Thursday, December 29, 2011

Yearend musings on the real estate scene

What goes down must come up?

As we’ve learned to our dismay in recent years, real estate values cannot permanently defy that old adage,  “What goes up must come down.”   Having endured more than four years of declining values since the bubble burst in the summer of 2007, Seattle-area homeowners may be forgiven for now wondering “Are we there yet?” For surely at some point we’ll reach bottom, this demoralizing downward trend will reverse course, and appreciating homes values will again be the natural order of things.

The Case-Shiller Home Price Index for Seattle shows the peak for single family home values in the Seattle area and the almost imperceptible double dip that followed.  (Click to enlarge)

It’s probably too soon to say that the fundamentals, either on the national or local levels, have changed dramatically enough for an immediate reversal of the negative home-value trend. But there is some solid evidence that the Seattle market could come back faster and stronger than most of the rest of the country.  The primary reasons for hope are the trends for employment growth and rising personal income in the region.

Last month the federal government reported that Washington led the nation in personal-income growth in the third quarter.  This was driven principally by gains in the software, aerospace and manufacturing sectors, among others, which are occurring in our part of the State. The U.S. Labor Department places King County’s current median household income in the top 20% nationally. Meanwhile, unemployment in Washington fell from 9.3% in August to 8.7% in December.  Seattle’s unemployment rate is closer to 8%. Positive news about future employment increases at Boeing and in the software industry adds to the overall picture of an employment recovery in the Puget Sound region.

Unsurprisingly, there is a direct correlation between personal income and home prices.  In general, when people have more money to spend, more demand is created for housing, and house values are bid up as the supply goes down.  So the good news about local employment and income trends should ultimately have a direct impact on the housing market here.  In fact, a recent forecast by Fiserv predicts Seattle will experience a 13.7% increase in house values for the year starting with the second quarter of 2012.  Most forecasters agree, however, that the local market has a bit further to fall before the uptick begins.

One of the reasons for this is that even with a 30% decline since the peak, the median-home value here is still above historic highs as measured relative to personal income.  According to a recent analysis by Zillow, the Seattle market mirrors the national market in that home prices are still 14% above the historic norm, which before the real estate bubble was 3.0 (home prices being three times the level of personal income).  Today that number is 3.30 both locally and nationally, says Zillow.  On the positive side, however, our market is in significantly better shape than many (Boulder, Colorado is still 43% higher than the historic average, for example).

Seattle also remains a market where, according to a recent report by the Wall Street Journal, the “own versus rent” decision comes down in favor of renting (along with San Francisco, San Diego, and Washington, D.C.).

Prices in Seattle continued a steady decline in the period between September and October this year, although the 1% decrease is still less than the 1.2% average decline for the 20 largest U.S. metropolitan areas.

However, with interest rates at an historic low (under 4% for a conforming 30-year fixed mortgage this month) and foreclosures down in the Seattle area, conditions for a real estate renaissance are definitely strengthened for this market.  Seattle is also one of the few major cities where the percentage of homeowners who are underwater on their mortgages is low (about 16% here versus over 60% for Las Vegas, for example).  This makes conditions less ripe locally for escalating foreclosure levels than is true for much of the nation.

The bottom line is that the market may soon be ripe for upward movement, assuming that the employment and personal income pictures remain positive.  The inventory of homes for sale is very low, so increases in demand could lead to price appreciation.  Though 2012 may well prove to be a transition year for the local market, it‘s much too soon to be singing Hallelujah.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Greetings of the season

Best wishes to you and yours from the Madison Park Blogger for a happy holiday and a great end to the year.

We took a little tour of the neighborhood Christmas decorations earlier this week, and here present some of the more outstanding examples of the lighted trees in the Park.

While there are also some great lighting displays on Madison Park homes, we found that getting the proper perspective from which photograph them was difficult in the absence of a cherry-picker or an enforcement order removing all parked cars from city streets.

We suggest that you get out one of these nights and check out the displays for yourself.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Another cottage comes down

Progress or simply deplorable?

The wrecking crew was on site early this morning, and once the work got underway it didn't take long for the tiny, brightly-painted house at 2032 41st Avenue E. to bite the dust.  The 590 sq. ft., one-bedroom home---now just a pile of rubble---would have celebrated a Centennial Anniversary if it could have remained on site for just another couple of years. But that was not to be. Built in 1914, the house was one of the Madison Park originals. Now it has gone the way of so many other cottages in the neighborhood, swept up in the tide of progress.

MPB reader Jana Wilkins, who sent us the above photo, describes the cottage's destruction as a "horrible event." But for others in the neighborhood the house's demise is probably is not a sad occasion. The cottage was certainly a stand-out, with its violet-and-purple hues and boldly-painted flower embellishments.  Though fun and interesting, it was not precisely the kind of neighborhood attraction that adds to the property values of surrounding homes.

The house was purchased earlier this year by Isola Homes, a Renton-based residential property developer.  Isola will be building a 3,219 sq. ft. modernistic structure on the site, scheduled to be completed in the summer of 2012.

The new house, which will be Built-Green, will feature four bedrooms, 2.5 baths, and a detached two-car garage on the 4,000 sq. ft. site.

Those who choose to take a positive view of the cottage's destruction and ultimate replacement can find solace in the fact that the transformation of this property represents a vote of confidence in Madison Park by an outside developer.  At a time when much speculative residential development has ground to a halt and several developers of Madison Park properties are no longer in business, there are now multiple speculative developments underway in the Park, this one just the latest to come to our attention.  At least in the opinion of some builders, Madison Park continues to be an attractive neighborhood with potential for major house sales.

