You know all this from my previous blog entries (Part I, Part II, and Part III): Our city proudly counts 465 parks spanning 6,200 acres of beaches, forests, fields, playgrounds, ball courts, community centers, and rain-kissed open space. We rely on these parks for respite from city life, room to stretch our legs, space to spread a picnic blanket, and a place to gather with friends and family. Unfortunately, we cannot maintain these well-loved parks and community centers through current funding sources and now face a $267 million major maintenance backlog.
On Monday, the City Council will consider legislation that would provide stability for one of our city’s greatest resources—our parks. First, the Council’s Select Committee on Parks Funding will consider ordinances laying the groundwork for the creation of a new Seattle Park District, and then the Full Council will consider them. If the ordinances are approved by the Council, Seattle voters will decide this August whether to create a Seattle Park District. As I explained in a past blog entry, a Seattle Park District would create a sustainable and dedicated funding source for Seattle parks.
Because of statutory limits, our parks have not been maintained, and cannot be maintained the way we want them, through short-term levy fixes. Our 2008 levy focused on securing more parkland so everyone in Seattle could walk to a park but did not solve the question of how new parks would be developed or existing facilities would be maintained. Subsequently, our Parks Department suffered during the great recession, resulting in nearly 100 layoffs and cuts to other employees’ hours. The result has been a growing list of boilers, electrical systems, irrigation networks, and other infrastructure that needs fixing or replacement, cuts to community center hours, and an inability to expand our Seattle’s park and recreation offerings to meet growing needs.
I will be voting yes on Monday for the Seattle Park District. Here are some of the projects and services that would be funded over the next six years if voters say YES this August:
- Major Maintenance – New funding would allow us to make substantial headway on the $267 million backlog and to address future maintenance needs as they arise. While our 2008 Parks Levy helped bring new parks and open space to communities without ready access to existing recreational facilities, the levy did not provide money for operations and maintenance. Our current “Fix It First” approach will safeguard existing park infrastructure—ensuring Seattleites can continue to enjoy our city’s most-loved parks amenities. If the Seattle Park District is approved, you will see new roofs atop buildings, fresh turf on once battered fields, worn out jungle gyms replaced with new play structures, and landscape, trail, and forest restoration across our parks. Not all the repairs will be obvious to parks goers, including electrical repairs and other improvements bringing facilities up to current code requirements, but all will ensure the continued vitality of our parks system.
- Fourteen New Neighborhood Parks – We could finally develop and maintain 14 new parks at sites acquired thanks to the 2008 levy funding but left unimproved. These properties, known as land-banked sites, dot many of our densest and fastest growing neighborhoods. Scattered from Lake City to South Park Plaza and West Seattle to Wedgwood, these new parks would help us close a “Park Gap” that has left some neighborhoods without a walkable open space destination. Other land-banked sites include Morgan Junction, Rainer Valley, the International District, and Denny Triangle in south, central and west Seattle and Baker Park, Greenwood and Phinney Ridge, Fremont, and the University District in the north end.
- Smith Cove Park –Development and maintenance of Smith Cove Park, on the Elliott Bay waterfront would also be funded. Acquiring property and building a park here has been a city goal since 1990. With the land now jointly used by King County and the City, a new waterfront park with views of downtown and Mt. Rainier could soon be a reality.
- Safer Parks – For our parks to be enjoyed by all, they must be safe. To ensure our parks feel safe to women and families, the Seattle Park District would fund additional Park Rangers and Animal Control Officers. The proposed district could also support efforts to activate parks across the city.
- Beautiful and Enduring Parks – We could also improve park grounds, with a particular focus on ensuring parks remain at their prime during their most heavily used months. This means making sure garbage cans are not overflowing after summer cookouts and restrooms are clean. A tight tree maintenance budget will also be boosted, and new resources will be available for the Seattle Conservation Corps, which creates opportunities for homeless adults to do paid work maintaining city parks. More funding would also go toward preventative maintenance, to ensure parks facilities endure.
