Parks, politics and protests - Parks projects slammed at rally

The weather was freezing, but the rhetoric was hot at a protest of city parks policies last Saturday, Feb. 25, at the south entrance to the Woodland Park Zoo.

Around 150 people showed up, and they had a number of bones to pick with the parks department's projects that included the zoo parking garage, concerts in Gas Works Park, plans to cut down 17 trees in Occidental Square Park, installing artificial turf at Loyal Heights Playfield and the location of a new skateboard park in Woodland Park.

The demonstrators came from all over the city, and a common theme for them was that Seattle Parks and Recreation pays little attention to citizen concerns - no matter what project is involved.

Parks denies that. The department has recently put together 215 projects that everyone's happy with, said spokesperson Dewey Potter. "This is the people who went through the process, were hurt and didn't prevail in the end," she said of the demonstrators.

Growing frustration

Some of the demonstrators were objecting to projects that are essentially done deals. One of those was the decision to put an above-ground parking garage near the west-side entrance to the zoo. In fact, a second public workshop on the garage's design was taking place at the same time the demonstration was going on.

Gigi Allianic, a zoo spokesperson, said the west-side location was one of five alternatives being considered, and that the partially below-ground version at the south end was the preferred one.

But at $28 million to $30 million, it was too expensive for the city, she said. By contrast, the chosen west-side alternative will cost only around $16 million, Allianic said.

She added that there is already spillover parking in the surrounding neighborhood from zoo visitors: "And this is going to help reduce the impact on the neighborhood."

Diane Duthweiler, who lives near the zoo, thinks the parks department made the wrong decision. "We are very frustrated," she said of herself and many of her neighbors.

Duthweiler also slammed what she said was the parks department characterization of project opponents as just a few crabby people: "We feel like we're the majority opinion."

Even Maggie, a shivering Bishon Frise dog riding in a backpack, has weighed in on the garage issue, according to one of her owners, a man who was carrying a sign that read "Hounds Challenge Bounds."

Maggie declined to comment, but owner Paul Andrews, a Phinney Ridge resident, said the dog made her opinion known while he was reading press coverage about the garage to his wife, Cecile, one of the featured speakers at the demonstration.

"Every time I came upon one of [Parks Superintendent] Ken Bounds' lies, Maggie would bark and howl," he said, grinning.

Quoting press coverage of the issue in which Bounds accused opponents of being intellectually dishonest, Cecile Andrews charged that the parks department was itself being intellectually dishonest.

Estimates were overstated for the zoo's parking needs, and the costs were underestimated, she added: "The zoo keeps changing its story."

Andrews also objected to opponents of the project being charged with NIMBYism: "But I'm really tired of things being reduced to a bottom-line mentality."

She also linked the garage to global warming. Reducing global warming is tied into limiting the number of vehicles on the road, Andrews said of one step: "Yet, we're building a garage that invites people (in cars) into the neighborhood.

Al Runte, who unsuccessfully ran for mayor against Greg Nickels, said there were no shades of gray in the arguments about the zoo parking garage. "The parking garage is wrong; it's dead wrong," he railed.

Runte also invoked the spirit of the Olmstead brothers when he attacked the garage. The Olmsteads designed many of the city's parks at the turn of the 20th century, he noted, and a garage doesn't belong in an Olmstead park like Woodland Park or anywhere in the Emerald City.

Runte, who also criticized the mayor for supporting the garage project after he convinced other national mayors to sign the Kyoto Protocol, said, "This is no time for process, good people. It's time to stand up and be counted."

Getting attention

Another done deal involves plans for Occidental Park. However, the decision has rankled a number of nearby residents, according to Renee Tanner, who was handing out squares of green construction paper with messages such as "Leaf me be," "Trees good" and "Silence of the limbs."

Tanner, a Pioneer Square resident and activist, described the public process about that project as a sham: "It's way more than the tree stuff."

A petition signed by about 1,500 people laid out plans that included not just keeping the trees, but preserving the pergola and keeping the cobblestones, Tanner said.

"We had a plan," she said, "[but] the mayor and Ken [Bounds] decided they knew better."

City Councilmember Peter Steinbrueck was also at the demonstration and said he was incensed about plans to cut the trees at Occi-dental Park. "I wanted to hear what people had to say here today," he said.

He described the crowd at the demonstration as kindred spirits, and Steinbrueck believes the demonstrators aren't alone. "I think there's an upwelling we're seeing in the city," he said.

The council member also said he hoped the parks department was paying attention. "You can't turn your back on effective neighborhoods," he said, adding that parking at the zoo needs to be better integrated into the area.

Condos in Discovery Park also was listed in a press release as one of the topics up for discussion at the demonstration. No one talked about it, and Steve Erickson, a Magnolia resident at the demonstration, was puzzled the issue was included in the first place.

"It was fairly well settled in most people's minds," he said of military housing in the park being turned over to a private developer. Part of the deal was to return Capehart housing acreage to the park in exchange for $9 million and a swap of land that has yet to be identified.

Concerts on hold?

One park project that is far from being settled is the parks department decision to stage One Reel concerts in Gas Works Park this summer.

Ben Schroeter, an activist who isn't connected to any neighborhood group, has been very vocal of his criticism of the project. He said it was his idea to sue the city to block the project because an Environmental Impact Statement wasn't prepared. An EIS wasn't prepared for the summer concert series when it was held at South Lake Union, either, but that's different, according to Schroeter.

South Lake Union is surrounded by businesses, and it's on major arterials, he said: "There weren't local neighborhoods to object."

Cheryl Trivison, a Friends of Gas Works Park board member, denied that it was Schroeter's idea to sue based on the lack of an EIS. The Friends of Gas Works Park hired an attorney from Bricklin Newman Dold, and it was that attorney who decided an EIS was grounds for a lawsuit, she said.

Trivison also said she has reread all of the project information from the city, and there are reams of it. "I was just blown away by the audaciousness of the city and One Reel," she said of a decision that was made after what she said was five months of behind-the-doors discussions.

Potter from the parks department, said the decision on the concert venue was delayed until around Thanksgiving, when the city released its budget and included funds for fixing up the park at the south end of Lake Union, where the concerts had been staged before. "We weren't sure till then whether South Lake Union would be available," she explained.

Potter also said it was curious that a lack of an EIS was used to challenge the agency's decision about staging One Reel concerts in Gas Works Park. "We've never done any kind of environmental review for events or a series of events," she said.

Queen Anne Community Council chairperson Ellen Monrad said she hasn't heard of anyone from her neighborhood's east slope complaining about the concerts being staged at Gas Works, where the stage and speakers will face the neighborhood.

But Queen Anne Community Councilmember Denise Derr wasn't surprised that the parks department said it faced a short timeline in which to make the decision about the new concert venue.

"That's the same thing they said about the Queen Anne Bowl," she said of a contentious project that saw improvements made to a playfield near Seattle Pacific University in the face of sometimes-fierce neighborhood objections.

No one from One Reel returned a call for comment, but Potter said she wasn't sure whether the concert series would happen this summer. "The lawsuit throws that into question," she said.

Potter also thinks the lawsuit will make it difficult for One Reel to book acts and line up sponsors while the venue is in question.

The lawsuit is scheduled to be heard on March 16, she said.

Staff reporter Russ Zabel can be reached at or 461-1309.

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