Regular readers already know my opinion on parking fees at public parks (“Putting the public into public parks“)… those who can afford the fees the least, are those who need the parks the most. And by saving tax dollars, we waste tax dollars: for what is the use of a public park that nobody uses?
Now Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels has announced a new budget propped up by parking fees at city parks. This is a cowardly, myopic proposal, that undermines the entire concept of public parks. This Nickels-and-dime approach to funding public services will also, in the long run, undermine support for future tax levies.
Am I exaggerating the impact? I don’t think so. Nickels’ budget also includes a $5 fee for the Volunteer Park Conservatory:
The proposed $5 fee is expected to raise about $450,000 for the parks department next year. That assumes a 40 percent drop in attendance because of the fee, park Superintendent Ken Bounds said. He said the conservatory had about 140,000 visitors last year.
A 40 percent drop in attendance! It’s simple economics. You charge an admission fee for city parks (and that’s what a parking fee amounts to for most of the visitors) and the parks will be used less. Much less.
Councilman Nick Lacata seems to get the point:
We are in danger of becoming more of a closed society, filtering out those who can afford to visit urban amenities, and those who can’t.”
Damn right, we are!
One of the parks to get parking meters is Seward Park, which serves me, and the rest of South Seattle. Walking through Seward Park is the closest you’ll get in Seattle to the multi-ethnic experience of riding the New York subways.
While the park may be surrounded by million-dollar homes, many of those who use it come from the working class and immigrant communities of the Rainier Valley. Public parks like Seward, are physical representations of our nation’s grand democratic vision, where people of every color and every language and every economic strata can join with their more affluent neighbors as equal citizens.
And from a more selfish perspective… hell if I’m going to fill a meter for the privilege of taking my daughter to my local playground for 30 minutes! I pay my taxes! I’ve voted for every damn parks levy the city has put on the ballot! And I don’t want the city sticking its hands into my pockets every time I use my neighborhood park!
This is exactly the type of crap that creates Eymans. People don’t mind paying taxes when they think they’re getting something in return. But if these new fees go through, I bet you dollars to donuts, the next park levy fails.