Urban Politics #73: Sand Point / Magnuson Park Design

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By City Councilmember Nick Licata.

Urban Politics (UP) blends my insights and information on current public policy developments and personal experiences with the intent of helping citizens shape Seattle’s future.



  • History
  • City Council Votes
  • OLA & Water Access For Dogs
  • Summary


The Mayor’s Blue Ribbon Committee (BRC) was formed earlier this year to address the criticisms raised in a financial feasibility study (the “Randall and Ransom Report”) for the redevelopment of the Sand Point Naval Base. The key findings of this report recommended a “top level task force to review uses under new political leadership” and said that without “cohesive and visionary plans” it would be difficult to find the funding to implement any redevelopment plans. The BRC was charged with identifying that vision.

The BRC report presents a vision that insures that the design process will work within a context of environmental restoration as a larger focus for the park. It will guard against a “plunk a park” style of design. If Sand Point/Magnuson is to attract the funding necessary for it to become a truly “Great Urban Park,” we have to look beyond, while accommodating, the needs of user groups.

The Mayor’s recommended Sand Point/Magnuson Park concept plan was discussed and voted upon by a Committee of the Whole meeting on October 4. The Full City Council will be voting on final legislation on October 25.

City Council Votes

The highlights of the Committee vote are listed here (note-the number of Council Members present and voting varied at different times of the meeting, the majority position here is defined as the position with the prevailing vote):

1. Off Leash Area (OLA)

Option A – Mayor’s Proposal: Remove the OLA from Lake Washington shoreline current location and reconfigure OLA inland, along the south-central border of the Park. Develop a pond for dogs to swim in with 175 feet of accessible shoreline. Committee Vote: No Councilmember supported this approach.

Option B – Majority Position: Leave OLA approximately where it is now with Lake Washington beach access with some improvements. Committee Vote: Councilmembers McIver, Drago, Licata, Pageler, and Choe supported this approach.

Option C – Minority Position: Move OLA to south of park, near boat launch with continued lakeshore access. Committee Vote: Councilmembers Steinbrueck, Conlin, and Donaldson supported this approach.

1. Sportsfields Configuration

Option A – Mayor’s proposal and Majority Position: Cloverleaf fields Committee Vote: Councilmembers Donaldson, Conlin, McIver, Drago, and Pageler supported this approach.

Option B and Minority Position – Explore reconfiguration of the cloverleaf fields to accommodate more flexible uses. Committee Vote: Only Councilmember Licata supported this approach

2. Sportfields Lighting and Surfaces

Option A – Mayor’s proposal: Two lighted soccer fields with all-weather surfaces. Committee Vote: No Councilmember supported this approach.

Option B – Majority Position: Four lighted soccer fields with all weather surfaces. Committee Vote: All six Councilmember’s present supported this approach.

3. Sportsfields Comfort Stations

Option A – Mayor’s proposal: Only one comfort station shown on map.

Option B – Majority Position: Clarify that the Park design is to honor the earlier commitment to include at least two (2) comfort stations to serve sports fields. Committee Vote: All eight Councilmember’s present supported this approach.

4. Sportfields-Additional

Option A – Majority Position: Explore adding more sports fields in the area designated for OLA in the Executive Proposal. Committee Vote: All six Councilmember’s present supported this approach.

5. Beach Parking

Option A – Mayor’s proposal: Reduce parking at the swimming beach from 70 spaces to approximately 30 spaces. Committee Vote: Only Councilmember Conlin supported this approach

Option B – Majority Position: Reduce parking at the swimming beach from 70 spaces to approximately 50 parking spaces closer to the swimming beach. Councilmembers Licata, Donaldson, McIver, Drago, and Pageler supported this approach.

6. Boat Launch Overflow Parking

Option A-Mayor’s Proposal and Majority Position: Do not provide boat launch overflow parking. Committee Vote: Concilmembers McIver, Licata, Conlin, Pageler supported this approach.

7. Long Term Park Plan Implementation-Phasing of Improvements

Option A – Mayor’s Proposal: Silent on which improvements should be funded first

Option B – Majority Position: Community Pea Patch is first improvement to be funded. Achieve a balance between sports fields and shoreline restoration project. Mud Lake and its wetlands would receive the lowest priority. Committee Vote:: Councilmembers Donaldson, McIver, Pageler, Donaldson, and Conlin supported this approach.

Option C – Minority Position: Community Pea Patch is first improvement to be funded. Achieve a balance between sports fields and environmental work, including Mudlake, its wetlands, and the shoreline restoration project. Committee Vote:: Only Councilmember Licata supported this balance.

OLA & Water Access For Dogs

1. Resolution 29628, passed in September, 1997, by a 9-0 vote of the City Council and signed by Mayor Norman B. Rice provides the following policy guidance regarding the off leash area at Magnuson:

“The pilot site at Magnuson (water access and boundary walk sites) will continue as an interim site until a plan is adopted for Magnuson Park/Sand Point and a permanent site is located within the park…. In addition to a water site at Magnuson Park, a new permanent water site at another location shall be considered.

