Sunday, February 26, 2012

Bob Weiss in China: the story is told

Longtime Madison Park resident and former Sonics coach Bob Weiss has a starring role in a major book published earlier this month by Knopf.  Written by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Jim Yardley, Brave Dragons tells the story of the eponymous professional basketball team in the Chinese province of Shanxi during the period after the team hired Weiss at its coach.

The book gets a glowing review in today's New York Times Book Review, the reviewer noting that "Weiss and the rotating cast of American players the team brings on as hired guns make a collection of lively characters."  Perhaps even more lively, however, are the Chinese participants in this East-meets-West story, including the Club's owner, Boss Wang, who, according to the publisher's book synopsis "promised that Weiss would be allowed to Americanize his players by teaching them advanced basketball culture. That promise that would be broken from the moment Weiss landed in China."

According to the The Times, the resulting culture clash, as deftly chronicled by Yardley, provides a story that is much bigger than simply an account of an American coach and his oddball basketball team.

Brave Dragons, which has only been out two weeks, has also had positive reviews from both Booklist  and Kirkus, which called the tale "fantastically implausible."

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Another weekend 520 closure

This weekend, beginning at 11 pm on Friday night and extending through 5 am on Monday morning, the SR-520 floating bridge will be closed.  All ramps and both directions of the main line of the State highway between Montlake Boulevard and Interstate 405 in Bellevue will be out of commission during the closure.  As usual, the section of 520 between Montlake Boulevard and I-5 will be open, along with the Montlake Boulevard exit.

The work to be performed this weekend includes setting girders in place at 84th Avenue NE and at Bellevue Way NE.  Those so inclined can watch the construction activities live on camera. The above photo shows girder activity during the last highway closure, January 13-16. Part of that weekend's work took place during a snowstorm.

More detailed information on 520 closures is available here.  The next scheduled bridge closure will be on the weekend of March 9-12.

[Photos courtesy of the Washington State Department of Transportation.]

Anti-520 group appeals for funds

Coincidental with the email notice from WSDOT regarding the upcoming weekend floating-bridge closure came this email yesterday from the Coalition for a Sustainable SR 520:

"This summer, the state plans to start building the much bigger, wider 520 bridge. The planned oversized, wasteful, harmful expansion is not needed, now that tolls have made traffic flow freely.  Instead, the state needs a much cheaper safety retrofit of four lanes. 

The Coalition for a Sustainable SR 520, representing all the communities adjacent to SR 520, has filed a lawsuit in federal court, to be heard on July 13 by Judge Ricardo Martinez.

We have strong evidence that the State’s plan violates at least five laws, ranging from the federal Environmental Protection Act to the State’s own requirement for a cost-benefit analysis. But without additional funds in our war chest, we will be unable to flesh out all of our compelling arguments in court. We simply won’t be able to afford the legal work required to make our best case. Without additional contributions from our supporters, we’ll have to cut some of our most promising claims."

Information on methods for donating to the cause is available on the Coalition's website.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Fence-removal process moving forward

It's been over two months since the Parks Board voted overwhelmingly to take the fence down at Swingset Park (aka Madison Park North Beach); but the fence, of course, is still there--just as useful and lovely as it ever was.  So, we wondered, what's the hang up? It seems that it's taken a bit more time than anticipated to get the process underway, since the Board committed to allowing the neighborhood to give formal input on how the fence is removed and what it's replaced with--if anything.

Seattle Parks & Recreation spokesperson Dewey Potter recently confirmed the makeup of the "working group" that will advise Parks on the process. The members are Knute Berger, Kenan Block, Edward Clark, Gail Irving, Colleen McMonagle, Shan Mullin, John Pettit, and Sam Smith.  This is supposed to be a balanced mix of people who were opposed to fence removal and those who were in favor. According to Susan Golub, one of two Parks staffers assigned to work with the neighborhood, "the timing [of fence removal], as well as what vegetation will be planted are subjects the working group will tackle." Two meetings will occur, she said, to discuss the issues and formulate a recommendation, the first to take place on March 6.  Once this process had been completed, "Parks staff will proceed to take the fence down."  In theory then, Swingset Park should be fence-free in time for Spring use.

