Friday, October 30, 2009

Preview of a possible SR-520 solution

Although it is not anticipated that the upcoming construction of State Route 520 will have significant direct impact on Madison Park, we will certainly have a front-row seat from which to view the expansion project when it gets underway in 2012. And it is almost certainly the case that the Arboretum will be directly affected by both the construction and the placement of one of the freeway on-ramps, depending on which design option is ultimately chosen.

Given the probable interest in all this by MPB readers, I thought I'd take a look at what the Washington State Department of Transportation (DOT) is saying about the SR-520 expansion and floating-bridge replacement program. Without much investigative effort I discovered that DOT has some pretty interesting information easily available on its site. The video above provides a visually arresting simulation of driving on one of three options for the "west side" approach to the new bridge (click on HQ in the lower right corner for higher-resolution video quality). Simulations of driving on the other two options are also available on the DOT website.

To date, the only construction that is underway on this project has to do with the testing of various methods for building the pontoons. This is happening in Satsop, with ultimate construction of the pontoons to take place in the Grays Harbor area. Some of the pontoons for the new bridge will be the largest ever built, according to the DOT: "360 feet long, 75 feet wide and weighing over 11,000 tons. That’s as long as a football field and as heavy as 23 Boeing 747 jets." That's big.

In case you wonder why the State thinks that the Evergreen Point Floating Bridge (pardon me, the Governor Albert D. Rosellini Bridge) is vulnerable and needs to be replaced, you need look no further than this simulation of the bridge's likely response to an earthquake:

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Dilettante journalism and a philosophy of blogging


On what was, coincidentally, the six-month anniversary of this blog, I had lunch last week with a professional journalist—in other words, someone who is actually paid to investigate and report. What I do as a blogger, it turns out, is not that different from what she does as a newspaper reporter, except that as an amateur journalist I do not get paid for my efforts.

Though we represent opposite sides of the old-media-versus-new-media divide, I discovered that among the things we share is a love of uncovering a story, a sense of purpose and accomplishment for doing what we do, and a common journalistic ethic. If it paid any money, I would be a newspaper reporter rather than a banker. Instead, I have found my calling as a part-time blogger—a dabbler in the business of communication.

Which isn’t to say, however, that as a blogger I don’t have standards. In adhering to a journalistic protocol, I am certainly not unique within the Seattle hyperlocal blogging community. Most of the neighborhood bloggers clearly take their jobs as journalists very seriously (even though some do cross the line into advocacy journalism from time to time). Hyperlocal blogging is really citizen journalism, after all, and the form is still evolving.

Not everyone believes that bloggers are professionals, however. In my half year “in the business” I’ve found that bloggers simply do not get the level of respect enjoyed by their broadcast and print-media counterparts. After introducing a newspaper-tax-break bill into the legislature this year, for example, House Majority Leader Lynn Kessler, gave this quote to the blog TechFlash: “Anybody who’s blogging, God love ‘em, can say and do whatever they want, because they have no liability or responsibility for what they say, because they are not held to any standard, and they shouldn’t be—they’re just individuals editorializing, if you will.”

I take exception to that description. Bloggers do have a responsibility to the readers they serve and, as been pointed out by the one of the founders of the West Seattle Blog, we are no more (and certainly no less) licensed or certified to produce content than any newspaper is. Bloggers will be successful only so long as there are readers who believe we are credible.

Journalists are supposed to live up to certain standards of journalism, and I think a similar code of “professional” conduct is required of bloggers. Here are the elements of my own personal blogging code:

1. Be fair and accurate
2. Separate reporting from editorializing
3. Give attribution and provide hyperlinks to sources
4. Avoid conflicts of interest
5. Correct and note errors

Perhaps there are other necessary standards for this blog, the need for which will later become obvious; but I think this is a good start.

There’s one last point to make, and that involves philosophy. I started thinking about this during the summer after getting an email from one of my loyal readers whose story idea I had rejected. He graciously accepted my rationale for not following up on his suggested posting and ended by stating: “It is always a good idea to have an operating philosophy.” I agree, so I am going to spell mine out.

First of all, this is a blog about Madison Park, the geographic definition of which can be found in the lower portion of the right column. Stories that are about events, places, or people who live in the Park are fit subjects for this blog. Stories of broader interest that have some special impact on the Park or the people in it are also grist for this blog mill (an example of this might be the upcoming SR-520 expansion).

I make the assumption, however, that all of my readers have easy access to other media and regularly consult these sources for information on “macro issues” such as political and economic conditions in the wide world outside the Park. Thus I do not feel the need to cover the mayor’s race on this blog (unless there is some campaign issue that uniquely relates to the Park), or talk about Referendum 71.

