Archive for the “Capitol Hill” Category

This just in from Scott:

In its May 26th meeting, following a very in-depth discussion, the Board of Park Commissioners voted 4-3 to support the staff recommendation to keep the Summit Slope skatedot!

Part 1 – http://www.seattlechannel.org/videos/video.asp?ID=5591146 (discussion begins at 30:00)

Part 2 – http://www.seattlechannel.org/videos/video.asp?ID=5885

This was a very, very close vote, with age discrimination playing a huge role in the decision making process.  In almost all references to skaters, they are referred to as “kids.”  At one point, there is even a suggestion to enclose the entire skatedot in a glass box and make it available only to children with parental supervision!  Board member Jordan Keith really does a great job of speaking truth to power at 79:29 in Part 1:

“There’s no protections for age unless you’re 41 or older.  When you’re younger, you get a lot less voice and a lot less say, and a lot less clout in what activities you might want to do, and what benefits there are from them.  And it’s a sport that by and large, it’s much younger people that do that.  And by and large, because I work with them people, I’m very aware of the fact that, generally speaking, people are annoyed by those people.  And it’s a problem.  And there’s no protection for that.”

Board member Jackie Ramels also noted that, in official correspondence to the Park Board, 41 people supported this skatedot, and 17 opposed it.  These are compelling numbers.

In another motion, the Board also encouraged the Department to establish a working group to continue studying the specific issues at Summit Slope, and to encourage the Department to study noise issues related to skateparks.  This also raised issues about which skatepark policy the Board is following – the one from 2003 or the one from 2007.

From here, the Superintendent will make the final decision about this skatedot based on these recommendations.

As always, there is no clear answer here.  The Summit Slope Skatedot has provided, and will continue to provide, an important test case for legal public spaces for skateboarding in this city.  More importantly, it is, and will continue to be, a place where the skaters of Seattle can organize and mobilize in support of what we do.  Thanks for your support!

This is great news!

Thanks to everyone who sent in letters and showed up to the hearing to make your voice heard.  Hopefully Superintendent Williams continues his support for skateboarders (and the representation of youth voices on these issues) and votes to keep the dot alive.

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No skatedot? Back into the street kids!

One thing is for sure, if you threaten to take away a skatespot, the people show up.  Last night the NIMBY showing was strong, and frankly, their testimony was compelling.  One woman who pounded on the podium to make her point about irritating noise coming from the skatedot, was pretty rad (even though she totally misappropriated my words).  Honestly, I don’t begrudge these people thier right to peace and quiet either, I just think they’re looking for water in a desert.  If sound is your issue, frankly, there are bigger fish to fry in that neighborhood.

But Seattle skaters showed up!  Congrats to 35th/Tony, Skate Like a Girl/Nancy, SnoCon/Forrest, Marshall, Steve, and all the other folks who helped to get the word out.  I haven’t seen that many skaters at a meeting in a long time.

It really is a battle of two competing and valid needs though.  The neighbors’ need for less noise, and the local skateboarders’ need for a safe and accessible place to recreate, of which this is the only one in the area.  If I was weighing it out, I would say that the skaters outnumber the immediate neighbors, and the need for access to public spaces outweighs the need for removing only one of many errant sources of noise pollution on that single block.  I may not be totally objective, but I am trying to be, and I think the skatedot wins.

Access to public spaces is a social justice issue.  Noise pollution is an environmental issue.  I care about both of them, but I think these tenants should be talking to their landlords about getting some sound blocking windows.  Seriously.

Two minutes isn’t much time to get a point across, so here are the written versions of testimony from myself and SPAC members Ryan Barth and Scott Shinn.  The Parks Board of Commissioners will be taking written testimony until May 20th, and will make their recommendation shortly after that.

SPAC Testimony from last night:

MLJ –

Greetings Committee members and thank you for this opportunity to speak tonight.

My name is Matthew Lee Johnston and I have been serving as a volunteer skatepark advocate in Seattle since 2004.

In 2004 I authored a concept paper entitled “The Skateable City” which was eventually adopted as a part of the citywide skatepark plan in 2007.  While it took a lot of work from many people to get my concept turned into policy, I guess you could say that I am the “father” of the Seattle Skatedot.

