The following words are those with which I addressed the Mercer Island City Council on May 9:
The "Protect Our Parks" initiative campaign continues to confuse and divide our community. Taking the issue to a vote would likely add further confusion or worse, indifference. The initiative as written could lead to unexpected park usage restrictions on activities citizens enjoy and have come to expect.
If you "decline to sign" the petition requiring the City Council to place a parklands protection initiative on the November ballot, then:
I have heard from Mercer Island residents and families involved with Youth Theatre Northwest (YTN) that the program could be in jeopardy. This saddens me greatly as I have been a huge fan of YTN for 17 years.
There's no doubt that everyone on the Island supports our high quality parks and arts programs. We're fortunate to live in a city with such wonderful opportunities to enjoy nature and culture right in our backyards.
The right, and the power, of voting is a bedrock of our democracy. But a small group of Mercer Island citizens backing private development on public parkland is encouraging citizens not only to refrain from voting, but to prevent others from voting.
I get it. It's a strategy. To divert attention from facts you play on fear. Recent TV ads created by Protect Our Parks (POP) proponents, funded by a Kent-based political action committee are a prime example.
Sixteen years ago when the city of Mercer Island was revamping our civic facilities, a great deal of discussion and debate centered on what citizens' needs and desires were. The old Mercer View Elementary School served as our community center and the "multipurpose room" served as the place where on-Island performances were presented.
I love Mercerdale Park — yes I do! I believe the Mercer Island Center for the Arts (MICA) will strengthen our sense of Mercerdale Park as a community gathering place. I love how Mercerdale Park anchors our Sunday Farmers Market, our Summer Music in the Park, our Summer Celebration and our Mercer Island Thrift Shop. I believe MICA will further cement the idea of Mercerdale Park being the center of Mercer Island's soul. MICA will be a creative partner to help define us as a small city, not only for our youth but also for all ages to enjoy.
I am writing as a Youth Theatre Northwest (YTN) parent and board member to advocate for the Mercer Island Center for the Arts (MICA). MICA will be the future home for YTN, but this future is threatened by the Protect Our Parks (POP) petition.
In the May 5 issue of the Reporter, the following is a quote by a Mercer Island Center for the Arts (MICA) supporter:
I was taught early on that when it comes to politics, you need to follow the money. This is surely the case with a political action committee (PAC) based out of Kent now dumping thousands of dollars in TV ads spreading misinformation in support of the parks petition. This is a troubling turn of events and unprecedented for Mercer Island.
Do the citizens of Mercer Island know that the City Council is planning on renting an acre of parkland for $1 a year for the next 50 years to the Mercer Island Center for the Arts (MICA)?
We are a group of high school students who have spent many years performing at Youth Theatre Northwest (YTN), and we want to express our thanks to YTN and the amazing staff and parents who support it.
Mercer Island taxpayers soon will be facing multiple demands for their tax dollars in addition to the recent raises in fees we have experienced. The council has been discussing a raise in the levy lid.
The parklands initiative is not about Mercer Island Center for the Arts ( MICA ) or Youth Theatre Northwest (YTN). MICA and YTN have other Island locations to occupy that are not parklands. Perhaps they don't offer a dollar-a-year lease, as MICA/YTN would receive at Mercerdale Park, but those areas are cheap and they are not on parklands.
Having been involved in a few controversial community issues — both on the pro and con side — I appreciate community dialogue (preferably civil) over the issues. This is our community, and we need to be mindful about how it evolves. Umpteen hours at the mic and on email are all to a good purpose: coming to a resolution on which we can move forward. Now is the time for the Mercer Island Center for the Arts (MICA) to move forward.
Kemper Freeman has done a wonderful job getting Bellevue to a be a great destination for shopping, dining and living. He is a wonderful philanthropist and a role model for us all. However, he is off-base with his transportation ideas and recommendations.
My wife has been working with scores of students and parents to improve Luther Burbank Park through art. It's wonderful that we also have folks willing to improve Mercerdale park through the arts.
For decades, Islanders have demonstrated via the ballot box and other means that parks are valuable assets to the overall well-being of the Island. The recently-completed Island-wide telephone survey the council sponsored once again confirms that belief. In one question asking Islanders about their top priorities for funding, "maintaining parks, trails and open space" was number three of nine listed possibilities.