The public will be invited to attend both meetings of the Working Group, Golub confirmed.  The exact time and location has yet to be determined.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Tracking down an idle rumor

The case of the missing bus-stop shelter

This part of the story is absolutely true: for almost 40 years, bus riders (and others) benefited from a large wooden bus-stop shelter that sat at the south end of Madison Park Beach, along 43rd Avenue E.  In stages over the course of the past couple years, however, King County Metro took down the shelter---beginning with the roof---and finally trucked away the remnants late last summer. Now the shelter (once located to the right of the big tree in the photo above) is no more. Coincidentally or not, a trash bin that for many years sat just to the north of the bus shelter was also removed from the site by Seattle Parks & Recreation at about the same time that the shelter area was grassed over.  The bus stop itself remains.

Now here's where the story descends into rumor and innuendo: according to some workers at Park Shore Retirement Community, as reported to us, the suspected reason for the removal of both the bus shelter and trash bin is that condo owners in the lakefront condo building at 1800 43rd Avenue E. had complained to the City and County that certain people (i.e. Park Shore employees) were using the bus shelter as an outdoor smoking facility and certain other people (perhaps more than a few of whom were not even Madison Park residents) were creating an unsightly mess by overfilling the trash bin!

Condo owners complaining?  Believable.  Government acting to protect condo owners from the madding crowd?  Unlikely.  We decided to investigate.  We went straight to the authorities to get some answers, which were immediately forthcoming.  Admittedly, we were titillated by idea of possible condo/governmental collusion (it would have made for a better story), but the truth turned out to be disappointingly prosaic.

King County Metro's public information officer, Linda Thielke, says that the story we'd been told "is just not correct."  According to her, the bus-stop shelter was deteriorating "and the Parks Department asked us to take it out because it was no longer functioning as a shelter any more," especially after the hazardous roof had been removed.  The shelter was one of the oldest in the system, apparently having been built in the 1970s. Bus shelters generally are on an eight-year refurbishing cycle, so this particular shelter had lasted much longer than most.  It is not being replaced, Thielke says, because there are an "insufficient number of boardings per day" at this bus stop to justify a new shelter there.

And with regard to the removal of the nearby trash bin, Seattle Parks & Recreation reports that it was simply a case of no more bus shelter, no more trash receptacle.  According to Dewey Potter, Parks spokesperson, the Madison Park grounds crew chief made the decision to remove the trash bin. "He and his crew found that when they had the trash can there, people filled it with “home” trash, which is why they removed it – it was not serving park visitors."  Also, Potter reports, "the grounds maintenance district lost a truck driver to budget cuts, which unfortunately translates into fewer trash cans in parks serviced by trash “packer” trucks, which follow prescribed routes."  So chalk the whole thing up to lack of funding.

Even so, there is perhaps some underlying truth to the Park Shore employees' story.  Both the County and City did admit to receiving complaints from condo owners about people using the bus shelter for smoking breaks and about the trash can being unsightly.  Potter reports that some area residents have also complained about the giant rolling trash containers located at the intersection of E. Howe and 43rd Avenue E., telling the City that these eyesores really should be enclosed and screened off from public view.

So far, that hasn't happened.

Too ugly for the 'hood?

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Home prices on the uptick in Madison Park

Beyond 'stabilized'?

Those with a direct stake in the local real estate market (meaning those who own a home here and ever hope to sell it) can be forgiven for grasping at any piece of positive real estate news they may happen to stumble across.  For example, earlier this month a report in the Seattle Times noted that “prices have remained relatively stable over the past two years in close-in Seattle neighborhoods such as Queen Anne, Magnolia, Capitol Hill and Madison Park.”  That sounds good. But is it really true, or is believing it simply another case of “the wish is the father of the thought”?

Fortunately, there is now some empirical evidence that supports the conclusion that not only has the market in Madison Park stabilized, it may actually be on the mend.  At least for single-family residences, the numbers just in for 2011 certainly seem to indicate that a trend to the upside is underway.  In nearly every major category (median sales price, average price per square foot, and total sales) things are moving in a positive direction.

There were 78 house sales in Madison Park during 2011, up from 72 sales the previous year, an 8% increase.  The median value of houses sold also increased, from $1,225,000 in 2010 to $1,252,575  in 2011, a 2.3% increase.  The average price per square foot of sold houses also rose in 2011.

