Friday, May 29, 2009

Is the worst over for Madison Park real estate?

Madison Park was one of the very few neighborhoods in the Seattle area to experience an increase in home values during the last quarter, at least according to a new survey issued by Zillow. Madison Park had an actual 4% increase in median house value, says Zillow, compared to the last quarter of last year. The next highest neighborhood on Zillow’s list was Vashon Island, where house values were up 1.7% for the quarter. Of the 137 neighborhoods surveyed by Zillow in the Seattle/Bellevue/Tacoma region, only 13 experienced an increase in house values. These include North Beacon Hill, Lower Queen Anne, and Meydenbaur (Bellevue). For the 98112 zip code area as a whole, there was a quarterly decline of 2.1%, according to Zillow.

The median value of a Madison Park home now stands at $885,000, down only .2% from one year ago. This compares with a median value of $379,013 for Seattle as a whole, where overall values declined 2.2% during the quarter and by 14.6% during the past year. The bottom line is that Zillow, at least, believes that Madison Park is doing quite well relative to the rest of region and the country as a whole. Madison Park‘s median home value of $885,000 represents 7.6% average annual appreciation for the past decade. Not bad.

For comparative purposes, it is interesting to note that only three Seattle-area neighborhoods in the Zillow analysis show a higher median home value (the point where half the homes are worth more and half are worth less) than our community: Medina ($1,431,018), Clyde Hill ($1,287,403) and Market/Downtown Kirkland ($939,417).

Kathryn Lister, a realtor at Coldwell Banker Bain, says it may be too early to say for sure whether the market has really turned in Madison Park. What she’s seeing is reluctance by some buyers to make a move right now. “On the upper end of the market,” she told me, “we’re dealing with savvy people,” the kind who are willing to wait to see if the interest rate and requirements for jumbo loans are eased by the banks in coming months. While prices may be at a good point, she said, there’s still the issue of how to finance. She believes that the differential between a conventional mortgage and a jumbo mortgage loan rate (5.0% versus 6.5% as of today) is too big, and the down-payment requirements for a jumbo (in the 25-30% range) also make this kind of loan problematic for many people. So there’s perhaps a wait-and-see attitude on the part of some buyers.

On the other hand, Madison Park is a special community “with a great neighborhood feeling,” she notes, and this just may be a big differentiator for houses in the Park, relative to other Seattle neighborhoods.

We will be providing an in-depth look at real estate sales and trends in Madison Park on a regular basis beginning next week, including statistical reports and analysis by area realtors. Stay tuned.

Zillow’s US real estate market surveys are available here:

[Photo of 1427 39th Avenue E., listed at $1,675,000, courtesy of Kathryn and Wendy Lister, Coldwell Banker Bain-Bellevue.]

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Elephant causes pandemonium in the Park!

Well, it was exactly one hundred years ago today that it happened, but on May 28, 1909, a circus elephant named Queenie escaped from her handlers and ran amok in Madison Park for awhile before being recaptured. Queenie was one of the many animal attractions of a short-lived amusement park called White City located right here in Madison Park for several early years of the twentieth century.

As told by Alan J. Stein in an essay on, Queenie’s adventure started when a couple of little white dogs crept too close to her while she was being moved from her tent to another location in the park. The handler lost control, and the spooked Queenie gave chase to the dogs. As she rumbled through the park she managed to crash into the merry-go-round, breaking some of the wooden horses. Giving up on the dogs, which had broken to freedom by scampering under a fence, the pachyderm decided to take a break at the fruit stand, where she helped herself to a selection of apples and oranges. While she was munching away, she allowed a chain to be attached to her leg so that she could be tethered to the ground until her trainer arrived to lead her back to her assigned place.

The Seattle Times report of the incident has two women fainting as a result of the ruckus (this was apparently considered perfectly understandable female behavior in those days). It is lucky the two ladies did not stay around after their ordeal to witness a much more horrific event. Later that day, “a fox terrier owned by the manager of the animal menagerie wandered too close to a cage containing a Bengal tiger. In a flash, the feline reached through the bars, pulled the dog inside, and…” well, let’s just say that the poor terrier had a fate that was quite different from that of the two little white dogs that got away from Queenie.

Located south of Madison Street on the shore of the Lake, White City was a rather brief affair. It was apparently opened to take advantage of the crowds flocking to Seattle for the Alaska-Yukon Exhibition, which ran at the site of the University of Washington from June 1, 1909 until October 16, 1909. The Exhibition was Seattle’s first world’s fair and brought visitors from around the globe.

Admission to White City was ten cents; and in addition to its merry-go-round, the park boasted a Ferris wheel, side shows, and a miniature train ride for children and adults called the Lake Shore Railway. Some of the attractions were apparently brought over from the site of the Alaska-Yukon Exhibition after the fair closed.

White City appears to have lasted as a summer attraction only until 1912, when the park’s owners, the Borderland White City Co., finally called it quits. Queenie’s later career is not chronicled.

[Picture of Queenie pushing a White City concession building on rollers is from the Seattle Times May 30, 1909, courtesy of The White City postcard courtesy of Jim Abbate.]

