PARKS FOR ALL Not just people who can afford to self-fund them. (Green Lake, 1936. Click to enlarge.)
Inviting Don Harper and Carol Fisher to write an op-ed is like inviting a climate-change denier. You can do it, but don’t be surprised when they start making shit up. Thankfully, the good folks at The Stranger have allowed me to come in and correct the record with things that Don and Carol don’t seem to care about: facts.
First, let’s talk about your right to vote. While I am sure Mayor Murray would gladly appoint city council members, you and I will continue to vote for (and against) them with the passage of Proposition 1. City government will operate almost exactly as it does now, but with stable revenue for parks, an essential service.
The big difference: a citizen oversight committee (already part of a passed ordinance—aka law) that will work with the city council, the parks board, and the mayor’s office in providing advice to and oversight of the parks department. As The Strangerso eloquently stated: "This is how the democratic process works: We elect leaders who set taxes and build budgets and fund infrastructure, and when they fuck it up, we vote them out."
While Don and Carol state that the “traditional process [of funding parks] allows us a periodic vote on the collection of taxes and the allocations of funds to specified projects and programs,” the facts are different. The traditional process is funding essential services by way of the general fund. The mayor proposes a budget, and the council evaluates and amends that budget as necessary. Programs in parks have never been funded by “periodic votes”—except in the sense that we vote periodically for the city council and mayor. Which we will still do when Prop. 1 passes. Levy lid lifts for park acquisition and development are new—one in 2000, one in 2008. That’s it.
Funding maintenance, community center hours, and programming from the general fund (the actual traditional process) used to work. Then came 2001 and Tim Eyman’s Initiative 747, which gutted the ability for local governments to have stable funding. Combined with Tim Eyman’s Initiative 695—which is what led to the transit funding crisis we are now in—local governments have since been in a position wherein revenue cannot keep up with inflation.
And who gets screwed? Poor people. Because while folks like Don Harper and Carol Fisher apparently have the time and resources to self-fund their parks and community centers, low-income workers in South Park, Lake City, and Northgate don’t. Instead, they have suffered cuts that they don’t have the ability to buy back with either dollars or sweat equity.
This is what Proposition 1 is really about. Buying back revenue lost to the Eyman cuts, and restoring community center hours and affordable programming that residents need and deserve. And, at the same time, changing gears from deferring maintenance to having the means necessary to adequately maintain our parks, urban tree canopy, and park facilities. This is why the Municipal League supports Proposition 1.
It’s not hard to imagine Don and Carol continuing to avoid facts. It’s what they do, even being called out by The Seattle Times—one of their biggest supporters—for making patently "false" statements in campaign materials. (And then going on to state, in the face of facts proving otherwise, that they are telling the truth.) This is why they are the biggest enemies of equity in the parks department, and no friends of parks.
Back to the measure: there is already a six-year spending plan in place that raises property taxes by around one percent, as recommended by a citizen advisory committee. This followed public testimony wherein 67 percent of people who testified before the council did so in favor of the Metropolitan Parks District.
Much like the Transportation Benefit District was utilized to buy back some revenue, the Seattle Park District buys back limited revenue capacity. Revenue that will be collected, and used to maintain neighborhood parks; clean bathrooms and keep them in working order; fix roofs and boilers; restore community center hours and affordable programming; and provide a resource for communities that have urgent needs. In addition, it not only requires greater accountability, it also funds the audits and staffing necessary to achieve it.
The opposition campaign uses bald-faced lies in trying to convince voters that you have done such a shitty job electing government officials, and that citizen committees are so inept, that you should turn down the ability to buy back funding for our parks. I have more faith in the voting public. I have seen residents of Seattle force their leaders' hands for sick leave, for a raise for working families, and for more transportation choices. I fully expect that, if Proposition 1 passes, residents will continue to play an active role in the function of our government.
Vote FOR Parks. Vote FOR Proposition 1.
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.