Leschi and Lakewood Letters

Kurt Hoehne Moorage and Marinas Waterfront issues

Back in the July issue of Northwest Yachting we published three letters on the looming question of the City of Seattle’s Leschi and Lakewood marinas. We’ve been following this issue for years. Below you will find all of the letters in their entirety. It is a a very complex issue, and one that arguably should have never been an issue in the first place. The marinas, particularly Leschi, were allowed to deteriorate badly while money flowed into the general fund coffers and now a large investment is required to make Leschi viable again.

The City of Seattle is planning a Request For Proposal (RFP) that would inextricably link Lakewood and Leschi.  Many of the Lakewood faithful are dead set against this, as you will read here. They’ve even come up with their own financial plan. Others feel that Lakewood should be part of the deal so that the RFP can be put forward and the restoration of Leschi can begin. 

In the meantime Leschi, which should be a Seattle gem, continues to shamefully deteriorate. Here are the Leschi/Lakewood Letters, recently received ones first:

Dear Editor,

I appreciate your publication of my letter on the Lakewood and Leschi Marinas in the July issue of Northwest Yachting.  And I will say that Steve Johnson makes both valid and some invalid points.

What no one seems to want to address is that the three marinas are a public trust, for which Seattle Parks & Recreation bears full and significant responsibility, which many of us believe they have violated.

But that isn’t the purpose of this letter.  It is regrettable that you published the letter submitted anonymously by “A Very Frustrated Resident.”  Mr. Frustrated’s letter is so off-base factually, that I really question why you felt a responsibility to publish it. (Ed. Note: Our staff met this person and ascertained that he was a boater without a vested interest) But publish it you did and therefore I feel a responsibility to reply, since his letter is addressed directly at my letter (which was circulated in the Lakewood Seward Park community before it was published in Northwest Yachting).

Point: The marina controversy is NOT about “more subsidies to boat owners”.  In point of fact, the marinas have provided POSITIVE cash flow to Parks for many years.  Now, after years of structural neglect, Parks apparently thinks a white knight should come in and provide the funds to rebuild the marinas.  BUT that white knight would want to be heavily compensated for the investment and the marinas would permanently change from encouraging middle class boat ownership in SE Seattle to being one more gold plated marina serving an elite group of boat owners.  That is not in the public interest.

Point: Yes some few tenants are living on their boats, with the knowledge of management and not in violation of any regulations.  As long as those boat owners are responsible, we have available a NO COST pump out vessel that provides a service on Lake Washington and Portage Bay, funded by the state Department of Ecology.  Mr Frustrated’s assertions to the contrary are groundless.

Point: Yes, the tenants do have a sweet deal, particularly those who live in the neighborhoods and can walk from home to their boat, BUT they pay moorage fees which are in line with other South Lake Washington marinas.  Again, these moorages do not exist at taxpayer expense.  They provide positive cash flow to the city.

Point: Mr Frustrated opines that I and other tenants (by the way, I am not a tenant at Lakewood or Leschi, but that is beside the point) do not pay market rate, but in reality, that is one of the items we examined in the PAT process and in fact these marinas are at market rate, but most tenants agree that a small increase in moorage fees, in exchange for rebuilt marinas is a good idea.  The tenants don’t have “ownership”.  They have a simple landlord/tenant relationship in which the tenant abides by reasonable rules and pays the rent on time and the landlord maintains the property in a responsible manner.  For the most part, these marina tenants have upheld their side of the relationship, but the landlord, Parks, has failed to maintain their property.  In fact, in 2010, rates were raised .75/foot/month, SPECIFICALLY to fund maintenance.  Those funds were segregated.  BUT Parks failed to allow those funds to be released for maintenance use.

Point: While there was not universal agreement in the PAT’s, it was generally agreed that these public marinas need to serve more of the public than they do today, including access to the water, launching for hand carried boats, storage of hand carried boats, and hosting events.  As long as public access can be provided without compromising the security of the moorage tenant’s boats, most of the PAT members agreed with expanded access and activities.  That would be incorporated into the rebuilding of the marinas and the new operation agreements which must come on line.

