Parks and waterfront: sometimes things don’t go the way you planned.

Council member Debora Juarez’s Parks, Seattle Center, Libraries and Waterfront Committee had two items on its agenda this morning, and neither went as one might expect.

You can watch all the fun here.

The first item was a fairly routine renewal of a concession lease on a property managed by the Parks Department: leasing the Roger Dahl Rifle Range at West Seattle Stadium to the West Seattle Sportsmen’s Club.

The Sportsmen’s Club, currently 84 members strong, was created in 1934 and has been in continuous existence since then. It has operated the Rifle Range, a “fifty foot, 8-position, small bore and air range” tucked underneath the stadium bleachers, for decades.

Roger Dahl Rifle Range at West Seattle Stadium
Roger Dahl Rifle Range at West Seattle Stadium

Previously it leased the range for $200 per year (and the city paid for utilities) — a pretty sweet deal. In the proposed renewal, they would pay $1000 per year — still pretty sweet. So good, in fact, that Council members Juarez, Harrell and Bagshaw questioned whether the public benefits that the city got were enough to make it an equitable exchange.

It’s worth pointing out that it’s not a big space, nor one that the city has other offers to lease; in fact, you could make the case that the Sportsmen’s Club is doing the city a favor by leasing it and keeping the range running. In fact, they have been, by all appearances, a model tenant: they have spent money on upkeep and maintenance, and they keep it squeaky clean. They run the range Mondays through Wednesdays for a variety of activities that are open to the public (not just club members) at very inexpensive rates.  They have taught essential gun safety to generations of Seattleites.

But Council president Harrell, launching from the “public benefit” platform, took what would ordinarily be a ho-hum discussion, into a deeper discussion of how the community’s thoughts on gun violence have changed over several years. He pushed hard on the notion of the city owning a gun range when there seems to be no lack of private ranges in the area, suggesting that — particularly in light of the dirt-cheap rent and free utilities — whether the “public benefit” bar should be higher. It became clear that the Sportsmen’s Club leadership shared the Council members’ views on the serious epidemic of gun violence our society is facing and is working hard to emphasize gun safety — including promoting trigger locks, gun vaults, and storing firearms and ammunition separately. Notably, the head of the club flat-out stated that it was a myth that keeping a gun in your home would make you safer, since you would rarely have the change to retrieve it if someone broke into your home and threatened you.

Over the course of the conversation it became clear that in the briefing materials given to the Council the public benefits of the range were understated, and in the end the committee  asked the Parks Department and the club to provide a clearer written statement of those benefits for it to consider before voting to approve the lease renewal. I suspect it’s highly likely that it will get approved at the next committee meeting, but it will have to wait two weeks to get there.

 

The second item of business was a presentation on the Office of the Waterfront’s 2016 Work Plan. That’s right, what’s happening on the waterfront is so complicated that it has its own city office. Yes, there’s Bertha, but there’s also the seawall replacement project. And Washington State Ferries’ project to gut and rebuild their Colman Dock terminal. And more important, there’s the post-Bertha plans for remaking the waterfront after the Alaskan Way Viaduct has been torn down.

Projects on the Seattle Waterfront
Projects on the Seattle Waterfront

The waterfront projects carry the stench of expensive disaster that emanates from Bertha and pervades everything nearby, which is unfortunate, because when you look at what the Office of the Waterfront is doing in detail, you can’t help but be impressed.

The seawall project is getting done. Yes, it’s over budget. But as Council member Bagwell pointed out, everyone knew that was likely to happen, because apart from the complexities of the seawall construction itself, the construction effort needed to navigate the “massive underground spaghetti” of utilities underneath the waterfront. Look for yourself:

Seattle waterfront underground utilities map
Seattle waterfront underground utilities map

The Office of the Waterfront is also navigating the early design phase of the waterfront remodel, which involves gathering input from all stakeholders through a public process. Furthering complicating matters, this one involves two local tribes (the Muckleshoot and Suquamish) who both have history and tribal rights extending along the waterfront. But the OOW has turned this into a positive, looking at how to incorporate native tribal names, history and traditions into elements of the waterfront redesign. According to Council member Juarez, this has begun a “healing process” for and with the tribes as they come to terms with their relationship with the City of Seattle.

The waterfront design also involves tracking the Seattle Aquarium’s expansion plans and designing around it.  Even figuring out how many street lanes to have is controversial, especially along the southern end of Alaskan Way, where freight trucks, ferry traffic, and tourists all must navigate (but other stakeholders would like it to be narrower). And when the SR99 tunnel opens (we hope) and Alaskan Way becomes a major arterial for downtown Seattle, they need to design both the south end and how it connects back in at the north end where Elliott Ave. feeds into the Battery Street Tunnel. but they have a plan.

Their big goal for this year is to finish the “60% design” phase for the waterfront.

Office of the Waterfront 2016 goals
Office of the Waterfront 2016 goals

To do that, they need to finish the Environmental Impact Statement as well. But having those plans in place allows them to finish negotiating with WSDOT on their contribution to the overall budget for the waterfront (WSDOT has tentatively committed $220 million).

It’s fair to say that the Council members were impressed with the extent to which the Office of the Waterfront has this massive project under control. It’s not perfect, but they are checking all the boxes and the presenters didn’t give the committee anything of substance to complain about. I, for one, didn’t see that coming.

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