When You Sell the Land–a response to the recent IDT report on surplus land disposition


I was disappointed to read the report from the Interdepartmental Team working from Rasmussen sponsored Statement of Legislative Intent. Several points and many new ideas were not taken into account. It had nothing new to say.

There should be, and there will be, sufficient funds to retain more green space.
The Interdepartmental Team has unfortunately, but not unexpectedly, failed to identify ‘new innovative funding, ownership and management strategies’ to retain more open space. It chose instead to support the panglossian view that we already have the best of all possible disposition processes.

The underlying assumption is that that there are insufficient funds to either maintain or purchase these additional properties. The surplus City Light substations simply did not make the priority cut in the Parks’ Department’s winnowing process based on that assumption.

But, given recent developments, this is faulty reasoning. The new Metro Parks District has found a new way to pay for adequate maintenance and the City is embracing linkage and impact fees which can provide new funding sources for open space acquisitions.

A healthy environment is being lost with the removal of green space, and we pay for it.

Seattle’s environment is being degraded by the building boom. Green Space and the Urban Forest have been proven to mitigate the urban heat island effect, the causes and effects of global climate change, urban flooding, stormwater pollution of Puget Sound, air pollution, and address environmental justice issues such as heat and pollution exacerbated illnesses suffered disproportionately by the poor. Trees and open space are still being treated as ornamentation not as critical infrastructure that saves the City money, money it would otherwise spend on sewers, treatment plants, stormwater vaults, repairing roads and bridges, etc.

The Good Earth, Pearl S. Buck “When you sell the land, it is the end.”

We need an independent study of ways to increase green space and the urban forest.
Because of the current environmental crisis the Mayor and council should consider contracting an independent team of experts to investigate innovative ways to repurpose surplus land as green space and to find other new ways to increase the overall amount of green space in Seattle. The IDT staff, I am afraid, lacks vision due to years of dealing with the same fiscal and legal constraints. To them, all suggestions seem to point to more work for their department, and for no additional funds. This is not necessarily the case.

Retaining City owned greenspace as a utility is easy, cheap, and defensible.
Until such time as an independent team can make recommendations, or until the City can afford to buy the properties, each city department could, and should, retain the surplus land for interim use or partial use. The stated municipal purpose would be to meet Seattle’s environmental and open space goals and/or to mitigate for each department’s climate/urban forest impacts. Seattle City Light cuts down trees for powerlines, the Department of Transportation adds impermeable surfaces, and cuts down trees, the Department of Planning and Development assists in the development which degrades the environment.

While it is true that all these things are necessary or at least inevitable, it is likewise true that we should all be accountable to mitigate the resulting environmental damage.

While kept for interim use, the City can reduce maintenance costs of the property by converting them to ‘green banks’ which would have no regularly mowed turf and little to no litter/garbage pick-up, due to a surround of construction fencing. Those two activities account for over 65% of maintenance costs of Parks Department green spaces.

John Locke “New opinions are always suspected, and usually opposed, without any other reason but because they are not already common.”

Eyes to the Future

The Department of Planning and Development tells us that Seattle will have to add 140 acres per year of new open space to meet the Comprehensive Goal’s plans. Over 14 year period (2000-2014) the gain in open space in Seattle was, on average, 18 acres per year. Purchasing any land now will be cheaper than acquiring it later, and surplus land, in particular, goes for bargain prices when retained by the City. To sell it now is unwise. Without making this and other provision for more green space, we will rob our grandchildren of a chance to experience Nature in Seattle the way we did.

It also demonstrates hypocrisy in environmental stewardship. Instead of retaining land which would benefit the environment as greenspace, the City will sell it for more development which will harm the environment. For our own myopic reasons, we have left the world’s future inhabitants with a severely compromised planet. Seattle should not leave its future residents with an environmentally compromised city too.

Please consider these options. Please do not approve the selling of surplus substations in southwest Seattle, Burien and SeaTac.

Cass Turnbull

Background documents:

SLI IDT Teams Report

Recommendation to Interdepartmental Team, Seattle City Council and Office of the Mayor on Statement of Legislative Intent

Statement of Legislative Intent