LETTERS TO THE MI REPORTER

Comments on Reporter contributors’ opinions | Letter

  • Sep 1st, 2017

I have read with interest the three articles in the latest issue of the Reporter. I have comments on all three as follows:

1. The “On Arts” column by Genevieve Morton. I feel that the arts community does need our support. This should be in a constructive manner and not in providing gifts to organizations that use up very valuable open space and, further, to be paid for by the Mercer Island taxpayers. There really are other viable locations for the proposed arts facility. I also feel that the comparison with Vashon Island has no bearing on the issue. We find it convenient to go to productions in Seattle and Issaquah including youth productions. We have not attended any Mercer Island productions and I do not see us doing so in the future. Ms. Morton states that the Mercer Island Center for the Arts facility will help revitalize our growing business district. This area is definitely not in need of revitalization. Contrary to that, the facility would cause serious problems with traffic and parking. Finally, do we really need a place to “come together?” We have a fine, handy community center where many events take place. The original community center was home to many nonprofit organizations. The rents were very low. The rents were dramatically increased at the new center and many organizations were forced to leave. Now, we wish to go to the opposite extreme and give away a new facility. With that in mind, maybe we should reconsider an earlier proposal for a golf course at Pioneer Park.

2. The column by Ira Applebaum. This article brings back memories including being told that a new fire station could not possibly be built on the original fire station site. Somehow it was built. At that time, the public had a vote in proposed projects. We seem to have lost the vote. The deputy mayor stated that “you walk into our town center and there is nothing going on.” I am personally thankful for that. He also said that “MICA can make a huge impact economically on Mercer Island.” Yeah, our taxes will go up.

3. Letter from Sharon Smith. Right on. We should have a vote on the issue. If not, many years from now, there will be many questions as to why the whole thing happened the way it did.

A last comment. Living in a small community, we often run into friends and family when we are shopping. That is certainly “getting together.” Also, has anybody seen the dramatic increase in pedestrian, animal, bicycle and vehicular and foot traffic lately?

Azaria Rousso, Mercer Island

Where in the world is MICA? | Letter

  •  Jun 15th, 2017

Upon receiving MICA’s 2016 Annual Report in the mail recently, I was struck that in this otherwise detailed brochure, there was no mention of MICA’s plan to construct a building the approximate length of an NFL football field (100 yards) in Mercerdale Park. Was this simply an oversight or a willful lack of transparency on MICA’s part? It’s not surprising that many Islanders still believe MICA’s proposed building will be the same size as the former recycling center. When they understand that it will be significantly larger, they are surprised and, to a person, oppose the plan.

Patrick Daugherty

A lesson from Seattle | Letter

  •  Dec 9th, 2016

Recently, the well-heeled private developer Chris Hansen, who hopes to build a sports arena in the SODO area, threw in the towel and said he would privately finance the whole venture. Public subsidies from the city of Seattle were taken off the table.

In making this decision, Mr. Hansen measured the trade-offs of delays and added expense of dealing with the city of Seattle compared to how quickly he could reach his end goal to bring NBA and NHL franchises to Seattle by doing it himself.

There is a similar situation here on Mercer Island. Mercer Island Center for the Arts (MICA), another private organization, is asking the city of Mercer Island for zoning and parking exemptions, and potentially large capital and operating subsidies, to build an over-sized regional performing arts center in Mercerdale Park. This has been an ongoing development for three years now and the end is not in sight.

I strongly suggest that MICA should borrow a page from Mr. Hansen’s playbook by securing another site other than Mercerdale Park.

Indeed, I believe they’ll be pleasantly surprised at the level of Island support and positive momentum they’ll garner by such an action.

Peter Struck, Mercer Island

Urban jewel cannot find another location | Letter

  •  Oct 6th, 2016

“From stumped-filled swamp to urban jewel.” That’s how former Councilmember, Jane Meyer-Brahm, describes Mercerdale Park on page 138 in her book, “Mercer Island, From haunted wilderness to coveted community.”

