Burien City Council, Residents React To County's Pitch For Puget Sound Park; Plus, Take Our Poll... 3by Ralph Nichols

Burien City Council members had their first face-to-face discussion with a representative of the King County Executive’s office on the divisive issue of Puget Sound Park at their Dec. 7 meeting – and they didn’t blink.

Following a lengthy – and amicable – exchange of views with new Deputy Executive Fred Jarrett, the council agreed to delay once again setting March 2 as the formal date for annexing the south half of the North Highline unincorporated area.

City lawmakers made it clear to Jarrett that they consider the latest attempt by King County to sell the park – which was in the works before Executive Dow Constantine took office on Nov. 24 – a breach of trust.

And they remained equally adamant that Puget Sound Park, located at 1st Ave. S and SW 126th St. in the unincorporated area, is a county asset that rightfully should be transferred to Burien with annexation.

Jarrett appeared before the Burien council at the request of Constantine, who sent his regrets at not being able to attend the meeting. Prior to his election as county executive last month, Constantine represented Burien, North Highline and West Seattle on the King County Council and served as council chairman this year.

“We’re all in a place that we would really choose not to be,” Jarrett told the Burien council. “Our goal in all this is to be good partners and to reach an accommodation that meets the needs of both” the city and county.

Burien City Council, Residents React To County's Pitch For Puget Sound Park; Plus, Take Our Poll... 4

Puget Sound Park is located on the land that once housed Puget Sound Jr. High, near the intersection of 1st Ave South and SW 126th.

Constantine, who in the past has strongly opposed efforts to sell Puget Sound Park, “is constrained by prior action of the [county] council,” he continued.

Before leaving office, former Executive Kurt Triplett included in his 2010 county budget an anticipated $600,000 from a planned sale of the five-acre park to the King County Library System. This one-time revenue is expected to pay for maintenance of county parks in unincorporated areas next year, Jarrett said.

Constantine had nothing to do with putting revenue from the sale of Puget Sound Park into the new budget and, Jarrett noted, “Dow did slow the [sale] process down” by asking Triplett not to act on a letter of intent with the library system.

Triplett complied with that request and, Jarrett said, the time to exercise the letter of intent has now elapsed.

However, Constantine presided over the county council meeting on Nov. 23 – the day before he was sworn in as executive – when it unanimously approved a $5 billion county budget for 2010.

“The Council has crafted a budget that protects public safety [and] keeps parks open in the unincorporated areas,” Constantine said following that vote.

Earlier this year, he wrote then-Executive Ron Sims, strongly objecting to any sale of Puget Sound Park for low-income housing, which was under consideration at that time.

Constantine also told the North Highline Unincorporated Area Council that the property should remain a park and should go to Burien if annexation took place.

King County Library Director Bill Ptacek has expressed interest in the library system acquiring Puget Sound Park and consolidating the White Center and Boulevard Park libraries, which would be closed, in a new facility at that location.

City Councilwoman Rose Clark told Jarrett it is “really reprehensible that at the 11th hour [before annexation] – 11:30 almost – the county says, “Oh, by the way, we’re going to sell the park and use the money for parks in other areas … and not tell you about it until the [county] council has voted” on it.

Burien City Council, Residents React To County's Pitch For Puget Sound Park; Plus, Take Our Poll... 5

City Manager Mike Martin says that annexation won’t happen until Burien gets this park as part of the deal.

“To do that is a disservice to the Highline area,” Clark said. She then asked if the only way to keep other county parks open “is to take this park from Burien?”

Jarrett said that since anticipated revenue from selling the park is already in the new county budget, if the park is not sold cuts would have to be made or a source of replacement revenue would have to be found.

Nevertheless, he added, “We want to work with you. We want to be partners. We want to stop unilaterally actions by the county.”

“We would welcome that,” Clark replied.

Later, Jarrett said he and Constantine want to settle the park issue “in a different way. We just want to do this in a way that meets the needs of both sides.”

Clark insisted that as city and county officials discuss this matter, all meetings should be public, involve the city council and not just staff, and be held in Burien, which is a more convenient location than downtown Seattle for local citizens with a direct interest in the park.

Mayor Joan McGilton emphasized the important of parks in bringing the diverse cultures in Burien together. “We have [no parks] on the city’s east side,” she said.

And Councilman Gordon Shaw observed that the pending action by King County “proves the old adage that ‘no good deed goes unpunished’ … the whole thing doesn’t feel right.”

Burien officials learned about Triplett’s attempt to sell Puget Sound Park just days before the city council was scheduled to set March 2 as the formal date for annexing much of the North Highline unincorporated area – and just days before Triplett left office.

The city council then put the setting of an effective date for annexation on hold – and City Manager Mike Martin has declared that annexation won’t happen until Burien gets this park as part of the deal.

During public comment prior to the council’s discussion with Jarrett, Russ Pritchard, representing the North Highline Unincorporated Area Council, noted that the council has twice voted unanimously to oppose the sale of Puget Sound Park.

Yet, Prichard said, the county is now attempting to sell the park without first receiving public comment.

Burien City Council, Residents React To County's Pitch For Puget Sound Park; Plus, Take Our Poll... 6

Will this be the site for another new library?

Burien resident Ed Dacy said “a park is a jewel, and that “sale of a park, even for a library, should not happen without an extensive public hearing. What else are they [the county] trying to sell in the back room?”

Dacy also said City Councilwoman Lucy Krakowiak, who also is a member of the King County Library System board of trustees, “must recuse herself” from voting on this park-or-library issue “due to a conflict of interest.”

Krakowiak later said while she wears two hats, she represents the city first and as a library system trustee recuses herself from votes involving Burien.

Rachel Levine, a member of the White Center Library Guild, said the pending sale of Puget Sound Park and possible closure of that library took them by surprise.

White Center was promised a new or expanded library through the library bond issue that was approved in 2004, Levine said. And the library, which “gets lots of use” with many patrons arriving on foot or bicycles, remains essential to the academic success of many Evergreen High School students.

“We can’t let go of the social network of our community,” she added. “We’ve already lost the Evergreen Pool – for the moment.”

Pat Price of Boulevard Park said residents there from students to the elderly “really need their library … we can’t find this acceptable to close two libraries to build one.”

North Highline resident Liz Giba said “to take away libraries from two communities that need them … is an ugly, ugly approach. We need libraries that are accessible … [and] the county told us this park would be saved.

“It’s time for King County, please, to treat us with a little bit of respect. We’ve been working for annexation for a long time. This is the latest step by the county to make it more difficult.”

City council members also agreed to delay adoption at Monday’s meeting of an amended budget for 2010 that would reflect both revenue and expenses associated with annexation. Instead, they will vote on Dec. 14 on a revised budget that does not include annexation unless the park issue is resolved before then.

So…what do YOU think? Please take our Poll, or leave a Comment below…

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