The mission of my proposal was to solve a problem.  That being that there was a sizable user group in the dense urban core of Seattle, that had no safe and accessible way to participate in their sport.  These users have a right to public spaces just like anyone else, and were extremely under-served by Seattle Parks.  This user group, many of whom were kids, were forced to enjoy their sport in the unsafe and busy city streets.  I didn’t feel comfortable with this, so I tried to come up with a solution.  Since then, many other cities have followed Seattle’s lead on skatedots, and pro skater Rob Dyrdek, while standing aside Mayor McGinn and Superintendent Williams, cited the skatedot component as the thing that sets Seattle “lightyears” ahead of every other city he’s visited when it comes to skatepark policy.

The reality is that there simply is not room for a traditional contiguous skatepark facility in Capitol Hill.  Therefore distributed skatedots like this one are crucial to providing safe area for Seattle skaters.

I would like to address the noise issue.  I am a trained sound engineer, and I care about noise pollution, and have previously come out in defense of quiet places.  This location is not now, and has not been a quiet place for a very long time.  In 2004 I performed a sound survey when the Ballard Bowl was under seige in which I documented all of the ambient noise in the environment and recorded the sound pressure levels of each of those sounds.  In every case, the skatepark noise was an equal or lesser offender when it came to volume.

What I believe is happening here is that the complainants are reacting to a disruptive change in their ambient noise environment.  They have unfortunately become used to all of the more obtrusive sources of noise pollution in their environment, and are focusing on this new noise source because it is new, and therefore disruptive.  Which is I believe, is discriminatory.  The one gentleman who came to the SPAC meeting to express his concern told us that he considers the sirens, late night revelers, car alarms, and city busses all acceptable noises, but that the skateboarding noise simply was not acceptable to him.  I believe this proves my point.  These folks are effectively pulling the skateboarding noise out of an interwoven cacophony of urban noise, pointing at the skateboarding sound and saying: “I don’t like this one but these are OK”, which to me, is unacceptable as justification for removing a needed public recreation facility for an underserved user group.

Please listen to their arguments, be objective as you always are, and make your recommendation.  I trust you will be fair.  But please remember that skateboarders deserve access to public spaces too, and they are and will continue to be underserved in the urban core until we get more of these skatedots built.

Thank you.

–  Matthew Lee Johnston (SPAC)

 

Scott Shinn

Good evening.  My name is Scott Shinn and I’ve been advocating for skateparks in Seattle for seven years.  During that time, I’ve also served as the Secretary for the Skatepark Advisory Committee, and a member of the Citywide Skatepark Plan Task Force.

One of the reasons I keep coming back to this process year after year is the sense that I am witnessing and helping to record an important historical transformation.
On behalf of Skaters for Public Skateparks, I also want to invite you to watch the Freedom of Space DVD you received at the beginning of the meeting.  For five years, this documentary has provided the best glimpse into the lives of real skateboarders for decisionmakers like you, including Mayor Nickels and members of the City Council.
To me, the issue at Summit Slope is not noise or safety, because these are not unique to skateboarding.

The issue is that we are finally starting to make public spaces for skateboarding, and this is an important transformation of our urban landscape, and perhaps of our species itself.
In closing, I’d like to offer the following quote from legendary urban planner and founder of Love Park in Philadelphia, Edmund Bacon, who you’ll see in the documentary.  He said:
“I think skateboarding is a far more profound revolution than people give it credit for.  …  The wonderful thing to me is that these young people discovered that they, themselves would creatively adapt to the environment they already found.  The whole notion of adapting to the environment, it is almost contrary to the basis of our civilization.”

 

 

Ryan Barth

My name is Ryan Barth and I am the current Chairperson of the Seattle Parks and Recreation (Parks) Skate Park Advisory Committee (SPAC).  I have been involved in Seattle skateboarding advocacy since 2004.  Since that time I have spent countless volunteer hours working with Parks to attempt to legitimize skateboarding and obtain much needed legal skateboarding terrain for Seattle’s estimated 20,000 skateboarders.

