Op-Ed: Walk to Hillwood Park - then turn around and go home

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Unused and usable softball field at Hillwood Park
Photo by Pam Cross

By Pam Cross

June is Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services Month. In 1996, one year after a becoming a city, Shoreline acquired all 23 King County parks in the City limits, including the Shoreline pool.

The Shoreline Parks Levy is soon to come before the voters. Several of our neighborhood parks are scheduled for updating, and I’m sure we’ve all been following the progress of the Community Aquatics Center (CAC).

Shoreline has multiple beautiful parks throughout the City. There are walking paths (many paved), wetlands restoration, nice play areas with climbing equipment and swings, and well maintained sports courts. Some neighborhoods have multiple parks, large and small.

I live in the Hillwood neighborhood.

Nothing to see here
Photo by Pam Cross

Where did the park go?

In July 2017, following an 18-month community outreach engagement process, the City Council adopted the Parks, Recreation and Open Space (PROS) Plan. The PROS Plan identifies a 20-year vision and framework for Shoreline’s recreation and cultural programs, and for maintenance and investment in park, recreation and open space facilities.

The current parks and open spaces bond measure (approved by voters in 2006) is set to be retired in 2021 and removed from property tax bills in 2022. Part of that bond provided upgrades to nine community parks. To continue funding our parks we need to pass a new levy.

On June 24, 2019, the City Council is planning to approve placement of a ballot measure on the 2019 General Election Ballot to authorize an $88.1M property tax bond measure for the Community and Aquatics Center (CAC).

Park Improvements Priorities and Funding is being eliminated from the ballot measure. This means there will be no improvements to Brugger’s Bog Park, Park at Town Center, James Keough Park, Richmond Highlands Park, Hillwood Park, Briarcrest Community Park, Ridgecrest Park or Shoreview Park (off-leash area).

In August 2018 the City Manager appointed 16 Shoreline residents to participate in a Park Funding Advisory Committee (PFAC). The goal of this committee was to explore funding options and prioritize projects for park improvements and a CAC. The PFAC took different approaches in evaluating the parks, including consideration of need, equity, access, urgency, placemaking and community identity, areas of future growth, and alignment to the PROS plan.

One thing I learned from my time spent on the Sidewalk Committee, is that it is necessary to get out of the car and actually walk in the area being evaluated. I visited most of these parks within the last week.

Bruggers Bog, as its name suggests, is a large wet park. The children’s play area floods seasonally and must be moved, the play equipment is old and unsafe, the swings have been removed, there is no bathroom, no parking and no street visibility. It has a high share of, and proximity to, multifamily housing whose residents could make good use of the park if it were updated.

The Park at Town Center and the CAC would create the active civic center that Shoreline has lacked. However, the site has some challenges related to noise and proximity to Aurora Avenue N.

James Keough Park

James Keough Park is bounded by Interstate-5, and is one of Shoreline’s most visible to through traffic, yet it is relatively unknown to residents due to its entrance at the end of a dead-end street. There is no onsite parking. When visiting this park, the gate had multiple locks and a chain keeping it closed so it did not appear welcoming. After walking around the locked gate, I saw a large green area surrounding a fenced area that apparently was originally tennis courts and a basketball area but is now overgrown with bushes and trees. There is one slide and a swing.

Richmond Highlands improvements would include an ADA accessible all-ages playground and a paved loop path which would increase access for an underserved population while also supporting Specialized Recreation programming at the adjacent Richmond Highlands Recreation Center. Additional improvements and activation could help improve park safety.

Hillwood Park is the only park in the Hillwood neighborhood. It has no usable field, few benches and one picnic area. The small play area has only one bench for parents to sit on, and the only entrance is essentially hidden from view.

It is not ADA compliant, there are no paths, and there is no place to ride a bike. As I left, there were mothers with strollers entering the park but there is no place in the park where you can use a stroller.

Like James Keough Park, the grassy area appears level, dry and green from your car. But on foot, the grassy area is difficult, and in some areas, impossible to navigate. For the next 18 months Hillwood is being used as a staging area for Einstein Middle School construction equipment.

Briarcrest Community Park is a carved out piece of East Hamlin Park that would create a community park for the Briarcrest neighborhood. Although there is a parking lot and a paved path, the area has its “back” facing Briarcrest, does not feel part of the neighborhood and is not viewed as safe for young children.

Ridgecrest Park
Photo courtesy City of Shoreline

Ridgecrest Park is in an out-of-the-way location with one point of access and bounded by I-5. Although there is a raised berm, the park is very noisy from the traffic. The addition of an off-leash area could help attract more users and possibly overcome the challenging location. There is a baseball field and a wall for handball. There is no children’s area, and only a portable toilet.

These parks did not did not receive funding from the 2006 Parks and Open Space Bond measure. They were slated to be upgraded in the next parks levy — and that levy is now.
The stairs at Ridgecrest Park lead to a
dilapidated court of some kind
Photo by Seattle Poppy

Shoreview Park, on the other hand, received considerable investment in the last bond measure, but needs funds to replace the temporary fences of the off-leash area.

There are several options for when voters might be asked to vote on a funding measure. November is just the earliest one, so there is plenty of time to reconsider including the priority park improvements.

A delay will add extra cost to the CAC, however it is possible no meaningful improvements have been made to most of these neighborhood parks since Shoreline became a city in 1995, 24 years ago. Children in 1995 are now adults who may have children of their own and still, the neighborhood park is not improved.

Resident Priorities Survey

In March/April 2019 EMC Research conducted a Resident Priorities Survey to gather information about resident priorities for park and recreation facilities. The Survey was sent to 12,000 randomly selected households and 1,379 responses were received.