This fact may not provide much comfort, however, to those who deplore the neighborhood's ongoing gentrification and the gradual loss of the village-like aspect of the Park's character.  Unlike Madison Park's more exclusive Broadmoor and Washington Park enclaves, the area "North of Madison" began life as primarily a working-class community, one characterized by cottages and bungalows.  Beginning in the 1990's, many of these modest homes began giving way to the development of megahouses, a Madison Park trend that The Stranger once termed House Bloat.  While that trend has certainly slowed as the result of the real estate downturn, today's teardown at 2032 41st shows it definitely hasn't been terminated.

Though this cottage certainly has been.

Vandals strike again

In what was more likely a wanton act of destruction than any kind of political statement, a person or persons unknown broke both of the plate glass windows at Spa Jolie last night---and for good measure broke a window in the vacant space adjacent to the spa as well. This is the building, owned by Constance Gillespie, that was vandalized in the same manner earlier this year.

The structure's middle space, unoccupied for years, is once again open to the elements, though with some plastic sheeting now standing in for one of the two replacement windows that had been installed this summer. The Spa Jolie space was being fitted this afternoon for temporarily plywood coverings.  Patrons getting manicures, pedicures and other personal services at the salon did not seem unduly concerned by the commotion or the cold air blowing temporarily through the storefront.  It is, after all, critical to look good for the holidays!

[Spa Jolie is located at 4114 E. Madison Street.]

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Police Blotter 12/15/11

A crime rash of another kind

Last week KOMO reported on one of its websites that Madison Park has been experiencing a "rash" of burglaries over the past few weeks. That was news to us, since the Seattle Police had reported only one such break-in during the four-week period ending 12/15.  We quizzed KOMO about its report and found that the station had apparently confused our neighborhood with Montlake and/or Madison Valley (it's just so confusing, after all, since all three neighborhoods exist in the same general vicinity and share the very same first letter of their names). Suffice it to say that the number of home break-ins in Madison Park has actually been at an unusually low level.  Let's keep it that way.

What the neighborhood is experiencing is a "rash" of car prowls: 16 cars in the past month, which must be some kind of record.  Before we get to the list of break-ins, perhaps a refresher in how to minimize the chances of having your car broken into might be in order:  1) lock your vehicle--and if it is in a garage, lock the garage door as well, 2) don't leave valuables in the vehicle that are visible to passersby, and 3) park in a well-lighted area if it's not possible to secure your vehicle in a garage.  The Seattle Police Department's tips on avoiding car prowls are available here.

Here's where car break-ins occurred for the one-month period ending December 15:  On the 2400 block of 41st Avenue E., the 2000 block of McGilvra Boulevard E. and on the 600 block of 36th Avenue E. on November 18; on the 2300 block of McGilvra Boulevard E. on November 20; on the 3100 block of E. Madison Street (two cars) on November 24; at the intersection of 43rd Avenue E. and E. Lynn Street on November 29; on the 2000 block of McGilvra Boulevard E. on December 1 (two cars); on the 2000 block of 43rd Avenue E. on December 3; on the 1800 block of McGilvra Boulevard E. and at the intersection of 43rd Avenue E. and E. Galer Street on December 5; on the 1400 block of 42nd Avenue E. and the 1000 block of McGilvra Boulevard E. on December 7; and on the 2000 block of 43rd Avenue E. on December 10 (two cars).

A house break-in did occur on November 21 on the 1100 block of 39th Avenue E.  In that incident, a brick was apparently used in a forced entry through a back door. The homeowner was actually returning to the residence when she heard the glass shatter and saw the suspects running across the patio and away from the house.  The burglars apparently did not have time to snatch any items before fleeing the scene.

The house invasion that we reported on last month (shown on the map above with a blue circle icon) is being treated as a trespass case and not a house break-in since it was not forced entry and there was no evidence of a burglary attempt.  We understand that the suspects have been referred for prosecution.

Con Alert

There have been multiple reports in Washington Park and Denny-Blaine over the past few days of an individual or individuals apparently posing as representatives of Comcast and knocking on doors in the area during the evening or at night.  It appears to some residents that the purpose of these visits is not to connect cables but to scope out the homeowners' possessions for later retrieval.

[The map above shows crimes occurring in Madison Park during the period from November 16 through December 15. The starburst icon shows the location of the break-in and the car icons represent locations where car prowls occurred.]

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Christmas ships attract big turnout

It was clear skies and smooth sailing for the arrival of the Christmas ships off Madison Park Beach last night, as hundred of spectators lined the shores, stood on the pier, or watched the show from the windows and decks of condos and apartments along the water.  The balmy-for-December air temperature may have been responsible for what was certainly the largest crowd to attend this annual event during the last decade---and perhaps ever.

The Christmas ships have been making an appearance at Madison Park for over 60 years.  Lola McKee, former proprietor of Madison Park Hardware, tells us that she can remember the ships coming for 55 of those years. This year she was content to listen to the water-borne Christmas music while standing just outside the doorway of the hardware store ("it's too slippery down at the beach.")

Those who made it down to the water got to see the parade of twenty-or-so gaily-lighted boats arrive from the North and, after a twenty-minute musical interlude, depart for the South.  The  music this year was provided by The Dickens Carolers, a Seattle-based quartet.  We understand that the cookies supplied for the event by Park Shore were excellent, though we arrived too late at the McNae Triangle Park to get any.  The Madison Park Community Council and Business Association were sponsors of the on-shore refreshments, with Starbucks supplying the coffee.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

How we voted: 2011

Almost 60% of Madison Park’s 3,400 registered voters mailed in their November election ballots this year, and on each of the major ballot issues they agreed with the majority view—but with an even stronger level of support.  King County Elections recently released the voting totals by precinct, so we took a look at what the numbers show for the nine precincts that make up Madison Park.