Over many years we have constantly searched for a legal suitable location in Capitol Hill, which is one of the most densely populated neighborhoods with the greatest population of Seattle’s estimated 20,000 skateboarders.  When we learned of Parks Summit Slope Park redevelopment, I attended the first design meeting and listened to the community’s idea for the park.  The meeting was well attended by the community and the input received seemed to mesh well with a small, integrated skateboarding feature so I attended the second design meeting and proposed a skateable element to the community.  The community was inquisitive of this proposal and asked the standard questions we typically receive from the community about skateboarding: what about crime, noise, safety, and density of use.  I provided information that the SPAC has gathered based on years of evidence from skatepark use throughout this region and nationally.  The community listened to my input and no attendees expressed further concern at the meeting.  I then attended the third and final design meeting, where Parks presented the community with a design option including a skateable bench.  Again, the community responded favorably and none of the attendees expressing concern.  Based on this community support and $12,000 dollars of tax payer money, Parks constructed the first legal skatedot in Capitol Hill.  The skateboarding community was very excited to have a single safe, legal location to skateboard in the entire eastern portion of downtown Seattle.

Following construction, Parks approached the SPAC about concerns raised by surrounding neighbors.  The SPAC submitted a Public Disclosure Request to understand these complaints, which primarily consisted of noise and safety concerns by a small group of neighbors who lived directly adjacent to the skatedot.  Due to these complaints, Parks consulted with the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) to conduct a safety evaluation.  SDOT identified a few measures that could be implemented to increase safety associated with use of the skatedot.  Parks implemented the full list of SDOT-recommended measures to a cost of $7,000.  Still, the small group of neighbors continued to lodge complaints.

With regards to the issue of noise, the SPAC understands that skateboarding creates noise just like any other sport, and this was communicated to the community during the design meetings.  A noise study conducted by Soni-Fi at the Ballard Civic Center Park in February 2004 identified that noise created from skateboarding was compliant with the Seattle Department of Planning and Development’s noise ordinance (Seattle Municipal Code subchapter 25.08.400) and often of lower decibels than surrounding ambient noises typical of the urban environment.  It is unfortunate that there is a small group of neighbors that are averse to the (new) sound of skateboarding in their environment but it must be recognized that these neighbors personally chose to live in Capitol Hill.  This neighborhood is well known to have the highest urban density and is the gathering place for the younger generations in Seattle.  With these attributes comes noise – traffic noises, car alarms, sirens, construction noise, and yes, skateboard noise.  It is discriminatory to selectively point to one source of that noise spectrum and request it’s removal.

So what could have Parks (or the SPAC) done differently?  Parks conducted four public meetings and notified the public via flyers for each of these meetings.  The meetings were well attended by the community and the attendess unanimously stood behind the integration of a skatedot into the park design, with the understanding that skateboarding would create noise.  Following construction, Parks listened to safety concerns raised by the community and implemented safety measures that satisfied SDOT’s safety team.  The one remaining issue that is difficult to mitigate is noise but this neighborhood has some of the highest ambient noise levels in all of Seattle.  Please do not let a few neighbors who are averse to sharing space with skateboarders (under the guise of safety complaints) and noise common to the environment in which they choose to live shut down this sole legal skatespot in Capitol Hill.

 

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Get out your NIMBY sticks folks, because the Summit Slope Skatedot (formerly known as Summit and John) is officially under threat.

The first official skatedot built by Seattle Parks, the Summit Slope skatedot was met with much proactive support from all parties involved during the three public meetings that were held before construction began last year. What few neighbor concerns that were voiced during the meetings seemed to be resolved during those meetings and subsequent discussions between Parks managers and the SPAC.

However, immediately after the opening of the skatedot, the NIMBYs emerged from the darkness. Complaints started pouring in to Parks from the neighboring businesses, Starbucks and the Personal Injury Lawyers directly adjacent, and a neighbor in the apartment building across the street posted some videos on YouTube to document his frustration. That neighbor eventually attended a SPAC meeting and aired his grievances that were understandable to some extent. As usual, I over-documented and commented on this chapter of the Park’s history here.

