They’ve raised $2m to upgrade a Rainier Beach park but say ‘the fight shouldn’t be so hard’

With $2 million raised, a grassroots effort to revamp Be’er Sheva Park in Rainier Beach could be largely complete by fall, underscoring the effectiveness of community-led improvement projects and uplifting questions about fairness in the system that depends on it.

Since 2017, members of the Rainier Beach community have worked to update the 25.5-acre park — named after Be’er Sheva, Israel, one of Seattle’s sister cities — and lake beach Washington in the South End, calling for waterfront, lane and general park improvements.

After holding a series of community meetings to gather public input, the group worked with the Seattle Parks Foundation and other partners to create an Uplands Improvement Plan that would restore and improve the park and waterfront. for around $2 million.

Now the group has received enough funds or has pledged funds to complete the phase of improvements in Beersheba, which includes a new pedestrian boat launch, picnic grills and tables, lighting security and updated pathways, a new fitness area, new shelter and seating, and an updated entry plaza, among other improvements.

“It felt like so much weight had been lifted off our shoulders,” Link2Lake co-chair Sally Li said in an interview. last month. “Equitable access to quality green spaces is something we had to fight so hard for, but the fight shouldn’t be so hard.”

About half of the $2 million came from Seattle government sources, including $568,000 from the city’s overall budget; $250,000 from the office of council member Tammy Morales (whose district includes the park); and $250,000 from the Department of Parks and Recreation Real Estate Excise Tax Capital Fund.

Other funding came from nonprofits who donated $180,000, Amazon ($100,000), King County ($165,000), Washington State ($485,000) and individuals who paid more than $16,800.

“It took about two whole years to really advocate for all that money, so I’m really relieved to see this come to fruition,” Li said.

With cash in hand, the group is now negotiating the permits with hopes of starting the bidding process in March, starting construction around May and finishing construction in October, according to project manager George Lee.

“The only thing that could really delay the project is if a partner really drops the ball,” Lee, who is funded by the nonprofit Seattle Parks Foundation, said in an interview.

While Lee believes there are “no insurmountable hurdles” in the permitting process, the bureaucratic process of obtaining project approval involves various environmental elements.

“Basically, there’s so much water,” Lee said, noting Mapes Creek, for example, a creek that runs through the park, which poses manageable but time-consuming hurdles for the project to clean up before going to bid.

“And we could probably handle a little more delay, but if it delays a lot more, we push into this thing called the fish window,” Lee said.

The fish window refers to designated times of the year when this type of shoreline construction can be completed, designed to limit impact on endangered wildlife. To protect salmon in the Lake Washington area where Beersheba Park is located, construction can only be completed between July and December.

“We’re on track to do construction during this time this year, but we don’t want to be delayed so that we basically miss our window because then we’ll have to wait,” Lee said.

Meanwhile, the group is still planning Phase 2, which is a separate in-water improvement “to improve habitat for endangered juvenile Chinook salmon, which use the small bay for resting and feeding,” to which the group has already received funding from King County, according to Lee.

And depending on how the bidding process unfolds, the group may still need to raise additional funds for public art, which was taken out of the budget during planning but remains a Phase 1 goal.

“Our next meeting is to figure out how we can cordon off the tribes, especially the Duwamish, by incorporating signage and history into the park, and getting other community groups to contribute artwork,” said Li. “So we are exploring those options and also looking for additional funds for that, because those parts are not being funded.”

According to Lee, there’s still a chance that the $2 million will be enough to cover Phase 1 and some of the public art.

“Hopefully what happens, and what we anticipate is that we have the money to just bring the art back into the plan,” he said. “You know, we took the art out at one point for value engineering, but the art has always been part of the design.”

But the group won’t know the true cost of the contract – which could fluctuate widely due to nationwide shortages of supplies and workers – until the bidding process is complete.

“I think the big sigh of relief will be when we sign the contract with a construction contractor who says we have enough money and we’re actually going to build everything,” Lee said.

Fair financing

In an emailed statement, Rachel Schulkin, spokesperson for Seattle Parks and Recreation, stressed the importance of efforts like Link2Lake to catalyze improvement projects, which she says can take up to five ten years to plan, fund and complete.

“Community-led projects are a common way to bring park projects to fruition,” Schulkin said. “We are honored to work alongside the Seattle Parks Foundation, which specifically focuses its philanthropy on supporting community projects that serve historically underserved neighborhoods.”

But Lee says the community’s success with fundraising for Beersheba may distract from the issue of parks and infrastructure investment in different communities, which he says are “structurally racially distributed”. .

To address this, he says, the city must shift responsibility away from community members and prioritize investments in historically marginalized communities.

“Things need to move faster, without as much community effort, in order to really improve this problem systemically,” he said. “So it’s like an incredible project, but it should be more systematic in the city to push these things forward.”

According to Schulkin, Seattle Parks and Recreation relies heavily on the priorities of the mayor and city council members, who fund most major projects through the city budget. When the department comes up with a project, she says, it’s usually driven by “public meetings, community advocacy, gap analysis reports, critical maintenance needs, code compliance ([Americans with Disabilities Act]storm water, etc.) or other important park needs.

Then, she says, the department sorts the projects using an equity map formed by the Office of Community Planning and Development, which weighs community factors such as race, income and community data. health to help the department prioritize funding.

“For example, when asked to make historic budget cuts in the first year of the pandemic, Mayor Durkan and SPR proposed to halt all land park development projects except of those located in historically underserved neighborhoods, guaranteeing the Rainier land project and the development of the park in the Petit Saigon district [could] continue,” Schulkin wrote.

The department is also transforming its Major Projects Challenge Fund, or MPCF, into a new Community Response and Equitable Parks Development Fund, as recommended by a task force formed by the department and the Board of Trustees. park district oversight.

It starts with a transfer of $300,000 from the MPCF that will allow the department to hire two staff members to lead the management charge of the new fund, ahead of the Park District’s new planning cycle, which runs from 2023-28 .

“The Challenge Fund has never had dedicated staff and these positions were recommended by the task force to better engage and support community groups with their park-related needs,” Schulkin said. “The new fund is intended to remove barriers identified in the first two rounds of MPCF grants, including project size and matching requirements, and to distribute funds more equitably.”

Lee says the success and drive of Link2Lake advocates has likely influenced the conversation about park funding, but says that’s not enough.

“I think we changed the conversation, and I think this project highlighted some issues. And we had politicians who agreed with us and that’s why they gave us money, n right?” said Lee. “But no, I don’t think this is going to change the racist distribution infrastructure in Seattle. Nothing really changes in politics without sustained pressure.

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