On Initiative 1183, which privatized liquor sales, Madison Park registered an overwhelming 67% in favor to 33% opposed, compared to a voting margin of 59% to 41% statewide:

On Initiative 1125, which if passed would have blocked tolling on state roads except by vote of the legislature, Madison Park was again in line with the electorate Statewide, with 68% opposed and 32% in favor:

Finally, on the City’s Transportation Benefit District Proposition 1, which would have imposed a $60 car license fee if it had passed, Madison Park said a strong No of 64%, versus the 56% No vote for Seattle as a whole:

With regard to electing officeholders, Madison Park did not always vote for the ultimate winner, however.  Madison Parkers were in favor of keeping in office each of the four incumbents seeking re-election to the Board of the Seattle Public Schools.  Nevertheless, two of the incumbents were defeated for re-election, in spite of their strong showings here.  Board member Peter Maier, who was defeated by a vote of 49.2% to 50.4% for newcomer Sharon Peaslee, carried Madison Park with 65% of the vote.  School Board President Steve Sundquist also carried Madison park with 65% of the vote, but he lost his seat with just 45.3% of the overall vote to challenger Marty McLaren’s 54.1%.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Appealing those assessments

We ended our recent report concerning the 2011 assessments by noting that while you can choose to believe that the Assessor's valuation of your house is invalid, you still must your pay your property taxes based on that analysis. Of course, as has been pointed out by several readers, that is not strictly true.  If you really think your property assessment is off base, you can choose to appeal. It's a course of action open to all; but it's undertaken each year by only a select, aggrieved few.

We decided to look into the appeals process for our area of town to see how things have been trending.  Unfortunately, the Assessor's Office does not maintain records that show the percentage of appeals that are successful for any particular Assessment Area.  What is available, however, is an aggregate total for each year of how many appeals have been filed.  For the Madison Park/Madrona/Leschi Assessment Area (14), there was a big spike in appeals for the 2010 assessments (the valuations which were used to determine our property taxes this year):

The number of appeals almost quadrupled between 2009 and 2010, dropping back this year to a more manageable level (though still about 50% higher than for 2009).  The Assessor was not surprised by the sudden uptick for 2010, apparently.  It's what can be expected in those years when physical inspections occur in a particular Assessment Area, as happened for our part of town in 2010.  These physical inspections, as we have noted, result in varying increases or decreases in assessed valuation between properties (in other words, no standard increase or decrease is applied to most properties in the area).  Physical inspections and the resulting adjustments to value must, by law, occur at least every six years.  And when that happens, many more property owners object to the results than is the case in a non-inspection year.

So many 2010 appeals were made from Area 14, in fact, that it's apparently the case that the King County Board of Equalization, which adjudicates these matters, is still working on finishing them up.  After that's done, the Board can move on to appeals of the 2011 assessments.  The deadline to file appeals of the 2011 assessments has passed; so with just 45 appeals in the docket, the 2011 workload for the Board will be much abbreviated from the previous year's level.

It's worth noting at this point that the 2010 assessments, which were issued in late summer last year, provided property owners with an assessed value as of January 1, 2010.  So in 2011, property owners are paying taxes based on a home valuation which is well over a year old.  In rapidly declining real estate markets, the Assessor will necessarily be behind the curve in assessing values downward.  But that never-quite-up-to-date situation is equally true in rapidly increasing markets.

By the way, if you're interested in knowing how the physical-inspection process works, the Assessor's Office has a video on YouTube showing a property assessor in action:

There were a couple of other issues that came up as a result of the posting we did on the assessment process.  One of these is the fact that when it comes to condos, the standard area assessment adjustment (the factor used for most properties in an Assessment Area in non-inspection years) does not apply.  Condos are considered part of the Commercial Property assessment report, according to King County Chief Appraiser Dennis Pulsipher, and the adjustments are not broken out by Assessment Area.  So anyone trying to reconcile the 2011 Area 14 standard area adjustment (-5.08%) to their condo-value decrease for this year is going to find it does not track.

Finally, those interested in knowing just where all those property-tax revenues are going this year might be interested this little chart, courtesy of the King County Assessor:

In early 2012 we will be reporting both on the tax rate for the year and on whether the Madison Park/Madrona/Leschi Assessment Area is paying a greater or lesser proportion of the County's total tax burden than was true in 2011.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

This fence to be removed

Parks Board makes its recommendation

After serving for more than 60 years as a safety barrier (and, in the opinion of many, an eyesore), the chain-link fence at Swingset Park is about to become a thing of the past. That, at least, is the position of the Board of Park Commissioners, which this evening voted 4-0 (with one abstention) to recommend to the Superintendent of Parks & Recreation that the fence and its attendant blackberry bushes be removed. The Board also recommended that the Superintendent "confer" with the community concerning both the implementation of its recommendation and the creation of a vegetation-management plan for the park. It's the Board's intention that this interaction with the neighborhood occur prior the fence being taken down.