The reason this blog exists (i.e. “why I blog”) is that there is no timely and effective alternative method for communicating information about the Park to the people who live here. And until there is, it’s my goal to keep MPB readers informed about what’s happening, what’s going to happen, and even what should be happening in Madison Park.

That’s my operating philosophy.

[I was made aware of Rep. Kessler's comments by reading the blog of MyBallard's founder, Cory Bergman, as quoted on The graphic, Blogito ergo sum (I blog, therefore I am), was created on Flickr.]

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Halloween in the Park

Madison Park may not have made's list of Top Seattle Trick or Treat Neighborhoods, but kids here still manage to do quite well for themselves every Halloween. They can get an early start on the action by trick or treating Madison Park businesses on Saturday, October 31, from 3 until 5 pm. Pictures of trick or treaters will be taken at Triangle Park, in front of Bing's. The Madison Park Business Association is the sponsor of this annual event.

The Washington Park Arboretum Association, meanwhile, is sponsoring a "Halloween in the Dark Spooktacular" on Saturday from 4 until 8 pm for families with children aged 6 to 12. Pre-registration is requited ($6 per person). It's a BYOF (Bring Your Own Flashlight) kind of event, which starts at the Graham Visitors Center in the Arboretum. For more information, contact Jean Robins at or 206-685-8033.

The reason Zillow gives, by the way, for deciding that Madison Park and Broadmoor are not as good as Wallingford or Magnolia to trick or treat in is that "while homeowners in these prestigious 'hoods may pass out a king-sized Snickers here and there, the homes are more spread out with long driveways and gates, thus not very conducive to kids travelling by foot." Since Zillow's ratings were picked up by KING-TV and several websites perhaps we should expect fewer out-of-neighborhood trick or treaters this Halloween. More treats for the home grown.

[Graphics courtesy of Photobucket and Madison Park Business Association, respectively.]

Friday, October 23, 2009

September Real Estate Report

Has the market finally turned?

September was such a spectacular month for home sales in Madison Park that it caused one realtor to proclaim that “the logjam has finally broken” in the local real estate market. Perhaps so. Eleven houses and two condos were sold during the month, a huge increase from the dismal five sales recorded in July and the seven closings in August. September is normally not a big sales month here in the Park, making this year’s numbers particularly impressive:

The October closings, at least though the mid-point of the month, also seem to support the hope that the market here is finally on a sustainable upward trajectory. There were seven sales in the first two weeks of the month, and 12 homes were listed as “pending” sale by mid-October, according to the Northwest Multiple Listing Service (MLS).

Not everyone is ready to declare victory, however. One very experienced agent told me she was really not sure that the recent uptick was conclusive. She has a point. Looking at the home-sale numbers over the past couple of years shows that the market this year is still struggling to regain the level of sales experienced even as recently as 2008, when the market had already leveled off:

So the bottom line is this: the market is definitely on the move, but it may be a few more months before it becomes obvious that we are finally out of “the trough.”

Here’s where the market stands at the end of October. These numbers, based on listings reported by Redfin, cover all of Madison Park—Washington Park and Broadmoor included:

Single-Family Homes

Listings: 63
Median List Price: $1,995,000
Median Sq. Ft.: 4,040
Median Price per Sq. Ft.: $494
Average Days on Market: 136
Proportion with Price Reductions: 38%

Condos & Townhouses

Listings: 31
Median List Price: $635,000
Median Sq. Ft.: 1,131
Median Price per Sq. Ft.: $561
Average Days on Market: 176
Proportion with Price Reductions: 52%

The fact that inventory levels have declined to 94 listings is worth noting, since up until this month the Park has apparently not had less than 100 total listings all year. Interestingly, all of the houses sold in September closed for more than $1 million, according to the MLS. The most expensive was a $2,850,000, 6,200 sq. ft. Washington Park residence built in 2002. The least expensive was a $1,060,000 1959 ranch-style house located in the Canterbury section of the Park. The average time on the market for sold houses was 173 days, and the average discount at sale from the list price was 10% (the discount for condos was 13%). These percentages understate the true discount from the seller’s initial hopes, however, since six of the sold homes were originally listed at prices that were higher than their final list prices.

Again in September the pattern continued where the largest listed homes were the ones most likely to still be awaiting a buyer, though the homes that did close were still significantly bigger than the median Madison Park residence (as computed by

There are a few houses for sale in the Park for less than $1 million (11, to be precise), but they represent only 17% of the available inventory. One example is the house shown above, a two-bedroom 1940’s cottage listed at $649,950.
When the market was hot, this was precisely the kind of house that would have been purchased by a speculative builder with the intention of tearing it down and building the biggest house allowable. That’s probably not going to happen with this property this year, for reasons we’ll explore below.

