11th-Hour Dealing On Puget Sound Park Gives King County Bad Name
Burien City Council members and Highline-area residents made their case on two issues of considerable local concern to trustees of the King County Library System (KCLS) at their Dec. 15th meeting in Issaquah:
- Puget Sound Park is an asset that rightfully should go to Burien when the city annexes about half of the North Highline unincorporated area, perhaps in early March.
- Neighborhood libraries in White Center and Boulevard Park should remain open and not be consolidated in a new library building, perhaps at Puget Sound Park.
And both matters should be discussed openly, with affected citizens given ample opportunity to express their views at conveniently located public meetings.
KCLS Director Bill Ptacek and several trustees responded that, until this meeting, they were unaware of the facts supporting Burienâ€™s claim to the park, and of community concern about their neighborhood libraries.
They apparently lacked both information and perspective on these issues despite the fact that Burien City Councilwoman Lucy Krakowiak is also a member of the KCLS Board of Trustees.
The comments were made during a scheduled public forum. No action was expected or taken. However, both Ptacek and trustees assured the representatives from Burien and North Highline that an involved public process will precede any decision on either the park or the libraries.
Puget Sound Park is located at 1st Ave. S and SW 126th St. just two blocks beyond Burienâ€™s current northern city limit. Residents of the southern half of North Highline, which includes that five-acre site, voted in August to be annexed by Burien.
But before leaving office late last month, former King County Executive Kurt Triplett put in his 2010 county budget $600,000 from a planned sale of the park to the KCLS.
Triplett included that item after a letter of intent for the purchase of Puget Sound Park was signed by the library system in early November.
He also budgeted the one-time anticipated revenue to pay for maintenance of parks in other unincorporated areas of the county next year.
Burien city officials were never told by Triplett about the pending sale, learning of it only in a second-hand way on Friday, Nov. 20.
The new budget was approved by the county council on Monday, Nov. 23; new Executive Dow Constantine took office the next day.
In the past, Constantine has strongly opposed efforts by the executiveâ€™s office to sell Puget Sound Park.
Ptacek has expressed an interest in the library system acquiring the property and consolidating the White Center and Boulevard Park libraries, which would be closed, in a new facility at that location.
Asked earlier this week about this conflict, Constantine said, â€œClearly we need to have an arrangement that works for the city of Burien â€¦ as well as for King County. We need to slow this process way down to hear from everybody.â€
Constantine said the county is â€œentering into a conversation with the city of Burienâ€ â€“ something that was not done by Triplett â€“ â€œwith everyone at the table â€¦ to make the best of the situation that I inherited.â€
Burien City Councilwoman Rose Clark told the library trustees, â€œIâ€™m heartbroken that such a deal could be struck [by the county] with the library without anyone coming to us [the city council] and â€¦ the two libraries in North Highline that would be closed.â€
â€œI had a lot of [negative] emotions when I learned the county wanted to sell Puget Sound Park. No one came to us to ask our interest â€¦ it was presented to us as a done deal.â€
â€œI encourage you to have a good public process … before final decisions are made about the park and the neighborhood libraries,â€ added Councilwoman Kathy Keene.
â€œWe have some real concerns,â€ Keene said. â€œThe park needs to go back to the people where it belongs.â€
â€œThis kind of 11th-hour dealing by the county really gives the county a bad name in its dealings with the city,â€ Councilman Gordon Shaw declared.
“Many details remain unanswered should the library system eventually buy the park,â€ Shaw continued. “Would the library system build a new facility on part of the land and give the rest to Burien? Would it use the entire park? Would it leave the land undeveloped?”
â€œThis whole thing doesnâ€™t seem to be well thought out,â€ he said, voicing the hope that the issue is settled with the park going to Burien.
â€œJust to set the record straight,â€ Ptacek interjected, â€œI was led to believe there was communication â€¦ between the city and the county [executiveâ€™s office]â€¦.
â€œI was told if we were able to purchase the park, some of the money would go the cityâ€ for park maintenance along with the rest of that property for use as a park. “Now,â€ he said, â€œwe hear that Burien considers this an assetâ€¦.
â€œI assure everybody in this room that we will not proceed without a full public process,â€ Ptacek added, noting the letter of intent has expired so it no longer is an issue.
Burien â€œnever asked anybody for money for [city] parks,â€ Clark advised the library trustees.
White Center resident Rebecca Wells said â€œto take away the White Center Library and move it to Puget Sound Park would be a prohibitive distance for White Center residents,â€ including students who use it after school.
Ed Dacy, a member of the Burien Parks Board, highlighted the importance of this park to east Burien, which is underserved by parks. Then, pointing to a wall map of the library district, he reminded the trustees that distances appear closer than they really are.
If the White Center and Boulevard Park libraries were consolidated, residents of both neighborhoods would have to take buses into downtown Burien and transfer â€“ just a few blocks from the cityâ€™s new library â€“ to get to another new library at the park site, Dacy said.
â€œTo close both of these libraries would really be a disservice to both communities,â€ he concluded.
White Center Library Guild member Rachel Levine told the trustees that the 2004 library bond, which was approved by county voters, includes funds for new or remodeled libraries in both White Center and Boulevard Park.
â€œMaybe itâ€™s not the most efficient or economic thing to have small community libraries, but libraries are part of the people infrastructure of a community,â€ Levine said. â€œPeople depend on them. So it was a shock to us to hear about a possible consolidation â€¦ [that] would be very inconvenient for many.â€
She said people â€œstill need libraries that serve the community, that are within walking distance, that are within biking distance, that are within busing distance.â€
â€œThe bottom line,â€ said Liz Giba of White Center, â€œis that there is a lot of poverty, a lot of people who walk to the library. To consolidate these libraries would really put at risk a lot of my neighbors and would really put at risk a lot of kids.â€
Closing the two neighborhood libraries and using Puget Sound Park for a library â€œwould take away three assetsâ€ from the Highline area,â€ Giba continued.
â€œPlease do the right thing,â€ she urged the library trustees. â€œPlease stand up for the people of White Center and Boulevard Park. Please show that you really do care.â€