Our View

The Peace Park debacle

Nov 14, 2018

The shooting that occurred on July 30, 2016 was a tragedy many in the area felt could never happen in Mukilteo.

A city described as quiet, nice, quaint, and above all, safe, was shaken to the core after a jealous ex boyfriend was able to purchase an AR-15-style rifle and kill three Kamiak graduates and injure a fourth.

The incident led to the moniker “Mukilteo Strong” and one of the victims’ fathers is now on the forefront of increasing gun safety in Washington, and the country itself, to prevent incidents like this from happening once again.

Since then, Washington voters approved Initiative 1639, a call for increased gun safety, overwhelmingly. But gun safety is not what we’re here to talk about.

Shortly after the shooting happened, as the city was still grieving, people started asking what they could do to help with the healing process.

Kamiak has scholarships in their names. There’s a baseball tournament held in Jake Long’s name every summer. Anna Bui’s family set up a scholarship so UW Bothell students can travel abroad.

Ultimately, the idea for the Peace Park came to fruition, and the donated Byers’ property was selected as the ideal location, as it had a beautiful view of the Sound.

The Peace Park was to be a beautiful way for the city to contribute to their memory, and to help the community heal from that awful day in 2016.

Unfortunately, the attention turned away from these lives we lost and onto the state senator, mayor, and city council.

Originally slated to be a small project, initial costs were somewhere around $40,000 of city money. Later, it increased in size and scope, and costs were closer to $80,000. Some councilmembers had reservations and voiced their concerns during council meetings.

Some councilmembers also spoke out about the decision to have the park on the Byers’ property, noting a lack of accessibility.

One shooting survivor came before the council and said she felt it was the perfect spot for the park. She also said most people would go there one time and never return.

Councilmembers from that point agreed to leave the plan for the Byers’ property unchanged.

Soon after, things got hectic as the Mukilteo City Council learned in March that they would be receiving $400,000 in state funds for the Peace Park.

Sounds good, right? The city now doesn’t have to spend money on the project.

Well, the cost of the grant was the loss of a $721,000 grant that was for the daylighting of the Japanese Gulch.

Understandably, councilmembers and community members were upset with what had transpired, as the Japanese Gulch project funding appeared to be approved already.

In fact, we had reported on $721,000 grant just weeks before the Peace Park bomb was dropped.

Mayor Jennifer Gregerson told councilmembers that Sen. Marko Liias, D-Mukilteo helped secure the funding.

We later learned through talking to Liias, and through some emails forwarded to us by Councilmember Bob Champion, and Gregerson, that Liias had in fact been the one to call for the funding switch, and that Gregerson and a city staff member wrote up the grant to send to Liias’ office, with a request for $400,000.

Recently, the Mukilteo received the grant after a council decision, which passed 6 to 0 with one councilmember abstaining.

Aside from alleged misappropriate spending by the mayor, discussion about the new ferry terminal, and general budget discussions, this was one of the most talked about topics in late 2017, and all throughout 2018.

A project that should have been a rallying point for the community turned into constant arguments and struggles when discussed at council meetings, first when the project costs increased, and second, when the grant form the state came to fruition.

It’s really a shame. Something that could have further etched the mantra of “Mukilteo Strong” into the community became something negative to talk about.

You knew going into meetings when the project was going to be discussed that the scope of the project and/or the city receiving a grant at the expense of the Japanese Gulch was going to come up, and that it was going to be a negative-leaning discussion.

The councilmembers were doing their jobs, which was to spend city money to the best of their ability. And the mayor appeared to be trying to receive money to fund the project so it wouldn’t come out of the city’s hands.

But now, when the park is ready to open (likely this July or August), while we as a city should be celebrating the opening of a beautiful park in memory of Anna Bui, Jordan Ebner, and Jake Long, and all victims or unnecessary violence in our state and country, there will always be the memory of how ugly the discussions were. There will always be the memory of how the state money got there - at the expense of another important Mukilteo project.

This situation was handled poorly by a number of parties.

Hats off to Jeff Price, the city’s Recreation & Cultural Services Director, for taking the reins on this project and listening to council feedback, citizen feedback, and going out and receiving donations from residents and organizations who wanted to be a part of this project.

Unfortunately, more focus ended up on political power struggles than the memories of three Kamiak grads that were shot and killed for being at a party with their friends.

You only have one shot to do a project like this, and there’s going to be an asterisk next to it for a lot of people because of how it all went down.

That’s a shame.

 

 

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