Seattle Public Schools is preparing a proposal that would allow the district to purchase and presumably close the “S Path,” the winding, odd little stretch of City of Seattle right of way that connects Federal and 11th Ave E that has been fenced off since the start of the Lowell Elementary school year over concerns about drug use and homeless camping.
The path may be short — but the route to the planned purchase will be a long one. And neighbors who miss their shortcut through the block might be happy to know that, at least for the short term while any proposal makes its way through City Hall, the path would likely have to be reopened and the fences that have blocked it off in recent months, removed.
According to a district spokesperson, SPS has begun the process of preparing a “street vacation” proposal but is mostly at square one. The proposal hinges on a cost estimate for purchasing the city land along the path next to Lowell. If it comes in too high, any purchase plans are off. The district was still working that estimate out as of last week, CHS was told.
In a December letter from SPS, superintendent Larry Nyland wrote about the “2017-18 Potential Budget Deficit” his district faces:
The Washington State Legislature’s failure to adequately address public education funding may result in a significant budget shortfall next school year. In 2017-18, the district’s ability to serve students in the way they deserve will be challenged. Unless the Legislature takes appropriate action to address school funding, the district has a projected deficit of approximately $74 million for the 2017-18 school year. This is the largest budget deficit we have faced since the late 1970s and has the potential to erode many of the programs, supports and services students are currently receiving.
If the plan is moving forward, the first sign might be the locked gate opening and the fences blocking the S Path coming down.
Both the district and the city say that during any vacation process, the “emergency closure” will be lifted after its implementation last year when Lowell parents and school and city officials agreed that used drug needles, condoms, and human waste had become a significant problem around the path. Seattle Public Schools is also preparing to install “cameras/lights/access control panels to increase security” on the path, CHS is told.
The typical City of Seattle vacation process can take six months or more to complete. It requires an extensive petition and review by departments and community groups. “Project information including site maps, project information, environmental analysis and other supporting information is circulated to various departments, public agencies and community groups for their review and comment on the proposed vacation,” the city’s Street Vacations page promises. After the reviews, SDOT can then pass the petition on to the City Council for a public hearing and review by the transportation committee. If the committee approves — and the full council follows suit — the deal is done.
Included in the agreement, a price meeting “full appraised fair market value is required for streets and alleys that have been a part of the dedicated public right-of-way for 25 years or more.” The proposal must also include a discussion of “public benefits” —
Provide a discussion of the public benefit proposal including how the public benefit proposal serves the general public. Include an itemized list that provides a detailed description of each element of the proposed public benefit. Benefits must be long term and must serve the general public not merely the users of the development. The public benefit must be benefits that are not required by the land use code or other regulations and for which no other development credit is sought.
Communication around the closure and subsequent planning has been a sore spot for some neighbors living near the path who were frustrated to see the fence go up with little warning and little explanation of what was happening around the closure. Casey Engler shared a letter with CHS sent to his District 3 rep Kshama Sawant and other officials about the situation. “I believe the school is using an argument of fear and then attempting to straw man the concerns of the neighborhood into ‘entitlement,'” he wrote. Engler said he received a few “thanks for your feedback” style replies and automated messages.
In December, CHS reported on the passing of SDOT’s deadline for a solution to the issues around the path. We asked SDOT’s Genesee Adkins for an update from her department on when the path might be reopened. “We’re still talking with the school district about the issue of timing,” she said. “We’ll let you know as soon as there’s an update. We’re eager to be able to do that.”