Federal Way is not a five-star city | Livingston

Opinion: Why are we not maximizing the preservation of any and all open-space in the area?

All of us are familiar with the star rating systems used in surveys trying to gain an informational edge for a service or company. Five stars and you are considered the best.

This rating system is known as the Likert Scale. The scale is used widely in marketing to establish strength of service offerings and attitudes of users. Most of us have used Yelp reviews to choose a restaurant or new service based on stars and reviews. We all know a five-star hotel is better than a two-star motel, but those extra three stars come with additional cost.

Is Federal Way a five-star city or a one-star bust using the scale of: Strongly Agree-Strongly Disagree? What questions should we be asking, when should we ask them, and who should we ask?

Over 100,000 people live in our city and most of us know intuitively that Federal Way is not five-star caliber. But like a two-star motel, you can get a good night’s sleep for less. There is a lot to like — our location is regionally well-situated with easy access to the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, Interstate 5, State Highway 18, and light rail is coming to improve mass transit to Seattle and eventually to Tacoma.

How many stars would we get from people not living here for our city being seen as a great opportunity, positioned for new jobs, community growth, quality of life amenities and our school system? How many stars do we deserve at the moment for being a city that is struggling to define itself and not gaining any traction on solving its problems due to an elected leadership team that is more capable of generating a negative front-page news story in the Seattle Times for not valuing our park land?

Their one-star decision, in the eyes of many in the community, appears self-serving and not forward thinking. The city has known for years that it needed to establish a better service yard for its public works and parks maintenance equipment and supporting cast of employees.

The politics of buying land to meet city needs is never easy. However, at the same time explaining service benefits and educating citizens on any critical advancement project has never been a strength of our elected leadership who live in election-year fear of a community core of voters who tend to be anti-government and community progress.

Achieving the state’s 60% voter approval threshold required to authorize capital bonds for advancing land acquisition, essential building efforts and needed significant projects, has a poor history of success in Federal Way. So, our city tends to try to do everything it can – with other people’s money – using federal, state, county or grant funds that often have legal constraints that can’t be ignored.

The thinking is that as long as we are not increasing local property taxes to accomplish what the citizens are not likely to approve – due to the 60% approval threshold – our leaders should get lots of pats-on-the-back for doing more with less. However, where repurposing park land is concerned, one-star leadership thinking does not deserve an “attaboy.”

If the state’s capital bonding threshold were at the simple majority level of 50%, like most states in the country, our citizens would be much better positioned to arm our city with the financial support necessary to become properly resourced without trying to steal park land from future generations for a public works and parks maintenance facility. Since our local citizenry rarely votes in sufficient numbers to support a major majority initiative, it forces our mayor, city council and executive staff to become a bunch of financial weaselers to accomplish any major capital project.

What the residents stand to lose is 11-acres of well-used park land that we are not likely to get back. The city will not easily replace the existing skateboard park, two baseball fields, parking — or regain the trust of those who love and appreciate our park system.

Understanding the additional open-space needs as part of the city’s current effort to create a so-called downtown and revitalize our urban retail core by potentially allowing multi-story residential units capable of housing five to seven thousand residents is vital. Why are we not maximizing the preservation of any and all open-space in the area?

The standard for open-space/parks that the National Parks and Recreation Association recommends is 10-acres per thousand residents. Using that as a guide, if residential housing in the existing retail core becomes a reality, it would mean that those living there or in near proximity to the potentially redeveloped core should have at least 50 acres of additional openly usable park-like public space.

There is also an equity issue with the removal of park land in what is considered a low-income area. When in doubt and where there is a need, the historic path has been the path of least resistance, which is to take from the poor. Elected officials know from practice it is easier to score against poor. So, let’s give our elected officials a one-star rating for making our city look like a bunch of uncaring rubes to those in our region who are working to build community and increase value for all by not shortchanging those with the greatest needs.

Yes, it will cost more money to do the right thing the right way. So, maybe our voters for a two-star city will continue supporting our mayor and city council’s efforts to weasel our way to a mediocre future.

Or maybe our residents will get behind the three women, Marie Sciaqua, Cynthia Ricks-Maccotan and Suzanne Vargo, who made front page news and are making a five-star effort to protect our city’s future. Becoming a five-star city requires serious effort, communication, building quality connections at all levels, imagination, financing and community support.

Being a two-star city means we selectively accomplish what we can with a sleight of hand here and there, with no vision for how each action fits into building a better future for all.

Where would you place your star on the scale for saving 11-acres of Steel Lake Park – are you a five for saving, a three for don’t care, or a one for building the maintenance facility?

Keith Livingston is a retired municipal management professional, lifelong artist and Federal Way resident. He can be reached at keithlivingstondesign@gmail.com.