Theoretically, the Acting Superintendent, Christopher Williams, could reject the Board's recommendation. But this seems unlikely given that it was Mr. Williams' own department that initiated the proposal, developing the briefing paper which provided background and justification for the removal the fence. Williams, who attended the Board session, gave no indication that he would be doing anything other than carrying out the wishes of the citizen panel, stating that among the issues he may be discussing with people in the neighborhood are "volunteer stewardship activities" and "maintenance" of the park once the fence is removed.  Several Board members acknowledged concerns about safety at the park, asking that the parks department explore such options as a low hedge to replace the fence and a more-limited fence to enclose the immediate area around the swingset.

The outcome, though not unexpected, appeared to be a disappointment to the 10 to 12 Madison Parkers who attended the Board session.  It was clear from comments made by Board members that they felt the weight of the community's input and sought to justify both the Board's process and ultimate recommendation. After the Commissioners reached their decision, Board Chair Terry Holme told those assembled that the issue had been "a challenging one for the Board--and we take our challenges seriously."  He noted that the Commissioners had read all of the input, had instituted a "rigorous" process of review, and had taken longer to reach a conclusion than was typical for such proposals.  He noted that although the neighborhood's concerns were taken into consideration, the Board has a responsibility to serve the entire parks system and to consider each park as part of the whole. In this case, he said, he felt that the park was not meeting its full potential and will be a better park because of the recommended changes.

During the Board's discussion, it was noted that each of the Commissioners who were present had visited the park to see the situation firsthand (one Commissioner was absent from the meeting for medical reasons).  Board Vice-Chair Diana Kincaid, who made the motion to remove the fence, stated that "public waterfront is incredibly valuable and precious" and suggested that there are other locations fairly immediate to the park where such activities as kids' soccer practice could take place. Another Commissioner, Jackie Ramels, stated that there are other parks in the system, including the one at Alki, where the drop off to the water is significantly greater than at this park, without the parks department feeling the need to have any barriers in place. In the end, the desire to ensure "waterfront access" won out, with only one Commissioner, John Barber, expressing reservations based on child safety (his was the one abstention).

[Swingset Park is located at E. Lynn Street and 43rd Avenue E.]

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Exploring underwater wreckage off the beach

There's a lot of wreckage under the waters of Lake Washington, almost all which arrived there accidentally. Though at least one vessel was intentionally scuttled in the Lake, much of the underwater debris consists of commercial boats or ferries that sank (usually during storms) and were not recovered.  Some of the wreckage, however, is the remains of military aircraft that took flight from the old Sand Point Naval Air Station.

Until KUOW aired a story on the subject last Friday, we were unaware that one of theses airplane wrecks actually sits on the Lake bottom just off the shore of Madison Park.  The plane in question is a Korean War vintage propeller-driven fighter plane known as the Corsair.  One of these was recovered in fairly good condition from Lake Washington a few years ago and rehabilitated.  It now resides in the Museum of Flight:

The Corsair resting in our part of the Lake is not in very good condition, now more than 60 years after it took off from Sand Point---never to return. KUOW producer Ann Dornfeld last month accompanied four wetsuited divers, several of them members of The Maritime Documentation Society, as they entered the Lake at Madison Park Beach in search of the wreckage site.  Her story (the audio feed and a transcript of which is available in full here) follows the scuba divers as they rediscover the site of the wreckage:

"The plane is a tangle of pieces; broken wings over here, crumpled fuselage over there. The divers' lights pierce the black water, golden beams panning over rusted gears and ammo boxes. Pale little sculpins and blue and orange crayfish dart amid the wreckage. After about half an hour on the wreck, we head toward shore."  Once back on land, one of the divers, Ben Giner of Puget Sound Divers, comments, "Can you imagine the force that was required to twist that plane like that and shatter it going into the water? The water is hard at that speed, but still, even the internal components of the plane that should've protected by the fuselage are just ripped to pieces."

The wreckage resulted from a mid-air collision with another Navy Corsair, the very one that was later pulled from the Lake and restored. The accident occurred on the morning of July 29, 1950 when the two planes, part of a larger formation executing an "x-under" maneuver, collided.  According to the Navy investigation, as reported by the Seattle Times, the propeller of one of the planes chopped off the fuselage of the other plane.  While one pilot was able to take his plane to a soft water landing near Sand Point, the other pilot elected to ditch his badly damaged plane, ejecting over the Lake.  Fortunately, his plane did not land on the beach but hit the water hard, two hundred yards from shore, and sank immediately.  Both pilots were rescued from the Lake.  The full story, with pictures of the pilots is available here on a site that also provides this great video of the wreckage:

There are a lot of other interesting wrecks in Lake Washington, though most are far removed from Madison Park.  A great site for further exploring this subject is operated by the Submerged Cultural Resources Exploration Team (SCRET), which provides the history and underwater shots of ten Lake Washington wreckage sites here.

[Thanks to DCS Films for the embedded video. Pictures of the underwater wreck were culled from this site. There is another video of a different dive to the Corsair wreckage on the Puget Sound Divers site here.]

Saturday, December 3, 2011

December happenings

'Christmas Ship' and flotilla arrive December 17

As regular readers of this blog know, there is officially one and only one Christmas Ship--all of the rest of the boats following in its wake each year are simply holiday hangers-on.  Just so we don't get an irritated email from Argosy Cruises (which owns the "Christmas Ship" trademark and hates to see it misused), we're reporting unofficially that "The Christmas Ships" will be arriving at the Madison Park Beach two weeks from today: Saturday, December 17, at about 4:55 pm.

This year the on-boat live musical entertainment will be The Dickens Carolers, while the on-shore refreshments will be provided courtesy of the Madison Park Business Association and Community Council, Park Shore Retirement Community, and Starbucks.