2. Because Sand Point is the only place in the City where dog owners can access water with their dogs off leash, the Council in a letter to the Parks Superintendent asked for a Sand Point/Magnuson Park design that maintained water access for dogs and maintained the approximate size of the off leash area.

3. Council was presented a design that moved the off leash area off the shoreline and provided a bio-filtered swimming pond for dogs. We were told at that time that the Environmental Species Act listings would soon be enforced in such a way that dogs would be excluded from the shorelines. Generally speaking, the feeling on the Council at that point was: “the resources necessary to build this pond would mitigate the impact on salmon and thus be a good use of our resources.” We wanted to support the Mayor’s plan and felt that we had a rational, scientific, and legal reason to do so.

4. My office distributed a flyer at the public hearing saying that the ESA listings would soon be enforced in such a way that dogs would be excluded from the shorelines.

5. Citizens began asking for proof of what we thought was an incontrovertible fact-namely that dogs on the shoreline had a negative impact on salmon and that the ESA listings would compel the City to restrict their access.

6. The City’s ESA Science Team wrote the Council a letter stating that juvenile salmon did indeed claim the Lake Washington shoreline as habitat. The ESA team made no conclusion about the impact of dog access to the shoreline on salmon, nor did they prioritize the Off Leash Area (OLA) removal to that of other impacts, nor did they give s any reason to believe that the City would at any time be compelled to remove the OLA from the shoreline because of the ESA listings.

7. My office contacted the three scientists involved in the cited Parametrix study. After my staff talked to these three scientists, I concluded that the study only addressed the existence of juvenile salmon on the Lake Washington shoreline and did not take a position on the impact of dogs on the shoreline. Although juvenile salmon claim the Magnuson Park Lake Washington shoreline as habitat, this is not a special place for salmon because they are present along all of the Lake Washington Shoreline. When measuring impacts on salmon habitat, dogs rate much lower than people, boats, jet skis, and most other shoreline uses. Finally, when contemplating a use of public resources to mitigate an impact on salmon, the cost of the dog pond would be using a large sum of money to mitigate a small impact instead of a large one. In the end it seemed that the necessity to move the off leash area from the shoreline could not be supported by science.

8. Environmental issues aside…what about “good design?” The Parks Department and the Mayor’s office have argued that the OLA bisects the peninsula in half. When one looks at a map, you can see that this is a bit of an exaggeration, it’s located on the top border of the city’s portion of the peninsula. Most of the property on the other side of the off leash area is not owned by the City-it’s owned by NOAA, thus we can’t include it in our planning area. The strip of land “cut off” by the OLA are habitat grasses that if integrated into the rest of the park design might be vulnerable to misuse by people looking for a field to play ball in. More importantly this open field lies directly between a large parking lot and a dozen sport fields. The probability of carloads of people crisscrossing over this habitat grassland to and from daily athletic events would be immense if the OLA did not act as a barrier to this migration.

9. It has also been argued that the current location is bad because chain link fences will be necessary to separate the OLA from the rest of the park. However, the Mayor’s proposed OLA site also has fences. And naked fences are not the only option, consider that thickets and other types of shrubbery could be used to hide any fencing.

10. Finally, some support putting the OLA by the boat launch. Leaving the OLA where it is minimizes permitting problems associated with citing it elsewhere. Moving the OLA south also puts it closer to housing. Furthermore, it invites boat-dog conflicts and would probably necessitate moving the Mud Lake outlet stream.

Whether you agree with the logic here or not, I hope that you can see that I have given this issue some thought and taken the concerns of the various constituents to heart


I believe the City Council’s adopted Magnuson Plan refines the BRC’s vision of environmental restoration without abandoning it. The driving force behind this plan remains and will continue to remain environmental restoration.

Keep in mind that the park will still have the following new expanded environmental restoration features: · 37.5 acres of Lake Washington Shoreline improvements. · The environmental restoration of Promontory Point (29.5 acres). · Enlarging and enhancing Sand Point Head (34.5 acres). · The Mud Lake wetlands restoration project (14.5 acres within the wetlands surrounded by 45 acres of surrounding habitat).

Some people will insist that the Council did not go far enough to make this an active use park. The Council did expand the number of lit fields and those with year round surfaces. If you are among the active use proponents asking for more ball fields, more parking, or more off leash area, keep in mind that the desires of environmentalists/conservationists to protect fish, wildlife, and native plant communities and to restore land that historically has been poorly treated are legitimate and important public interests…even if they are not interests that you share.

In closing, despite all of the controversy, I feel that the Executive and Legislative Branches of government fulfilled their roles in this process. The role of the Mayor was to put forth a vision and the job of the Council was to balance that vision with the concerns of user groups. Representing the interests of voters is the very foundation of our democratic legislative system and the Council acted in that tradition.

As a consequence we now have a park design that, puts a “reality tweak” on a grand vision. The fact that a greater number of people will now support the park plan because of this compromise is an inherent good.

Keep in touch…

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