Point: Mr Frustrated’s cost numbers are skewed in a manner designed to make it seem that the marina tenants get a huge cost subsidy from the city, but nothing could be further from the truth.  And the 353 number fails to take into account the families who have shared ownership of boats, the numbers who use each boat and the friends and neighbors who benefit from using the marinas.  In point of fact, many thousands of individuals use these facilities and with the improvements we propose that usage number will grow.  And at Leschi there is a dragon boat program which takes large crews out on the water and a disabled sailing program that gets people who could never gain access to the water on their own into sailing.  And the competitive sailing programs at Leschi develop the next generations of sailors.

Point: In fact, the current rents (or perhaps slightly higher rents) would cover the debt financing that is really required to rebuild the three marinas.  We say that because North Leschi is in currently tolerable condition and both North Leschi and Lakewood can be repaired incrementally from moorage fees over a period of years.  That serves both to allow those moorage fees to pay for the improvements and it displaces fewer boats at any one time.  The critical area today is South Leschi, which is significantly failing, but which could conceivably be repaired on a temporary basis, or with the $4 mil already allocated by the City Council nearly 20 months ago, that work is already funded.

I’m sorry that Mr Frustrated is so angry and so frustrated, but he is barking up the wrong tree and using “facts” which aren’t facts.  The problem we are all dealing with is that to all appearances, Parks just sees the marinas as a headache and doesn’t want to have to deal with them.  But Parks successfully deals with pools, playfields, golf courses and community centers.  The marinas are another essential form of public recreation in a city bounded by water.

I don’t personally benefit from these marinas.  I do have a boat, but it is at a private marina in Ballard.  I’m paying about $10.50/foot/month, but I have a slip that is solid, 40′ long, 14′ wide AND COVERED.  Given those statistics, Lakewood and Leschi are right at market, given mostly smaller slips and no covered slips.

The city has an obligation to maintain these marina properties for the public at affordable rates and that is the problem we are actively trying to address today.

Sincerely, Marty Oppenheimer

 

Dear Editor

Please allow me to respond to this the anonymous Very Frustrated Resident Seattle

In regards to Lakewood and Leschi articles setting the record straight:

Dear Mr. “Anonymous”,  Very Frustrated,

First and foremost, consensus from every person I have talked to who has read your letter agrees that your letter, your tone, and your points indicate that you are most likely an administrative assistant with the Foss Corporation sic.  Your facts are inaccurate and your financial calculations are unsupported….here is the real truth.

  1.  Parks and Recreation have increased moorage fees and made multiple commitments to use those funds  (NOT TAX PAYERS)   for major repairs, yet PARKS has failed to make any of the much needed  repairs over the past several years.  This is negligent in the city’s management and derelict in their responsibility, as the moorage fees from both Lakewood and from Leschi are being used to support other city assets rather providing for basic safety of existing moorages as promised and are reasonable to expect.
  2. We have in-hand schematic drawings proposed to the city by Foss Corporation to eliminate dozens of small boat slips owned by local Seattle residents to allow for the increase of yachts over 50 feet.  It is undeniable that Parks plan will force out the majority of small boat owners who are also local middle class Seattle residents.
  3. In response to your accusation of illegal activities, you, as a boat owner should be aware of the fact that King County funds Free Pump-Out services to all vessels on Lake Washington and Lake Union.  We spend countless days and nights at the docks and have NEVER witnessed ANY boat dumping directly into the lake.   Moreover, we have confirmed that a small number of live-aboards are permitted at Lakewood.
  4. Mr. Oppenheimer does not have a “horse in the race” because he does not have a boat at either Marina.  He was selected for the Park Advisory Team (PAT), a 3rd party person from the Community and outside observer of the FACTS.   Mr. Oppenheimer along with others PAT members made recommendation based on PARKS request and feedback.  Then Parks ignores every suggestion from THEIR OWN guidelines.  What was the purpose of the PAT exercise?   Lip Service with no action to maintain public moorages that DO generate revenue for PARKS?

Regardless of who you really are and what your agenda truly is, we stand strong, we stand united, and we stand fully funded to challenge any and all actions by yourself and/or the city that will support the development of these precious city properties that are provided for the use and enjoyment of many thousands of Medium Income Seattle residents who could never again afford the waters of Lake Washington once the Mega-Yacht Focused Foss Corporation were to be awarded a 40 year, $20M+ development contract.