As always, you better get there on time or you'll miss the show.  The ships will start heading north at about 5:15 on their round-about voyage back to Kirkland.

'Tear down that fence!' revisited

The simmering debate over the proposed removal of the chain-link fence at Swingset Park moves into a new phase next week, with the Board of Park Commissioners meeting on Thursday, December 8, to formulate a recommendation to the Parks Superintendent.  The meeting will begin at 7:00 pm in the Parks Administration Building, 100 Dexter Avenue N. The Commissioners will not be taking any further input from the public at the upcoming session, but that probably won't stop a lot of interested parties from Madison Park from showing up to hear the deliberations.  No word on whether lakeside condo owners will again be chartering bus to get residents to the meeting.

Those interested in hearing about the fence-removal issue from the Superintendent himself will get a more convenient opportunity to do so when Christopher Williams, the acting Superintendent, attends the upcoming Madison Park Community Council meeting on Monday, 7 pm, at the Bath House.  The last time a representative of the Parks Department appeared at a Community Council meeting, the results were judged less than satisfactory.  This event, like the last one, is likely to be jam packed.

Another 520-design feedback session

The public is invited to weigh in on some "preliminary ideas" for the new SR 520 corridor between I-5 and the edge of Lake Washington. The feedback session will be held on Wednesday, December 7, at the Museum of History and Industry (MOHAI), 4-7 pm.  It doesn't appear that the Washington State Department of Transportation has posted these design concepts on the 520 website as yet, but there is a lot of other background information there, including the presentation made at a public session held in early November (to access, click here.) Perhaps even more interesting, in view of the fact that the actual floating bridge design has yet to be finalized and graphically portrayed in a side view, is the fact that WSDOT at some point posted the "SR 520 Bridge Architectural Design Principles" online, which we just discovered.  Interesting reading (and lots of illustrations) for those who care to take a look.

SR 520 tolling:  is it really going to happen?

Originally, tolling on the 520 floating bridge was to have begun last spring.  We all know what happened thereafter (though with no one losing their job, as far as we're aware, over what has become one gigantic black eye for everyone involved).  Ironically, the electronic tolling system is called Good to Go, though at least on SR 520 it has proven to be Not-Good-Enough to Go to this point.  Supposedly before the end of the month the glitches will have been fixed and the money will start rolling into the State coffers.  It figures that you can't sign up for Good to Go at the present time, due to another "system upgrade" currently underway.  That upgrade should be in place and the site back in operation by 7 am on Monday morning.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

McGilvra scores high (as always)

The Seattle School District last month made public the annual School Reports for each of the schools in the system, and once again John J. McGilvra Elementary School had an excellent outcome.  This was the third year that the District used this form of academic reporting, and it was also the third year in which McGilvra was rated a Level 5 school, the top designation.  Slightly fewer than a quarter of the Seattle Public Schools qualified as Level 5 for the 2010-11 school year (which is the period covered by the recently released report). For the District, however, this is a substantial improvement over the 15% of schools qualifying as Level 5 in the previous two years.

McGilvra's greatest improvement, year over year, was the results of the School's 4th graders on the State writing test:

The School had made the improvement in writing skills a high priority, and it's clear that those efforts paid off.  For the District overall, only 68% of 4th graders were judged proficient in writing.

Reading was also one of McGilvra's strongest suits, with 93% of 3rd, 4th and 5th graders passing the State test (versus 74% for the Seattle overall).  92% of the School's 5th graders, meanwhile, demonstrated proficiency on the State science test (versus 64% for all schools in the District).

The School Report also provides an overview of the year-to-year academic growth of students at McGilvra, compared to the "typical" growth of students statewide.  64% of McGilvra's 4th and 5th graders met or exceeded what was considered typical reading growth for students from one year to the next.  In math, 60% of McGilvra's 4th and 5th graders were met or exceeded what was typical.

Another set of variables covered in the School Report showed the results of parent, student and staff surveys conducted during the academic year.  In several major categories, McGivlra showed improvements year over year.  For example, the "Family Climate" survey (measuring parental attitudes) showed 90% 'family engagement" in the School, up from 83% the previous year.  The "Staff Climate" survey, meanwhile, reported that 65% of respondents were positive about the "professional culture" or the School, while 79% were positive about "school leadership."  This was a big increase from the 50% who were positive about the professional culture the previous year and the 69% who were positive about the level of leadership.  The improvements undoubtedly reflect the change in principals that occurred late in the 2009-10 school year.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the positive feelings about the new principal were also reflected in the Family Survey: in the earlier year, only 66% of the parents answered that they were "satisfied with the leadership provided by the school principal." Last year that number rose to 83%.

McGilvra's average class size rose to 22 last year, versus 21 the year before.  This was the result of an increase in overall School enrollment from 257 in the 2009-10 school year to 269 in the following year.  A more dramatic increase in enrollment almost certainly took place this school year, and we will be reporting on that issue and its implications some time during the spring.

Those interested in reading the McGilvra School Report in detail can do so by following this link.  The staff, parent, and student survey information is available here.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Stormwater project: operational at last

It must have been with a gigantic sigh of relief that Madison Valley merchants learned yesterday that Phase II construction of the seemingly never-ending Madison Valley Stormwater Project is now officially complete. An email from the Seattle Department of Public Utilities (SPU) on Monday reported that the project is now operational and the related improvements to the stormwater drainage system along E. Madison Street are also in place. Construction ended last week.

