Image of Volunteer Park ca. 1912 via Museum of History and Industry.

We on the Parks Legacy Plan Citizen Advisory Committee were tasked with finding a solution to the problem of unstable funding for parks and recreation in Seattle. Over nine months of meetings, we researched dense material about the history of parks funding, why the gaps in the parks budget continue to grow (thank you, Eyman 1 percent rule), the benefits and drawbacks of levies vs. park districts, and how park districts have worked (in all cases successfully) in the numerous other jurisdictions that use them. 

In the end, we recommended the creation of a Seattle Park District to the mayor and city council, and after further hearings and consideration, the council and Mayor Murray unanimously supported putting a Park District measure, Proposition 1, before Seattle voters on the August ballot.

By approving Prop. 1, Seattle voters have a fantastic opportunity to cement a legacy for future generations as a city of parks. Our Olmstead system, with the additions from Forward Thrust to the Parks and Green Spaces Levy, is widely seen as one of the best park systems in the United States. Adding in community centers, we have made investments in the people of Seattle, and this August, we can ensure that stable and reliable funding is in place for our parks and community centers, so that future generations may continue to enjoy what we have built.

That is why this measure has been endorsed by wide range of respected organizations like the Sierra Club, King County Conservation Voters, Friends of Athletic Fields, Seattle Human Services Coalition, Seattle Youth Soccer Association, Transportation Choices Coalition, the Seattle Parks Foundation, Forterra, and the 34th, 36th, 37th, and 43rd District Democrats.

There are a few individuals who vocally oppose the District, and their campaign against Seattle parks appears rooted in opposition to long-term, stable funding for city services, with a belief that periodically voting on levies to pay for operating budgets makes sense.

That conviction appears rooted in a belief that elected officials are somehow incapable of making budget decisions, and therefore should not be trusted with limited taxing authority. It rings of distrust of government and elected officials, with calls to eliminate taxes for “unnecessary” government programs. I suppose that is exactly what Tim Eyman wants folks to think.

A separate line from some in the opposition implies that the Park District creates micromanagement of the parks department by the city council—because micromanaging at the ballot box is better? It’s as if there’s both not enough and too much oversight! But then reality kicks back in—Proposition 1 acts as a funding mechanism, with strong oversight, not a tool for the city council to add even more work to their plate in order to manage day-to-day operations of the parks department.

That said, hearing and responding to concerns from Seattle residents, we on the committee made sure that our recommendations included strong accountability measures in the new District. The Seattle Park District Citizen Oversight Committee, created by the Park District’s companion legislation, will provide oversight and will be a tool to ensure funds are spent wisely and equitably across Seattle.

And if voters feel that the District isn’t working, they have the ability to petition for its dissolution, or work to un-elect the District Commissioners – all nine members of the Seattle City Council. The Park District has baked in real and serious accountability, because that is what Seattle residents deserve. 

It troubles me that the opposition continually uses Eyman-style scare tactics to try to inflate the apparent cost of the District. Here in the real world, we know that the actual tax rate will be $0.33 per $1,000 of assessed property value – or $132.00 per year for a Seattle resident living in a $400,000 property. This is only $4 more per month than what folks are paying now under the expiring levy.

In Seattle, we are better than Tim Eyman. The insinuation that a great city can be great without funding parks maintenance, or programming that includes affordable recreation for all, is false.

But this cannot be limited to a conversation about taxes, because it isn’t—it is a conversation about equity in access to parks and recreation in Seattle, equity that is in dire need of improvement.

During the May meeting of the South Park Neighborhood Association, a troubling statistic was pointed out – South Park lags behind the rest of the city in combined park space and tree canopy. This includes a 1.5 acre park (Duwamish Waterway), and a mixed use athletic grass field as the only public open spaces. In addition, the South Park Community Center is open a scant 25 hours per week, while some neighborhoods see their Community Centers open 70 hours per week.

That is atrocious. This inequity exists because levies are designed to pass at the ballot box, leaving poorer, low voter-turnout neighborhoods with less investment. The Seattle Park District gets Seattle off of the "where the votes are" plan, and into a place where decisions about parks can be made based on need.

The Seattle Park District will ensure that parks funding remains stable, and that we leave future generations a park system that is well cared-for.  This Park District ensures equitable access to parks and recreation across the city. This Park District ensures real accountability.

Last I checked, these were values that Seattle stands for.

Michael Maddux was a member of the Parks Legacy Plan Citizen Advisory Committee. He currently serves on the Parks & Green Spaces Levy Oversight Committee, chairs the Endorsements Committee for the King County Democrats, and is a little league umpire. He lives with his daughter in the Eastlake neighborhood of Seattle.

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