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Citizen journalism alive in Seattle

Although most of us are well aware of the recent demise of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer print edition, there are many who probably don't know that in addition to keeping the on-line P-I website in operation, Hearst has indirectly spawned a second web-based news source for the Seattle area, the Seattle Post Globe. Hearst's role in helping create this new site, of course, was by firing most of the P-I staff, many of whom are now tying to make a go of this non-profit alternative.  The site is being operated in partnership with KCTS-TV. Post Globe editor Kery Murakami assesses the situation bluntly when asking for donations to keep the site up and running: "the future of journalism is now in your hands."  Among the staffers of the Post Globe are writers Art Thiel and Mike Lewis and Photographer Grant Haller.  

Murikami reports that at this point they have enough funding to operate the site for one month, so success will only come with a quick rise in readership and donations.  I recommend you check out the Post Globe by taking a look at Kathy Mulady's great story, Tracking Down Seattle's Vintage Street Cars.

Monday, May 25, 2009

MAY 18-21

There were several car prowl incidents in the area during the past week, including a report by one of my neighbors that Friday night at about 11pm they discovered that several men were going through their car, which was parked on the street. The men got away, but not before taking a digital camera from the glove compartment. In another incident, thieves stole a cell phone and GPS system, gaining entry to the car by smashing the passenger side window. Another smash-and-dash incident occurred in the Arboretum parking lot, where a car was broken into and a debit card was taken, along with other items. Charges of $400 were made on the debit card before the card was reported stolen.

The bottom line appears to be don’t leave valuables in your car, especially if it is parked on the street or in another public location. One of my fellow bloggers who does the blog for Wallingford ( raised the issue of car prowling with the Seattle Police earlier this Spring. In response he was sent a document entitled Preventing Car Prowl, which he describes as “more depressing than helpful.” His summary:

· Thieves will break into your car and there’s nothing you can do about it
· Your best bet is to remove every worldly possession you have from your vehicle
· Even so, they’ll assume you’re hiding something under the seat
· It doesn’t matter how crappy your car is, they’ll still break in
· They’re going to wreck your window and probably the door.

If you experience a car prowl incident please do report it to the police via 911. As noted by Wallyhood, the police state that "part of the calculation used to determine how many officers to assign to an area is based in part on reported crime."

If you’d like to read Police’s official document, you may do so here: Preventing Car Prowl.

Madison Park was apparently fairly quiet, crime wise, during the past few days. Here are a couple of out-of-the-ordinary crime reports:

In the wrong place at the wrong time: The manager of an E. Madison Street apartment building in Madison Valley called the police to report that he had seen a woman enter an apartment using a key! He supposedly felt this was suspicious since the apartment in question was not rented by the woman. The police came and made contact with the woman, who told them that she had sub-let the apartment from a man who had later assaulted her. She said she had a restraining order against the man, which the police were able to verify. However, while doing this verification, the police also did a check on the woman and discovered that there was a warrant issued by the Spokane police for a woman using that name as an alias. The description on the warrant seemed to be “very similar” to the woman in question, so the police promptly arrested her and transported her to the police station. After some delay, the arresting officer was able to examine a photo of the woman described in the warrant, finding the woman to be “markedly different” from the woman just arrested. She was released. Her commentary on the incident was not recorded in the police report.

Am I missing something?: A Madison Park resident reported to the police that in early April he had answered an ad on Craig’s list to become an “executive driver” for Victoria’s Secret. The ad stated that the job would entail providing limousine service for Victoria’s Secret “executive family members” when they flew into western Washington. He later was contacted and told he had won the job and that he would be receiving advance payments for taking the assignment. He did receive a $4,000 check, following which he said he checked with both Victoria’s Secret and the issuing bank to determine that the check was good. He was assured that the check was valid. He later received additional checks from the same source, but he told the police that he didn’t deposit them because he had become suspicious. Sure enough, his bank soon informed him that the original $4,000 check he had deposited was fraudulent. The “victim” then sent an email to the source of the check stating that he was reporting him to the police “and never to contact him again.” All of this happened over a two week period. There was no information in the police report on whether or not the man's limousine services were ever utilized by Victoria’ Secret executive family members while in Seattle.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

McGilvra’s reconsidered

In the month since we reviewed McGilvra’s (Much needed addition?) the new bar and eatery seems to have hit its stride. Reviews of the restaurant on Yelp during the past month have been significantly better than when the place first opened (the last seven reviews have averaged almost four stars out of five, whereas the average of the early reviews was only one star). Meanwhile, Urban Spoon Seattle gives McGilvra’s a 91% favorable rating, with 23 reviews to date (Urban Spoon voting is on an I Like It/I Don’t basis).

Someone who recently ate at McGilvra’s just commented our own review, stating that while the food and atmosphere were good, the staff seemed young and inexperienced (the food took 45 minutes to arrive). So perhaps there is still some inconsistency in the service, depending on whether things are particularly busy (as on a rare sunny day).