The project, which began in the winter of 2009, has been a long, drawn-out affair--one that has been much more disruptive to the area than local merchants say they were led to believe before construction got underway.  Indeed, Phase II of the project is actually still not completed, since there will be additional work in the spring of 2012 to create landscaping at Washington Park in the area of the new 2.2 million gallon stormwater tank. That work had been scheduled for completion this year, but delays in construction of the pipeline meant it was too late in the season for landscaping work to be practical.  The decision was made by SPU not to work during the holiday season in order to leave Madison Street free from all construction-related activity. 

That decision is just fine with the merchants along Madison Street, for which the two-plus years of construction have been something of an endurance test.  The lack of parking and the disruption to traffic along Madison have definitely resulted in economic hardship for several of the businesses in Madison Valley. According to SPU spokesperson Elaine Yeung, Madison Street should not see much impact during the landscaping phase of the project next spring.  She estimates that the work cannot get underway until at least April, and even then bad weather could cause further delays.  It will take several weeks to carry out the landscaping scheme, including at least two weeks of dry weather, she told us.

Workers are currently securing the site for winter, according to Yeung, but there should be no further activity in the area for the next four months.  Restoration work at Washington Park will include repairs to at least some of the sidewalk along the north side of E. Madison Street, she noted.  At this point it is not known if any of the sidewalk, other than that at the entrance to the construction site, will be replaced; but the Parks Department has apparently requested that this happen.  

The rock facing on the watertank has been installed, though a close-up view will not be possible until next year.  This is what it should look like when the landscaping and railing have been installed:

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Short takes No. 11

Bank of America almost back to normal

Following the presumed arson fire at the BofA ATM earlier this month, the Bank needed to scramble to ensure customer service in Madison Park.  The branch itself was out of commission for about seven business days following the fire, finally reopening last Monday.  With the replacement ATM successfully installed and operating by Friday, the temporary mobile ATM--which had served a useful purpose during the interim--was driven away by Bank personnel on Saturday.

Bof A Manager Caitlin Bouroncle told us last week that while the branch is back to full service, there may still be a bit of contractor work going on for awhile.  When we went by earlier today, it appeared that the place was almost pristine.

An air of entitlement in Madison Park?

It's time for us to give a belated nod to an interesting piece posted on the Crosscut website earlier this month by Madison Park's resident journalistic gadfly, Knute Berger: "If fences make good neighbors, what happens when you take one down?"  Berger (aka "Mossback") dissects the current controversy over "access" to Lake Washington at Swingset Park, while ruminating on the nature of Madison Park and its denizens.

Calling the neighborhood "almost too good to be true" in some ways, Berger recites some of the blessings of living here, concluding that Madison Park "feels like a wealthy village that can afford to have the old neighborhood amenities that all neighborhoods used to have."  But he sees a darker side as well. "There's also a lot of entitlement in the air," he states, noting that "some people also believe they have a right to a sense of exclusivity here."   That attitude, he believes, permeates the debate over the fence, though he admits that not everyone living here shares that exclusivist position.  As for himself, he comes down strongly in the anti-exclusivist camp: "Madison Park, tear down that wall."

Those interested in reading the piece might also want to peruse the reader comments for some other perspectives on the neighborhood.

MPC makes the cut

The Madison Park Conservatory, which has consistently received good press since it opened exactly a year ago today, got another culinary send up last week when Seattle Times food critic, Providence Cicero, placed MPC on her list of the favorite Seattle restaurants she's reviewed in 2011.  The Conservatory is one of ten eateries making the list, which is available, along with her commentary, here.

A milestone

By way of self-congratulation, we note that over the Thanksgiving holiday the Madison Park Blogger signed up its 400th subscriber. This is in addition to the 200 users who, on average, now visit MPB each day. This all adds up to a readership of between 400 and 600 people for most of our postings, according to statistics from Google Analytics.

We've come a long way in the less-than-three-year history of the Blog, mostly as the result of word of mouth.

We appreciate the support of our readers and, as always, invite comments, criticisms, story ideas--and subscriptions.  Those interested in subscribing may easily to do by following the directions under "Subscribe to Feed" or "Subscribe via Email" in the right-hand column of this site.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Police Blotter 11/15/11

House break in leads to arrests

We're certainly not complaining about our neighborhood's lack of notoriety, but since the Seattle Police Department began its own blog last year, we've noticed only two postings concerning crimes occurring in Madison Park.  The first such story was the one last week reporting the early-morning arson fire at the Bank of America ATM.  This week, coincidentally, there was another Madison Park crime story on the blog, this one with a much happier outcome:

Occupied Burglary in Madison Park, Suspect Apprehended
Posted by Detective Jeff Kappel

On November 23rd at approximately 3:00 a.m. officers responded to a report of an occupied burglary in progress in the 3400 block of East Valley Street.  Upon the officers’ arrival one suspect was still on scene and was taken into custody.  The victims told officers they saw another suspect in the back of the house.  Officers were unable to locate the second suspect and subsequently called a canine unit to the scene.  The victim’s residence was searched using the dog and no other suspects were located.  Officers then conducted an area search utilizing the dog. However, the second suspect remains at large.  

Preliminary investigation indicates that the suspects entered the house through an unlocked, but closed, front door.  The female homeowner found the first suspect seated on a chair in the living room.  She yelled at him and tried to get him to leave, but he was not immediately responsive.  The other family members were upstairs and came down to see what was going on.  Fortunately, there was no violence inside the home, and it does not appear that the suspect had time to take anything. 

The suspect appeared to be very intoxicated, under the influence of narcotics, or both.  It is unknown why he chose to enter this particular home. 