Since then, Parks has addressed all of the complaints they’ve received by spending $7870 of public funds on remediations intended to address the neighbor’s concerns.  This includes bollards, a fence, turtles, a sign, skatestoppers (on a non-skatedot area rail), and rubber edging.  Skaters who use the park regularly have stated that the remediations seem to have reduced any possible chance of pedestrian conflicts, which was one of the two main complaints, and they have not witnessed any problems or collisions with peds.

Regardless of this massive and expensive effort to appease the neighbors, they still don’t seem to be happy.  In what appears to be official Seattle Parks policy, they have exceeded their NastyGram threshold and are now lending credence to these NIMBY arguments by bringing them in front of the Parks Board of Commissioners.  For those unaware, they are the group of citizens that Parks uses as a sounding board (and as in this case…flak shield) for issues like these.  There will be a hearing of sorts on the future of the skatedot, at the next Board of Commissioners meeting, on Thursday, May 12, at Park Headquarters: 100 Dexter Ave North, 7:00PM.

You can also email your thoughts to the commissioners by sending a note to:  sandy.brooks@seattle.gov

There is also a Facebook page that you can “Like” here, and also follow the progress.

Ironically enough, the official park dedication ceremony is this Monday, May 1st.  Unfortunately, the skatedot is not heralded much in the announcement for that event.

Bringing this issue to the Board of Commissioners means that Parks feels it has done everything within it’s power to mitigate the complaints being brought forth by the neighbors, and they’re escalating to the Board.  The fact that there are two personal injury lawyers barking about pedestrian injury risk is probably scaring them too.  But they built this park and they want it to succeed, so we need to support this project and the work they’ve done to build something for skateboarders in Capitol Hill.

Parks has shown a desire to address the concerns by spending considerable resources on remediation.  The noise complaint is ridiculous because the skatepark is nowhere near the volume of the passing busses, cars, late night drunks, and emergency sirens.  These people live and work in a dense urban environment and they are being unreasonable at this point.  If you need more clarity on the rational moderate argument for this skatedot, read this.

This is an important project because it’s the first skatedot.  If this one goes down, then it will be really difficult to build more.  If you support skateboarding in Seattle, and feel that skateboarders have as much of a right to the use of public space as anyone else, you need to act now on this.

The last time someone tried to erase a skatepark from the map, it started an entire skatepark advocacy movement in Seattle, that led to a city-wide skatepark plan and what will be 6 new skateparks by the end of 2011.  I wonder what will happen this time…

Finally, here’s a video of the space being used as intended:

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Screengrab of a hot nose manual from neighbor's reference video on YouTube.

Summit and John is still bugging the people living around it.  Cops are getting called daily and the noise is driving people nuts.  There are two personal injury lawyers stationed across the street who have put Seattle Parks “on notice” for possible pedestrian conflicts.  Who wants to bet that they’re hoping someone gets hurt?

First off, I really empathize with the one neighbor that came to the SPAC meeting last week, and the rest of the folks who are being impacted by this change of atmosphere in their neighborhood.  I also think that based on all the letters I’ve seen, and the conversations that I’ve been a part of, these neighbors have all really taken the high road when it comes to communicating their frustration.  Maybe it’s the location, and perhaps I’m just used to the suburban anti-skater lynch mob approach to these issues, but these folks are handling this with class and I commend them for that.

I’ll cut to the issue from my perspective, which is notoriously non-political and usually more straightforward than people prefer.

I was the one who authored the original skatedot concept that inspired the city to build this feature and hopefully others.  There were a few things in that concept paper that didn’t happen with this project and I think we’re seeing some negative end results because of it.

In the paper I stated:  “Skatepark advocates could help design the layout of walkways, assist with bench placement, identify prime locations for skateboarding, and suggest ways to avoid conflicts between skateboarders and other park users.”  This simply didn’t happen.  The problem here is that unlike a full-blown skatepark project, the Parks department and the project designers didn’t employ a skatepark expert or involve the SPAC in the design discussions.  It’s one thing to try and avoid talking to another contractor to control costs, and I believe that Parks felt like they were acting in good faith, but it’s unfortunate that they didn’t involve the SPAC more in the design discussions around feature placement and orientation.  I think we could’ve identified some of the pedestrian conflict issues for them.