“From the beginning,” she writes, “… city leaders” and many others “wanted Mercerdale field developed as a civic center.” Meyer-Brahm details how and why those past efforts failed. Finally, she praises Mercerdale as “a much-loved, well-used park in downtown Mercer Island with an open lawn encircled by a paved foot path.”

Despite Meyer-Brahm’s words, council members and city managers never demanded the school district, as required by the statutory lease, to restore the shut-down recycling center in Mercerdale Park to its former woodland state. Instead, they signed a memorandum of understanding choosing that location for a future huge arts center. Other economical and convenient Island venues, with parking, like the Community Center, the King property and the Cohen property, were discarded by council members and city managers. As well, they ignored future enormous people spillover from that proposed center into the park’s green space.

Do we really want the only green space in our Town Center shrunk and diminished? An arts center can find another Island location. “An urban jewel,” like Mercerdale Park, cannot.

Jean Majury, Mercer Island

A green vision for Town Center | Letter

  • Jun 20th, 2017

In a recent issue of the Seattle Times, Marilyn Smith, a retired lawyer and former Seattle School Board Member posed this poignant question concerning the status of Seattle in its development as a major city: “As Seattle booms, where is the vision to keep it special?”

That’s a question Mercer Island should ponder for itself. Smith states: “The views available to people walking, riding and sitting are disappearing.”

In Mercer Island’s conflict of people and buildings with the natural environment, the environment will lose, as will the quality of the lives of the people who use and live within these buildings. An equitable balance of the natural and the man-made environments should be sought by our City Council. There are design firms available to develop solutions to such problems. Commitment has to come from the communities themselves. How visionary is our City Council? Isn’t a long-term comprehensive plan of balancing green space with city development important for making our city special for its citizens?

Bob Still, Mercer Island

Some cities buy new parkland; Mercer Island gives it away

  •  Aug 24th, 2017

While some cities are buying new parkland, our Mercer Island City Council members have pledged to give our precious public parkland away — to a private group — so they can plunk down a huge building, with a projected deficit of hundreds of thousands of dollars per year for 50-80 years. Furthermore, our City Council made this decision without a vote of the people who own the property — Mercer Island citizens.

According to the Spokesman-Review (Aug. 10, 2017), the Spokane Conversation District has purchased nearly 50 acres of a “defunct gravel quarry” to transform into a public park “with walking trails, a tree nursery and other natural attractions,” while Mercer Islanders will have a priceless and irreplaceable acre of parkland in our Town Center lost to the public forever.

Furthermore, the parkland our City Council agreed to give away includes a beautiful, shaded native garden with its own walking trails, at least 31 species of native plants and other natural attractions. These include a wetland, a solidly constructed Recycling Center that the City Council pledged in 2010 to preserve and re-purpose for community needs and historic Bicentennial Park — funded, designed and built by Islanders over four decades (two generations) ago to commemorate our country’s bicentennial.

All of these irreplaceable areas are currently actively used by Islanders — the native garden for exploration and education; the Recycling Center for Youth and Family Services and Farmers Market storage, as well as for public restrooms; and Bicentennial Park for rest and relaxation by Town Center employees and visitors, especially during weekly summer Farmers Markets and summer events at Mercerdale Park.

The irony is that land is available on Mercer Island — in our Town Center as well as elsewhere — for sale. This land could be purchased by the private group so that the entire community would benefit, not only by saving our public parkland for future generations, but also by bringing together our divided community.

I hope that our council members will assist those who want free public parkland to instead purchase private land on Mercer Island for their construction. Land once given away is lost forever. Parkland saved for us and passed on to us by former citizens is not given to us for destruction, but is loaned to us to preserve for our children.

Sharon Smith

Our turn to protect Mercer Island’s parklands | Letter

  •  Mar 3rd, 2017

I hope the City Council will listen to the citizens working to save our public parklands from development. As our city gets more buildings in the Town Center, the last thing we need is a huge building in any of our parks, especially our little central jewel in Mercerdale Park.

Our parks are our legacy from former Mercer Island citizen activists, who worked tirelessly over many years to protect them for us. Now we must work to protect them for our children and future generations.

I have been a Mercer Island homeowner for over 50 years, and I hate to see how the actions of our City Council have been changing our lovely, unique Island from the rural, peaceful place it was when I moved here to something so sophisticated and city-like.