Dixie Steciw, Lakewood Tenant

 

The following letter was addressed to  Seattle City Council members Jean Godden, Bruce Harrell and Tom Rasmussen and copied to Northwest Yachting.

I am writing to you as a 30-year resident of Leschi, a former 25-year tenant of the Leschi Marina and a member of the Leschi Marina Project Advisory Team (PAT) regarding the pending request for proposal for a new manager/operator for the Lakewood and Leschi marinas.

I am also writing as someone who has watched the public asset of the marinas deteriorate due to inattention and mismanagement to the point my wife, who has limited mobility, was simply unable to safely get to our boat.   The proposed RFP, as written by the Parks Department staff offers the best opportunity to reverse this deterioration and improve and preserve access to the waters of Lake Washington.

I am particularly concerned about the proposal from a group of Lakewood area residents to separate out the Lakewood Marina from the RFP process to manage and operate the Lakewood Marina through some “flag of convenience” non-profit organization.  I strongly object to their proposal.

There are three reasons for my objection.

The first is that by separating Lakewood from Leschi there is a significant loss of economy of scale for any future operator.  This will have two potential very negative effects.  First, the splitting of the marinas will reduce the likely pool of potential respondents.  I have had conversations with three potential respondents and all three had concerns about the viability of managing and investing in Leschi as a stand-alone operation.  Second, if an operator is found for just for Leschi, the fixed costs of management will be higher on a per slip basis and will result in higher costs per tenant.  Not an outcome that serves the public purpose of affordable water access.

The second reason is that the Leschi and Lakewood marinas are in their current condition due to under-investment and weak management.  It would simply be asking for a repeat of the past carried over to the future to place management of a valuable asset once again into the hands of an inexperienced and possibly well-intentioned but potentially unstable non-profit organization hastily organized and under-capitalized.

The third reason is the most important.  For decades, the Lakewood marina community has enjoyed the use of the moorage and the Ehler’s Island uplands as essentially a private club.  They have had exclusive, gated access to a 1-acre idyllic private island – the only island on Seattle’s Lake Washington shore.  It is entirely inappropriate for the Lakewood community to attempt to structure an arrangement that has all the appearances of an attempt to maintain preferential community control.  Their own communications make it clear that they want an exclusive “neighborhood marina.”

The simple matter is that Ehler’s Island is a public asset that needs to be returned to the use of all of Seattle’s citizens.

A safe marina can accommodate public access.  Like every other marina in Seattle security should happen at the dock, not where it captures and privatizes a public asset.   Placing strong public access requirements on the respondents is, of course, one of the primary recommendations of both PATs.  Affordability is another.  I  believe the best way to achieve these two important goals is for the City to identify a strong, experienced operator.  One who is used to dealing with both security and public access issues and can use the economies of scale of the combined Lakewood/Leschi facilities to structure an agreement for operating and reinvesting in these facilities that can  serve the tenants, the city and the public well.

Lake Washington and Lake Washington Boulevard, with all its public amenities from Matthew’s Beach to Seward Park, is a jewel of Seattle and perhaps the most important piece of the Olmsted legacy.  Allowing a group of privateers to capture a significant and unique part of it for their own benefit is contrary to public policy and should be rejected.  It is entirely inappropriate for the Lakewood group to hold these facilities hostage while they try to get their way.

Some years ago, the Parks Department “recaptured” from adjacent residents the street end parks providing access to Lake Washington.  While there was some resistance, the resulting “String of Pearls” street end parks has shown that public access to the water benefits all of Seattle, not just a few.

Please let the Parks Department’s RFP for a Lakewood/Leschi operator proceed as written.  Thank you for your consideration of these thoughts.

Sincerely,
Steve Johnson
Seattle

We asked the group that would like to see the RFP split for their take on the situation, and here is their response:

Editor,

In South Seattle, the city’s Lakewood Marina is failing.  A bit to the north, the city’s Leschi Marina is in an even poorer state of repair, with several docks literally sinking into the lake or closed for safety.