Believe me, this is a hot issue for us right now because Seattle Parks is working overtime to hire another unqualified contractor to build the Delridge skatepark.  They consistently overlook the considerable effort that SPAC members have been putting in behind the scenes to help them avoid pitfalls on these projects.  I think John and Summit is a great example of what happens when they think they can go it alone and not get input from skaters and use qualified specialty contractors, even if it’s just for a few hours of consulting.

Another thing that these neighbors need to consider is that there likely would’ve been skateboarding in this location regardless of whether or not there was a sanctioned spot built here.  The fact that it is a sanctioned spot actually gives them much more of a platform and leverage to air their concerns.  You can’t skatestop the planet, and skateboarding is not a crime in itself.  The silver lining here is that this was a deliberate move to integrate skateboarding into a public space, and so the discussion is about that and Seattle Parks is listening.  The unfortunate thing is that this type of integrated feature is new to Seattle Parks and they’re still finding their way.  The neighbors at Summit and John are unfortunately experiencing the pain of being on the bleeding edge.

That said, there are many ways to design skateboarding out of a public space through material selection and directing the flow of park users.  Honestly, I think the comments I’ve read about the park’s design being flawed are right on in this area.  It pits the skateboarders against the pedestrians, which is not good for skateboarders either, believe me when I say that.  We want these features to be successful, and the neighbors need to be a part of that success or these much-needed skate spots won’t fly elsewhere.

The comments some of the neighbors are making about the park being too small aren’t necessarily on point though they hint at something I think makes sense, which is that the feature may be out of scale for the space they put it in.  A smaller feature in that same space would’ve required less speed, which means less run-up and landing area, and perhaps less pedestrian-skater conflict potential.  Again, this is a design consideration that the SPAC could’ve helped with but we weren’t invited to participate.

The noise is definitely a negative side effect that’s close to my heart as someone who has spent a lot of time in nature as a field recordist, and myself have lived across the street from some pretty offensive sources of errant noise pollution.  I empathize.  But here’s the hard truth about that:  this noise is only offensive to these people because it’s a new addition to the already overwhelming amount of noise pollution in their environment.  I’ve done several noise surveys at urban skateparks, and the noise from the skatepark is always equal to or less than other sources like car alarms, overhead air traffic, city busses, and even the human voice.  I think context is everything here.  These people are irritated by the skateboarders, so they’re focused on them and the noise they create.  This noise is new, and it sucks.  There’s no doubt about that.  But these people are living in a very dense area – they say this themselves – and they need to recognize that saddling these park users with the burden of an increasing noise pollution problem in their neighborhood isn’t necessarily fair.

Finally, I realize that these folks may actually prefer this alternative at this point, but skateboarders actively using the space will drive away activities like drug dealing, public drinking, and other types of anti-social behavior.  Things actually could be worse.

In some of the letters I’ve read I have seen some attempts to use skaters as proxies for latent fears about some of these other serious social issues, and I want to state clearly and loudly that we won’t tolerate being painted as criminals in an effort to deal with this issue.  This is about the valid use of public space, integrating the needs of park users in a way that works for everybody, and avoiding injury and conflict.  We are totally engaged in the process to make this work and welcome any and all opinions/discussion around those issues.

Again, I am just one person with an opinion here and I recognize that my opinions may not be super popular with the people being negatively affected by this new skatedot.  I understand why that’s the case.  I just hope that in the same way I can empathize and understand their arguments, they can also see the other side of the argument and at least try to understand the bigger picture here.

Here’s what I recommend:

  • Skaters using the park after hours is unacceptable and neighbors need to continue to call the police as soon as they see skaters aren’t respecting the park hours.
  • Skaters behaving like idiots is also not acceptable and neighbors should also call the police immediately if they see anything illegal happening in the park, regardless of who’s doing it.
  • Stay engaged with the Parks Department and continue to reach out to the Skatepark Advisory Committee.  Parks is listening, and seem to be responding to these concerns.
  • Avoid suggesting that this is not the place for skateboarding, but some other place is.  We hear that in every neighborhood, and it’s not a workable approach.  There are skateboarders in every neighborhood, and while this implementation has issues, there is a way to provide something for these park users that works.  We just haven’t gotten there yet.
  • Talk to the skateboarders.  Has anyone actually spoken to them?

