Monday, November 7, 2011

Parsing the fence debate

Madison Park as cul-de-sac

Commentary by Bryan Tagas

You'd probably have to live in Madison Park for a few years to truly appreciate the quiet, steady rhythm of life down here at the end of the road. We sit conveniently removed from much of the wear and tear of typical urban living, having little serious criminal activity in the neighborhood and not much in the way of social discontent.  Our socio-economic circumstance and relative isolation make us, perhaps, a bit more insular than other Seattle neighborhoods. We're hardly likely, for example, to follow the lead of those Capital Hill anti-Big Bank protesters who last week threw bricks through the windows of their local Chase Bank branch. And, as longtime resident Ed Clark puts it, it would be surprising to see Madison Park generate a big turnout for a meeting to discuss something really serious, like homelessness. But we are able to get 100 people to a hearing across town to discuss the removal of a neighborhood fence.

The Commissioners meet

It was standing room only last Thursday evening when the Park Commissioners convened in Denny Park to consider the staff proposal to take down the fence at the "Madison Park North Beach." Let's cut to the news first:  the Commissioners will not be making a recommendation to the Parks Superintendent at least until they discuss the matter at their December meeting.  And while it's true that the staff recommendation to remove the fence was pretty definitive, Acting Parks Superintendent, Christopher Williams, told those assembled, "We don't have a decision made. We are looking to hear creative solutions."

The Commissioners then got an earful from what was mostly an audience composed of Madison Parkers opposed to fence removal, though not everyone from the neighborhood spoke against the proposition.  In addition to Mr. Clark, who said he felt the "safety" issue was being overblown, there were two or three other residents who spoke in favor of fence removal.  Everyone else was either opposed to the idea, opposed to the process used by the Parks Department, or both.

David Graves, Senior Project Planner, presents his recommendation

For most in attendance, the principal issue was the safety of children and others using the park.  It was noted that the fence was installed for what was originally considered to be a good purpose: protecting kids playing near the water.  Not only is the rip-rap dangerous, many argued, but the water is treacherous at that point as well.  Some were a bit heavy handed in their commentary, one claiming the the Commissioners themselves would be personally liable for any injuries or deaths resulting from their decision.  Others focused on the change in usage of the park that would result from the fence removal.  Without the protection of the fence, for example, little kids will probably no longer be able to use the field for soccer practice.

Sam Smith makes his point

One of the most cogent non-safety arguments made by those testifying concerned the fact that there's already significant public access to the water in Madison Park.  This park at E. Lynn St. provides a different kind of recreational opportunity and different potential uses from what is available at the other public spaces in the neighborhood. It is more of a "passive" park, as opposed to "active" Madison Park and its beach just down the road. Removing the fence at the Swingset Park just to get direct access to Lake Washington accomplishes no worthwhile purpose, they maintained.  No one will want to swim there (especially if aware of the 48" sewer overflow pipe at that location), and launching kayaks from the rip rap (and later getting them out of the water) would be problematic at best.

It had been rumored that the guy behind the whole fence-removal idea, Patrick Doherty, is an avid kayaker intent on using the park for that purpose. But when he spoke at the hearing about "access" at the park, he said his concern was primarily about the "visual access" to the Lake that the fence and its overgrown blackberry bushes were impeding. He said he'd like to see the Lake become "perceptually accessible" at that site.  Many agreed with him about the blight caused by the overgrown fence, asking that the Parks Department simply remove the vegetation or do both that and replace the existing fence with a less-imposing one.

Parking and traffic congestion were also introduced as concerns, with one resident noting the potential negative impact on area property values if the "North Beach" is opened to additional public uses.  A political note was made by another resident who reminded the Commissioners that Madison Parkers vote and that when the next bond levy occurs, "the Parks Department is going to need all the friends it can get."

When the session ended after about two hours it could not be said that the views of Madison Park, or at least of those neighborhood residents who cared enough to give them, had not been heard.  The impact of all this may be evident in December when the Board of Parks Commissioners meets again to debate the issue.  In the meantime, those who still wish to give their input may do so through December 2 (details here).

All in all, in my opinion, Madison Parkers presented themselves before the Commissioners as an articulate and concerned citizenry, legitimately upset about a process that began with a staff recommendation rather than through a dialog with the neighborhood. The legitimate concerns about safety, parking, congestion, and appropriate park usage were perhaps more persuasive when raised by people who did not have personal property interests as their principal motivation.