Both of these marinas are part of Seattle’s Department of Parks & Recreation.  For many years, “Parks” has owned the marinas, supervising a private operator.  That operator has regularly requested maintenance funds, only to have Parks refuse those allocations.  This has occurred even though tenants had an increase in moorage fees in 2010, specifically to establish a maintenance fund.  In late 2013, Seattle City Council allocated $4 mil for repairs to South Leschi, but 18 months later NONE of those funds have been spent for repairs at either marina.

I should note that over a period of many years, Parks reaped millions of dollars in moorage fees from boat owners, while reinvesting minimal dollars back into basic maintenance of the marinas.  Over this time, both marinas have outlived their design lives and in both cases it has become time for total rebuilds of the docks.  Once rebuilt, those docks would have new lives of perhaps 60 years based on today’s materials and designs.  But the poor stewardship of these public gems by Parks, over a period of many years, is truly shameful.  Frankly it constitutes an major abrogation of municipal and civic responsibility.

Finally, in mid-2013, Parks decided to issue an RFP (Request for Proposals) for a private entity to both administer the two marinas and to spend an estimated $11 mil of private funds to rebuild (or is that replace/redesign?) the two marinas.  That RFP process drew two bidders, the Schobers who have run the marinas for a number of years and Foss Waterway Management, who proposed full reconfigurations of the two marinas, adding many larger slips and eliminating many smaller slips, dramatically changing the character of the marinas.

Both marinas have long been bastions of blue collar and middle class boating in Seattle, the city with the highest density of boat ownership in the country.  Leschi is geared more to sailboats with some percentage of small to medium power boats and Lakewood is geared more to power boats with some smaller sailboats.  Both primarily serve their neighborhoods and surrounding city neighborhoods.  These marinas have always been a way for ordinary Seattle citizens to economically use the water and neither is a gold-plated yacht basin, nor should they be.

After the issuance of the 2013 RFP, both marina communities vociferously protested to Parks, who eventually canceled the RFP and agreed to convene PAT’s (Project Advisory Teams) to evaluate the state of the marinas and to propose reasonable new paths to Parks.  The Leschi PAT met in early 2014 and the Lakewood PAT met in mid 2014.  I served as a member of the Lakewood PAT and as liaison between the two PAT’s.

Parks presented a wide pallet of marina information on marina practices, competitive marinas in the region and specifically marinas in South Lake Washington.  Parks also presented the Parks Golf Course Model, the way in which Seattle Parks operates the city owned golf courses.

While the details of the final PAT recommendations for each marina varied, due to the differences in structure, location and constituency, BOTH PAT’s wholeheartedly endorsed the Parks Golf Course Model as the best path for rebuilding, operating and maintaining both marinas.  Under the Golf Course Model, city funds (typically through municipal bonding) would be used to pay the cost of rebuilding the marinas, while the debt financing and ongoing operations and maintenance would be paid from moorage fees.  The Golf Course Model also provides excess funds to Parks in the process.  In fact, the way the golf courses have been run, there is even a capital fund, but in the case of the marinas, Parks has simply moved their share of moorage fees into the Parks General Fund, reinvesting little into the marinas.  I should note that via the Golf Course Model, Parks has recently invested many millions of dollars in improvements at Jefferson Golf Course.  The city bonds these funds and user fees pay the operations, maintenance and debt service, which is exactly what the Lakewood Tenants are asking of Parks for the Lakewood Marina.  This same plan could certainly work well for Leschi.

Despite this agreement from both city appointed PAT’s, Parks is once again trying to issue an RFP, this time estimating $20 mil to rebuild (or is it replace/redesign?) both marinas.  The Lakewood Tenants group has been actively opposing this path.  Leschi, seemingly because of their more dire situation, has relented and has embraced Parks approach, in hopes that it will restore their marina before more of it falls into the lake.

This is a slippery slope for the Leschi tenants, who could easily find themselves priced out of their moorage, or removed by conversion to larger, rather than smaller, slips.  We sense the desperation of the Leschi tenants due to the rapidly deteriorating conditions at their marina, but we believe that the two marinas can cooperatively work to set the best path for both, WITHOUT bringing in private funding for rebuild/repair/redesign.

