Pro-Parks District Campaign Ramps Up In Advance of Tonight’s Public Hearing

Tonight the City Council’s Select Committee on Parks Funding will gather to get an earful from those who support the idea of creating a Seattle Parks District and those who do not. That’s the nature of planned public testimony.

Not surprisingly, the PR machine is out in full force in advance of tonight’s meeting. With the creation of a Seattle Parks District a proposal floated by Ed Murray during last year’s mayoral race to combat a growing million dollar maintenance backlog, and then formally forwarded to the council by Murray once he took office, it perhaps comes as no surprise to see former Murray campaign spokesperson and political consultant Sandeep Kaushik signing his name to press releases being distributed to the local media today. Creating a Parks District, which would be governed by the City Council - to replace an expiring parks levy - is just one of the possible avenues the Council could take to fund area parks and make its way to the August ballot. Kaushik says a campaign to “pass whatever” the Council eventually signs off on is “just getting going.” He notes that 17 other Washington cities, including Tacoma, have created parks districts. As The Stranger has previously noted, a January poll conducted by EMC Research found “strong support” of creating a Parks District, with 61 percent of the 703 people polled responding favorably to the idea.

“Dozens of supporters of a proposal to create a Seattle Parks District will turn out to testify this evening at the Seattle City Council’s Select Committee on Parks Funding public hearing to testify in support of the proposed district,” Kaushik’s press release reads. “The proposal would create a dedicated, sustainable and predictable funding stream for Seattle’s parks and community centers, and begin to address the Seattle park system’s $270 million maintenance backlog.”

The release goes on to note that the creation of a property tax levy supported Seattle Parks District is supported by “a growing list of organizations, including Seattle Neighborhood Greenways, Forterra, the Seattle Human Services Coalition, Neighborhood House, the South Park Neighborhood Association, the Seattle Aquarium, the Woodland Park Zoo, and the Associated Recreation Council of Seattle.” Kaushik promises that “Dozens of members or representatives of these organizations (and others) will attend the Council hearing today to testify in support of the proposal.”

Of course, if the Parks District was a slam dunk there would be no need for press releases. The hopelessly stingy (and typically shortsighted) Seattle Times Editorial Board warned last month that the “The candy dish of levies” can’t support all the city’s sweet tooth desires, and with universal pre-k and transportation looming on the docket, the City Council would be wise “to rightsize the list of levy requests, starting with the parks proposal, before voters finally choke on a piece of candy and spit it back out.” (Sound familiar, King County Metro?)

In fairness, they did produce a graph.

As the Times Editorial Board describes the levy:

“The proposal now before the Seattle City Council is to double the existing property-tax levy devoted to parks, to $54 million a year, raising the annual cost for the owner of a $400,000 home from $76 to $168. It is not a backbreaking addition, but it would tighten the squeeze on middle-class families already struggling with Seattle’s cost of living.”

The Seattle Times Editorial Board = Champions of the Struggling Middle Class.

Still, that’s not to say there’s not legitimate opposition. As the Seattle Times’ Lynn Thompson detailed in February, “some park activists and volunteers” have argued that the “creation of a parks district would be like giving a blank check to the parks department without adequate oversight or accountability.” These voices, according to Thompson, largely favor “a levy that requires the Parks Department to return to voters every few years to set priorities and make a case for continued funding.” You can expect similar views to be expressed at tonight’s hearing.

According to Kaushik, the arguments against creating a Parks District are predictable and, ultimately he believes, will be unconvincing to voters. Only time will tell, of course.

“If you make the case that what [voters] are getting is something of value, they’re generally supportive,” he says. “You do have to make the case.”

It seems the job of making that case, publicly, started today.

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