We can cross either bridge for that, but we have only one special nature-land called Mercer Island. Please cherish what we have left, and protect it.

Betty Morgan, Mercer Island

Vote is proper way to solve MICA argument | Letter

  •  Apr 28th, 2016

The “fighting” over Mercer Island Center for the Arts (MICA) seems to be getting more heated each week.

I have resided on Mercer Island for 49-plus years and I am alarmed and ashamed at what I read in last week’s Reporter. The petitions are a proper way to ask for a vote by citizens. This has worked well in past similar situations and should be allowed again. A vote by all interested legal Mercer Island residents is the proper way to solve this argument.

Betty Morgan, Mercer Island

Community should have chance to vote on MICA | Letter

  •  Apr 22nd, 2016

I’ve been watching and reading the debate on the MICA proposal. I still have a couple of questions and concerns, such as how did MICA/YTN get the go-ahead versus other deserving nonprofits? We could have an excellent disability center that would serve a deserving multi-generational community who historically is underserved. Were other nonprofits allowed to make a proposal or was this just the City Council’s pocket decision?

Having worked at nonprofits my entire career and now running one, getting funds to build (i.e. capital campaigns) is actually pretty easy. Many grantees and funders like to have a building they can point to. However, the organization I work for is currently renting space from one of Seattle’s oldest and most established nonprofits because they built a building and lost funding for operations. Let’s see the 10-year budget to operate a $25 million building.

I somehow remember a number of articles in this publication about YTN not being sustainable and events/fundraisers to save YTN when they were in a building that was pretty low-cost.

Who’s going to cover any deficits (taxpayers I assume)? We’ll need to deduct funds from the Mercer Island Community Center for events that will move from that beautiful facility to this new one. And it’s Youth Theatre Northwest, not Youth Theatre Mercer Island.

I asked my two children who graduated in 2011 and 2014 how many of their friends participated at YTN and it was a combined total of three. Two who did one summer workshop and one who was actively involved. It serves a small number of Island kids.

And my kids were/are artistic. They took art classes at Mercer Island High School, which taught them new creativity and satisfied their artistic spirits. My son is now pursuing a bachelor of fine arts, so art is part of our lives. My kids did mention that a lot of students were involved in MIHS drama/school plays and those were respected and well received.

MICA is a huge commitment for this community and the entire community should have a chance to vote. That’s our democratic process. Don’t be fooled by the rhetoric — all this petition will do is put up to a vote this project. Nothing is for free, including a $25 million building and we need to be thoughtful about how we use limited resources, our land and our tax dollars.

Debbie Pitcock, Mercer Island

Mercer Island has history of saving parkland | Island Forum

  •  Sep 3rd, 2017

Many Islanders will remember when Pioneer Park was under threat of being turned into a golf course — not once but twice (1969 and 1990).

Fortunately, Mercer Island citizens objected to the possibility of losing a beloved public park and put a stop to it. Almost a half-century later, we are all beneficiaries of these forward-thinking Islanders as Pioneer Park continues to be a treasured public park for all to enjoy.

Unfortunately, history is repeating itself and threatening our only Town Center park — Mercerdale Park. Our City Council is moving forward in giving away nearly 1 acre of Mercerdale Park to a private developer for the next 50 to 80 years, irreversibly altering the park.

This private development will destroy over 112 trees, Bicentennial Park, Native Garden the historic Recycle Center and threaten fragile wetlands and wildlife habitat. Just as generations before us saved Pioneer Park, we too can Save Mercerdale Park. Let your voice be heard to once again protect our public parkland from private development.

Robin C. Russell is a concerned citizen who wants to see Mercerdale Park preserved for future generations.

Mercer Island does not need arts center | Letter

  •  Feb 9th, 2017

Mercer Island does not need Mercer Island Center for the Arts (MICA). We have already paid for a performing arts facility. It would appear totally unnecessary to plunk a 34,000-square-foot building into Mercerdale Park to provide a performance venue when a beautiful performance venue was built, with the expectation that it would be used by the community for community arts performances, at the Mercer Island High School.

