Why We Can't Let the Seattle Parks District Fail
City council member Sally Bagshaw explains what will happen if the August parks district funding measure fails.
We have made significant investments in our parks and community centers over the past 100-plus years.
No one can travel far without running into a park in this city. We have 6,200 acres of greenspace, 465 parks, 26 community centers, 10 swimming pools, 120 miles of trails and connections, plus dog off-leash areas and healthy programs for people of all ages and abilities.
Parks are funded by general fund money, by grants, user fees, and levy dollars.
The 2008 Parks levy expires at the end of this year. If we don’t replace this with a reliable source of funding—a metropolitan parks district, supported by an ongoing property tax overseen by the city council—we’ll face some serious issues, like a $267 million major maintenance backlog and not enough money to fix what we already have.
The economic value of our parks and programs is in the billions; the public health benefits, environmental and climate benefits, and community connections are priceless.
Keeping our parks healthy keeps us healthy. With no thanks to Tim Eyman-mandated funding limitations and recession-based cutbacks, our parks and community centers have struggled to stay maintained and open.
But there’s a solution: The Seattle Park District will help us take a giant step toward fixing the maintenance backlog, keep our community centers open, increase our athletic programs, and build for the future. Good stuff.
Here is a short list of what could happen if we don’t support our parks and community centers at the ballot this August:
• Community Center Hours Reduced: We have invested big time in 26 community centers across the city. Many need major overhauling. You like your pottery class, your yoga class, and computer classes? Too bad. You won’t get more than you have now, maybe less. Community Centers will continue to face limited hours in most facilities, reduced hours in many more.
• Subsidized Swim Classes and Recreation for All Programs Reduced: One of the hallmarks of our Parks Department is our commitment to equity. Scholarships are offered to many. Those scholarships and programs could be expanded to youth and those with limited incomes across the city, but won’t be if we don’t vote to extend these programs.
• No Dog Park Improvements: We currently have 14 off-leash areas, many of which are maintained by volunteers. We could use more OLAs, and they all could be better maintained. Not going to happen if this measure goes down.
• Reduced Restroom hours: Have you been to a park in the afternoon and found the restroom locked? Bummer. Could have been open, but isn’t. The number one “ask” from the public is to have our park restrooms clean and opened. Too bad they won’t be if the parks district fails.
• Fewer Garbage Cans Emptied: Overflowing cans are disgusting, especially on hot summer days. You’ll be expected to pack out more of what you bring in. You know how well that works.
• Strangled Forests. The city of Seattle partners with Forterra and Green Seattle Partnership to improve our urban forests. We need healthy trees to help combat climate change, plus they are just plain nice to have around. With the Seattle Park District we will have a designated annual fund to help restore 2,500 acres of urban forest land. Opportunity lost without it.
• Less Movement for Mom: Seniors need companionship and exercise. More programs like Sound Steps, a walking program for the 50-plus crowd, could be expanded, and programs including the Food and Fitness Program, which provides communal meals to diverse elder communities, extended to the immigrant and refugee community. Sounds like a good idea, doesn’t it?
• Fewer Programs for People with Disabilities: Imagine this: you were a perfectly healthy person who lost the use of your legs in an accident. You and your family rely on the Seattle Parks Department for swimming, physical therapy, even an hour of relief with others playing wheelchair basketball. You ‘d like the program to expand. Sorry.
• No New Neighborhood Parks: Remember we bought 14 potential neighborhood parks sites through the 2008 levy? Those new spots –in addition to the Smith Cove property -- are spread across the city and just waiting for neighborhood input, design and funding. Without the Seattle Park District’s funding, you’ll be waiting a lot longer.
Why vote "yes" on August 5 for Parks? Our parks infrastructure is aging, and not so gracefully. Major maintenance needs have outpaced funding and inflation for years, while the public demand for more Parks, more community center hours, and more programs is growing not shrinking. What we have loved and used hard for more than a century now needs much more than Band-Aids.
The Seattle Park District would generate just short of $48 million per year dedicated completely and solely to our city’s parks and recreation facilities and programming. If this measure passes, even during the next economic downturn, Parks will be safe from budget cuts. If you own a $400,000 home, you’ll pay about $133 per year. Many of us pay more for our cell phone plan every month than we would for supporting our parks, community centers, and programs for an entire year.
You can help keep community centers open. More restrooms will be open and clean when we need them. The health of our urban forests will improve. You can row, play tennis, and take your mom to enjoy flowers in Volunteer Park. Your "Yes" vote on August 5 is an investment with a great return.
Sally Bagshaw is a Seattle City Council member and head of the council's Select Committee on Parks Funding.