- Restoring Community Center Operations – Cuts made during the recession left community centers with shorter hours and fewer staff members to serve the public. With Seattle Park District funding, we could add programming and staff to meet each neighborhood’s unique demands.
- Community Center Rehabilitation – We could rehabilitate aging community centers to meet today’s, and future, needs—another component of our Fix It First initiative. Roofs and other basic building components, like HVAC systems, could be replaced, and we could expand gyms, reconfigure meeting rooms, and make our centers more environmentally sustainable. We can also work with neighbors to meet the needs of their particular community.
- Recreation for All – All Seattleites deserve recreational opportunities. To ensure greater access for communities of color and immigrant and refugee populations, we would fund partnerships with outside organizations working with underserved individuals and will continue to invest in successful programs like women-only swim times and food and fitness programs for elders from immigrant communities.
- Summer Camps, Swimming Pools, and Other Accessible Opportunities – Sixty additional youths could go to summer camp through a funding boost for the Special Populations Program, which serves people with disabilities. Other programming enhancements would include field trips and classes, a sign-language interpreter to ensure deaf children can participate in swimming lessons, and equipment allowing those who use wheelchairs to access swimming pools and play lacrosse.
- All Ages Opportunities – Programing for youth and older adults would be expanded. More young people would have access to programs that teach job and life skills, and more adults over 50 would have access to food and fitness programs. Particular attention would be paid to serving people with dementia and extending programming to immigrant and refugee communities.
- Get Moving Fund – Most of us could use more movement in our life, with 56 percent of King County adults and 21 percent of middle and high school students qualifying as overweight or obese. Our Parks Department could partner with outside organizations to provide opportunities for Seattleites to get on the move through targeted outreach, expanded partnerships with community groups, and increased access to athletic opportunities.
- Growing Our Greenways – Greenways are residential streets that connect pedestrians, cyclists, and other non-motorized travelers to parks. These vital corridors would be enhanced to include better connections across streets and intersections to parks.
- Dog Parks Spruce Up – Seattleites love their dogs as much as they love parks. This means major traffic at Seattle’s 14 Off-Leash Areas. With a Seattle Park District, the city could fund improvements to our four-legged friends’ favorite parks.
- Arts in Parks – Seattle boasts both natural beauty and a bevy of talented residents. The “Put Arts in the Parks” initiative would enliven our neighborhood parks through arts and cultural offerings, especially in underserved and economically constrained neighborhoods. Through the initiative, the city’s Office of Arts and Culture would pair with community-based organizations to bring more cultural and creative activities and installations to our parks.
- Saving City Forests – The Green Seattle Partnership, a public-private collaboration, aims to restore 2,500 forested acres by 2025. Seattle Park District funding would help make headway to the goal and provide for other forest stewardship programs, such as trail building and invasive species removal. This is especially important since the funds are leveraged by dedicated volunteers, helping us clean our air and water.
- P-Patch Rejuvenation – Seattle’s 82 city-managed P-Patches are a place for neighbors to come together to dig in the dirt and grow food for those in need. These community gardens have succeeded at uniting communities and safeguarding open spaces, but many of our P-Patches need updates to aging infrastructure and improvements that expand access.
- Maintaining Our Aquarium and Zoo – The Seattle Aquarium’s waterfront location makes this a popular destination, but the salt water environment makes upkeep demanding. The Seattle Park District would provide additional funding for annual maintenance. Similarly, the city owns Woodland Park and is responsible for keeping it lovely.
This has been a multi-year effort, and thanks are due to Parks and Recreation employees, the broader community, the Parks Legacy Citizen Advisory Board, the Board of Parks Commissioners, and more. I am grateful to all who have been involved, those who have provided financial data and oversight, and those who have helped me shape a package and the approach. I respect the many advocates and am thankful that we are a city who cares deeply about our parks. Thank you for helping the Council reach this point.
Next Stop: The Council vote Monday, April 28th.