A friend and I checked out the lunch scene at McGivlra’s last week and found the service and the food excellent. He had the fish sandwich and pronounced it very good, and I had the toasted BLTA (A for Avocado) sandwich and rated it a 10. Personally, I think they’ve got their act together and the jury is now in: worthwhile addition to the neighborhood.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Filling a void or just filling time?

Today marks the one-month anniversary of this blog! When I began this project I didn’t intend to do a blog about Madison Park at all. The title of the blog was chosen simply because I wanted to be Seattle Blogger and that moniker was already taken. So, I chose Madison Park Blogger just as a way of designating where I was blogging from, not what I planned to blog about. Actually, my vision was to give myself a platform for broadcasting my jaded views on life, along with occasional diatribes about the maddening world in which we live. That, at least, was the plan.

About a half week into my blog experiment, however, it was pointed out to me that Madison Park doesn't really have any timely source of information about what’s happening in the neighborhood. The Madison Park Times, a worthy little publication, only publishes monthly, and its coverage area also includes Denny-Blaine, Madrona, Leschi, and Madison Valley. Additionally, the staff of the paper was recently decimated and the editor removed. The new editor handles five separate publications, and it is not clear that the paper currently has a reporter who actually lives in Madison Park. Worse yet, many of the news stories and editorial content of the MVT are from the publisher’s other Seattle neighborhood papers (for example, a recent story on Megahouses had a picture of a Madison Park house with a story which quoted sources in Ballard and Capitol Hill, but no one from the Park.)

It seems that the only way to disseminate information on a timely basis in the ‘hood is to post a note on the board at the hardware store or at Starbuck’s, put a flier in the windows of those retail establishments that will allow them, or staple notices on telephone poles. Otherwise, it’s word of mouth.

So this blog is now designed to fill that void. My intention is to meet the need for a central source of information on Madison Park issues and events. But if this is to be a successful operation it will depend upon your help in getting the word out. If you think this site is valuable please let your neighbors know about it (and if you haven’t done so already, please also vote in the reader poll situated in the right-hand column of the blog). If you can think of additional ways for us to publicize the site please forward your ideas (our email address is also in the right-hand column). To date it has been suggested that I use the methods listed above as well as setting up a table at the Music in the Park concerts and at the Sidewalk Sale and Parade. I will also be placing an ad in that old-fashioned medium, the Madison Park Times.

We did hit some milestones in the last month that make me cautiously optimistic that this blog is for real. We were picked up as a media source for, and we were reviewed and rated by (to put this into perspective, that team has rated 26 Washington blogs, with this blog ranking 9th on their list). We were also accepted for inclusion as a “hyperlocal" blog by BlogCatalog, which gives us some additional exposure. We had the first referral to our site through both a Google search and a Yahoo search, and somebody in Tunisia (believe it or not) actually spent 14 minutes reading blog posts on the site earlier this week! The average daily number of visitors to Madison Park Blogger is now 25, up from just 2 during the first week (just me, and perhaps my wife). Stats for the site, by the way, are measured by SiteMeter, and you can click on the icon at the bottom of the right-hand column for up-to-date traffic information if you’re interested.

Thanks to all of you who through email or in person have encouraged me to continue my efforts. I appreciate your support, and it’s nice to know that someone out there is reading this stuff. Please continue to provide your input (both complimentary and critical) and send me your story ideas. Please comment on the posts (you can do so by clicking on "Comments" at the bottom each story). Your tips are always welcome!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Boo hoo! Boo hoo! FOTF no more

Last Friday, when the WaMu sign came down from Chase’s Madison Park branch, I wrote a blog entry talking about the days when WaMu was known as the Friend of the Family (FOTF for short). My photographer neighbor, Bob Peterson, now provides us with a Madison Park connection to WaMu’s 20-year FOTF ad campaign, featuring character actor Booth Coleman. Coleman personified the Bank’s then-folksy image; and he was famous in Washington State, at least, for his mastery of the avuncular role. It seems that several of the FOTF TV commercials were shot in Bob’s front yard, right here on 42nd Avenue E. And Bob’s got a photo to prove it:

Bob reports that not only is the 86-year-old Coleman still alive, but he’s still acting. A native Northwesterner (born in Portland, Oregon), Coleman has a long and distinguished film, TV and stage career to his credit, including a role as one of the apes in the TV version of Planet of the Apes.

Coleman and the Friend of the Family tag line epitomized Washington Mutual for about two decades, ending in the early 1990’s. At the time the Bank was seized by federal regulators last summer in what is to date the largest bank failure in U.S history, the Bank’s official tag line was Whoo hoo! Whoo hoo!

Need I say more?

[Photo of TV Commercial © Bob Peterson:]

New preschool to open in the ‘hood

A new preschool called Bright! will be opening in Madison Park in June. Resident Glenn Ader, who has a background in preschool programs, says that the first session for the school will be a summer “camp” limited to eight kids. It starts June 22 and will run eight weeks during the hours from 9am to 1pm. Each week will be devoted to a different set of subjects (e.g. week one: gardening & nature, week eight: wilderness and outdoor fun).