Here’s what the SPAC is doing:

  • We are talking with the Parks Department.  They are sharing the complaints with us and we’re aware of the issues.
  • We’re reaching out to the skate community in Seattle and getting the word out that skaters need to respect this spot if they want more of them to be built.
  • Parks has not asked for our input on how to mitigate these issues but they have sent us the list of mitigations that they are putting into place and they seem reasonable to us.  However, I agree with some comments that a sign is probably a waste of time and resources.  Again, the best thing to do is stay on top of the enforcement situation and that will establish a pattern of behavior.

This is going to get worse before it gets better.  Parks is going to skatestop the rest of the park, and put up some signs.  They usually go soft whenever someone starts threatening lawsuits regardless of whether or not they have any foundation for the threat, so it will probably end up being a fight to keep skateboarding as part of this park.  Yay.

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Screengrab of a hot nose manual from neighbor's reference video on YouTube.

The Summit and John skatedot, which is the first official skatedot put into a park by Seattle Parks, is already drawing fire and the park hasn’t even been finished.

Forwarded emails from Seattle Parks detail some unfortunate behavior:

They (Seattle police) have been over here quite a few times and have in fact taken one boarder away in cuffs.  Or better yet come over in the morning and view the garbage and vomit that the skaters have left by the skate dot.

I don’t know how this person knows that the barf was from skaters, or why it’s a problem if someone gets sick in the park. Regardless, the skateboarders involved in that skatedot worked pretty hard to get it built, and believe it or not, some considerable funds went into building it. Even simple structures cost a fortune to build within the Seattle city bureaucracy. There were also a lot of meetings attended and politicking behind the scenes by the SPAC to get this done. If skaters on the Hill make this spot unsuccessful because they turn it into an urban nightmare for the people who live around it, there simply won’t be any more built elsewhere. Essentially, they’ll blow it for everyone.

But some of the emails suggest that skaters are being used as proxies for everything that sucks about living in the city:

Drunk people walking home from the bar, cars honking their horns, or people arguing on the street come with living in the neighborhood but this ramp is preventable and should be removed. I can accept being awoken by a car alarm going off at night but I refuse to accept being awoken by skateboards playing in the park- like tonight.

That last sentence is a pretty good example of how an unfair bias against skateboarders creeps it’s way into outcry around skateparks. For some reason drunks and car alarms are acceptable, but skateboarding noise isn’t. I think there’s a pretty transparent message here that skaters aren’t welcome in this person’s version of their neighborhood. What this person is failing to understand is that they can call the cops to come and deal with the skate noise, but they are S.O.L. with all of those other errant noise sources.  Sound studies have shown that skateboarding noise is actually much lower and less frequent than overhead air traffic, ambient street traffic, and other human originated urban noise.

Other comments in the emails forwarded to us include fears about property values going down, undesirable activity, and garbage.  Sound familiar?

What’s really unfortunate, and this is true at Lower Woodland as well, is that Seattle Parks and Seattle Police really need to work hand-in-hand to help regulate behavior in Seattle Parks. A little enforcement would go a long way toward keeping the noise down after park hours, help with behavior issues, etc….but the police never really seem to stay on top of this stuff when it comes to skateparks.

It seems like a really good opportunity for the SPD to do some community outreach with the young people that they like to lock up so much once they get older. Maybe a few more boots on the ground in skateparks would help them develop better relationships with these kids and foster some basic respect in the community.

Right now it seems like a couple of neighbors immediately across the street are responding to the increase in isolated noise by throwing everything they’ve got at the skateboarders, who seem to be the same three guys. The videos I was sent have titles like “tagging” and “railing” but neither video shows anything improper being done. The railing video shows a skater pretending to tailslide the railing by walking along side the rail and putting his board on it with his hands. I think the “tagger” is tying his shoelace:

Tagger or shoe-wearer? You decide!

While Johnny saves for a fingerboard, he resorts to using the real thing.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out. We certainly want to build more integrated skatedots into city parks, and what happens here will definitely inform how Seattle Parks makes decisions in the future. Pretty soon it will be raining all the time, the noise will die down, and these neighbors will have to find something else to write the City Council about.