Most recently, the Lakewood group has proposed engineered plans to replace the deteriorated docks at Lakewood over a six year period, solely funded by moorage fees, with perhaps a bit of additional Parks funding.  Lakewood is failing, but has not failed, unlike Leschi.  In fact at Lakewood, the main entry dock and the “C” dock probably have 10+ years of life remaining, but the “A” and “B” docks really do need to be replaced.

In late May, a small group of Lakewood tenants met with Parks and Councilmember Bruce Harrell.  Rational reasons were presented to fund repairs, primarily from moorage fees with the work phased over six years.  The six-year plan would mean that the current stream of fees could cover costs AND that few tenants would be displaced, with the bulk of the work occurring during the winter months.  The Lakewood group believes, and engineering demonstrates, that by utilizing the existing $4 mil and funding repair/replacement from current moorage fees the deteriorated docks and breakwaters AT BOTH MARINAS could all be rebuilt to modern standards.  Regrettably, at that meeting, the Lakewood group received little more than bureaucratic lip service from Parks and, despite delaying the RFP for 30 days (to July 1), it seems Parks is continuing down the same destructive path they were on two years ago.

The Lakewood group has proposed that Parks either separate the Lakewood and Leschi RFP’s, or that Parks separate the RFP for repair/replacement from the RFP for operation.  Repair/replacement MUST be funded by a combination of city funds and moorage fees.  Parks approach is one of public/private partnership, where the private party will need to fully fund the work and, therefore, will need a high profit to reward their private investment.  While I can see the efficiencies of a single entity operating both marinas, the proposed public/private partnership for funding the rebuilding will unquestionably displace small boats and increase rates, probably to higher fees than any other Lake Washington marina.

These two marinas are public treasures in a city that values both boating and access to resources by the middle class.  The Parks approach threatens to turn these two middle class marinas into gold-plated yacht basins.  We have more than enough high end yacht basins in the area, but few middle class marinas.  Seattle Parks & Recreation has headed down an unjustifiable road, but at every turn they seem to seek public input and then to move ahead while completely ignoring that public input.

Sincerely
Marty Oppenheimer
Seattle

And this from a boater who’s attended meetings and following the issue with great interest:

Dear Bruce,

We met last year at the public hearing on the Leschi/Lakewood Marina issue and at the time you encouraged me to put my thoughts in writing. I would also like to say thank you to you, Kurt, and Northwest Yachting for the coverage you have provided of this debacle. To put this in perspective, I am a longtime Seward Park resident writing in regard to Marty Oppenheimer’s letter that has been widely circulated concerning the Parks Department marinas. In the name of transparency, this letter can and should be plainly summarized as “More subsidies for boat owners.”  I have followed the project with the hope that the property might be improved from its current eye sore status; as well as that new management might reduce the illegal activity I have witnessed over the years.

The activity that is most concerning to me is that which is environmentally damaging including sanding and painting of  boats on the water. Additionally, some tenants are living on their boats, which is a violation and given that there are no pump-out facilities you can safely assume that sewage is being illegally discharged directly into the lake. I have read the RFP that was put out last year, attended one of the community meetings (where I met you) and followed the updates. What is crystal clear is that the tenants have a pretty sweet deal – essentially a private asset at cheap rates with 24 hour free parking. Now they want more. Something for nothing. At taxpayer expense, of course. While his views certainly wouldn’t represent the majority of the broader community, for the purposes of this letter, I have accepted his statement that he represents the majority view of tenants.

• Mr. Oppenheimer mentions rent increases but fails to mention the actual amount of rent that he and the other tenants have paid. Maybe this is because it would not help his cause to recognize that the tenants do not pay a market rent. I have tried to get a slip at the marina on several occasions given the extraordinarily low price, but of course there are never any openings. By mentioning the “millions in moorage fees reaped” while failing to mention the millions of marina slip value received, is to imply that the tenants have some kind of ownership and are owed something beyond monthly access to the slip.

Of course, nothing could be farther from the truth, he and others paid a rent and received a service and were under no obligation to continue. At the heart of the letter is just an attempt to appropriate public property for private use. His suggestion is that by paying the actual rents required to deliver the service they are demanding, would somehow be tantamount to the city taking their property.

