Councilmembers Sally Bagshaw and Tom Rasmussen received a less-than-warm reception in Green Lake last night (Wednesday, Nov. 10, 2010).
Bagshaw and Rasmussen were visitors at a Green Lake Community Council meeting. They came to the meeting to discuss City Council’s efforts to scale back Mayor McGinn‘s proposed cuts to the Green Lake Community Center.
While Councilmember Bagshaw’s presentation about City Council’s efforts began with an upbeat tone, the feeling in the room quickly turned sour as one Green Lake resident, Ann-Marie Stillion, expressed frustration. “What I don’t hear in your talk is the people,” she said. “All I hear is double-speak.”
Another resident, who did not identify herself, questioned the role of the Associated Recreation Council (ARC). “Unlike the Parks Department, which is public, ARC is not accountable to the citizens of Seattle,” she said. She also expressed that she was disheartened that some space at the community center is still slated for conversion to offices. “I guess I should be cheering that two rooms have been saved,” she said, “but it still makes no sense when there is surplus space elsewhere. It’s just a disconnect.”
The topic of office space came up several times. “I’ve lived in Seattle for 32 years,” one man said. “On several occasions, I’ve seen temporary buildings used for classrooms. If these were good enough for our children, why aren’t they good enough for office staff?”
Councilmember Bagshaw explained that the Parks Department would have to pay rent on any facility that does not belong to them. Even space owned by other city departments would not be rent-free, she said. Green Lake Community Council Chair Michael Cornell called this practice “ridiculous,” and Friends of Green Lake President Gayle Garman suggested that it be looked at as a policy issue by City Council.
Garman also pointed out that the Green Lake Community Center received the lowest rating in a 2008 Community Centers Condition Assessment Screening performed by the Parks Department. “There is lead and asbestos in the building,” Garman said. “It might be more expensive than the department is anticipating to do conversion work.”
Lifetime Green Lake resident Ellen Hewitt said that she is impressed with the efforts of City Council. However, she is disappointed that Green Lake, already a destination place, has to devote any of its community center to office staff that perform city-wide functions. “The community center was built to serve the community,” she said. “Even during the Great Depression, no one considered taking it away.”
A man in attendance who did not identify himself called the Parks Department “untrustworthy” and suggested that the department be held contractually to their recent assurances that the conversion of community center space will be temporary.
Councilmember Bagshaw said that she heard the concerns and that she would pass them along to Seattle Parks and Recreation Acting Superintendent Christopher Williams. “Please stand in our shoes,” she asked, as she explained that the Parks Department has suffered huge budget cuts at a time when voters have not supported taxation. “Had we not intervened,” Bagshaw said, “there would have been more and more reductions at every community center.”
Bagshaw credited Councilmember Rasmussen as being instrumental in City Council’s success in mitigating the effects of the mayor’s proposed budget on community centers. “He is my hero,” she said, “because he said ‘we are just not going to [cut community centers]‘.”
Rasmussen then spoke. Referencing his October visit to Green Lake, which you can read about here, he said that he had heard “loud and clear” that the public did not want to see community center space converted into offices.
He understands the frustration and confusion about why the offices couldn’t be located elsewhere, he said, “but we’re not real estate agents. It’s not our job to find another location.”
Rasmussen also discussed the Green Lake Bathhouse, home to the Seattle Public Theater. His announcement that there is $456,000 in the 2011-12 budget for renovating the bathhouse was received well.
Responding to queries about the rent-free use of Parks Department facilities by ARC and the Parks Foundation, Rasmussen explained that if they were made to pay rent, that money would be diverted from the programs and park and facility improvements that they fund.
Rasmussen announced that City Council will be voting on the proposal to add drop-in hours to community centers on Friday. He asked for contact information from those in attendance so that he could follow-up with more information as it became available.
As the presentation concluded, Ann-Marie Stillion spoke up again. “For those of us who are unhappy,” she asked, “what can we do from here?” Councilmember Bagshaw advised those with feedback to contact Superintendent Williams directly (contact information can be found here). She also announced that City Council planned to create an advisory group on the topic of community centers.
Were you in attendance at last night’s meeting? Do you have thoughts that you would like to share? Please add them as a comment to this post.