September also saw the first case I am aware of in Madison Park of a short sale. There’s been a lot of discussion of this phenomenon in the press recently, but it is not something that has heretofore impacted the local market. What happens in a short sale is that the lender agrees to allow the property owner to sell the house for less than what is owed on the mortgage. The lender then “eats” the loss. Redfin reports this month that a Broadmoor house which is listed for more than $2 million is now in that short-sale category as a result of its latest price reduction.

Broadmoor, for whatever reason, seems to be pretty much stuck where it has been for many months: few sales and 25 to 30 houses on the market. Broadmoor represents 41% of the homes currently listed in Madison Park, while constituting less than 20% of the total homes in the neighborhood. There was one Broadmoor sale in September and no sales reported to date in October, according to the MLS. Broadmoor’s 26 listed houses are not more expensive than those for sale in Washington Park (median for-sale prices being $1,950,000 and $2,695,000 respectively), but Broadmoor’s are substantially older. The median year built for listed houses in Broadmoor is 1935, versus 1966 for Washington Park. The numbers for Washington Park are admittedly somewhat skewed by the fact that there are six speculative houses for sale there, all built within the last three years.

A tough market for spec builders

By my count, there are eight spec houses currently on the market in Madison Park, including two north of E. Madison Street. Houses built by speculative builders now constitute almost 20% of the houses for sale in the non-Broadmoor portion of Madison Park (Broadmoor does not allow spec building).

It’s a difficult time for the speculative builders who have normally worked the Park. Each has, at minimum, scaled back operations since the height of the market in 2007. Some have apparently ceased operations altogether, other than attempting to sell their existing inventory.

One of the most prolific re-developers of Madison Park properties over the past four years was Blueline Developers, which built ten houses in the neighborhood, ranging in price from $1.2 to $2.4 million. But they’re not building anything now and probably won’t be doing any redevelopments on their own account anytime soon, according to Lorenzo Smith, one of the firm’s principals.

“Right now,” he told me, “we’ve developed all of the properties we owned.” The game plan for the foreseeable future, he said, is to “hunker down and wait it out.” Smith noted two major restrictions on developers in the market: lack of bank financing for builders, and stringent requirements and higher rates for home buyers needing jumbo mortgages. “Developers are almost a dirty word with banks right now,” he commented. “We’ve talked to lots of different developers and the situation is the same for everyone.”

What this means for Blueline is that they have reduced staff to about 25% of what they had at the peak, and the company is currently only doing contract work for clients wanting remodels, build-outs, and new construction. Smith agreed that the market seems to be improving, “but we would want to see a little more movement before jumping back in.”

Chaffey Homes, which has also been a major player in redeveloping properties in Madison Park, has a similar wait-and-see attitude. Kevin Murray, the company’s Vice President, told me that he is “quite hopeful” that the market has turned. “It feels like we’re still in the trough, but we’re starting to see positive upward pressure,” he said. This is more the case for homes selling for well under $1 million, he noted, than for areas with pricier homes such as Madison Park. Nevertheless, Chaffey did chalk up a win here last month, selling the one house it had for sale in the Park. The house sold for about $1,650,000, which was only a slight discount from its asking price. Murray, who lives in the Park, said "it is great to see solid activity in our neighborhood over the last couple months".
Chaffey’s homes in the area have generally been in the $1.5-$2.2 million range. For this segment, Murray told me, there have been a lot of people who have been watching the market but not making the move to buy. He notes that some buyers want new, and once the available new houses start being absorbed, there may not be replacements in this market any time soon. Now that some houses are selling, this may accelerate buy decisions by those who have been waiting on the sidelines.
Murray commented that Chaffey has one other house almost ready to come onto the market (a Tudor-style house on 41st Avenue E.), but after that the company has no immediate plans to develop other properties in the area. He noted that Chaffey owns a Madison Park house that it intended to eventually tear down and redevelop. But “we’ve decided to sit tight for now,” he told me. This, in spite of the fact that there’s a building permit in place. Chaffey is treating the house as a rental property at this point. “If we see a couple more new homes sell, we might reevaluate the situation,” he added.