The 31-year-old male suspect was arrested and booked into the King County Jail for Investigation of Burglary. 

[We understand from neighborhood sources that the second suspect was later apprehended. A word to the wise: It appears that the perpetrators entered the house using a hide-a-key.]

Stealing with a smile

The map above shows crimes that occurred in the neighborhood during the month since our last Police Blotter on October 15.  Unusually, there were few car prowls during the period (one on the 200 block of E. Galer on 11/10 and one on the 3800 block of E. Garfield on 11/13) and only one vehicle theft (a truck stolen from the 1500 block of 38th Avenue E. on 11/5).  There were, however, a lot of thefts reported during the month, running the gamut from stolen dirt to high-end watches.

Detective Kappel (the writer of the SPD blog posting) playfully suggested the headline we've used above, which aptly sums up one of the heists that was reported this month.  It seems that on October 17, a resident of the 1800 block of McGilvra Boulevard E. looked out her window and saw a man in the act of lifting several of her bags of potting soil into his truck.  Seeing the homeowner watching him, he smiled at her before jumping into the vehicle and driving off "at high rate of speed."

Five days later there was another theft in the neighborhood, one which had a greater economic downside.  On October 27, a homeowner on the 2300 block of 43rd Avenue E. reported that her $15,000 gold, silver, and aluminum watch had been removed from the premises by person or persons unknown.   That same day, a resident on E. McGilvra Boulevard at 42nd Avenue E. reported that his bag, which contained a laptop and charger, had been ripped off.   And on October 30, a yard contractor working on the 600 block of 34th Avenue E. reported that a leaf blower had been stolen from his truck while he worked at the site.

The only other home break in reported during the period happened on the night of October 17 on the 2000 block of E. McGilvra Boulevard. In that incident, the suspects climbed over a secured back fence, broke into the house by forcing a door, stole a large-screen TV and a significant number of other items (the list of which, for some reason, was redacted in the police report), and then fled the scene. Fingerprints were recovered.

[The map above shows crimes in Madison Park during the period October 16 through November 15. The dollar sign icons on the map represent cases of fraud (identity theft and stolen bankcards), the dollar-bill icons represent cases of theft, the spray-paint can represents a case of property damage, and the star-burst icon represents a case of a home break in.]

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Those good news/bad news assessments

Values down 5.9% on average

That old adage about the certainty of death and taxes has a corollary for property owners:  the inevitability of tax assessments, which for those of us in King County is an annual ritual.  Last year, as you may recall, our area of town (known to the King County Assessor as Area 14) was subjected to a physical inspection by the Assessor’s staff, a process that resulted in changes to the valuation of area properties that were definitely not uniform.  Overall, however, the decline in assessed values for properties in Area 14 (Madison Park, Madrona and Leschi) was 1.3%.  Last year was the second year in a row that the assessments had been adjusted downward.  This is the third year.

Everyone should have long ago received their 2011 property assessments for taxes to be billed in 2012 (they were mailed out in August); and assuming that no improvements were made to your property over the past year, the “official property value notice” should show your property declining in value by about 5% (5.08% to be exact).   This “standard area adjustment” applies to 97% of the homes in our area.  The exception this year is for waterfront properties, which were uniformly decreased in value by 12.19%. Such a large adjustment in the assessment of these 100 very expensive waterfront homes had an outsized impact on the average decline for the 3393 total properties in Madison Park, Madrona and Leschi combined.  As a result, the neighborhoods registered a 5.9% average decline in property value year over year:

2010 Average Value:  $1,136,300
2011 Average Value:  $1,069,400

The average land value, according to the Assessor, is now $631,200 and the average value of the improvements is $438,200.   The valuations were based on sales occurring in Area 14 during the period from January 1, 2008 through January 1, 2011, giving progressively higher weighted value to most-recent sales.

Area 14, showing the various subunits

A decline in the tax-assessed value might be considered a good thing if it automatically meant a decrease in taxes.  Unfortunately, as we’ve noted many times, assessing the tax value of properties and setting the annual tax rate are two separate and distinct processes.  The government’s need for revenues in 2012, as determined by the votes of our elected officials and the passage of tax levies by the voters, will not be known for certain until early next year.  Once that aggregate tax-revenue number is established, the tax rate will be determined based on the total assessed value of all the properties to be taxed.

Even though our neighborhoods’ assessed values declined by 1.3% last year, the annual tax rate rose by almost 7%.  So for 2011, the impact of an average decline in property values was more than offset by an increase in the overall tax obligation, meaning higher taxes. That will probably happen to us again in the coming year due to the fact that Seattle voters just passed a $232 million school levy that almost doubles the existing school levy amount.

There’s something of a silver lining, however.  By our count, of 27 Assessment Areas located in Seattle, only nine of them suffered a larger decline than Madison Park/Madrona/Leschi.  The Georgetown/South Park area showed the biggest decrease (down 7.37%), while three areas actually showed increased values:  Green Lake (up .78%), Phinney Ridge/Fremont (up 1.47%) and Wallingford (up 2.52%).  While property owners in those last three neighborhoods have the satisfaction of enjoying escalating property values (at least in the opinion of the government), the positive glow from that accomplishment may be offset by the greater likelihood of their having to pay higher taxes next year.  Those of us living in Madison Park (or, certainly, Georgetown) will be paying a diminishing portion of the total tax obligation relative to most of the other Seattle neighborhoods. That’s the good news portion of what is otherwise a bad news “2011 Residential Revalue” report by the Assessor.

