Not so common a common area after all
Ballard Commons Park reopened to fanfare over the March 11 weekend, more than a year after city officials removed a large encampment and closed the park for repair and restoration.
The two-day celebration involved live music, food and games. Councilmember Dan Strauss, who represents the district where the park is located, also participated in the proceedings. He told the gathered crowd that the park would not return to the conditions that closed it because the city has more tools, such as the Unified Care team, HOPE team or Regional Homelessness Authority, according to King 5.
Not everyone was pleased with the festivities. A group of protesters arrived to drive the message home that Ballard Commons had once been home to a large number of people experiencing homelessness before the city cleared it in December 2021.
The city also cleared and closed City Hall Park, which is adjacent to the King County Courthouse and administrative buildings. It is still fenced off, although Mayor Bruce Harrell added money into the city’s most recent budget to improve the park and bring activities to it.
Dow determined to dignify downtown
King County Executive Dow Constantine promised a revitalized King County in his state of the county address on March 7, calling on voters to approve a new tax to fund mental health services and reiterating new plans for a civic campus in downtown Seattle and plans for the expansion of Link Light Rail.
He also warned of a fiscal cliff unless the state legislature reforms the state’s tax code leading to general fund cuts as soon as fall 2023.
The Crisis Care Centers levy — a nine-year property tax levy that would raise about $1.25 billion over that time — would fund five new walk-in centers so that community members could access mental health care and substance abuse disorder treatment, regardless of insurance status, as Real Change reported in December 2022.
The idea is to expand access to mental health care, which has declined significantly in recent years: Just since 2018, nearly a third of mental health beds in the county have been lost.
The Civic Campus Initiative proposes changing the downtown from one of administrative buildings — one of which is now vacant and being considered as a site for the new Link Light Rail station — to one that hosts a 24-hour neighborhood.
However, Constantine warned, the county is facing financial problems due to the inability of the county to raise property taxes in the face of rising costs after a decision by the state legislature to cap those taxes two decades ago. He pointed out that the county does not have access to utility or business and occupation taxes.
Ashley Archibald is the editor of Real Change News.
Read more of the Mar. 15-21, 2023 issue.