The fall session will be open to ten kids and will also be a half-day morning program running on the same calendar as that of the Seattle Public Schools. Ader’s pitch: “We are a child centric school that focuses on child development through hands on experience. Play is a child's work!”

For more information, including details of this Saturday's open house, visit Bright!’s website: brightinthepark .

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Another rant about those banks

You may have noticed the recent spate of stories in the press about consumers being treated miserably by the big banks, which are accused of unfairly jacking up rates and fees on credit card holders at the slightest excuse. As a banker myself, I’ve tended to be less than sympathetic when hearing these reports, believing that banks are just managing risk by discouraging the bad behavior of their worst offenders. Some people just shouldn’t have credit. So my usual reaction when seeing someone on TV complaining about bank charges was “Hey, Buddy, you should’ve read the fine print!”

I’m not singing from that hymnal anymore, however.

My wife was down at Bert’s the other day attempting unsuccessfully to pay for her purchases using a Citibank credit card which, no matter how many times she swiped it through the machine, just could not get itself authorized. So naturally on her arrival back home she asked “What’s the deal?” I was sure it was just another bank mix up, so I called Citibank to straighten out the problem. After I had identified myself to their satisfaction, here’s how my phone conversation went:

Me: I’m calling because my wife was unable to get authorization to use our credit card today

Citibank: That’s right sir. You are past due on the account.

Me: Past due? Since when?

Citibank: Six days past due, sir.

Me: By how much?

Citibank: $25, sir.

Me: What? You suspended my card because I was six days past due on $25? Are you @#$%*%^# kidding me?

Citibank: No, sir. If you were even one hour late on your payment, we would have taken the same action. We would still have suspended your use of the card, sir.

Me: But I’ve been a Citibank customer for 20 years, I have a great credit score, I don’t think I’ve ever been delinquent by even 30 days! Aren’t you the same Citibank that just got $30 billion of taxpayer money?

Citibank: [silence]

Me: This is how you treat your customers? We taxpayers own you!!!!

Citibank: Would you like to make a payment on your card now, sir?

Me: Okay, fine. If that’s how you’re going to treat me, I’m paying off my card in full right now! And I will never be using it again. You have my account information, so just charge my checking account for the full amount and be done with it.

Citibank: That will be $14.50, sir.

Me: $14.50 for what?

Citibank: For making a phone payment, sir.

Me: You’ve got to be joking! [Pause] Fine. I’ll just go online and pay it down that way!

Citibank: Can’t be done sir.

Me: Why not?

Citibank: We’ve suspended your on-line privileges, sir.

Me [while figuratively slamming down my cell phone]: #$%@*&%$@

Later, a banker friend on hearing my story suggested that I am exactly the kind of customer Citibank wants to get rid of. I asked what he meant, and he said that the bank probably makes no money on my account since I pay it in full every month and am only late about once a year. Thus from the Bank’s point of view, with no interest and few fees to collect on my account, I’m as much of a deadbeat to them as anyone who has bad credit. They’re probably glad to be rid of me! (This thought undermines my satisfaction in having told them in writing that I would never bank with them again, even if they were the last bank left on earth).

With regard to those other victims whose stories I so cavalierly dismissed: I’m sorry. I’m sympathetic now. I get it. I was wrong about those bankers. And I was wrong about the $30 Billion, too. Citibank has, believe it or not, received $50 billion of capital from the U.S. taxpayers PLUS another $301 billion of taxpayer loan guarantees to backstop the Bank’s so-called toxic-asset portfolio. 

$351 BILLION is a lot of money!

Monday, May 18, 2009

MAY 6-13

It was not a good week to be leaving valuables in your parked car along Lake Washington Boulevard (East or South), as there were four separate incidents of car prowling reported, each involving broken windows or doors and the theft of property.

It also wasn’t a particularly good week for the Madison Valley merchants and offices located on East Madison Street:

May 6: Hoa Salon (2900 E. Madison Street) reported that sometime during the previous night someone entered the business by throwing a piece of cement through two double-paned windows and then stole several items, including a laptop and some jewelry. A resident of the building reported that she heard a loud noise at about 11:00 the previous night, but she had not seen anyone when she looked out of her apartment. The property loss was estimated at $1900. May 7: A business owner in the 2800 block of E. Madison reported that she had apparently thwarted a possible burglary around 9:30 p.m. after she heard a loud noise and investigated. She observed a suspect standing near a broken window on the east side of the building and asked him what he was doing. He then ran from the scene and was not apprehended by investigating officers. May 8: A woman working in her office on the 2800 block of E. Madison reported at 2:45 p.m. that she heard her outer office door open and someone enter an inner office within her complex. When she went to investigate she discovered two men exiting a storage area and carrying her laptop. She chased the suspects and asked bystanders to call 911, which they did. Officers several blocks away spotted someone who met the description of a suspect. The man was holding something wrapped in a coat. The officers pursued the suspect, but the suspect jumped a fence. Officers later recovered the abandoned laptop, the suspect’s coat, and what was assumed to be the suspect’s Nike shoe. Upon searching the coat the officers found that the suspect had left his identification card in one of the pockets.

