Urban Politics #349: A Seattle Park District


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Back in 1999, on March 4th and again on March 21st, I wrote about Metropolitan Park Districts. At the time, State legislators were amending the Revised Code of Washington to allow more flexibility in the kinds of projects eligible for funding.

On Monday, April 28th, the City Council’s Select Committee on Parks Funding will meet to finalize its proposal for a Seattle Park District funding measure. It would go to voters in August and, if passed, would replace the city’s current levy process with a separate taxing authority authorized under the State’s amended Metropolitan Park Districts law.

In reviewing the Mayor’s proposed $54.3 million measure, the Select Committee sought to reduce the price tag to around $48 million. While some reductions to arrive at this level were technical administrative adjustments, such as staffing expense reductions, others did propose program reductions, such as reducing 25 new programs totaling $205,000 in the Recreation Opportunities for All category.

My priorities are:

View from Kerry Park

View from Kerry Park

1. Restore $200,000 for the 25 new programs in the Recreation Opportunities for All category. These community-based programs benefit a wide variety of residents, including many with low incomes, and bolster the City’s Race & Social Justice Initiative at a time when demand for such programming is rising.

2. Increase the Seattle Park District Community Oversight Committee from 11 members to 15: 4 Parks Board members; 1 citizen member from each of the 7 Council Districts; and 4 members nominated by other City advisory commissions, including the Women’s Commission, the Immigrant and Refugee Commission, the Commission for People with Disabilities, the Human Rights Commission, and the Seattle Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Commission. The 2000 Pro Parks Levy and the 2008 Parks and Green Spaces Levy advisory committees were each formed with 16 members. This more broadly representative committee will better align with our City’s Race and Social Justice commitments.

3. Expand the duties of the Seattle Park District Community Oversight Committee. Its proposed duties are: 1) to make recommendations to the Superintendent of Parks and Recreation (“Superintendent”) on the annual allocation of the Major Projects Challenge Fund; 2) to review an annual report to be provided to the Seattle Park District and the City, including assessing performance measures and reporting to the Superintendent and Park Board on implementation issues, concerns and needed adjustments in services or spending, and 3) to hold public meetings and make recommendations to the Superintendent in connection with each 6-year update to the spending plan.

Gasworks Park

Gasworks Park

In revisiting previous Parks Levy oversight committee duties, I found they had some important additional responsibilities I believe will make the Seattle Park District Community Oversight Committee more effective. In order to empower the Committee with those responsibilities, I proposed revising the duties to read:

1. Establish a Major Projects Challenge Funds application process and evaluation criteria, and make recommendations to the Superintendent of Parks and Recreation (“Superintendent”) on the annual allocation of the Major Projects Challenge Fund.

2. Review an annual report prepared by DPR to be provided to the Seattle Park District and the City, including assessment of performance measures and expenditure of District funds including interest earnings, and reporting to the Superintendent and Park Board on implementation issues, concerns and needed adjustments in services or spending.

3. Hold public meetings and making recommendations to the Superintendent in connection with each 6-year update to the spending plan.

4. Provide to the Mayor, City Council, and Superintendent of Parks and Recreation an annual report on the progress of expenditures, a mid-term report half-way through each 6-year period, and a final report in advance of each 6-year update to the spending plan. Progress on construction of park development on the 14 landbanked sites in Initiative 4.4 will be among the issues addressed in the first mid-term report.

That last line in duty #4, above, refers to the measure’s overall balance of spending as it relates to the $3,500,000 proposed for our newly developed Central Waterfront Park annually beginning in 2019. For years 2016 through 2018, that amount is earmarked for developing 14 neighborhood Parks.

A redeveloped central waterfront is critically important for Seattle. At the same time, I feel it’s important to consider the “big picture” of how parks are being developed throughout our entire city. That’s why I proposed the Seattle Parks District receive a report on the status of developing those 14 neighborhood parks before Central Waterfront spending begins in 2019, detailing how well new parks are serving neighborhoods throughout all of Seattle.DennySign

Yesterday, I met with Diana Kincaid, the Parks Board representative on the Parks Legacy Citizens’ Advisory Committee that delivered to the Mayor the original proposal for placing a Metropolitan Park District measure before Seattle voters. She revealed that when she began her work on the Committee, she was not convinced a Metropolitan Park District should replace our levy system of funding parks. But, as the Committee met with the public and received mailed public comments, she decided a park district could best meet the needs expressed by residents. Diana supports my proposed changes to the Mayor’s proposal.

The Select Committee on Parks Funding is scheduled to discuss and vote this Monday, April 28th, on the parks funding measure it intends to place on the August election ballot.

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