This is all great news, but the year-over-year improvement was not spread evenly throughout Madison Park. Some areas benefited from the upturn to a greater extend than others, and it was the more exclusive parts of the community that showed the greatest gains.

In Broadmoor, sales increased just slightly (from 18 to 19), but the median sales price climbed 8%, from $1,474,323 in 2010 to $1,587,500 in 2011.  That’s the first increase since 2007, the height of the market in Broadmoor.

In Washington Park, the story was much the same.  Sales increased slightly, from 25 to 27, but the median sales price was up a full 24%, bringing it practically to the level it was at in 2009, the height of the market in Washington Park.

For the rest of Madison Park, however, the news was not precisely positive, though total house sales rose modestly from 29 to 31 for the year. The median price, however, declined for the fourth straight year, from $960,000 to $835,000, a 13% fall.

The situation was also not positive in 2011 for the condo market in Madison Park, with only 23 units changing hands, versus 32 in 2010. The average sold price actually declined from $606,590 in 2010 to $564,725 last year, a 6.9% decline.  The average square footage for the condos sold in each year was virtually the same, but the average cost declined from $458.09 per sq. ft in 2010 to $421.17 in 2011.

Statistics, however, can go only so far to illuminate conditions in a real estate market that's as small as Madison Park’s.  This is caution we repeat periodically, though clearly the sales data should not be entirely discounted.  The glass-half-full types among us may take some comfort in knowing that the median sales price for all homes sold in Madison Park last year (condos and houses combined) actually rose from $975,000 in the previous year to $1,100,000.  At that level, properties here were selling at the same median price as at the height of the overall Madison Park market, 2007:

Because of the change year over year in the mix of sales (a higher number of houses sold and a much smaller number of condos) this at-first-blush-positive data can be discounted since condos are on the whole less expensive in Madison Park than single family residences. Simply put, the high proportion of house sales in 2011 skews the numbers when compared to previous periods.

So, the bottom line?  Condo owners here may still be waiting for the long-anticipated turnaround, but Madison Park house owners, at least, can take legitimate comfort from the 2011 data.  Here's the statistic that underscores the positive trend: the average cost per square foot of houses sold in 2011 was $428.60 versus $418.37 in 2010, a 2.4% increase.  That’s the first uptick since the market began to decline and a solid reason for celebration.

[Thanks, as always, to Wendy Skerritt of Windermere Real Estate-Capitol Hill, for providing much of the sales data we manipulated to create this report.]

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Community newspapers bite the dust

but the Madison Park Times marches on

We were intrigued by a story we saw on KING-TV last month concerning the demise of a close-by neighborhood newspaper, The South Seattle Beacon. The twice-monthly publication, which had been around in one form or another for almost 100 years, covered Beacon Hill, Mount Baker and Rainier Beach.  It quit publishing in December. As it happens, The South Seattle Beacon was a similar-sized sister paper of our own Madison Park Times, which is produced by Pacific Publishing Co.  Unmentioned in the KING-TV story was the fact that the Pacific Publishing also shut down the venerable North Seattle Herald-Outlook (once the University Herald and the North Central Outlook) last year.  In place of these longtime community news providers, a more-generic weekly periodical, City Living Seattle, is now being circulated to the affected neighborhoods by Pacific Publishing. This will naturally mean little if any neighborhood news for those communities, since the circulation area of the replacement paper is much larger and diverse.

In a memo to readers, the papers' publisher, Mike Dillon, wrote "We mourn the passing of [the Beacon and Herald-Outlook], but they could not--in the current state of the economy--make it to the 100-year mark." It was a simple case of not enough advertising revenue to support the costs of publication, a looming threat for many print publications, especially newspapers.  Additional staff cuts, such as those undertaken by Pacific Publishing a couple of years ago, were apparently not a viable option in the face of pure economics.

The death of these two community newspapers naturally raised the question for us, "What's the future of the Madison Park Times?" So we called Pacific Publishing to ask.  Publisher Dillon acknowledged how sad it is to have to pull the plug on these respected and longtime publications, but he assured us that our paper is definitely not on the chopping block. "We have no plans to make any changes there," Dillon commented. "The focus of the Madison Park Times is not being altered."  As a monthly periodical, he said, the Madison Park Times is able to attract sufficient advertising to make the economics work. The paper, with a circulation of about 6,500, covers Madison Park, Madrona, and Leschi, described on Pacific Publishing's website as "Seattle's most affluent neighborhoods."  It's a relatively wealthy audience that advertisers want to be in front of, he noted.

