SAVE MYERS PARCELS
WHAT: Myers Parcels is 32 acres of undeveloped surplus land owned by the City of Seattle
It as steep, wooded slopes, wetlands, and a meadow.
WHERE The land is located in south and east end of West Seattle. It is between White Center and Highland Park. It is adjacent and south of the Joint Training Facility, 9401 Myers Way South and Arrowhead senior housing.
WHAT’S THE DEAL: The City of Seattle intends to sell the land for commercial development, most likely to LOWES, very soon. Seattle Parks has indicated it does not want it. If 500 people say the want it to become Discovery Park South, they will reconsider.
CONTACT: Cass Turnbull firstname.lastname@example.org 206-783-9093
HELP: Send an email to the Mayor and/or your councilmember saying you want Myers Parcels saved as Myers Park, a natural area.
CONTACT: Call or email Cass to confirm and for questions. 206-783-9093. Or email email@example.com.
The Myers Parcels
The Myers parcels may be the last large, undeveloped piece of property that could become a major park in Seattle. It is 32 acres of surplus land already owned by the City. It is located at the south border of West Seattle, between White Center and South Park. It is an easily ignored piece of land, it seems remote from the industry, the homes, and certainly from the building boom that is elsewhere. You can see 509 from it and it is surrounded, and locked up entirely, by a chain link fence. You might not even notice it when driving north to get to the 1st Ave Bridge.
I noticed it because it has woods, fields and, as I found out, water. And because of my work on the Save Our Substations project I knew it was City owned surplus land. After researching its history I can say that Myers is a much abused piece of God’s green earth. For most of its modern history it was mined as a gravel pit. Nintendo owned it for a while and insisted that Seattle buy all 50 acres of the property if they wanted to buy any of it. The best piece, the centrally located flatland, became the Joint Training Facility
Then in 2007, just before the great recession, the rest of the land was put up for sale by the Council. The City wanted to pay off an interdepartmental loan on the land and stimulate the economy in underserved south Seattle. For various reasons the deal with LOWES flipped.
Development has recently begun to nibble at the corners. The property just adjacent to the North has become a spiffy new building complex for retired people. Above the steep cliff and to the west the King County Housing people decided to use large swaths of their land to build Greenbridge, which is the latest thing in mixed use housing, invented to deal with Seattle’s affordable housing problem. The steep greenbelt to the north of the retirement complex got taken by parks as part of the Westcrest Park, thank God. It extends the Duwamish greenbelt to, you know, Myers. On the east side, of Myers Way, located behind an inconspicuous hole in the chain link fence is a trail going down the steep wooded hill to 509. A homeless camp is hidden there. There is also elaborate stonework and a grotto, probably constructed by said homeless person.
As for Myers proper, the Firemen decided they needed to build their own dream training facility (for $33 million of your tax dollars, about the price of the entire pieces of land). A local environmental hero, John Beal, fought to stop the development because Myers feeds Hamm creek, one of the tributaries of the Duwamish. He had spent 22 years of his life restoring the Hamm. Some say that losing the battle against the training facility caused the heart attack that killed him shortly thereafter. Seattle was fined, but the construction continued and was finished. Now you can see the center. You can’t enter the Firefighter’s facility itself, its security gated and fenced, but sometimes you can see pink smoke arising from a concrete tower. From Google Earth you can see roads lined in big red tucks. A tiny duck pond at the visitors parking area is what remains of the wetland.
Money is always the problem. The State Accountancy Act says you can’t just give or transfer property from one dept to the other. I’m investigating several possible ‘work-arounds’ to make the land affordable, or perhaps even free. But no one is holding their breath. I applied for grants to create a think tank of a lawyer, a strategist, and policy analyzer to check out the feasibility of various possible options.
It’s quite likely that Myers will slip through our hands before I succeed in getting my think tank. And it’s even more likely to happen as there is no large constituency nearby to fight for the park or greenspace. And that is what it takes if the City doesn’t to keep a piece a land. With incredible effort, the City finally relented to citizen’s outcries and saved the Soundway in West Seattle. Cal Anderson was hard fought for. And various little pocket parks have been set aside because someone collected of 500 signatures spent many years of donated time working to get push through the resistance of bureaucracy
The kids of future Seattle will not have what I had as a girl growing up in Seattle. Because of the avalanche of density headed our way, there just won’t be the backyards, the vacant lots and the empty campgrounds of my youth. Exploring the vacant lot next door is how I came to love nature. I want the kids of Greenbridge to be able to bike to Myers Park to climb trees, build forts, play in mud, and pretend they are in some distant wild place. I want a place where there are frogs to hear, crickets to catch, or perhaps even a salmon spawning.