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Marg_gosk81The hater in me wants to be all… “every day is go skateboarding day, man”, and “don’t try to turn this aspect of my lifestyle into a Hallmark holiday you evil corporate skateboard/lifestyle brand managers”, but I am really trying to be more positive these days.  I ventured out.

I figured the most anti-corporate place to celebrate GSD was Marginal, and it’s the closest thing to my house.  I expected to see a lit barbecue, people everywhere, and to hear Slayer riffs echoing off the walls.  Instead I found an empty spot except for this guy, and captured an image of what I believe the essence of GSD to be:

Go skateboarding for yourself, and no one else.

Marginal was probably empty because the SnoCon guys were hosting an awesome event down the street, and I’m sure it fired up later in the afternoon.  Josh Becker captured some awesome photos of the downhill bomb, which you can see here.  But having Marginal to yourself on GSD seemed like an oddly beautiful way to spend the day.

gosk8_dwnhill

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As reported yesterday on the West Seattle Blog, The Delridge skatepark funding is about to get cut out of the budget by the City Council.  As usual, this is a huge blow to skaters in West Seattle, and more potentially bad news for a user group that has seen it’s fair share of disappointments.

The city has a significant budget shortfall largely due to a 30% decrease in property taxes, and it’s looking hard for ways to make up for it.  In times like these, development and acquisitions are often the first things to get shafted, which in general makes sense.  I understand that times are tough, and some difficult decisions need to be made.  But let’s be honest… cutting funds for a free activity for people of all ages during a time when folks don’t have a lot of money to spend on entertainment, seems really short-sighted.

What pisses me off even more, is that skatepark advocates have worked hard to successfully direct a bunch of money into the Seattle Parks Department system, only to have Parks do nothing with it.

For instance, Lower Woodland skatepark was funded via heavy lobbying during the Ballard Bowl debacle, and from a grant that this skatepark advocate personally went to Olympia to ask for.  When the skatepark’s overall size was reduced by Parks in an effort to placate angry Greenlake neighbors, there was over $100K surplus in the skatepark budget on opening day.  Instead of putting in lights, water fountains, or (gasp) paving the path around the park instead of using that pea gravel that gets all over the skate surface, the money just sat unused for so long it has now been earmarked for some other purpose.

Another example is the “skate dot pot”.  This fund was given to the Parks Department by the City Council to build skatedots as outlined by the Citywide Skatepark Plan.  Despite persistent effort made by the SPAC to develop these skatedots, not a single dollar of this money has been spent on skate dots.  The only money that has been used from this fund was a small amount to kick-start the Delridge project, which now looks to be dead in the water.  The only skatedot project that seemed like it might get legs is at John and Summit, a manual pad that Parks mistakenly estimated would cost $10K, is now languishing behind a slow moving Parks effort for months and only seems to even have gotten this far because of constant prodding from skaters.  Every SPAC meeting in the last year has included some discussion with Parks staff about getting the skatedot process going and nothing has happened.

So really…where is the real inefficiency here?  Skaters have been successfully securing funds for Seattle skateparks for a few years now and we’ve built one park.  It’s disheartening to work so hard as an advocate, only to have a lack of action on the execution side toss those hard-earned resources to the wind.  Perhaps we should start taking a close look and find out who is responsible for sitting on large sums of money that were specifically given to them by the City Council to build skateable terrain in this city, only to have those funds squandered and the re-absorbed into some general fund for mowing lawns.  Meanwhile, skatepark projects on the other side of the city can’t get off the ground because of budget cuts?!?  If I was this ineffective at my job I’d be fired, and so would you.

On the positive side, the Parks Levy has passed, which has some funding for skateparks, but not enough for the parks listed in the levy.  The levy funds are really only seed money to be spread over the next 6 years.  The Delridge skatepark process has actually been moving forward nicely with relative Seattle Parks newcomer Kelly Davidson at the helm.  But Delridge is not included in the levy, and looks like it may fall out of funding for the next two years.  The projects in the Levy will also have to undergo the same process that we’ve already begun at Delridge, with great success and overwhelming community support.  In effect, this latest chain of events threatens to set West Seattle skatepark development back another three years, just when we were gaining a genuinely positive momentum that has yet-to-be-seen on a skatepark project in Seattle.