A check of the use records for the “joint use auditorium” taxpayers built at the high school over a number of years shows that it is used for less than six performances per year by outside users and a maximum of 100 events per year by the school district. Since the theater is set up with a “fly loft,” that means you can have the theater set up for more than one event per day. That means the theater has the potential of “hosting” 730 events per year. Joint use was the taxpayer expectation when we provided $14 million to build the facility. How do I know this is reasonable use? I used to manage a high school auditorium.

It can be rented for Mercer Island youth group performances, which would include Youth Theater Northwest for $25 per hour (if at least 75 percent of the participants are Mercer Island residents), plus staff charges and equipment rental. This beautiful space is immediately available, does not require any investment of equipment nor salaried personnel, and would provide an income stream for our school district as well. According to the school district, classroom spaces for Youth Theatre Northwest drama classes can be rented for $3 an hour, plus a custodial fee.

Baron Dickey, Mercer Island

Mercer Island surrenders control of public park to private interests | Letter

  •  Jul 12th, 2017

Any loss of millions of dollars worth of irreplaceable public property (“rented” for $1 per year) to a private developer, is very a serious business. No matter how noble the espoused motive may sound on the surface, such a significant uncompensated transfer of public assets should require the informed consent of those citizens whose property is to be taken from them. We are not exchanging this public property for another public facility, like the existing community center, or the Mercerdale Thrift Shop, which we own and operate entirely in the public interest, with absolute public oversight.

In the case of Mercerdale Park, the custodians of our public trust seem intent upon permanently surrendering their control of prime public property to private interests and hoping for the best.

George Lewandowski, Mercer Island

Proving to be long, hot summer for council | Letter

  • Jul 14th, 2016

The solstice recently delivered some wonderful weather, and the Island’s kids celebrated their emancipation by pouring out of classrooms into the sunshine that lit up streets and public parks.

As I drove around, I passed through a collage of images depicting youthful vitality in our public spaces. Such sights and sounds are invigorating to us old men. The Mercer Island City Council are also probably looking forward to a pleasant summer respite from the toil and strife of this past political season. However, that may be wishful thinking.

The council may not understand the depth of feeling that they have generated with their stubborn refusal to revisit some old but unfortunate decisions they made in haste in 2013. That is when, it seems, the council locked itself into a moral obligation to privatize a beloved public park. This is real estate that is irreplaceable. The sitting council of 2013 solved a small problem by promising to create a larger one.

No one wants to see Youth Theatre Northwest fail, but their needs are modest and reasonable. Somehow, the worthy effort to help a homeless theater group evolved into a grand plan to donate a public park to a private owner.

Over time, the modest needs of Youth Theatre Northwest got translated into a rather grand private enterprise that certainly has merit, but that requires a huge capital investment up front, and eternal commitments of future subsidies to cover anticipated operating deficits. A wonderful new performing arts center may very well be worth every penny, but the citizens of Mercer Island will not be the owners.

If we are to give up our park, and our municipal government is going to make some ambiguous public commitments to support a private enterprise that cannot be allowed to fail because it is cast in $25 million of gorgeous concrete and tapestries, shouldn’t we be fully informed and given a chance to be heard?

These documents will tie the hands of all future city councils. Such iron clad, irrevocable surrender of public control over this park will be a reasonable requirement that the private investors demand. They will also need some commitments of future public subsidies to insure the success of this private enterprise. They will require a “lease” document that, for all intents and purposes, is a deed. No one plants a $25 million building on ground that can be taken back when the former owners change their mind.

These investors are not bad people, but they also are not fools. Their enterprise will have to compete for ticket sales in the entertainment marketplace. It cannot, therefore, be like the current Music in the Parks program, subject to the budgetary whims and evolving priorities of future city councils. It has to be cast in legal concrete.

Those who think MICA will be booked exclusively for performances of the Philadelphia String Quartet and the Bellevue Symphony do not understand that the need to fill those 300 seats will necessitate booking the kind of “art” that pulls in paying customers from anywhere. The Mercer Island Parks Department will have no “quality control” authority because, unlike our current Music in the Parks programs, this new stage will be private property.