One area spec builder, however, seems to be taking a different view of the market and is moving forward with its redevelopment plans. M2K Developers, which is just completing a 4,000 sq. ft. spec house in the 1400 block of 38th Avenue E. (shown below), is also constructing two 5,000 sq. ft. houses on the 1500 block of 37th Avenue E., near McGilvra School.
I asked M2K partner Mike Culwell what prompts such a gutsy move at this time. His reply: “We’re fairly bullish on this market, though not as much as we were two years ago.” Culwell, who also lives in Madison Park, noted that “the area has great appeal as a destination neighborhood, has proximity to downtown and the eastside, and it’s a great place to live.” He said M2K would probably not be willing to do property redevelopments in any other Seattle neighborhood right now, but he is comfortable going ahead with the projects here that M2K had already planned. He noted, however, that his crews have been thinned out—and the company is slowing construction on its projects so as not to put all of its properties on the market at the same time. “There’s no reason to hurry these things through now,” he said, “but there’s also no reason to stop.”

Another developer called M2K’s decision “bold,” but noted that it’s possible M2K may end up having the only new-construction houses on the market at the point things really open up for the jumbo-mortgage segment.

The issue for most spec builders with houses already on the market is whether they can sit and wait for the market to turn. As one noted, “you can’t hold out forever.” Every month that a house remains unsold means another month of profit-eating carrying costs, which include taxes, insurance, maintenance expenses, and interest on financing.

The two houses shown below, located on the 1200 block of 42nd Avenue E., were built by separate spec builders in 2007 and 2008 respectively. After sitting with their houses unsold for at least a year, each of the builders independently made the tough choice to rent out the houses with a view to re-listing them when the market improved. That decision apparently paid off for Ryan McKinney, the builder of the 3,700 sq. ft. house on the left. His house is one of those on this month’s pending list.
[Thanks to Wendy Skerritt of Windermere Realty for her help in providing some of the market data utilized in this report. In addition to information reported by the MLS, homes sales data include sales recorded by the King County Assessor’s Office that were not reported in MLS totals.]

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Treacherous sidewalks: who’s at fault?

It’s hardly surprising that in a venerable old neighborhood such as ours many of the sidewalks have degenerated to a condition something well short of pristine. Indeed, some Madison Park sidewalks are in such disrepair that they constitute a real safety hazard for the unsuspecting walker or runner. Many Madison Parkers have learned (in some cases, the hard way) that the best approach to navigating sidewalks in the neighborhood is with one’s eyes firmly glued to the pavement. And when fall leaves cover the sidewalks it’s best to be doubly vigilant, for it may not be obvious what lurks beneath all of that autumn color.

Many sidewalks here date to the early 1900’s, and over time a lot of shifting may have occurred in the ground underneath. The biggest culprit is tree roots, but water is another major factor in undermining sidewalks and causing them to dislocate. These are the principal reasons why our neighborhood sidewalks got into bad shape, but the reason why some of them remain in a deplorable state is that many of us simply fail to live up our obligations.

Now I know that this is probably going to come as a tremendous shock to a few of you, but it is a fact that under City ordinance property owners are responsible for the sidewalks adjacent to their property. What this means in practice is this: if you are a home owner you must keep the public “right of way” surrounding your property in good condition and clear of obstructions. Cracks in the sidewalk and uneven surfaces must be repaired—and don’t expect to be reimbursed by the City for your efforts.

There is a big exception to the rule, however. And that has to do with damage to the sidewalk that is caused by trees that are City owned. You are responsible for reporting the sidewalk damage, but the City is responsible for making the repairs. If you are unaware of whether the City owns the offending trees, you may call the Urban Forest Office (684-8733) to find out. The sidewalk repair just completed in the business district along E. Madison Street is being paid for by the City, which was the owner of the trees whose roots were responsible for most of the uneven sidewalks in the area. It is common, I am told, for the City to own trees along arterial routes; but it is much less likely for the City to own the trees on side streets.

According to the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT), sidewalk repairs must first be approved by the City, which will grant a “street use permit” for the work. Asphalt or cement patches and “shins” (such as those shown below) can be acceptable alternatives to replacing an entire section of sidewalk.

Another option is to have the concrete “shaved” in order to create an even surface.

SDOT spokesperson Marybeth Turner told me that concerns about dangerous sidewalks should first be addressed to the respective property owner. If the appropriate repairs are not made, SDOT should then be notified. At that point, she said, the department’s Street Use Section will investigate the complaint and, where appropriate, issue a notice to the property owner to correct the problem.
What happens if the property owner does not take action? Well that’s a little less than clear. Turner said “we may refer the issue to our law department for legal action,” but when I pressed her on whether such action had ever been taken against a property owner she said she would have to get back to me.

I later received this finely crafted statement from her, quoting SDOT Right of Way Manager Brian dePlace:

“Usually, if the sidewalk is uplifted due to something the property owner is responsible for (a private tree, collapsed side sewer), they realize it’s in their best interest to comply. We do issue Notices of Violation, which informs the responsible party that we may take legal action if they do not comply. Generally, we achieve compliance at this point.”

So now you know.