May 13: A resident of the 1600 block of Lake Washington Boulevard E. (Arboretum) reported that she had discovered that sometime the previous night someone had entered her unlocked 2008 Mercedes ML550, had ransacked the interior, and had taken the resident’s electronic garage door opener. The Mercedes was parked in the driveway outside the garage. The suspect then used the remote to open the garage and entered the woman’s unlocked 2004 Porsche 911 convertible. Although the Porsche was also ransacked, only a mink lap blanket was apparently stolen. Because the victim had replaced all of the ransacked items and closed all vehicle doors, the police were unable to get suspect fingerprints from any surface as a result of dusting.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Former 'Friend of the Family' bites the dust in Madison Park

They pulled the sign down this afternoon from the Madison Park WaMu branch (4020 E. Madison Street), dramatically and quite literally signaling the end of an era.  

Most of us can remember the time when Washington Mutual was a well respected local institution that featured a kindly-uncle spokesman and the rodeo grandmas in its ads. Many of us learned about saving money by participating in the bank’s school savings program as children. Those were the days long before Kerry Killinger and his team destroyed WaMu’s culture from inside and then rode the bank into the ground. In a recent story, The New York Times had a fabulous 2003 quote from Killinger which is a classic in prognostication:

We hope to do to this industry what Wal-Mart did to theirs, Starbucks did to theirs, Costco did to theirs and Loews-Home Depot did to their industry. And I think if we’ve done our job, five years from now you’re not going to call us a bank.

Well, we certainly won’t be calling WaMu a bank much longer. The new Chase sign is scheduled to go up within the next two weeks, I am told. Meanwhile, thousands of WaMu employees are out of jobs and on the streets, tens of thousands of WaMu shareholders have had their holdings rendered valueless, and millions of WaMu customers now await the next chapter.

The workers taking down the sign, who have been doing the same thing at other WaMu branches in Seattle this week, asked me why people are so upset seeing the signs come down. “It’s almost as if they are blaming us,” one of them told me. “I don’t get it.” I told him that it’s always sad to see a local icon replaced with some big behemoth from out of town, especially one from New York City. “Now I get it,” he said. “Money always talks.”

Something like that.

[The New York Times did an excellent job last December of chronicling the corrosive effects of Killinger and his team on the bank and their ultimate destruction of Washington Mutual. For those interested in reading the full story: Saying Yes, WaMu Built an Empire on Shaky Loans.]

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Park to extend into Madison Street road end

The vision of replacing the somewhat disheveled East Madison Street road end by extending Madison Park into that prime space is being advanced, however glacially, by the Madison Park Community Council (MPCC) with the apparent support of the principal governmental bodies that must ultimately approve the plan. A committee of the MPCC, headed by Kathleen Stearns, is busily working on the practical implications of turning cement into greenbelt. But there are significant obstacles which stand in the way of quick realization of the vision. Planning is complicated not only by the high cost of the project but also by the fact that multiple agencies must be involved in the approvals.

According to Stearns, all of the principal players are in general agreement that putting a park at the road end will not only beautify the space and create a better recreational amenity for the community, but it will also improve safety for both drivers and walkers at the intersection of E. Madison Street and 43rd Avenue E. The MPCC’s Waterfront Park Expansion Committee is engaged in discussions with the City and with the State Department of Natural Resources (DNR) on how to move from vision to reality.

The dock at the road end is owned by the City’s Department of Parks and Recreation, but the water underneath, plus the shoreline and a triangular land parcel are owned by DNR. From the edge of the shoreline, part of the Madison Street extension is controlled by the Parks Department, while the roadway in front (43rd Avenue E.) is owned by the Seattle Department of Transportation. According to Stearns, “It’s my impression that the City and DNR are supportive.” In the end, she noted, even the Army Corps of Engineers may need to weigh in on any reconfigurations that might affect the shoreline.

So making the necessary changes will not be easy. Among the issues the committee will have to grapple with, according to Stearns, are how to properly deal with any wildlife habitat located in the vicinity, how to remove blackberry bushes at the road end in an environmentally correct way, and how to ensure that water shading at the site is not changed adversely for Lake wildlife.

Because of the scope of the project and the lack of immediate funds to implement it, the Committee realizes that the project will have to be broken into smaller segments. She says that under existing City programs, application can made for individual grants of $15,000 in support of the ultimate proposal. At that rate it will take a very long time to fully implement a comprehensive park plan for the road end. But there may also be private funding raising in support of the project, says Stearns.

Stearns cautions that this is really just the initial phase of the process, and there will be “extensive” opportunities for the community to be involved in the planning process as the committee moves toward the goal of an implementable plan. The first stage of such a plan might involve “adjustments” to the traffic pattern at the intersection of Madison and 43rd, she noted. A future stage, well short of the final vision, might be to grass over the area from 43rd to the Lake edge. In the end, the committee would love to see the area restored to parkland, easily accessible to the community. Since the road end is currently used for parking, the committee will recommend that any new design includes some parking spaces in the immediate area of the intersection of Madison and 43rd.