More than one resident stated that the neighborhood understands that this park belongs to the City and not to the neighborhood. But there was also a clear pattern of NIMBYism under the surface of much of the testimony, a perhaps inevitable reaction to the fear that more of the madding crowd will be coming down here to enjoy the public spaces in our midst.

But if "access" really just means the removal of visual blight, it seems that a reasonable compromise could easily be worked out, assuming that the Department of Parks and Recreation has any funds with which to implement it.  Here's the recipe: Remove the vegetation and build a lower fence, keep the park for its current uses, save the children.

[Hearing photos from  The complete videos of the hearing are available here.]


  1. You make some good points. As a life-long resident of Madison Park, this issue and the response is no different than about two dozen others that have arisen over the years. No one wants anything that changes their way of life, even if it turns out to be better than what they had before. The playground at Madison Park comes immediately to mind.

    There is a big swell of community "activism," which vanishes the second the issue is resolved and community leadership returns to the handful of people who have walked the walk over the years in this neighborhood.

    Cynical? Yes. True? Yes. You take the chartered bus out of the mix and the representation at the City meeting drops by 90%. None of the loudest opponents have ever, or will ever serve on the Community Council, or even attend a meeting, concerned only with what affects them.

    Conversation I recently overheard in local cafe: "I have two condominiums in the building next to the park and I am really concerned about what will happen to the value with a beach next door. I just hope they get it all resolved before I go to Palm Springs for the Winter."

    "Cul-de-sac" is, unfortunately, a perfect term. Literally translated, it means "bottom of the bag." Other definitions are "impasse" and "dead-end street." Practically, they are roads, leading nowhere, which are off-shoots of the roads on which people go places.

  2. Folks this isn't hard. Just take the weeds out so that the kayak guy can see the lake but leave the fence up so the soccer people won't have their balls and kids flying into the water.

  3. Ummmmm.....not even touched upon: the all-night partying + drinking will have a second spot to take place at - with no enforcement of existing laws from law enforceement. I can personally attest to how unpleasant it is during the summer months near the existing beach - people yelling, whooping,screaming, drinking alcohol and doing who knows what down at the beach. It actually was on the local news at one point - 2010 - the all-night partying going on down at the Madison Park Beach.

  4. For any to say that they want the fence to come down my guess is that they think the area will get turned eventually into a beautiful white sand beach that will be used by only a few. Keep dreaming.
    The North beach, not a good term, was turned into a non-usable space because that particular stretch of shoreline is a repository for sediment and slime from Lake Wahington.
    My question to all that feel that there will be a "Beach" at some point is-How do you intend to pay for the transformation of the area to a beach? How will you pay for the maintainence of the beach? Where will you put the public rest rooms for a high use and high access area? Who will pay for the plumbing? How will you pay for the much needed additional Police patrols and man power to keep the beach safe? How will you pay for the additional waste and garbage that will start being left throughout the park?
    In case you have ever noticed, we are in the middle of a budget crisis and the Parks and Recreation staff are being asked to do more with less. They too are being asked to cut their budgets and staff. Where do you think all of this money is going to come from? Couple that challange with a waterfront space that was deliberately closed due to slime and sediment and what are you really trying to accomplish?
    Now ask yourself who is the selfish person here?

  5. 1) The construction of a beach is not the fantasy of the anti-fence crowd, it is the fear-inducement of the pro-fence crowd. It is being used to make people afraid, a very effective motivating tool, particularly when used on the small-minded.

    2) That fence, or lack of a fence is in no way, shape, or form allowing or preventing construction of a beach. It is not that powerful of a fence. In fact, it would be significantly cheaper to remove the fence as part of beach construction, than it is going to be to remove it as proposed in the next month, or so. Don't rely on the fence to save you from a beach.

    3) The city owns a hundred miles of un-fenced shoreline which are not bathing beaches. Why are you so insistent that this length will be different? Besides fear, I mean. The pro-fence crowd is spending far more time and energy dreaming of bathing beaches than the anti-fence crowd. Ironic, isn't it?

    4) There are no examples of two separate, fully-outfitted bathing beaches located within 500 yards of each other anywhere else in the city. The same question applies.

    5) I am not sure of the point of the budgetary argument you make. I think it should make you feel better to know that a beach is not affordable, since that is what you are worried about. Right?

    6) Because you forgot to include the requisite "Save the Children" clause, you are still the selfish person. Sorry.