The decision to donate a public park to a private corporation, who must be guaranteed operating autonomy and immunity from public control and interference, is a very serious decision. It is a permanent decision that deserves far more public review and input than the council has permitted so far.

This may still prove to be a long hot summer for the City Council that has repeatedly chosen not to seek informed public consent or opinion, of any kind, for this lifetime commitment.

George Lewandowski

 

Private occupation of public spaces | Letter

  •  Jun 30th, 2016

We are approaching a “slippery slope” with the proposed placement of a privately managed and operated entity on what is now public space. Historically, privatization of public spaces or, as the British refer to it “private management of the public realm,” has resulted in the separation of classes as intended.

This raises serious questions about democracy and accountability and is well-evidenced by the vitriolic opposition to direct democracy by an outspoken council member.

Private occupation of public spaces provides the private managers with the power to restrict access. This is a particularly undemocratic model of land control.

The strong push by certain council members in alliance with developers and a small handful of landowners to permit building heights for the sole purpose of creating higher property prices combined with the push by wealthy supporters of an arts building to occupy property in a public park in the name of a supposedly “vibrant” central business district is aimed at destroying the small town feel of Mercer Island for the benefit of a few.

There are those on the council who would create an Island community where only those with the purse of Fortunatus could afford to live.

Carv Zwingle, Mercer Island

MICA has too many unknowns | Letters to the Editor

  •  Jan 5th, 2016

MICA has too many unknowns

It is time that the city offer full, honest disclosure regarding MICA. There remain too many unanswered contradictions.

MICA maintains that the project will be built without expense to the city yet lists a $2 million contribution from the city in its budget proposal. Chip Corder, Noel Treat, and Jane Brahm, honorable people all, profess no knowledge of such a commitment. Mr. Corder further states that the city simply does not have the $2 million. John G. Hill states in a letter that there is no “official” commitment, implying that an undisclosed, unofficial commitment does exist.

Jim Kelly of 4Culture states “to not include a modest level of commitment from Mercer Island would diminish the credibility with other Capital Funders.” It is a strange concept to establish credibility by purposeful misrepresentation.

MICA lists several corporate donors in its representation to 4Culture. A simple phone call to the global philanthropy department of a corporation for which MICA listed a very specific contribution amount reveals that there has been no MICA application for funds or donation pledged. The person further states “it is well known that we do not contribute to local arts projects.” Such misleading listing of potential contributors on the part of MICA to attract other donors is a clear violation of the Association of Fundraising Professionals code of ethics. The city would become a party to unethical conduct should it precipitously sign a lease requested by MICA to assist fundraising.

In its budget, MICA lists the city of Mercer Island as a potential source of operating funds. Based upon the inaccurate listing of potential capital donors, one must assume that MICA’s projected revenue forecasts are equally misleading and would create another potential drain on city funds. This is particularly disturbing given the fact that the proposed lease, as written, actually rewards MICA if it defaults. When asked by City Council what protection the city had from such a default, the answer from Mr. Hill was “my good faith.” Yipes!

The city has maintained that permitting and wetlands mitigation would be the responsibility of MICA.  However, the Washington State Department of Ecology has clearly stated as recently as Dec. 29 that since the project as proposed is on city property, the mitigation responsibility rests with Mercer Island. Experts state that such mitigation, if possible, would be extremely expensive.

Carv Zwingle

 

Calling on Mercer Island Council to protect us and our parkland | Letter

  •  Feb 17th, 2017

Every day, more and more citizens of Mercer Island are waking up to the fact that they have been ill-served by our City Council. Elected representatives whom we had thought would protect us and our interests have done anything but that, as we are now sadly finding out.

Many Islanders are still unaware that they will be losing much of their easy access to Interstate 90 as a single occupant vehicle, and that when the train comes to our bridge, not only will our lifeline to hospitals be threatened by traffic jams, but also our children’s teachers will seek jobs off-Island where they do not have to get stuck in bridge traffic jams getting on and off the Island.

The City Council has also agreed to lease, for $1 a year for 50-80 years, almost an acre of Mercerdale Park worth multi-millions of dollars. “Nonprofit” is the flag they are flying under, but the Mercer Island Center for the Arts is a private organization, nonetheless.

