Seattle City Council Member Mike OBrien: Join me in voting for Prop. 1 on the August primary ballot.
  • Seattle City Council
  • Seattle City Council Member Mike O'Brien: Join me in voting for Prop. 1 on the August primary ballot.

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Neighborhood parks make Seattle a wonderful place to live. With the ballot you should have just received, you get to vote on whether you want to make them even better. I hope you will join me in voting “Yes for Parks” on Prop 1.

From the old growth forest of Seward Park to the beaches of Golden Gardens, our parks are Seattle’s front yard, where neighbors come together to spend time with friends and families, especially on hot summer days.

Parks are also Seattle’s most progressive institution, serving everyone equally across all neighborhoods and walks of life. At least that’s the ideal, if not the current reality.

In fact, Tim Eyman’s initiatives and the Great Recession have moved us away from this ideal. Currently, our public parks operate on a “pay to play” system, with many people priced out of public sports leagues and community center programs. In some neighborhoods–typically those with lower-income residents–community centers are only open 25 hours per week. In other more-affluent neighborhoods, residents use private donations to keep their community centers open longer hours.

This is not right. Our public parks and community centers should serve everyone, without regard to income level or neighborhood. We can do better. And as the fastest growing city in the nation, we must.

Prop 1 would help correct this injustice by creating a Seattle parks district with taxing authority that will provide stable, ongoing funding dedicated to Seattle’s neighborhood parks and community centers.

Some ask, “why not another levy?”

While the past two levies have helped fund new parks, they have under-invested in operations and maintenance of existing parks. With limited levy capacity and political pressure to lure voters with popular new projects, levies have real shortcomings. As a result, our parks currently face a $267 million backlog in deferred maintenance.

As any homeowner knows, there is always a list of repairs. The same is true for our parks, even more so. If passed by the voters, Prop 1 will dedicate nearly 2/3 of the funding to “fix it first,” so we are investing in our existing parks and community centers to make sure they meet our needs for the long run. And since the park district Prop 1 would create is a new funding source, it maintains our limited levy capacity for other priorities, such as education, affordable housing, transportation and human services.

Prop 1 will also invest in programs for kids and seniors, to ensure everyone can afford to participate in public sports leagues and community centers activities. Our youth need activities, especially when school is out in the hot summer. If young people or their families can’t afford to participate in programs at public community centers, they will find other things to do, sometimes to our collective detriment. Research and common sense tell us that well-maintained, affordable parks and community centers are also a public safety strategy.

Seattle often serves as a model for the rest of the nation when we lead with our progressive ideals. Today that path is quite simple: Prop 1 creates a stable source of funding based on a property tax levied on the value of a home in Seattle. For the owner of a $400,000 house, Prop 1 would mean an increase of $4 per month.

Three separate bodies—the Parks Board of Commissioners, a separate citizens’ advisory committee and the City Council—will provide accountability to the voters for this new parks district, with annual performance audits to ensure the funds generated by the park district are well invested. If Seattle voters someday decide they no longer want to fund parks, they can petition the Council to dissolve the district.

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In short, Prop 1 is an opportunity to demonstrate our commitment to our ideals by investing in our public parks for everyone in Seattle.

So please join me in voting “Yes for Parks” on Prop 1, and return your ballot right away. This is our best chance to invest in parks for the long term.

Mike O’Brien is a member of the Seattle City Council.