[Afterthought: Some of you may wonder why “sidewalk safety” is worthy of a posting when it might just as well fit into that catch-all blog category that I sometimes joke about, pet peeves--those little (sometimes petty) irritations we Madison Parkers have about life here in the ‘hood. The difference is this: I personally know several people who have been injured as a result of falling on unrepaired sidewalks in the neighborhood, and several years ago I myself broke my jaw in a fall on my own block. So here’s the rule for this blog: if something is just irritating to people then it’s a pet peeve; if it’s irritating and dangerous, then it’s a problem worthy of comment; and if I personally have been negatively impacted, then it’s a real issue of concern. I hope I’ve made these distinctions clear.]

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Let's hope for a day like this tomorrow

If the weather clears up by then there will be a fine, close-at-hand opportunity to get out of the house on Sunday and enjoy nature in the Japanese Garden in the Washington Park Arboretum. Bewteen 11 am and 3 pm on Sunday, the Japanese Garden will be hosting a viewing of the more than 150 maple trees situated on the grounds. It's a colorful show at this time of year and might even be enjoyable if it's still raining.
As noted in an earlier posting, 2009 represents the 75th anniversary of the Arboretum. Those who want to learn more more about the history of Washington Park have an opportunity to do so later this month. Brooklyn Botanic Garden President Scot Medbury will be presenting a talk sponsored by the Arboretum Foundation entitled "The Once and Future Arboretum." The event will take place at the Center for Urban Horticulture (3501 NE 41st Street) on Thursday, October 29, from 7 to 9 pm. Preceding the talk, there will be an open house at the Center from 5:30 until 7. More information is available here.

[The Japanese Garden in autumn: upper photo by marcelebrate on Flickr; middle photo by Anthony Papini; lower photo by Jeff Krewson.]

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Networking the old-fashioned way

In this, the era of the internet, there is a growing tendency to think that many activities that once required actual human interaction can now be handled just as effectively and efficiently—or even more so—through on-line applications. The movement to replace face-to-face contact with cyberspace technology has even overtaken the important business of networking, both for social and business purposes. Facebook and MySpace are increasingly important social networking connectors; while websites such as Linked-In and Plaxo are becoming essential connectors for many business people.

Not everyone takes the view, however, that business networking can or should be handled so impersonally. The dynamic duo pictured above, for example, can be placed firmly within that group which still believes in networking the old-fashioned way: people meeting people. If you don’t already know Dr. Amy Van Quaetham (shown on the left) and Barbie Hull (on the right), you are missing out. These entrepreneurs are without a doubt the most energizing, engaging, and enthusiastic people that I’ve met in my almost eight years of living in the Park. And I’ve met a lot of people.

What they share in common, in addition to their positive attitudes and upbeat delivery, is a belief in making connections and advancing their businesses through personal contact and focused, word-of-mouth marketing. Their vehicle for doing so is BNI, short for Business Network International. Their local chapter of BNI, Madison Marketeers, consists of an energetic mix of business professionals who share a belief in the group’s motto: “givers gain.”

There are over 50 chapters of BNI in the Pacific Northwest, but what makes the chapter here special, according to Hull, is that it is a very motivated group that really likes to have fun. Hull’s own business, Barbie Hull Photography, has benefited significantly from her involvement with BNI, she reports. Members refer business to each other and provide support and counsel when it’s needed. “The people in this group really care about me and my business,” Hull says. “They’ve become a huge part of my life this year.”

BNI membners get together weekly for structured sessions, “where everyone who attends has some role in the meeting,” according to Hull. There’s time for networking, followed by an agenda which includes a chance for each member to give a one-minute commercial about themselves (who you are, what you do, how BNI can help you). There are performance measures, as well, where members report on one-on-one contacts they’ve made since the last meeting, referrals given and received, and what business has been generated as a result. Just as in Rotary, attending meetings is mandatory.

Not everyone who is interested in joining BNI is allowed in, says Hull. “We won’t accept people just to get more warm bodies into the group,” she notes. “We need people to be sure they’re a good fit for us and that we’re a good fit for them.” Only one person per profession is admitted into each BNI chapter. Right now, according to Hull, Madison Marketeers is especially seeking to add a caterer, a mechanic and a professional organizer to their group, although there are a lot of other professions not yet represented.

Van Quaetham (Van Quaetham Chiroporactic) was already a member of BNI when she decided to form a Madison Park chapter in 2005. She says she initially saw BNI as a way to help her expand her practice and to get connected with other small-business owners. “Owning your own business can be isolating,” she says “and having other people share their stories opens your eyes.” After awhile, as her practice grew and she got busy with other things, Van Quaetham quit BNI for several months. But she missed it and came right back. “I like what it brings me in terms of keeping on top of my goals,” she says. “When I started my practice I did just about everything I could to make connections. Now I just do one thing: BNI.”