03-18-15 SOS Save Our Substations Info
Tree PAC took on the project called ‘Save Our Substations’ when asked to by a fledgling non-profit, Seattle Green Spaces Coalition, SGSC. They formed to keep Seattle City Light from selling 8 of their surplus properties (50 year old decommissioned electrical substations) in SW Seattle to developers. Many substations contain high value trees and landscaping and some have naturalized with native species. The proposed sale of the properties is part of a larger City disposition process which (together with the State Accountancy Act, two rate payer lawsuits, and financial realities) favors the use of surplus land as buildings, selling to the highest bidder, over their retention as greenspace. Kept as open space they would serve the City with the suite of environmental, social and economic benefits that the Urban Forest provides, (carbon sequestering, slowing storm water, habitat preservation, air and water pollution prevention, increased housing values, human health benefits, local climate modification, etc).
Seattle is not meeting its current open space goals. We feel that it makes no sense to sell publically owned, undeveloped green space while attempting to buy it for Parks at greater cost elsewhere.
There are 26 more vacant substations not yet in the disposition process, and there are numerous other excess and surplus City properties that could be affected by any proposed new legislation. Seattle’s excess properties have been estimated to be worth over $80 million. For example there is a 23 acre parcel of land–made up of wooded slopes, wetlands and fields–that is being proposed for sale for commercial development. So, if our efforts are successful, it may have larger consequences for Seattle and other municipalities in Washington State subject to the Accountancy Act.
Grants written and the Study of Innovative Options
By the time the public was involved in this recent processing of 8 substations, we were told that the only way to save the properties was to come up with the funds to buy them. We are of the opinion that it somehow wrong to ask the citizens to buy land they already own, in order to keep it from turning into more impermeable land. A grant for a study on innovative and legal ways for the City to retain the land, which was signed by a councilmember, was rejected by The King Conservation District. And another proposal to another grantor was also turned down. A grant to the Department of Neighborhoods to do an in-depth inventory of the properties was denied. Other grants have been denied.
Media outlets have picked up the story– the Ballard News Tribune, KIRO TV evening news, and KUOW radio.
We have lobbied the City for 12 months and have finally gotten a Statement of Legislative Intent passed by the council that requests that the City Departments look into look into innovative ways to retain the surplus land as public open space. In its current form it still requires a degree of funding from neighborhoods. We are still working toward getting City support and funding for an independent feasibility study of new ways to retain surplus land as green spaces. Examples would be to keep them as mitigation for tree removals done to reduce power outages. Or to develop a tree-patch program similar to the P-patch program.
11-02-14 SOSstory update
Save it, don’t sell it! The Save Our Substation story update.
‘So what’s up with the substation issue?’ you might be wondering.
Well, as volunteer efforts tend to do, it has expanded. The Save Our Substation (SOS) project has become a mystery story its own cast of characters, friends in high places, a nemesis and even a ‘deep throat’. There have been subterfuges and underhanded dastardly deeds, as well as moments of surprise, discovery and hope.
After clear cutting two nice pieces of land, and bringing down one huge poplar at another site, we successfully stopped City Light from continuing this process ‘to clean-up’ the next three properties that were found to have 50 year old contaminated soil, at least for now. At a forth site they tried a fairly experimental ‘clean-up method’, excavating the soil by using something like a pressure washer, except that it uses compressed air, to remove the soil from the tree roots. It’s called an airspade or airknife. Then they backfilled with new soil. So far the trees remain standing and are alive.
Unfortunately, it meant that the every speck of the good-looking, mature plantings had to be cut down and grubbed out by hand. That had to cost a pretty penny. I have spent much time searching for bioremediation methods that might preserve the understory, or which would pose less risk to the trees.
The rest of the sites are on unofficial hold, for now. SCL maintains that they will continue the clean-up those properties this fall no matter what the City decides to do with them, and even if the City hasn’t decided. SCL hasn’t determined how.
At one of the many meetings I’ve attended, citizens heard for the first time that The City Council would be determining the fate of the properties in the 3rd quarter of this year. Until then we thought the decision was imminent. And we were repeatedly advised that if we wanted to save them from being sold to private interests, we had better prepare our counter-offer. So I have been working under the assumption that the 3rd quarter means July.
During my various investigations there have been scads of dead ends and deep disappointments. It has been an internet hunt reaching out to people as far away as Ljubjana, Slovenia. And here, on the ground, I’ve explored many forgotten corners of Seattle, SeaTac and Burien. I can now spot an abandoned substation fence 50 feet away from a moving car, and I have. But I still can’t find the $1.3 million Battery Street surplus substation. I drove in circles and walked downtown for nearly two hours looking for it. It is underground? Could it possibly be the small, gravel lot? Seattle City light’s not talking. And especially not talking to me…at all…anymore. By the way, thank you for sending those emails to Council.
