Wells.
“For a lot of people, Cal Anderson is the backyard of Capitol Hill. A lot of people here don’t have those kind of green spaces. So it’s very important to keep that space active.”