Madison Marketeers meets at 1 pm on Wednesdays at the Madison Park Starbuck’s (4000 E. Madison Street), and any business owner who wants to grow their client base has an open invitation to attend, says Hull. “Come and see if we’re good!” To which Van Quaetham adds: “Networking is cool.”

So here they are, the Madison Marketeers. If you think they look like the kind of congenial people you’d like to get to know, you can check out details on the members here.

[Photos by Barbie Hull]

Monday, October 12, 2009

Short takes - 6

We’ve just experienced another glorious, sunny weekend in the Park; and I can’t help but wonder whether we might have to pay some future price for all of the beautiful weather we’ve had this year. Of course, as anyone who knows me will tell you, I’ve always been a “glass-half-empty” kind of guy.

Today is Columbus Day and therefore a bank holiday (we bankers make every excuse for a day off that we can). This gives me the opportunity to do an unusual weekday-afternoon posting covering a variety of previously unreported topics.

Official maps promulgated (yawn)

Virtually every other blog in town got all excited and did posts last week about both the City’s new snow-removal-plan map and the Seattle school district’s new school boundary maps. If you are interested in taking a look for yourself, just click on the hyperlinks. I think I can sum up the import of both maps by stating that pretty much nothing has changed relative to Madison Park.

The snow removal plan designates E. Madison Street as a “Level 2” road, meaning that the City will try to keep one lane open in either direction in case of snow. Whether this means that it will actually happen, or not, is something that can hardly be predicted from reading the map. Madison Park was, after all, clearly on a second-priority street (or was it third?) when the last snow fell. And we all remember how that worked out.

With regard to the new assignment plan for the public schools, McGilvra’s school boundaries are changed only slightly. Instead of extending south to E. John Street, the attendance area now extends one block further, to E. Denny. Also, a few more blocks around 23rd Avenue E., up the hill, have been added. The biggest advantage of the new assignment plan is the fact that parents are guaranteed that if they live within a school’s boundaries their children can attend that school. It’s not apparent, however, that this policy change will have any impact on McGilvra’s students, only about half of whom currently live within the school’s attendance area.
Fishin' is easy in the Park?

It’s news to me, but several websites state that Madison Park is a great place to go fishing. Apparently the dock at the E. Madison Street road end is known for “fair-to-good” perch fishing, in season; and smallmouth bass and catfish are also supposedly catchable from that location (maggots are reportedly good bait, but who has them?). We are past the peak fishing season, I am told, but that hasn’t stopped all of the fishing activity. I accosted several people who were fishing off the dock late last month, but no one had caught any fish—or if they had, they weren't willing to tell me about it. I wasn't checking for licenses.

Book sale a great success

The efforts of the Madison Park Community Council to raise a little extra money through a book sale paid off last month. MPCC President Ken Myrabo reports that about $1,200 was raised, including $250 paid by a book wholesaler who purchased all of the remaining unsold books as the one-day sale ended. The extra income is just about enough, Myrabo notes, to pay the Council’s liability insurance premium for the year.

Tile artists happy with the Park venue

At dinner last night I happened to run into one of the artists participating in the Northwest Handmade Tile Festival, held over the weekend in Pioneer Hall. She told me that the show was a great success, with a lot of attendees and quite a lot of tiles sold. Given that success, it is highly likely that the Park will be the venue for the Festival again next year, she said.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Don't leave checks in the mailbox!

There have been multiple reports in the last week of mail being stolen from the porches and mailboxes of residences in the area. As a result, our mail carrier has suggested that we not leave our mail out to be picked up, at least for the time being.

One of our neighbors was a recent victim of mail theft. He said he heard someone come up his front steps and open the mailbox; and when he went to investigate he saw a Latin American male leaving the property. Later, he received notice that checks that he had written to pay bills had been used fraudulently. In one case, a check had been "washed" and the payee and amount were both altered. The check was successfully cashed at a casino. An attempt was made to cash another check of his that had also been stolen from his mailbox and altered, but in that case the perpetrator fled when a bank teller became suspicious.

Consider this posting a word to the wise.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Tile artists arrive for big show Saturday

Pioneer Hall was packed with art enthusiasts this evening as Artisan Tile Northwest hosted a reception featuring the artists who will be participating in tomorrow's Northwest Handmade Tile Festival.

The show begins at Pioneer Hall at 10 am and continues through 5 pm.