I know we’re living in tough financial times, and that this new development is largely due to factors that lie far outside of the Seattle city government and Parks Department’s ability to make things better.  But things have been so screwed up up to this point that there is no headroom in the system in case of emergency.  What bugs me is that with one hand we’re throwing skatepark money into the fire, and the other hand is begging for more.  I don’t blame anyone for not giving Seattle Parks more money for skateparks when they can’t even spend the bread they’ve been given thus far, especially when there’s a huge budget deficit.

I urge you to write an email to the City Council budget committee today, because time is short.  Explain to them that you feel like we’ve really achieved something special in West Seattle with the Delridge skatepark process, and the community can’t afford to lose this opportunity.  Tell them that we’re engaged in the process, we’ve gained momentum, and that the Parks Department is actually responding to us on this project.  Let’s not throw a wrench into the machine right when it finally seems like it’s working…

Send it to:

Tom Rasmussen

Richard McIver

CC:

Timothy Gallagher

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It’s no secret that the Citywide Skatepark Plan left the urban core out in the cold.  The lack of available public space, fear of public backlash in high-density neighborhoods, and some of the highest property values in the city all contributed to a lack of motivation when the Parks Department was assembling a list of possible sites for skateparks.  When the Citywide Skatepark Plan task force expressed their concern about this, we were told that this is where skatedots would come in…smaller individual features would fill the gaps in higher-density urban areas that could not support a larger skatespot or skatepark.

Parks acquired a lot at John and Summit back in January of 2007 as a part of the Pro-Parks Levy.  Since then, Seattle Parks has been working through the development process, and there have already been 3 public meetings during which the idea of implementing a skatedot had been suggested by locals.  Several skaters have been advocating for a skatedot at this site, including the staff, management, and clientele of the nearby skate-HQ, 35th North.

But a few months ago, the communication from Seattle Parks started to get …ummm… sketchy.  What started out as a seemingly supportive position sudddenly started to morph into the classic backpedaling that has happened in so many other sites when back-channel opposition starts to come in via email and phone calls from well connected people.  The message went from “we welcome the participation of the skateboarders in creating a potential skatedot”, to “we’re not sure if there’s enough public support for this feature”.

The local advocates then reached out to the SPAC, who started bridging communication between Parks and the advocates, and also contacted Grindline about possibly providing some pro-bono conceptual designs to help show concerned community members exactly what they should or should not be worried about.  Grindline graciously agreed to help, but have been hitting snags because both Parks and Mithun (the contractor signed up to design the park) have been saying they don’t want to move forward until they know the skatedot will for sure be a part of the project.

What’s really unclear, is what stage the project is in.  Parks project manager Lynn Sullivan had previously told advocates that it was unclear whether or not the skatedot had enough support in the community, so a petitioning process was started (you can still sign it at 35th N).  Today in an email, she is now suggesting that skaters focus their efforts on working through a small team of representatives at the next public meeting, which is scheduled for Wednesday, September 10,
from 7:00 – 8:30 p.m. at the Capitol Hill Presbyterian Church
(1729 Harvard Ave).  The idea, according to Sullivan, is not to spook the concerned neighbors who are opposed to the skatedot with a large number of bloodthirsty skateboarders at the meeting.  But the issues appear to be noise concerns and potential for pedestrian/skater conflicts, two issues that can easily be mitigated through design and basic park closure enforcement.  Neither issue is necessarily contentious or controversial.

I have an email in to Parks asking for clarification on whether or not this project is officially green-lit, or if it’s still pending some sort of assessment of community approval.  Once again, it seems like Parks is trying to do the right thing by managing negative reactionary blowback, but in the process they are playing a coy game of politics that breeds distrust from all parties involved.  It seems like transparency and the open sharing of information would not only help move these projects along, but it would allow for more opportunities for the pro and anti-skate folks to demystify their positions and educate one another.

Regardless of the snags in the process, it really can’t hurt to err on the safe side, so please shoot an email to lynn.sullivan@seattle.gov and let her know you support a skatedot in this park.  This much-needed skatedot is at a critical juncture in the public process.  As I get more updates on the status of the project, I’ll post them here.

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