Teed off by possible golf giveaway?
By Jean Godden
As a kid, I caddied for my dad in winter when he returned home from charting waters off the North Coast of Alaska, and longed to play a round of golf. He persevered even when we occasionally found snow on the course and had to substitute a red golf ball for easy spotting.
But worse than snow conditions were wintertime hazards we faced at the old Meadowbrook Golf Course. Holes sometimes were underwater, flooded by rain-swollen Thornton Creek. The course was so problematic, that it later became the site of Nathan Hale High School, a building partly funded by Seattle Parks & Recreation in exchange for city acquisition of adjacent parklands.
I bring up the old golf course because it was so little valued and quickly converted (no laws intervened at the time). Too often golf courses and other park lands have been tempting targets for other uses. That's what has been threatening Seattle's municipal golf courses. In the careless words of a city spokesman, the city is "exploring a range of options," including using the acreage "for other parks purposes or perhaps to create affordable commercial space and housing." But at what expense?
For starters, conversion to private uses would fly in the face of Ordinance 118477, a law that began as Initiative 42 in 1994. Because the initiative had such strong backing, the city council passed it into law. It became effective immediately. The law simply states that, should parkland ever be converted, it would have to be replaced by comparable property in the same area.
Given that Seattle four golf courses occupy multiple acres (528 total), replacement likely is cost prohibitive in a dense city. Even the smallest, nine-hole Interbay course, occupies 52 acres.
Besides the replacement requirement, there are other good reasons to shelve the plan to abandon some or all golf courses. The uncomfortable truth is that Seattle is in need of more park land, not less.
As Seattle's population continues to swell, there is desperate need for both affordable housing and new parks. But neither of these aims should take precedence over the other. In fact, as the city rezones urban villages for far more density, the increased population requires ever more park land to meet recreational standards.
Even now the Seattle Parks & Recreation planners talk about having to acquire acreage -- perhaps another 40 acres -- if we're going to meet a goal of 8 acres per 1000 residents. And look at those neighborhoods where the city most underserves its population-- Bitter Lake, Columbia City, Ballard, First Hill and Northgate among them.
The Lund Study, for which the city paid more than $104,000, showed that the courses as a whole actually cover operating costs and even generate a modest return to the city. The "shortfall" exists because the city insists on an additional 5 percent for maintenance and capital improvements. This contrasts with the fact that no current park or recreation program generates enough income to fully fund operations. Nor should that necessarily be the standard.
How do dog parks, wading pools and swimming beaches pay for themselves or pay at all?
Municipal golf is a recreation enjoyed by some 13 percent of the city's residents, with reduced rates for youth, seniors and military. The sport of golfing, although gender challenged (more men than women play), should be able to compete for some level of general tax support.
It's entirely possible that in future years golf will become less popular and usage will show decline. Then would be time for the city to consider other park uses for one or more of the courses. There never seems to be a lack of demand for recreational uses not fully accommodated: more green space, more open meadows, trails, community centers, pools and/or gardens, more fields and courts.
Keeping park space in public hands, both for active and passive use, contributes to Seattle's overall quality of living. It is a proud legacy. It should remain an untouched one for future generations.
I agree completely!!!! 👏🏻