Madison Park's own Barbara Clark (Agapanther Tiles) will be displaying her hand-carved nature tiles, examples of which are shown here. She and the twenty or more other participating tile makers demonstrate a wide range of styles and techniques in their work. Nature, however, is definitely a common theme of many of these Northwest artists. If you like what you see at the Festival, you can bring it home with you. Everything is for sale.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

McGilvra scores high in 2009 WASL testing

Although the Seattle school district has yet to release the scores for its individual schools, the State Superintendent of Public Instruction recently posted the spring 2009 results of the Washington Assessment of Student Learning; and the numbers for John J. McGilvra Elementary School look pretty impressive.

Parents who may have been concerned about the low scores for McGilvra’s fourth graders on the 2008 WASL writing test will be happy to know that this year the fourth-grade writing scores dramatically improved, with 91% of the students passing. In 2008 only 59% met the WASL standard, but this year’s results show that 2008 was simply a one-year aberration for the school. A similar outlier occurred in the 2000 WASL, when only 34% of McGilvra’s fourth graders passed the writing section. Overall, the trend line for the school on the writing test has been positive.

The following chart summarizes the school’s scores since the inception of WASL, comparing McGilvra to the rest of the school district and to the state as a whole:

When I asked former McGilvra principal Jo Shapiro to comment on the school’s success in raising the 4th grade writing scores, she gave credit to the 4th grade teachers, Barbara Bash and Maria Breuder. It has also been noted by current principal DeWanda Cook-Weaver (and by a McGilvra parent who commented on this blog) that PTA funding last year supported a part-time instructor at the school who was trained in the Writer’s Workshop method. The combined teaching efforts clearly worked.

The fourth graders were also tested in reading and math, with 95% and 83% passing these tests respectively. McGilvra’s scores were consistent with past years.

The school can also boast of its improvement this year on another WASL test: the school’s fifth graders increased their passing rate on the science portion of WASL from 73% in 2008 to 88% in 2009, an increase worthy of being touted in a recent Seattle Public Schools press release. Kudos should go to McGilvra's science teachers--Lisa Calvert, Kimber Kierstead, and Dirk Vonderlage--for their successful efforts at improving science education in the school. Here’s the positive trend line for McGilvra’s fifth-grade science scores:

As usual, McGilvra’s fifth graders also did well this year in the reading portion of WASL, with 95% passing; and in the math section, with 88% passing. The third grade class, meanwhile, received 91% passing scores in math and 88% passing scores in reading.

Overall, McGilvra has demonstrated a pretty solid record of achievement under WASL. This, however, is the last year that the test will be administered. The State’s new schools superintendent, Randy Dorn, was elected last year after a conducting an anti-WASL campaign. As a result, the State will replace WASL with Measurements of Student Progress (MSP) for grades 3-8. The details of MSP have yet to be finalized.

[Source: OSPI Report Card]

Monday, October 5, 2009

Impact of stormwater project on Madison Street traffic expected to be negligible

For many of us in the Park, I suspect that the ongoing Madison Valley Stormwater Project has been one of those out-of-sight, out-of-mind things. Yes, there is that big billboard that the City installed on Madison Street overlooking the baseball field, but almost all of the actual project construction to date has been outside our normal field of vision. Next summer, however, planned construction will be moving much closer to home; so I decided to investigate how the final phase of the project might impact our neighborhood.

Phase I of the project, now in its final stages, involves the expansion of an above-ground stormwater holding area at 30th Avenue E. and E. John Street. This facility will have the capacity to hold 1.7 million gallons of stormwater during very large storms. In the City’s estimation, however, even with this expansion there will be an insufficient amount of holding capacity to prevent a stormwater surge of the magnitude experienced in 2006. That was the winter in which a "series of extraordinary events" led to the drowning death of audio-book narrator Kate Fleming in the flooded basement of her Madison Valley home.

Hence Phase II of the project, which will create an underground pipeline connecting the E. John Street facility to a newly built stormwater holding tank to be located near the existing baseball field in the Washington Park Arboretum (see graphic above). The pipeline is expected to run along the following route, crossing E. Madison Street at its intersection with Martin Luther King Jr. Way E. and 28th Avenue E.:

Fortunately, the City plans to use trenchless construction for the pipeline, meaning that except for the above-ground shaft locations (blue dots on the graphic above), all of the boring will occur underground. The construction method is shown in this cross-section illustration:

The area around each of the proposed shafts will be impacted by the construction in several ways. At a minimum, there will be noise, congestion, and the temporary loss of some parking spaces in the immediate vicinity. Additionally, work at the shafts will require traffic detours for all or part of the construction period, according to initial assessments. Although planning for Phase II is not completed, at this point the plan is to locate one of the shafts on 28th Avenue E., just to the north of E. Madison Street.

