Councilmember Licata left office on January 1, 2016.
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Urban Politics #29: The Nickel Nutcraker

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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.



  • The Nickel Nutcraker
  • The Wallingford Park/Playfield Experience
  • Who Represents A Community?
  • Open Space Vs Playfields

The Nickle Nutcraker

A nickel can’t buy much these days, if ever it could. But you add a lot of them together and you got yourself some real pocket change. And if you add it to a 10 cent charge you’ve got a 50% increase. The City Council will probably vote this Monday which nut this additional nickel will crack, the citizen procurer of public documents or the departments which provide those documents. Passed out of the Finance and Budget Committee last week, an ordinance (Council Bill 112068) will increase copying costs at all city departments from the current rate of 25 cents for the first page and a dime thereafter to a flat 15 cents per page. A memo from the City Clerk explains the reason for the change:

“State law does not allow us to charge more than $.15 per page unless we have established and published a higher fee. Using the copying activity within the City Clerk’s Office as a model, we have determined that the actual cost to the City to make a photocopy of a one-page document record is approximately $ .32. However, we did not propose a fee higher than the state maximum of $.15.”

But since most requests are not just for one page, upon closer examination, she concludes, “the cost to the City is still more than $.10, it averages a minimum of about $.12 per page for an average multi-page document.” And the analysis goes on to add another wrinkle. “Also, the per-page cost of providing copies of documents using microfiche printers is substantially more (probably double) than that for regular photocopying, and fiche copies within the Clerk’s Office are about one-half of the total customer copy volume.” I’ve received a few letters from citizens complaining about the increase. They argue that the City’s recovery of copying costs shouldn’t be predicated upon full cost recovery but instead it should be considered a cost of providing good government communication with its citizens. I tend to agree and wrote to my fellow CM’s: “From what I can tell, if the rate remains at $.10 then your department will be subsidizing citizen’s copying efforts to the tune of no more than $1,000 a year or less than an hour and a half a week.” This makes an assumption that the true costs average out to about 15 cents. It’s possible the costs could be as high as 20 cents. Even so, I find it hard to imagine that this additional cost is a burden. As I told my colleagues, “The bottom line for me is that the retrieval of such small amounts of money is far outweighed by the overall irritant cost to the average citizen who sees that they can get copies made far cheaper at commercial outlets. Obviously our costs are different, but most people do not go into that type of analysis all they see is “inefficient government”. The final cost to us in hostility is much, much greater than the miniscule savings we get by the higher charge.”

The Wallingford Park/Playfield Experience

Who Represents A Community?

I attended a Parks Dept. sponsored community meeting last week in Wallingford to discuss the use of the Wallingford Park/Playfield. Over 80 people packed a small room and although there were some passionate statements, overall the discussion was very civil and enlightening as to the pressures that are building in this city between allocating park land for recreational space or open space. Although the Parks Dept. coordinator for the meeting did a good job of allowing everyone equal speaking time and moved the meeting along, a number of community people raised some concerns. In particular the mission of the meeting needed to be made clearer from the start. Some community members felt that the meeting turned out to be an informational meeting on how two sports (tee-ball and youth soccer) were to be scheduled for the field not to decide whether they should be scheduled at all. One resident later told me, “The meeting last night was not productive. There was an agenda, but nothing was actionable.” I was also told that the Parks Dept. had previously made a presentation to the Wallingford Community Council, in which they thought a decision had been made confirming the new scheduling at that meeting. Those who had not attended or had not been made aware of the meeting, apparently felt that they had been left out of the decision making process. It seems that a clear process is needed to solicit and confirm a local community’s in-put on proposed changes to local park facilities. It’s understandable how the Parks Dept. would try to identify a community organization that they could designate as a legitimate representative for local opinions. But I can see how problems can arise when such organizations have limited resources to reach out to a wide enough constituency to represent all major players. To me it seems that there is a need to find some way to standardize citizen participation at the community level, so that City Departments can feel confident that the community groups that they negotiate with are representative of the larger community.

Open Space Vs Playfields

The discussion that evening touched on another broad issue: how can the city best assess the use of its parks when there is great demand on them for both recreational as well as open space uses. One articulate woman made the case for how parks build “social capital” in a neighborhood. This is especially true for ‘unstructured uses” of park land as opposed to “structured” uses. Park land that is unstructured is sometimes considered “passive” or “undeveloped”, but it serves a very active purpose. It encourages random acts of social engagement in a safe, neighborly environment. Smaller neighborhood parks in particular provide an outdoor living room for meeting new people who share one major characteristic, they most likely live within walking distance of each other. These interactions build an intangible yet valuable amount of social capital consisting of goodwill and carrying for a shared community. The issue that created tension was not around the minimal impact that the two sports would have on the park. From what I heard, almost all present agreed that these two sports are acceptable and had been played in the park for years. As one resident said, “The neighborhood is reacting to the loss of control, not to tee-ball.” Some local residents feared that the “unstructured” use of the park would be eliminated with scheduled sports. And the bigger fear was that other, more intrusive sports for older children or adults eventually would replace the two approved ones. The Parks Dept. representative a did say that there would be an evaluation after one year of operation to assess the impact of scheduling. The representative also made several other promises limiting hours and types of activities. But because the meeting was attended by a number of recreational sport advocates and was held at a facility not close to the park, a number of residents felt distrustful and suspicious of the any Parks Dept. commitments. The day after the meeting I met with Parks Superintendent Ken Bounds and received assurances that his department would put those commitments in writing in the form of a “memorandum of agreement” with the community. The Wallingford Community Council probably being the formal recipient of that agreement.

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