Stearns says she hopes for the support of neighboring property owners and businesses at that end of Madison. She notes that Madison is the only Seattle thoroughfare that extends from water to water (Elliott Bay to Lake Washington), and it would be an asset to the community to have Madison end in a park area opening onto the Lake. “We have a vision and plan to move ahead,” she said, “but it’s going to take us a very long time to get there.”

I, for one, hope I live to see that day.

[Graphic by Jim Quigg, Madison Park Community Council.]

Sunday, May 10, 2009

False raccoon alert masks burglary

(not the actual perpetrator)

Recently some Washington Park neighbors of mine up on the 1100 block of 39th had a rather disconcerting late-night experience. It seems that their small dog often becomes upset when hearing raccoons rummaging about (as do my dogs). So on that particular night when their dog became super agitated in the early morning hours, they assumed that it was another case of raccoon fever and ignored the warnings.

The dog, of course, knew better.

The next morning when the family came down from their second-floor bedrooms they discovered that during the night the first floor had been “cleaned out.” Missing items included the TV and various other electronic gadgets. It was not a pretty scene.

And as far as I’m aware, this story is not generally known in the neighborhood (it was reported to me as an anecdote by another neighbor). As I mentioned in my earlier post on crime in Madison Park, there is no source of crime information readily available to us; so if information is power, residents of the Park seem to be comparatively powerless. Although the Madison Park Times does publish a police report, the paper only comes out monthly, and its coverage area for police reporting includes Madrona and Leschi, as well as Madison Valley. I am aware of no timely source of crime information that covers just our neighborhood.

So, in an attempt to help rectify this situation I’ve decided to add a Police Blotter to this blog where I will post on a timely basis the relevant police reports from the East Precinct. From my review the the police reports for all of the Seattle precinct's last week I can say that the East precinct seems to be a quieter beat than the others, and Madison Park is comparatively crime-free relative to the Capitol Hill area. Let's hope this week is a representative sample.

My first Police Blotter follows.

May 2: A resident of the 1500 block of 39th Avenue reported that he believed his ex-wife had stolen three pistols from his residence sometime since the end of the year. He said he believed his wife still had possession of a garage door opener and a back-door key to the residence. He admitted that he did not have any proof that his ex-wife was responsible for the theft.

May 4: A resident of the 2300 block of 43rd reported an attempted burglary at her residence that occurred while she was out of the house doing errands. She stated that when she returned home she found her door standing open with damage to the door and frame. She found the apartment empty and nothing appeared to be missing, so she assumed that she may have frightened off the suspect(s).

May 1-5: In three separate incidents in the Arboretum, individuals reported that their cars had been broken into while they were away from their vehicles enjoying the park. In two of the cases, laptops were stolen. In the third case, a man reported that someone had taken advantage of his open car window to reach in and unlock the door in order to steal the man’s dog from the back seat.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Pedestrian crossing at Broadmoor explained

Given the low-grade controversy the City generated by installing improvements to the crossing at 36th and Madison, it is perhaps a bit surprising to learn that the new “median island” was not constructed because of pedestrian complaints about the crossing; nor were the changes made because of a high level of vehicle/pedestrian collisions there. Moreover, it seems that no petitions were made by any Madison Park group requesting a revision of the traffic pattern at that location.

So what happened? The short answer is that it was just our turn to get upgraded under an on-going City program to make Seattle more walk-able. Some of you may have noticed the Seattle Times article this morning concerning the Pedestrian Master Plan that the City has just released in draft form. The pedestrian crossing at 36th Avenue East and East Madison was specifically mentioned in the story as an example of the kinds of pre-plan implementation projects that are already underway but are consistent with the plan’s overall process and objectives.

I spoke this week with Carol McMahan, who runs the “early implementation” program at the City’s Department of Transportation. She told me that the Broadmoor crossing meets the criteria for an upgrade. When it comes to “uncontrolled marked crossings” (those without traffic lights or stop signs), the priority this year is to make improvements where pedestrians must cross a three-lane road that has average daily traffic in excess of 12,000 vehicles. In 2008 all of the priority four-lane crossings with a high level of traffic were upgraded. This year the City is moving on to the three-lane roads. A Crown Hill crossing preceded ours, and a Georgetown crossing is next on the list, she said.

The primary purpose of placing a crossing island in the middle of the road, according to McMahan, is to eliminate the “multi threat” of having pedestrians worry about cars coming at them from both directions while crossing a wide roadway. After arriving at the median island, a pedestrian can reassess the crossing in a relatively safe way. Additionally, cars are prevented from using the middle lane as a passing lane, further improving pedestrian safety.

So there you have it. As for the motorists who are inconvenienced by these changes, they will clearly have to get over it. The City is officially unsympathetic, and more protruding curbs and median islands are on the way. Public comment on the new Pedestrian Master Plan is being solicited through June 15. (

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Is crime up in Madison Park?