There were questions about the CAC, and about improving neighborhood parks. A major problem with the park improvement results is that no consideration was given to the amenities in the respondent’s local park. A household located near Hamlin Park or in Richmond Beach, for example, will respond differently from one near Hillwood, Bruggers Bog or James Keough Parks.

After receipt of the survey results, the Council directed staff not to include any park improvements in this ballot measure.

The City Council made its decision of what appears on the ballot based on information from 3% of Shoreline households. As a result, Shoreline voters may be limited to a yes or no vote on the CAC only, and have no vote about funding for neighborhood parks.

Shouldn’t the other 97% of Shoreline households get a say whether they want to spend the next 20 years paying for the CAC while their neighborhood parks continue to deteriorate?

If funding is not provided for neighborhood park improvements now, it will take several years for the City to obtain even partial funding for the highest priority needs. They will be looking at grants, philanthropy, partnerships (with the School District, for example), and existing city funding. None of these sources will be close to adequate and that’s why it will take several years. There is not even designated funding for new benches and picnic tables.

Echo Lake Park before it was remodeled
It was one of the last parks funded in the 2006 parks bond
Photo by Diane Hettrick

Echo Lake Park dedication after remodeling
The ground is level, there is a walking track, playground,
benches and (not pictured) picnic tables
Photo by Steven H. Robinson

According to the PROS Plan, Essential Park Amenities include children’s playgrounds, picnic areas, trails, and open grass areas for active and passive uses. And natural areas should be generally accessible to all residents. The City does not meet its level of service (LOS) target for providing these amenities within a 15-minute walk to all Shoreline residents.

The City of Shoreline repeatedly states that the City values all residents and envisions a community in which people from all backgrounds have equitable access to opportunities to live, work, and play.

Shoreline has 23 parks, but they are not all treated equitably. Shoreline’s failure to meet these goals in just a couple of the 14 neighborhoods is not consistent with their stated goal of social equity. Every resident is entitled to traveling a few minutes to a neighborhood park and, instead of turning around and leaving, have a reason to stay.


Boni Biery June 4, 2019 at 6:46 PM  

Thanks so much for your research on this Pam. I won't vote for the CAC unless I can choose vote for the parks as well. I notice they have cut 73% of the funding from Hillwood Park, so if we do get anything it will be a very inequitable portion of the pie. Why is Hillwood forever treated so poorly?

Anonymous,  June 6, 2019 at 1:19 AM  

“Well, this is appalling! The Parks Pros plan is being ignored and ZERO Open Space will be approved in the Bond vote! This is a violation of the City’s obligations under the Growth Management Act!
Under GMA, the City is REQUIRED to increase Open Space and at minimum upgrade and preserve existing parks when new Density is imposed. Council approved their Radical Rezones. Now massive tree cutting and destruction of single-family destruction has begun for Light Rail expansion.

Where’s the accompanying OPEN SPACE Shoreline?”

--Janet Way

Unknown June 7, 2019 at 12:12 AM  

This is what is being planned for the new Community & Aquatics Center [from the City's website]:

Status Update as of May 21, 2019
On May 20, 2019 the City Council directed staff to prepare legislation and other material necessary for placing a 20-year bond measure on the November 2019 general election ballot for $88,100,000 to acquire property and construct a Community & Aquatics Center at 17828 Midvale Ave N. Some of the features included in the Community & Aquatics Center are:

-a 2-court gymnasium and walking/jogging track 
-exercise/fitness space
-community rooms for classes, rentals, and informal gatherings
-6,000 square feet of space with a commercial kitchen to be prioritized for senior programming
-an activity pool with play features and a lazy river
-a separate lap pool that includes 8 lanes and can accommodate both recreational and competitive diving, swim lessons, shallow and deep-water exercise classes, and is ADA accessible
pool spectator seating for up to 500 people
-an outdoor courtyard for casual community gatherings and play

The Council did not direct staff to include any park improvements in this ballot measure. The draft ballot measure will be presented for discussion at the June 24, 2019 Council meeting with possible adoption on July 29, 2019.
Comments can be submitted using this Online Comment Form [go here: http://www.shorelinewa.gov/government/projects-initiatives/community-aquatics-center/community-aquatics-center-comment-form]

The City Council and Staff seem to be more interested in spending time and money on surveys that typically elicit a low number of responses, becoming a Certified Tree City while allowing developers to scalp significant trees, becoming a Certified Salmon-Safe City, and other seemingly worthwhile endeavors, while only paying lip service to what they have pledged in the past: a good quality of life for all Shoreline residents.

While they may not be the ultimate and sparkling new, many of the features planned for the new CAC are already available in Shoreline: walking tracks at schools, exercise and fitness space and water exercise classes at the Dale Turner YMCA, community rooms at the libraries, the LFP Shoreline Senior Center.

An activity pool with play features and a lazy river – REALLY? How about a competitive-size swimming pool with programs to accommodate the nearly 10,000 students in Shoreline's schools?

An outdoor courtyard for casual community gatherings and play – Isn't that what our under-maintained parks were supposed to be for and which we approved funds for in 2006? Pam Cross addresses the inequities in the maintenance of the parks throughout the City. We should think seriously about giving the City $88 million for an aquatics center when they have failed to maintain and make usable the parks we presently have.

--Jonelle Kemmerling

Anonymous,  June 7, 2019 at 1:57 PM  

I think the Ridgecrest Park is being demoed for the light rail expansion. Hillwood Park is small. Maybe get rid of the horeshoe pits no one uses and do a cleanup after the construction crew leaves but overall I am not sure what it needs. I appreciate your hard work on this issue. We need citizen input to make sure all sides are being considered.

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