Yes, Save Our Substations has been a real mystery-adventure story. And it has been a huge research project: into the City’s obscure surplus property disposition process, into ways to value open space and trees, into toxic pesticides and governmental agencies, and into City and City Light history. I have read many resolutions, laws and policies, including the State Accountancy Act that says the properties must be sold, not given away, not even to another City department. And I can picture Rud Okeson’s face in my mind. He’s the ratepayer and retired City light employee who successfully sued City Light (twice) so they had to pull the plug on becoming carbon neutral. He has made it even harder to Save Our Substations. I’d like to know who his lawyer is–so I can hire him. I now know what a ‘RCMW type ‘D’ approved facility’ is. I’ve spent countless Google hours lost among the byzantine and apparently infinite acronymined halls of the EPA. I’ve researched the research on DDT, dielrin and bioremediation. I discovered the FAS, an entire City Department I’d never knew existed.
I pieced together many stories. For example I know that mayor Nichols’ brother had to pay extra to buy a surplus substation property, just because it looked so suspicious. I know about the heroic citizen rally to save the Soundway greenbelt in West Seattle from being sold for development and of the sale of $1.3 million dollars worth of prime surplus open space to Lowes near White Center (and the reason that the deal eventually fell through). There’s still hope for creating a Discovery Park South, if someone who lives there will step up to head the effort. Yep, I know a lot about the history of Seattle surplus property. I know that there is $80 million dollars worth of it. But I need to know more, like who exactly planted all those parrotias 50 years ago, and the story behind the substation I hunted down that turned out to be a hidden car dealership…or is it?
I want to find a way to save it, save all of it.
But mostly the Substation project has been a lot of work. And by that I mean the obsessive-up-until-midnight-with-an-iPad kind of work that can strain a marriage.
So what is the upshot? After just missing three grant deadlines, I am preparing one to submit to the King Conservation District, which has been a discovery in itself. It’s not a King County government entity, it’s the King Conservation District, which a thing unto itself, a remnant of the dust bowl era that is becoming relevant once again. If they award us the grant we will 1) create a PSA called ‘Utilitrees’ about the value of trees. 2) a PowerPoint presentation called ‘No Place for Old Trees’ to show to policy makers and planners and 3) the graduates of the Dan Evans School for Public Policy will do the feasibility study of surplus property disposition options….all of it done to break ground for the ultimate goal which is the Tree Bank Program. That program, based on the popular P-patch program, would keep surplus ‘vacant lots’ based on their ES, ecosystem services values. It just hasn’t been easy getting there. I give us a 50/50 chance of getting the grant.
But because of your help, I have received the backing from a couple of City council members—Licata and Sawant–which I must have in order to submit the grant. We won’t know the result until December. So keep the faith. I am.
It’s midnight in the City and do you know where your surplus substation is?
02-03-14 Substation flyer
S.O.S. Save Our Substations
From premature ‘clean-up methods’ that endanger trees and vegetation
From selling City land to developers
Seattle City Light wants to sell 35 surplus substations to the highest bidder. They say they can’t give them to Seattle Parks or private greenspace foundations. They say they must sell because of property laws and must clean-up contaminated soil before the fate of the land has been determined. They have cut and cleared the trees and vegetation from 2 of the West Seattle substations, and have routinely done so in the past.
But must they?
MUST THEY EXCAVATE THE SOIL?
From the New Scientist:
Finding a practical way to clean up contaminated land is tricky. Digging up soil and moving it elsewhere is no longer acceptable, sealing it in a landfill site is now illegal in the US, and heating it in massive kilns to burn off offending pesticides is expensive.
From R.L. Chaney, Ph.D, USDA-ARS research scientist (private communication to Turnbull 1-28-14)
‘Remediation can be achieved by removing the soil at great cost, typically about $1 million/acre-foot deep…If the site had trees or other established vegetation that one wishes to preserve, it is very difficult to remove contaminated soil and much more expensive.’ Several innovative clean-up methods (in situ bioremediation methods) could potentially save the vegetation and clean-up the soil. Grants are available to use the sites for pilot studies–saving trees, soils, and money. But Seattle City Light wants no part of it, or the public’s input or these clean-up options.
MUST THEY SELL TO DEVELOPERS?
The SOS Position Paper outlines several ways that the substations could be legally kept as green spaces, for free, by the City. And it lists ways to preserve the existing Urban Forest if they are sold.
Ask the City Council to Save Our Substations!
The SOS Position Paper is available upon request, contact firstname.lastname@example.org or Google SOS Position Paper. See TreePAC.org. Contact Cass Turnbull 206-783-9093.