The KING-TV report included an interview with a longtime Mt. Baker resident who stated, essentially, that she had taken the Beacon for granted and now that it was gone she missed it.  Since the inception of Madison Park Blogger three years ago, we've taken the view that the Madison Park Times, in spite of its inherent inadequacies, is an important means of communication for our neighborhood.  We have always had a mutually cooperative (though not precisely symbiotic) relationship with the paper.  We, like the Mr. Baker resident, would be unhappy to see our local paper fold, so we're glad to discover that the Madison Park Times has a renewed lease on life.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

January Police Blotter

Car break-ins down, home break-ins up

We spoke too soon last month about the abnormally low number of burglaries in the neighborhood.  In January there were six such incidents, at least three of which were forced entries. Probably the least impactful of these occurrences (though certainly one of the strangest) happened on January 7 on the 1600 block of 43rd Avenue E.  A woman reported to police that she had returned to her home that evening and discovered that some of her possessions had been moved around, that there was a bottle of wine missing from her wine rack, and that her cats had apparently been fed by the intruder (opened cat food cans were evident).  She speculated that the perpetrator could have been her landlord or the ex-girlfriend of her boyfriend.  There was no forced entry.

Two days later there was a forced-entry burglary on the 1000 block of 37th Avenue E., as well as a non-forced-entry burglary the following day, January 10, on the 2200 block of 40th Avenue E. (Canterbury). In that later incident, someone entered a house through a “dog door” and removed a camera and a laptop computer from the residence.  There was also evidence that the suspect had looked into the medical cabinets in the bathroom.

On January 17 the police received a report that three storage units in an apartment building located on the 1600 block of 41st Avenue E. had been broken into the previous day and several items stolen.  The units were located within laundry rooms on different floors of the building.  Only one of the storage units, however, had been secured with a padlock.  One of the victims fingered a former tenant as a possible suspect in the crimes, stating that the resident had been moving out of the building on the very day of the break-ins and was seen going in and out of one of the laundry rooms at that time.  No fingerprints were recovered from the crime scene.

On January 26 victims at a home on the 2200 block of 38th Place E. in Canterbury reported to police that sometime between approximately 8 am and 8 pm, persons unknown had broken in into their home and stolen two laptops, an iPad, jewelry valued at approximately $5,000, a pair of silver cufflinks, and three antique pocket watches.  Police discovered that a pool chair and a barbecue grill had apparently been used by the intruders to help them climb to a second-story master bedroom balcony.  From there, they forced entry through the French doors of a bedroom. The suspects then ransacked the bedroom and other rooms in the residence looking for valuables.  They exited through the French doors of the living room, which the owners found open upon their return.  Shoeprints evident around the house were photographed and fingerprints were recovered.

There was a separate burglary incident during the month in the vicinity of 37th Avenue E. in the block just north of E. Madison St.  No details were immediately available.

Only one car prowl was reported in January, this on the 600 block of Hillside Drive E. on the morning of January 25.  There are normally three or four car break-ins per month in the neighborhood, though this is a somewhat seasonal (meaning fair weather) kind of crime.

There were also two “crimes against persons” reported during the month, which involved harassment or threats to kill.  One of the incidents (shown as an exclamation-point icon on the map above) does not count as a Madison Park crime, however, since it involves a tenant phoning his landlord in Broadmoor and making threats from his rental house in Kirkland.

The other incident, which also involves trespassing, certainly does count.  On January 9, a person well known to police from many previous incidents at this location, parked his car across the street from the Bank of America branch, crossed the street and confronted the bank guard.  According to the guard, the man called him a “fascist corporate whore” eight times in a very loud voice.  The suspect then walked east on Madison.  Apparently the man has engaged in this behavior on multiple occasions, claiming that he was upset over the Bank’s decision to lower his credit limit.  The police could not locate him, however, on this occasion.

[Map courtesy of the Seattle Police Department.  Starburst icons represent burglaries, car icons represent car break-ins, blue icons represent trespass incidents, spray-can icons represent graffiti or other property damage, dollar bill icons represent found property, and red icons represent harassment.]

