LETTER: The Alki Elementary School plan has numerous problems
To the Editor:
Related to the project to rebuild Alki School, on Feb. 9 and 10, 2023, I was party to an appeal hearing of the project’s “Mitigated Determination of Non-Significance and Final SEPA Checklist,” held before Hearing Examiner pro tem Gary McLean, in the School District HQ building.
There were five appellants originally but two were disqualified when the School District's attorneys objected because their appeals were submitted 45 minutes after the deadline. The three remaining appellants brought testimony from fourteen witnesses.
The School District requested the following departures from code, among others:
- Height - asking for 57 ft, code is 35 ft
- Onsite Parking Spaces for Vehicles - requesting zero, code is 48 min
- School Bus Loading and Unloading Location - requesting to continue to provide no required on-site loading and unloading area
- Curb Cuts - requesting curb cut where none would be allowed because it does not provide access to an area of vehicular parking spots
- Curb Cut Width - requesting curb cut of 30 feet, code is 25 feet
- Curb Cut Flare - requesting twice of code approx
- Bicycle Parking Spaces - proposing 40 long term/26 short term, code is 78/26
- Electric Moving Message Board Sign - requesting one electric moving sign, code does not allow
I will list some important objections to this project, as I see it.
SIZE OF SCHOOL We were not allowed to discuss this issue, because the decision about the size of the school was already made by the School Board. The decision was predetermined and was not on the table for the Appeal of Mitigated Determination of Non-Significance and Final SEPA Checklist hearing. However, as recently as a working meeting of the School Board on January 25, 2023, projections were published for declining enrollment in all Seattle Schools up until at least 2033. With projections of declining enrollment (and enrollment has been declining since at least 2015), the idea of doubling the enrollment, and square footage, of Alki School is preposterous. Alki School has the smallest footprint in all of Seattle. The park in front of the school, the playground in front, and the community center next door, belong to Parks. If there was a need to expand school capacity in West Seattle (which there is not) every other school has far more acreage, more parking, more playground, more space. There are two elementary schools within a mile of Alki School that have far more room.
PARKING The School District proposes to eliminate all parking for staff at the school, and to provide zero parking whatsoever, for staff, volunteers, visitors, parents, etc. The Alki neighborhood is within the Alki Parking Overlay - one of only two in the city - which denies variances to individual private properties, and in fact requires more stringent parking requirements for private building permits. The overlay is acknowledgement that there are parking problems in the neighborhood.
Alki Beach is one of the only large public parks in Seattle, surrounded immediately by a residential district and a business district and with no on-site parking for the Parks Department properties. The traffic & parking situation at Alki is well-known to everyone except, apparently, the School District.
All schools in West Seattle have on-site parking as well as reserved spaces for handicapped. The proposal at Alki is for ZERO parking spaces and ZERO handicapped (there is currently parking for 21 and zero handicapped) although apparently one handicapped space was added to the plan as an afterthought, across the street from the school.
The School District's contracted parking expert confidently declared that having no parking at the school would have absolutely no adverse effect on the parking in the neighborhood, although using the numbers provided by the parking expert himself, if the 75 staff people parked in the neighborhood, parking would be at capacity, even if the purported parking study's numbers reflect reality, which we know they do not.
ENVIRONMENTAL The School District’s “experts” completely discounted all environmental concerns, such as the surrounding mapped wetlands (one of the direct neighbor witnesses, at least, has a sump pump under his house pumping water out continually), the GIS-mapped environmentally-critical steep slopes surrounding the property, the GIS-mapped environmentally-critical peat-settlement-prone area, liquefaction zone and known slide areas, as well as the potential quake fault lines (another appellant had significant earthquake damage in the 2001 Nisqually earthquake and one abutting witness neighbor has had landslides and sinkholes appearing on her property since 2021) Although the experts informed us that there is not, in fact, an earthquake fault line in the area, but rather an amorphous "earthquake zone," it's significant that the earthquake of April, 1965 caused significant damage to the previous school building: the building was abandoned and demolished due to safety concerns. The School District experts also discounted any idea of air pollution during demolition or building in a dense residential area.
PROCESS ERRORS The public process was faulty and failed. There were notices sent to some, but not to others, URL addresses published for information that went nowhere, deadlines moved, meetings changed and new notices going out to some but not to others. An initial response summary, with strict deadlines, was published with the most studious response of all (from architect and appellant Don Brubeck) missing altogether. The Departures Presentation document contained grammatical and directional errors. Even as recently as a week ago, some people got mailed notices of a meeting cancellation that we were not ever notified about in the first place.
I have been involved in my community for 30+ years, serving as president of the Alki Community Council, editor of the (now defunct) Alki News Beacon, chair of the Alki Advisory Council, president of Associated Recreation Council and chair of the Seattle Board of Parks Commissioners, among other posts. I know community process, and this one was a complete failure. Many people living next door to the school STILL have no idea what’s being planned.
SAFETY The parking and traffic, lack of bus pickup and dropoff, combined with people in a hurry to get to the beach, is a recipe for disaster. The one (1) proposed ADA parking space across the street is especially dangerous. I make a special note of this because many years ago, my son was almost hit, getting off his bus (he went to Lafayette) and crossing with a crossing guard, in that exact location where the ADA parking space is proposed. The car that passed the bus and the crossing guard was filled with happy and distracted young people in a hurry to get to the beach, straight down the street of 59th. They missed him by a hair and it still terrifies me to think of that moment.
Likewise the expanded curb cuts to allow the garbage truck to back out of the trash pick up area on 59th (the current parking lot for teachers) is so very dangerous. The little toddlers ride their wagons and trikes down that hill, and continue on past the proposed expanded curb cutouts for garbage trucks backing out. I see it every day. It is a tragedy waiting to happen.
Jackie Szikszoy Ramels
Editors Note: The most recent SEPA hearing was recorded by a company contracted by the District since it was a legal hearing. Transcripts for each of both days cost $2,127.