Here’s how the tax revaluations have played out for Area 14 over the past seven years (based on the standard area adjustment, except for 2010, where the average adjustment for all properties is used):

So, as you can see, the Assessor believes that over the last three years the market has just about wiped out all of the increased property value that accrued to our part of town during the previous three.  Of course, if you don’t believe that the Assessor can accurately use property sales data to track changes in values for properties that didn’t change hands (like most of ours), you may ignore all of these statistics as meaningless bureaucratic static.  Just so long as you pay your tax bill, that is.  You’ll know exactly what that is come February.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Come down and see the firehouse

Anyone reading this blog over the last couple years knows what fans we are of our neighborhood fire team. The Seattle Fire Department's Fire Station 34 is holding an open house this Saturday, so everyone will have the opportunity to meet the firefighters and sit in Engine 34, shown above.

In one form or another this firehouse (located at 633 32nd Avenue E.) has been protecting the neighborhood for a long time.  We culled this picture from the Seattle Fire Department's website:

It shows the Fire Station as it looked in about 1921.  Although the current firehouse is considered to be in "generally fair condition," it does not meet current seismic standards.  As a result, it is scheduled for a structural upgrade, a project which will take three years and include an expansion of the work space.  The design of the new station will be on display during the open house, which will be held from 1 to 3 pm on Saturday, November 19.

Found at 41st & E. Galer

This skinny but "super sweet" dog was discovered last evening by Louisa and Georgia, the daughters of Wendy Skerritt, who brought the dog home with them to be safe. (Rescuing lost dogs seems to be a specialty for these girls, who performed an earlier intervention this year).

The dog carries a tag identifying it as being from Moab, Utah.  If you know anything about this lost female canine, which appears to be a wire-haired pointer/retriever, please let us know.

Afternoon Update:  We're happy to report that as a result of our morning posting, Ugnes has been returned to her owner, Chad Beyer, who earlier this month moved from Utah to Madison Park with his German Wirehaired Pointer. Ugnes, whose name we understand is Lithuanian for "fire", is apparently able to perform escapes using each of these tricks: jumping an invisible fence, unlocking and opening a sliding door, and removing an insert from a dog door.  This was not Ugnes' first escape since arriving in the neighborhood.

For Ugnes' safe return, Chad can thank Wendy Skerritt and her daughters who took the dog in and alerted the neighborhood.  After seeing the story on the blog, Shirley Wilson (who has her own wire hair dog) recognized Ugnes from the photo and made the connection.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Madison Park: wealthy as charged

The proposal to take down the fence at so-called (by the City and no one else) Madison Park North Beach has drawn an unusual amount of media attention to our fair neighborhood in recent weeks. KING-TV, KOMO-TV and KIRO-TV have each run news stories on the subject, as have other news purveyors. Some of the coverage in the major media and blogosphere has focused on the apparent class conflict between those "upscale" Madison Parkers who wish to preserve the waterfront park as it is and certain out-of-the-neighborhood members of the public who say they want direct access to the water at 43rd Avenue E. and E. Lynn Street.

In its coverage of the issue, referred to Madison Park as "tidy and affluent," while the Seattle Times settled on "wealthy" as its descriptor for the neighborhood. We were intrigued by the fact that The Times was able to quantify the wealth aspect, noting that "Madison Park is one of the city's wealthiest neighborhoods, with an average income of $161,000, according to census data."

We decided to check into this.  For one thing, is the number for real? And if accurate, is it meaningful?  After all, average income is probably not the best way to look at a neighborhood's affluence. Here's a simplistic example that helps explain why: suppose ten minimum-wage workers live on a residential block, along with one multi-millionaire. This combination would presumably result in a pretty high average income for that block, since you would divide the sum of the annual incomes of everyone on the block by eleven to get the average--which would be high, even though most of the block's population actually lived in poverty.

This is not a third-world neighborhood, so income disparities for Madison Park would hardly be in line with our example. But it is well known that we have quite a few millionaires (and perhaps a billionaire) living in our midst, and these high-income individuals could certainly throw off the average income calculation for the community as a whole.  Having looked into the matter, we can report that while the neighborhood is definitely wealthy, the situation is more nuanced than was evident in the Seattle Times story.

First, to give the paper its due, its average income calculation for Madison Park is essentially correct (there appears to be a typo, however).  The U.S. Census reports that Census Tract 63 (Madison Park, including its Broadmoor and Washington Park enclaves) has average income of $151,000, based on surveys undertaken for the period 2005-2009.

The U.S. Census also reports, however, that the median income for the 2,871 households in Madison Park is only $76,042.  We'd argue that this is a more representative way of looking at the affluence of the community.  The median income number is the halfway point between the bottom 50% of households and the top 50%.  The City's demographer, Diana Canzoneri, agrees that median income is the typical approach used when looking at income levels across population units.

Here's a look at how income is distributed in Madison Park, according to the Census estimates:

Almost one third of Madison Park households earns less than $50,000 per year while another third earns $125,000 or more.  This is a much broader variation in income levels than might be suspected if one simply looks at the $151,000 average income number for the Park, which is obviously skewed by some very high income earners.  Even so, it presents a much different picture from than that of Seattle as a whole:

A Madison Park household is almost twice as likely to have annual income of $125,000 or more than a Seattle household is.  And when you get to the $200,000 income level and above (which is the highest category surveyed), the difference is even more striking:

That's right, more than one fifth of Madison Park households, according to the U.S. Census, have annual income at or above $200,000.

So yes, whatever way you look at it, Madison Park is definitely wealthy. But by no means is everyone who lives here in that category.