Beacon endorses Proposition 1

Oct 24, 2012

Metropolitan Creditors Trust owns nearly 100 acres of undeveloped land in Japanese Gulch. The property is on the west side of the gulch, inside Everett city limits, and sandwiched between the Mukilteo Community Garden and the Mukilteo Dog Park.

This forest is home to wildlife, such as the pileated woodpecker, the great blue heron and the black-tailed deer – not to mention a variety of trees and plants.

Hike the trails of Japanese Gulch, and it feels as if you’re miles away from any city, even though you know you’re surrounded by homes. The wilderness is in our backyard.

That is why The Beacon endorses Mukilteo Proposition 1.

Prop. 1 asks voters to OK taxes to help acquire the gulch for parkland. The five-year acquisition levy would raise up to $3.2 million to purchase the last available 97 acres.

The city, which is in negotiations with the owner, expects to fund the other half of the estimated $6 million purchase with grants.

If voters say yes, the estimated tax rate for the levy is 20 cents per $1,000 of assessed value. The owner of a $347,000 home would see property taxes go up $69.40 a year – about $5.80 a month.

Time is of the essence: The gulch is under threat of industrial development.

Metropolitan Trust recently declared bankruptcy, and a trustee has been court ordered to sell the property by 2014.

If the property doesn’t sell by then, it will be auctioned off. The city of Everett has it zoned as light industrial, which means the trees would likely be cut down to make way for warehouses.

Mukilteo needs to jump on the opportunity now before it loses out to a developer.

For decades, the community has enjoyed the gulch. Trails for walking, running and biking – as well as bike jumps, forts and foxholes – are on this land.

High school cross-country teams have run on the trails for years. Kids play in the gulch, too.

So far, Mukilteo has purchased about 25 acres on the Everett side of the gulch, and owns more than 40 acres in all. The city of Everett has offered to de-annex all of the property within its city limit to Mukilteo, as long as it is kept as parkland.

The Mukilteo-based Japanese Gulch Group has launched a campaign in support of Prop. 1. The group’s mission is to preserve the undeveloped land as parks and open space. The city has partnered in its efforts.

The city expects to get $2.8 million in grants – but it hasn’t gotten it yet. It was recently denied two grants for land acquisition in the gulch.

Mukilteo isn’t without its supporters, though. Snohomish County awarded the city a $500,000 grant for gulch acquisition last year. Another $1 million from the state is also in the works.

The city continues to apply for more grants, including another from the county for $700,000.

We’d like it better if Mukilteo had the $2.8 million in the bank before it asked residents for $3.2 million. It would almost guarantee that the city wouldn’t come back asking residents for more in the future.

But here’s something to think about:

If Prop. 1 passes, it will send a clear message to the county, to the state – to whoever holds the purse strings – that Mukilteo’s residents value parks and open space enough to pay for half of it themselves.

It’s likely that proven community support would convince powerful interests like the Snohomish County Conservation Futures Board, and could help Sen. Paull Shin (another supporter) convince others in Olympia, to foot the rest of the bill.

In a perfect world, Everett residents would also help pay for this, since the land is in their city and they too would use the regional park – but they aren’t going to.

While Everett city officials applaud Mukilteo’s efforts to save the gulch, helping to acquire the land isn’t a priority for them.

Everett finalized a 20-year Parks and Recreation Comprehensive Plan in 2005 that identifies its own priorities. It’s not that Everett doesn’t want to help; it’s that it can’t. Our neighbor has limited resources, too.

If the levy does pass, Mukilteo should lobby Everett to expedite the de-annexation process. That “promise” to de-annex is not guaranteed: Who knows what a future Everett City Council would do.

De-annexation, however, is as complicated as it is uncommon. Everett wants to wait until Mukilteo acquires all that it can before it de-annexes, so that the city only has to go through the process once.

Even if the city can’t win any more grant funds, with $3.7 million ($3.2 million from the levy plus the $500,000 county grant) it could make an offer to purchase two-thirds of the gulch. Mukilteo will buy and preserve as much as it can.

As parks and open space, the Japanese Gulch would be a beautiful, natural setting that brings the community together. If you don’t vote for it for yourself, do it for your kids. Twenty years from now, we don’t want future generations to say we didn’t think ahead.

Nobody gets criticized for setting aside too much land for parks – they get criticized for setting aside too little.

Comments (0)
If you wish to comment, please login.