Park survey shows Olympia voters support tax increase and more

Olympia residents apparently like their parks enough to pay more taxes and trust the city to spend that park tax money appropriately.

Those are two highlights from survey results released this week as part of Olympia’s ongoing park planning process.

The city invited 4,000 households with registered voters to take an online survey between March 20 and April 5. Conducted by Elway Research, the survey focused on preferences for city parks and related services.

Stuart Elway, president of Elway Research, briefed the Olympia City Council about the survey results Tuesday evening. Among the findings:

• Demographics of survey participants skewed toward older residents. Of the 759 people who completed the questionnaire, 65 percent are 51 or above. About 39 percent of survey participants reside in southeast Olympia, and 28 percent of survey takers report a household income over $100,000.

• 95 percent report visiting a city park in the past year. When asked to grade the city’s parks, 11 percent gave them an “A,” and 52 percent gave them a “B.” Neighborhood parks were ranked as the “most needed” type of park in Olympia.

• Park users ranked walking paths (87 percent) and restrooms (86 percent) as the “most important park features.” Other high-ranking categories include picnic tables and benches (67 percent), open grassy areas (57 percent) and playground equipment (50 percent).

• About 35 percent of respondents said they feel unsafe at some city parks. The most-cited park was the Artesian Commons, site of the artesian well, with 11 percent saying they felt unsafe there. The survey notes that some responses (6 percent) were general comments such as “any of them after dark” and “wooded areas.”

• Swimming facilities, both indoor and outdoor, topped the “wish list” of recreational activities in Olympia. Participants were invited to write in their own responses to this open-ended question, with 20 percent asking for an outdoor swimming facility and an additional 18 percent asking for a pool. The survey notes that 251 people responded to this question.

• Participants ranked the top five highest priority park projects in the following order: completion of Percival Landing, demolition of the Capitol Center Building on the isthmus, completion of the Woodland Trail, acquisition of the LBA woods, development of West Bay Park and construction of a new athletic field/community park.

• About 71 percent showed support for a tax increase to pay for acquisition and development of parks. The top reason for support was to “preserve for the future,” while the top reason to oppose was “taxes too high.” About 75 percent showed support for a tax increase to pay for maintenance of parks, trails and recreational facilities. The top reason for support in this category was to “increase usability,” while the top reason to oppose was given as the city’s misallocation of existing funds, “either by waste or misguided priorities.”

• One survey question asked, “If voters were to pass a new parks funding measure, do you trust that the city will use the funds appropriately?” About 10 percent said they would trust the city “completely,” 48 percent said they would trust the city “mostly,” and 28 percent said they would not trust the city with the funds.

The city reports that the survey cost $20,750. The survey is meant to supplement feedback from eight recent neighborhood outreach meetings about future park projects.

Parks director Paul Simmons told the council that staff will return June 9 with a more comprehensive report.

“It definitely demonstrates a lot of passion,” Simmons said of the survey and its role in shaping future park projects. “It’s one component of a larger picture.”

Last July, the city hired a consultant for $60,000 to evaluate five sites for a potential new park with athletic fields, an off-leash dog area and open space. The consultant determined that the Spooner Berry Farm off Yelm Highway was the best candidate.

The evaluation was done at the request of the LBA Woods Park Coalition, a group of citizens that has been lobbying to protect 150 wooded acres from development in southeast Olympia.