Good question. Unfortunately, there is no official data available to answer the question. Why? Because the City of Seattle has not published any crime statistics since June 2008, and there are currently no East Precinct reports available online for months later than December 2007. The supposed reason for this lack of reporting is that a change in the precinct boundaries has made it difficult to do comparative studies of crime in the City. However, this is not much of an explanation for why overall crime numbers are not now available for the new precincts or even for the City as a whole.

So crime may well be on the increase in Madison Park, but who knows? What we do know, however, is that historically, Madison Park is not considered a high-crime area relative to much of the rest of the City, especially that part of Seattle south of the ship canal. The total number of annual major crimes per square mile in the neighborhood has been well below the 500-incident threshold every year since the late 1990s, placing Madison Park squarely in the bottom crime-risk tier of the five-category scale used by the City. In contrast, several areas of downtown that fit into the top risk category suffer with major crimes at a level of 3,700 or more incidents per square mile annually.

We may feel, based on anecdotes, that crime is headed in the wrong direction, but in fact the crime trend for the Madison Park neighborhood (census tract 63) was actually in the right direction to the point reporting stopped at the end of 2007 (see chart above). What happened in 2008 and thereafter is apparently a secret known only to a select few police statisticians. And they’re not saying.

I asked the media relations officer of the Seattle Police if he thought it was acceptable for the City not to have current Seattle crime statistics available to the public, and he agreed that it was certainly not a good thing. But he expressed the hope that this information would be made available to everyone very soon, maybe this week!

Don't hold your breath. I discovered an entry posted seven months ago by a blogger for another East Precinct neighborhood. In it he reported that the Police were saying monthly crime information would be available beginning the following month. Didn’t happen.

If and when Madison Park crime information is ever again made available to the City’s taxpayers and crime victims, you will see the report here.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

My (brief) life with the cybercriminals: an object lesson for us all

Who hasn’t THIS happened to? You’re going along minding your own business when suddenly you discover that Nigerian cybercriminals have hijacked your email account, stolen your identity, and are now posing as you by sending out emails asking your friends, family, and associates to send you money in London, where supposedly you are stranded after having lost your wallet! You have no ability to regain control of your email account because the cybercriminals have changed both your password and all of account’s security settings, so you can’t even prove that the account was ever yours! Sound familiar?

Well, if not, don’t think it couldn’t happen to you. Reportedly, this kind of thing happens to about 80,000 email account holders every single month. And last month, it happened to innocent little me.

Okay, okay, so I don’t really know that they were Nigerians. They could just as easily have been Poles or Russians, or even people from Moldova. The fact is that the internet gives everyone with access an equal opportunity to think up a scam and implement it. Nigerians are at the forefront of many of these deceptions, but they have plenty of nefarious company from Eastern Europe and elsewhere. I admit that I don’t know who did it, but I can now surmise how it was done. And knowing the how is valuable information for those who would like to avoid my fate.

I first got the suspicion that something was terribly wrong when my father-in-law called my wife to ask her how I was doing and whether it was true that I was visiting London. My wife assured him that I was perfectly fine and was definitely not in London. Then why, he wondered, had Bryan just sent him an email asking for money to be sent to London to help him get home? Gosh, I don’t know, she replied. She yells “Bryan, did you send my Dad an email?” I replied that I had not--and that could have been the end of that. Except for the fact that about an hour later I got an inquiry from an old friend with a question along the same lines. No, I was not in London! Don’t send money.

What was going on? Then I remembered that when I had tried to access my email account the previous evening I had been unable to do so. My password was not accepted and I was locked out of the account. Now I tried to sign in again, but I was still locked out. Then someone forwarded the email to me that I supposedly had just sent them (reproduced here with the incorrect syntax and spelling intact):

“Hello, How are you doing ? hope all is well with you and family,i am sorry that i didn't inform you about my traveling to England for a program called Empowering youth For social change. I need a favour from you as soon as you receive this e-mail, I misplaced my wallet on my way to the hotel where my money and other valuable's were kept. Urgently assist me with a soft loan of $2,500 to sort-out my hotel bills and get myself back home. I will appreciate whatever you can afford and i'll pay you back as soon as i return,Kindly let me know if you can be of help? so that i can send you the details to use when sending the money through western union. Regards,Bryan”

Well, anyone who knows me would, I hope, also know that I am a much better writer than is evidenced by this missive. Where is the pathos? Where is the stirring call to action that anyone should have expected of me? And that use of the British spelling (“favour”) was just so not me! I was impressed, however, with the cybercriminals’ correct use of the possessive “my” in the sentence stating that I had failed to inform the recipient about “my traveling to England.” Most cybercriminals probably would have been satisfied to use the ungrammatical “me” at that juncture.

Anyway, here’s the point. Some gang had taken control of my account and was engaged in a form of identity theft: my identity. The fact that they were, to some extent, fools did not mitigate the fact that I was no longer in control of my email account, one that had been mine for the past 15 years or so. How could this happen?

