By reporter Steven Smalley
The public process started in earnest last night as the Seattle Parks Department and King County’s Wastewater Treatment Division pitched their proposal to construct a gate across Discovery Park Boulevard in order to keep unauthorized cars from the lighthouse area of West Point. A room-filling crowd of about 60 turned out to hear various agency employees describe different parts of the project to a mixed audience of mostly detractors.
Without providing actual statistics, it was explained how illegal activities such as campfires, graffiti, abandoned stolen cars, and gunfire, along with a sizable number of illegally parked vehicles, make the situation intolerable at the sewage treatment plant, particularly during peak summer season.
Although eight permit-only parking spaces are available, with an additional two spots for people with disabilities, policies requiring permits issued by the Parks Department, are largely ignored. Overflowing numbers of cars unlawfully parked – at times upwards of 30 vehicles – block fire lanes and emergency access. Currently, to qualify for a parking permit, one must be older than 62, in a family with children younger than eight, or without the ability to otherwise walk to the beach.
Acting in a combined approach, Seattle Parks Department and King County’s Wastewater Treatment Division devised a plan, not yet approved by the Parks Commission, to place an automatic gate with 24-hour remote monitoring to block the road leading to the lighthouse 1.5 miles east of the beach. Not all details are complete. Initial plans call for the barrier to be closed after 5 p.m. and other times when the Visitor’s Center is not open. Parks is exploring a reservation system to allow retrieval of permits after hours. Additionally, for quick pick-up and drop-off of lighthouse visitors, a separate permitting process is being considered. Even a possible shuttle service was discussed as an option.
Parks personnel pointed to the Master Plan, written in 1974 and updated in 1986, when the suggestion was made for more parking at the beach. Presenters said locating more spots there would be impossible.
Following the formal presentation, a lengthy question & answer process began utilizing a moderator to keep order. Much conversation revolved around suggestions the city consider alternatives to the gate. Questions were raised whether enough parking citations were issued, whether fines were expensive enough, and whether cars should be towed to “motivate” drivers, particularly repeat offenders. According to replies from presenters, unless there is an official request from Parks personnel, Seattle Police are a rare sight because of the distance from their normal zone of operation. When the question was asked how many illegally parked and ticketed vehicles were actually towed from the lot, “none” came the answer. This resulted in suggestions the Parks Department begin towing vehicles to make a strong point. Presenters reminded everyone only police are authorized to have cars towed.
Some audience members voiced concerns the agencies had already made a decision and were going forward with the gate no matter the desires of the community. Presenters strongly suggested this was not the case. They said other alternatives would be considered before final approval is requested.
A tentative schedule was outlined with dates for the next phase of operations. In January, a proposal will be presented at a Parks Board hearing, followed by the board’s recommendation to the Park Superintendent in early 2014. Assuming Parks approval, pre-design and final design get underway in Spring 2014, with construction beginning in the summer.
Public comments are ongoing. To have your say, click here or email Adair Muth at King County Waste Treatment Division: firstname.lastname@example.org.