  6. Wow, seems the budgets are limitless in the Parks and Recreation Department.
    Okay for the sake of discussion if the fence comes down people are worried that children will not be able to use the park for soccer or other field sports where a stray ball would go into Lake Washington. Additionally, parents are worried that their kids will wander into the lake or fall on the rocks.
    Great, the fence is for the children. got it.
    One of the proposals that was floated around Madison Park was a sea wall type of structure that would serve as a replacement for the rocks and allow for greater access to the shoreline. Other proposals have been restoration of the shore to have a beach in the long term, other ideas have been to create an activity area for small boats and personal non-motorized watercraft.
    What ever the proposal or even the simple removal of the fence, there will be increases in park use and park traffic. All of that increase will need to be addressed.

  7. Hey call me selfish, I forgot the obligitory "Save the Children" comment. Guilty as charged.
    I want the fence. Absolutely, Positively, 100%.
    You seem to be skirting the traffic issue here and the need to find a way to handle it and the activity that goes along with it.
    Why would this stretch be different?
    First, access and availability.
    Availability of food and beverage, parking, wide open space to picnic and plenty of grass. What are the other stretches of shoreline you refrer to that seem to be untouched or not disturbed?
    How is the access at these other locations?
    My guess is that the areas you refer to are not accesable by road adjacent to the area of shoreline like the park in question. Drive up get out of your car and you are in the park in 5 seconds or less.
    Yes, I live within two blocks of the park in question and two blocks north of Madison Park Beach South.
    Ever seen parking in the summer? Ever seen the rise in crime in summer? It is as certain as death and taxes. I don't relish getting ready to go somewhere only to find I have been boxed in so tight I have to tap bumpers five to ten times just to get out to go somewhere. Better yet, having to call a tow truck to get rid of cars blocking my driveway.
    Call me crazy but I really don't need to have the summer crowd span from Madison Park Beach South to Madison Park Beach North or Shoreline Swing Park North.
    The random car prowling becomes regular in the summer. The broken bottles, cigarettes,used condoms, random or spontanious uninating and deficating becomes wonderfully more frequent and guess what the epicenter is for all this activity?
    The shoreline, the beach, the water access.
    Sorry, I am xenophobic and want to keep it that way.
    If you told me that people would pick up their trash, leave the area the way they found it, respect the neighborhood and its residents, and they actually did that, I would have a massive heart attack on the spot and go to heaven or in my case hell since I did not have the "Save the Children" comment.
    Sure, selfish as charged.

  8. Sorry, but the summer crowd already spans from Madison Park Beach South to Madison Park Beach North -- can't imagine that changing no matter what happens with the fence.

  9. Look at any other waterfront parks in the city: living with crowds and noise goes with the territory. If people don't want to be bothered with riff raff near the rip-rap, they should buy houses in a gated community. That's why god created gated communities. :-) Public shoreline is just that: public, and it belongs to everyone, like it or not.

  10. How about fencing off the whole park so that we can protect the 1% living in the nearby condos from noise and intrusions on their privacy? Even better, since they paid for the bus, how about them paying for moving the fence so no one can access North Beach.

    Seems like a win win situation. If this works, maybe we should next consider closing Madison Beach itself so we eliminate the summer traffic, parking and noise problems.

    To be honest, the idea of gating the entire Madison Park area sill seems to be the best idea of all!

  11. The summer crowd does not span from the north to the south. Parking spans to about Lynn at its furthest reaches. All of that traffic and crowd is for the South Beach. Now forward to both parks being open and the crowd will span all the way to the Edgewater and beyond. No fluff, no fear mongering, just the facts. Great open up the shoreline and where are all the people that live at the Edgewater going to park?
    One solution would be to have permitted neighborhood parking and that works in other areas.
    Tough decision for all.

  12. Wait a minute, if all of the cars have permits then cars and people from the beach crowd will start parking well beyond 42nd, 41st and McGilvra.
    Let the car prowls, garbage, noise, human waste begin!

  13. Just one question left for me: Which one of you hardcore protestors is going to have your housekeeper chain herself to the fence when the bulldozers come?

    Okay, another. Is there anything more fun than watching rich people NOT get their way?

  14. Yup, listening to smarmy people from outside of Madison Park think they have a clue about what it is like live in a communiy where the residents actualy care about what goes on within its boundaries.
    Not all people in MP are rich. Take a look around there are apartments all over and I live in one of them.
    Am I rich, no.
    Do I love to live here because it is safe and I can walk to and from my place to a restaurant or store without thinkng twice?



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