Just like the loss of mobility due to light rail on I-90, citizens will see that one of our charming parks in the very center of the city will now be in private hands for the sum of $1 a year for 50-80 years. In addition, the taxpayers will be on the hook if and or when the private group needs ongoing operating funds. Unlike the loss of I-90 mobility, this can still be stopped. Contact your City Council members now.

The park belongs to the taxpayers. Public land should never be given to a private group.

Jean Dunbabin, Mercer Island

Reporter uses misleading photo of MICA location | Letter

  •  Feb 2nd, 2017

The photograph of the former recycling center, under the headline “MICA takes step toward lease approval,” in the Jan. 25 Mercer Island Reporter, is a misleading representation of the size and the location of the proposed arts center building.

The caption asserts: “The Mercer Island Center for the Arts (MICA) is planned at this location in north Mercerdale Park” and it appears from the photograph that the building will only be replacing Bicentennial Park and the adjacent recycling center.

However, the arts center building will, in reality, occupy not only that area, but will cover almost an acre of land and stretch 270 feet south through the wooded area to within 75 feet of the skate park, and 150 feet west parallel to the Farmers Insurance building. Instead of a small 1,800-square-foot building (the present recycling center), the proposed center will be 34,000 square feet and 35 feet high, (the equivalent of three-and-a-half stories).

In addition to the proposed building itself, new information about the project reveals that a 20-foot-wide fire access road will stretch from the front of the building, past the skate park, all the way to 34th Street, where it will end in a locked gate.

The building and the accompanying paving would forever change the wooded vista bordering the great lawn that Islanders have treasured and protected for generations.

For more information about how you can help preserve our precious public parkland, visit www.protectmiparks.org.

Charon Gooding

Mercerdale Park needs to be preserved | Letters to the Editor

  • Jan 27th, 2016

Mercer Island is losing its beauty. The failure to preserve as much green space as possible continues on its march to ensure a cluttered urban sprawl.

In its land grab, the city, park planners and well-meaning advocacies continue to usurp the much-used and much-loved Mercerdale Park. I am very concerned about this park as the placement of a cultural center.

There are other venues on Mercer Island that can hold cultural events. The taking of more parkland in the center of the city is not a good use for this park. I love culture very much and attend many events. I speak here as a concerned citizen who thought Mercerdale Park by itself was a lovely little place as it was originally designed.

Walk there any day and you will see mothers and babies walking, seniors strolling, people leaving their offices for a galavant in fresh air, teens lunching on days when school is off.

Who is allowing the little green space without commercial entities to be slowly usurped? Mercerdale Park (or the little bit that is left of green space that is accessible) needs to be preserved. There are already too many entities trying to claim the little area that is left. MICA needs to go elsewhere.

Gale S. Kessler, Mercer Island

Citizens should vote on Mercer Island Center for the Arts | Letter

  •  Feb 2nd, 2016

I would like to express my support for a resolution to have a public advisory vote on whether to lease a portion of Mercerdale Park to MICA for the following reasons.

Mercerdale Park is a large and beautiful part of downtown Mercer Island. Once park land is given over to other uses it is gone forever. We are a small city and need not emulate an industrial center.

Given the nature of boom and bust cycles, it is quite likely that the $300,000 in annual contributions required by MICA to just break even will not be achieved. Then what? If the city will be asked to come to the aid of MICA, as it had to do in the past for Youth Theatre Northwest, what will the citizens have to give up?

These are important considerations with long-term consequences. MICA has an obligation to prove to the residents of our city why it should be given private usage of our valuable parkland. The citizens need to be made aware that the “deal” as is currently on the table is not without significant financial risks to the city.

Access to the park should not be cut off by a huge building. The parkland belongs to the residents of the city. MICA needs to justify its benefits and an advisory vote is the perfect forum for MICA to show the city that donating parkland for construction of their building is the highest and best usage of the land held for the enjoyment of all the Island residents.

An advisory vote will bring all the issues out in the open and will allow citizens to make an informed decision about the future of their park.

Al Lippert. Mercer Island