• In a nation where more than 1/3 of working adults have zero savings, it takes world class chutzpah for a boat owner to play the “class card.” I have to admit “gold plated yacht basins” has a certain cartoonish appeal (though I have no idea what it means), but suffering middle class boat owners? Think for a moment about the mandate of the Parks department. Of primary importance would presumably be to provide the most recreational opportunities/space to the greatest number of people. A related second might be to boost property value through quality of life and therefore tax receipts of the city, which also benefit from an increase in tourism. Rather than an “abrogation of duty”, by any measure Parks has done an excellent job of providing value to its citizens by spending the taxpayer dollars where they can deliver the most value to the community.

The entire Parks budget amounts to $136 million (2013), and according to the Trust for Public Land, Seattle Parks received 140,000,000 visits (2011), thereby costing roughly $1 per visit. This spending equates to $207 for every woman, man and child residing in our city. But Marty and the other boat owners want us citizens to spend more than $56,000 for each boat owner (based on Parks estimate of total repair costs and assuming roughly 353 slips) so that they may enjoy a product at a fraction of its cost, well below market rates. Thanks citizens! And make no mistake; the opponents have fought strenuously to keep this “public treasure” a private asset, by resisting all calls for more public access. If anything, it is this kind of spending for a small number of people would be an abrogation of duty. That amount of money could be used to create access for tens of thousands throughout our park system.

These numbers also highlight the absurdity of comparing the marinas to the golf course model. The money spent at Jefferson Park, the entire facility of which is open to the public, was less than what this project calls for and yet more than 60,000 rounds are played each year! So we are talking about spending more money than was spent (under controversy) to benefit tens of thousands, but for just 353 individuals (at full occupancy)?

Finally, it is important to recognize that the current rents don’t even come close to covering his suggested debt financing, much less the ongoing operational and maintenance costs. And the difference between those numbers is of course, a public subsidy. Let’s do that math. Financing this project at 5% over 20 years would result in $1.6 million in debt service. Existing rents would barely cover half this amount, not even accounting for operational costs and maintenance. Mr. Oppenheimer knows this, which is why he doesn’t want the accountability (in the form of market rents) that would follow an actual realistic, reasoned approach. Rather, his goal seems to be to get the city on the hook at $4 million today, and then continue with the next round of asks after the money has been spent and the job is not complete.

• Since Mr. Oppenheimer is calling on all citizens’ nobler selves to subsidize downtrodden boat owners, shouldn’t we apportion these extravagant benefits (in the form of an updated marina at rates more than 50% below market) in a fair manner? Should we have a lottery system? Should we allow only tenants whose incomes fall below certain thresholds? I can assure you this is not what the existing tenants have in mind when the talk is about supporting the middle class. It is about supporting “me.” What about the tenants who live on Mercer Island and do not even pay taxes in the area? I am middle class and value “access to resources,” how do I get access?

Should those of us who have waited for years be given a turn if we meet income qualifications?

What about access just to take out a paddleboard? For that matter, shouldn’t we be subsidizing low-income housing over marinas for boat owners?

• “The Lakewood group believes that $4 million” is all that is needed. That’s comforting, let’s ignore the professionals and move forward, because if we are wrong, we won’t get stuck with the bill! If Mr. Oppenheimer honestly thought that despite all of the staff hours and professional consultants the cost estimates were off by 500%, would not that be the real story here?

• Why would a private entity need a “high profit” to reward their investment? Don’t they just need a return on their capital, no different than the city bondholders proposed by Mr. Oppenheimer?

Shouldn’t the citizens of our city be entitled to a return on their tax dollars, by having their park money invested where it will provide the most return to them, versus spending it to subsidize 353 boat owners?

Despite an effort to narrate a tale of woe with imaginary villains, this is really just a story of greed, of wanting to continue to receive something for nothing. The math is so simple that one would assume no council member could fall for the argument. Maybe objecting tenants are counting on the ability to compromise the integrity of just one, and assume that nobody else in the community is paying attention. I for one support any efforts to beautify our public shorefronts, increase public access and manage them in an environmentally friendly manner and thought that was Parks plan.

I am requesting anonymity in this letter because I am still trying to get a slip at Lakewood and that group is so hostile I have to assume that this letter will do nothing but set me further down the list. Again, thank you for your interest in this.

A Very Frustrated Resident
Seattle

Kurt Hoehne

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