Well, here’s how. I had a very short, simple password for my email account at Hotmail (part of Microsoft, by the way). And more importantly, this password was the same one that I also used for many other on-line accounts (such as for signing on to catalog-order sites and web-based retailers). In hindsight I now understand that using the same password for multiple purposes is an absolute no-no. But like many others, I suffer from both a lack of creativity and a poor memory. One password for everything seemed like a fine idea at the time.

But it’s not. For even though it is unlikely for cybercriminals to directly hack into the site of an email provider such as Hotmail, it is not so rare for these guys to hack into the server of an internet retailer or other on-line service company. Once the thieves have done this, they immediately have knowledge both of the password you use on the site they’ve hacked and (in most cases) your email address as well. If you are one of the many people who use the same password for virtually everything, knowing your email address and your password on the site they have hacked has just given them access to your email account. They simply go to Hotmail (or whatever company you use as your email provider) and try the password to see if it works. If it does, they are then into the account as you. At which point they change the password and the security settings so that when you go to sign in you can’t. And when you go to reset the password you can’t do that either (because these devious guys pretending they are you have already changed the password reset question from “What was your first grade teacher’s name?” to “What is your father’s middle name?” Guess what, you don’t know that the answer to the new question is “Kashimawo.” And the city that Hotmail had previously thought you were located in has been changed from “Seattle” to “Lagos.”) You lose.

So the answer is: use a unique password for your email account, one that is used by you on no other website. It is also better to have a longer password than mine was (pesker), and still better to have an alphanumeric password than otherwise. Though I got away being a password innocent for more than a decade, take a lesson from my experience.

I now have a new email account with a long alphanumeric password that I use for no other purpose. But while I have wised up, the cybercriminals who hijacked my account apparently haven’t. They are still wasting their time trying to get money from my contacts. I heard from a friend that just a couple weeks ago she had been in a chat session with the Nigerian Bryan Tagas, who had lowered the amount of money he said he needed from $2,500 to a measly $600.

Still, no takers.

[I am indebted to Ira Glass of This American Life for my opening line. In a teaser spot for a then-upcoming This American Life on NPR he introduced the week’s story along the following lines:

Who hasn’t THIS happened to? A widow contracts with a cryogenics company to freeze her dead husband in case there’s ever a cure for his disease. Only she later discovers that the cryogenics company owner failed to tell her… (Voice of the Cryogenics Company Owner: “Well, if there’s one thing I’m a bit embarrassed about it’s the fact that I didn’t tell her that I was putting her husband in a cylinder with several other dead bodies…”).

I just love Ira’s show and if you’re not a fan yet, just listen to the show one time and you will be. It’s available on podcast:]

[The above photo, courtesy of Flickr, shows the passport and other documentation of an actual Nigerian email scammer!]

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Has it really come to this?

It’s hard not to notice the recent improvements to the center turn lane at the crosswalk in front of the entrance to Broadmoor. City crews apparently completed their work on the project this week, but the concrete and asphalt bumpers (and associated signage) have left many of us wondering: Has it really come to this?

Madison Park resident Dave Hutchins, who took this lovely shot of the new barrier, provides his own list of possible explanations:

· A pedestrian safety island?
· A traffic hazard?
· A clever device for discouraging people from using the center
turn lane as a high-speed passing lane?
· All of the above?
· None of the above?
· Other?

If the City has an answer, it’s not saying (or, at least the City’s Department of Transportation did not respond to our request for comment last week). Personally, I suspect that the City DOT is simply recognizing the fact that crossing Madison is so unsafe—even in such a well-marked and lighted location as at Broadmoor—that some kind of shelter must be provided to pedestrians so they can huddle there while waiting to make the second half of their journey across the thoroughfare. Most of us have had multiple bad experiences of practically being run down by both inattentive drivers and those who, upon seeing someone in a crosswalk, decide to speed up in order to get through the crosswalk before the pedestrian can. I hate to say it, but I think that about a third of the drivers through Madison Park do not stop for pedestrians who are at (or, in many cases, in) marked crosswalks. It was not that long ago that an elderly Madison Park resident was run down and killed in a crosswalk about a third of a mile down the road from the Broadmoor crossing. Those worthy souls who recently installed the orange crossing flags at various crosswalks in the neighborhood recognized that we have a real problem in the Park.

Even so, it appears that some people are not happy with what the City has done at Broadmoor. Dave reports that the subject came up at a recent meeting of the Madison Park Community Council. “Several people spoke of their unhappiness about the platform,” he said. “Folks from Broadmoor are unhappy because it makes it difficult for them to make a left hand turn out of Broadmoor onto Madison, especially during heavy traffic times. Folks who use the alley across from the Broadmoor entrance are unhappy because it makes it difficult to make a left hand turn onto Madison.” Others, however, said they were “pleased with the platform because it restricts the use of the center lane for those trying to use it as a passing lane.”

For my part, I vote in favor of the new barrier. I only wish that the City had thought to stock the center island with a supply of nails that the sheltering pedestrians could throw into the path of oncoming cars whose drivers refuse to yield the right of way.

But perhaps that’s just asking too much.

If the City decides to provide an explanation of who requested the barrier and why it became a priority you will find the answers here.