Thursday, February 2, 2012

B of A ATM fire NOT arson

$150,000 in damage apparently accidental

It turns out that what at first appeared to be an early-morning arson fire, burglary attempt, or political statement at the Madison Park Bank of America branch in November was probably something much more mundane.  The Seattle Fire Department reported last month that its arson investigator concluded that the cause of the fire was likely an ATM malfunction, possibly an electrical short in the cash machine's wiring. The SFD estimated the fire damage at $150,000.

We didn't see any news report about all of this, but we were taken to task today by the SFD public information officer who noted that the fire-investigation results had been posted on the Department's blog on January 5, almost a month ago.  He was reacting to our recent posting on the Wells Fargo branch vandalism, in which we suggested a possible link to the BofA branch arson.  Well, apparently there was none.

We stand corrected.

[The Madison Park Bank of America Branch is located at 4100 E. Madison Street.]

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

News for foodies

Belle Epicurean launches Provisions

They didn't quite get the doors open in time for the holiday rush, but Madison Park's newest (and, by self description, "Seattle's premier") patisserie did manage to inaugurate its specialty food and fine wine shop, Provisions, just in time for the New Year.  Occupying the eastern half of what was once the Island Video location (3109 E. Madison St.), Provisions is both a wine bar and purveyor of "high quality food stuffs" such as special cheeses, olive oil varieties, doughs, condiments, and frozen bakery items.

According to chef/proprietor Carolyn Ferguson, the concept is for Provisions to be a sort of well-stocked pantry and wine cellar for those who enjoy the kind of food available from Belle Epicurean.  That means that the products on sale are principally those which are used as ingredients by the patisserie.

Ferguson, who is nicely profiled in this month's Madison Park Times, asked us to be sure to report that Provisions will be hosting weekly wine tastings each Thursday in February (5-8 pm), with her husband, co-owner/oenologist Howard Ferguson, acting as sommelier. French regional wines will be featured and will be paired with cheeses and pantry items.

*  *  *  *  *

Cafe Parco recalibrates lunch, asks for menu input

It seems that a lot of Madison Parkers, who might otherwise be lunching in local cafes, leave town for the winter.  So Cafe Parco, which since its opening had been serving both lunch and dinner each weekday, has decided to limit its lunch schedule for the time being. According to a recent email from the restaurant's general manager, Nic Norton, "until the weather warms up" those interested in lunching at Cafe Parco will have to call and make reservations no later than the day before.  If a minimum of six people have asked to dine (not necessarily as a single group), lunch is on for that day and an announcement will be placed on Cafe Parco's website (at which point it's come one, come all).

Chef/owner Celinda Norton, meanwhile, is asking for advice from patrons on the kind of cuisine they prefer.  On the restaurant's blog, Norton notes that some diners are asking for lighter fare, though "ordering patterns tell a different story" given that richer food seems to outsell simple, healthier food.  "Even with a mix of simpler dishes in the menu the servers still have people ordering the richest offerings available and then complaining the food is inedibly rich.  Yes, they chose to order the most decadent item on the menu," she reports.

Norton sums up her dilema this way: "I need to offer what my guests are willing to visit regularly and purchase.  I need to prevent Annihilation via Yelp.  I need to get excellent reviews from Seattle's press."  She says she's open to input and you can provide it by emailing her: chef at Cafe Parco.

*  *  *  *  *

Jason Wilson of Crush connects with Google 

The Puget Sound Business Journal's latest issue includes a front-page story on Crush chef/owner Jason Wilson's unlikely role as the designer of cuisine for the employee restaurants at Google's Kirkland and Bothell campuses, which reportedly feed 1,100 people each day.

It seems that Wilson is a friend of Google's Kirkland campus general manager, who believed that Wilson's "cooking style and priorities--supporting locally grown produce and naturally raised meat--would be a good fit for the company known for employee amenities and free food."

Among the menu items created by Wilson: orange-flavored Skagit River Farms beef stir fry, and Lamb Tagine with tomato, eggplant, peppers and olives.  Of his positive experience working with Google, Wilson is quoted as saying "it's not like working for a monolith."

[Cafe Parco is located at 1807 42nd Avenue E,, and Crush is located in Madison Valley at 2319 E. Madison St. Photo of Chef Wilson from the Crush website.]