So what about traffic during the construction period on Madison, our neighborhood’s principal thoroughfare? According to project manager Brent Middleswart, we shouldn’t be worried about any restriction in the flow of traffic. Although there will be some early work on the south side of Madison near City People’s, “we will always maintain two-way traffic flow” along the arterial, he told me. Trenchless technology, he noted, will mitigate the need to block Madison during the construction of the pipeline. This is good, since there is really no suitable detour route.

Nevertheless, regular users of E. Madison Street will still see some traffic impact resulting from construction. Debris from the pipeline boring will be trucked out along both E. Madison and 23rd Avenue E., based on currently proposed hauling routes. If approved by the Seattle Department of Transportation, these hauling routes will alleviate the need to truck material through the Arboretum.

Construction on Phase II is likely to begin as early as June 2010, with completion scheduled for the summer of 2011. The total capacity of the integrated stormwater system at completion will be 2.1 million gallons. “Based on modeling results, stormwater would only appear in the Washington Park above-ground holding area during especially large storms like the two in August 2004 and December 2006,” states the Phase II report presented by the City at a community meeting last spring. A current conceptual landscape plan for the impacted area of the Arboretum shows a much-improved park space north of E. Madison Street:

For more information on the NW Diversion and Washington Park Stormwater Storage project, visit the Phase II website. I will be monitoring the progress of project planning and will do a posting if there are significant deviations from what has been outlined above.

[Illustrations courtesy of Seattle Public Utilities. Click to enlarge.]

Friday, October 2, 2009

The intimacy of the Park draws tile artisans back to Pioneer Hall

They could have gone anywhere. They'd held their past shows in different locations every year, and they'd already done Madison Park. The plan this year was to move the event to a bigger venue; but when the tile artists came to make a decision, Madison Park won out as the place they'd most like to have host their Fourth Annual Northwest Handmade Tile Festival. Hoping to repeat their success here last year at Pioneer Hall, the tile artisans will be back in the Park next weekend, hot on the heels of MadArt's conclusion this Sunday.

The Festival will run one day, Saturday, October 10, in Pioneer Hall (1642 43rd Avenue E.). Over 25 tile makers, all members of Artisan Tile Northwest (ATN), will be showing their works in two separate shows. One will be a curated show in which each participating artist will submit a work on the theme "Submerged." There will also be a display show, where the tile makers will set up tables and sell their art.
According to tile artist Marie Root, "we decided to come back to Madison Park because we so enjoyed it last year. There's a certain intimacy there." She says the artists liked the Pioneer Hall venue, appreciated the support of the community, and enjoyed the people in the Park. She noted that there was a high volume of foot traffic last year, and the organizers are hoping for a similar level of interest this time around.
ATN is a non-profit artist collective consisting of tile artisans from throughout the Pacific Northwest. The group is "dedicated to the creation, promotion and preservation of the art and craft of handmade tile." The annual festival is designed not only to help the artists sell their work but also to raise awareness by the public that handcrafted custom tile work in a wide range of styles is available from artists based right here in the region.
The Saturday show will begin at 10 am and end at 5 pm. Admission is free. There will also be an artists' preview reception held at Pioneer Hall the previous evening, October 9th, from 5 until 8 pm.
For information on ATN's artists, visit Not all ATN members will be participating in the Festival, but all of the artists whose works are shown here definitely will be. Madison Park's own Barbara Clark (Agapanther Tiles) will be showing her tiles as well.
[Upper photo: hand painted tile, Moons, by Bob & Iris Jewett, Wilburton Pottery; Middle photo: nature print tile by Claudia Riedener, Ixia Tiles Tacoma; Lower photo: nature tile by Bellevue Artist Sallie Herling. Photo below: border tiles by Maria Root, Primitiva Pottery & Tile.]

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Parks department gets serious

Late this morning several Seattle Parks and Recreation Department trucks pulled up to Park and their crews unloaded new, higher, stronger, chain-link fence panels to replace the trampled wire-mesh fencing that has done little to protect the Park's plantings down the slope along 43rd Avenue E. The ineffectiveness of the previous fencing, not to mention the hazard to pedestrians it presented in its mangled form, finally got the City's attention.

This new fencing, according to the parks department workers, is still a temporary expedient. It is expected to be in place only until the plantings (primarily ferns in that location) can get established. The condition of the old fence was the subject of one of our Pet Peeves postings last month. It seems that there were more than a few park visitors who could just not bring themselves to walk a half a block and use the stairs.

Though it will be a bit difficult either to jump or climb over the new fencing, the ingeniousness of the lazy should never be underestimated. As he linked the fence panels together, one of the installers admitted to me that it wouldn't surprise him to find after the weekend that the whole line of fencing had been pushed over. "It happens."