Pushing the panic button in Magnolia - Are we having trouble with the changes taking place?

Just this week I heard praises of Magnolia from faraway Uganda. For several years, Magnolia families have donated out-grown sports jerseys bearing the familiar designs of our community sports leagues. Sister Schools ships them to Uganda - a country renowned for making forgiveness and reconciliation a societal touchstone in the wake of horrible genocide 20-plus years ago.

These lessons were not lost on me working in Uganda last month. Now we hear from Uganda about the spreading fame of Magnolia. Donating snazzy (and high quality) jerseys to Ugandan children earns us praise.

You see, aid organizations too often receive ratty old tee shirts from the developed world. So, from their vantage, we have done needy children well. In return, maybe we can benefit from Uganda's laudable example of peacemaking and civil discourse in society.

This past week witnessed two groups pushing the 'panic button' as, ironically, perhaps our most intrusive public neighbor has 'pulled the rug out.' Three events are occuring simultaneouly in Magnolia, and they are linked: Some neighbors of the home building project at the old Briarcliff School are causing a stir; Friends of Discovery Park are making noise regarding Capehart military housing; and the Port of Seattle has acted regarding the public planning process at Interbay. All are similar in a crucial way, summed up in a single word: Change.

Briarcliff Elementary School was a victim of 'white flight' in the 1970s and '80s. Families left Magnolia for the suburbs to an appreciable degree. In large part, however, demographics remained stable, and Magnolia families opted for private schools instead. This was not unusual in Seattle, where a metropolis of politically progressive professionals have created the second largest per-capita private school population in the nation, with only limousine-liberal citadel New York City a more odious example.

In 2004 we are nigh-on as culturally segregated as Little Rock in 1954. And perhaps worse, remain a community effectively incapable of holding true dialogue on the subject. When school district negligence created a fiscal crisis, Briarcliff's sale became a crucial response. A few neighbors have protested the resulting high end home development, and distributed a flyer. But many more community activists say their "due diligence" is more positive.

To test this, last week I met with developer John Cochenour. He walked me through reams of public comments received, overwhelmingly favoring traditional style homes. So look for traditional Magnolia character and densities there. Better still, go read the sign at Briarcliff, visit the website and comment yourself.

I do agree with the complaining neighbors on one issue though (and the 'Briarcliff Revival' project actually helps by creating pedestrian-friendly neighborhood character): I've had it with speeding drivers on our side streets. We can make headway on this issue, but only if more folks get involved - and join the Magnolia Community Club.

Recently a blizzard of signs has emerged imploring you to 'save' Discovery Park. Now that's important. What have the Friends of Discovery Park asked you to save? I went to their website, and the message was a shocker; I couldn't believe what it said. "Best case scenario: Capehart housing is renovated and continues to house Navy families."

What about Discovery Park's master plan? One might assume that Friends, seeing the city pass on purchasing Capehart when the military initially offered it 30 years ago, would plan for this moment with relish. The Navy is, after all, a willing seller - albeit a seller bound by enormous federal statutory and regulatory oversight.

It is high time our public officials do the right thing and acknowledge the Navy for playing fair and lawfully. Pressure groups associated with Discovery Park have consistently called for the Capehart tract's return to native habitat. Why, then, in this 'golden moment' of opportunity, are there these confusing calls for maintaining status quo?

Somehow I missed the community forums and outreach by Friends explaining their strategy. The dynamic at play is hinted, though, in a letter to the Navy sent earlier this month by Jim McDermott, Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray: "In 1986, the Seattle City Council adopted the Discovery Park Development plan that calls for the eventual inclusion of the military housing areas in the park and for the 66-unit Capehart tract ultimately to be removed and converted to open space."

It is increasingly clear that city officials have not effectively planned for this change. With government, development plans have budgetary consequences. Budgets are a process of setting priorities. Was Capehart on the horizon, even as they set priorities for millions in METRO sewage plant mitigation money? And with designated opportunity funds left out of the ostensibly 'pro' parks capital levy?

In essence, we are left to conclude: money for Taj Mahal city hall, yes. Money to make Discovery Park whole, no.

Last week the Port of Seattle abruptly and quietly suspended the 'North Bay' redevelopment zone planning process. Where does this leave community leaders focusing on complex sets of issues created by this project? Or the enormous waste of emergent port-focused energy by our Community Club?

Port of Seattle: you have fence-mending to do with Magnolia. A start for our elected advocate, Commissioner Paige Miller: give us the real scoop on North Bay. And why not a firm commitment from Port planners to work with Seattle Parks regarding a land swap between Smith Cove and the wide open, northernmost portion of the Port's 'North Bay' site.

Putting sports fields just off Thorndyke Avenue (where yellow buses park now), reachable without having to leave Magnolia, only makes sense. A commute clear out of Magnolia to Smith Cove so 7-year-olds can play micro soccer - now that calls for a conversation.

Let's not 'pull the rug out' from having that discussion merely because the Port is currying favor with City Hall by delaying high-technology development plans at North Bay. And hey, let's follow the example of our Ugandan admirers, and keep it civil.

P. Scott Cummins is a freelance writer living in Magnolia.[[In-content Ad]]