Executive Constantine triples down on open space protection, takes action to ensure greenspace access for all King County residents
Executive Dow Constantine delivered to the King County Council today legislation that vigorously accelerates the pace of land conservation over the next year. The legislation would triple funding and invest in 61 open space projects. It embraces recommendations put forward by the community-led Open Space Equity Cabinet and the Conservation Futures Advisory Committee to improve access to open space in communities with the greatest needs.
One year after Executive Dow Constantine launched the Land Conservation Initiative to accelerate protection of 65,000 acres of the highest conservation value open space, he announced legislation to triple investments in 2019 and 2020 and to help ensure every resident in King County has access to health-promoting greenspaces.
With revenue generated by the Conservation Futures Tax and the King County Parks Levy, the county and cities seek to invest up to $63.8 million for 61 open space projects in 2019 and early 2020, pending authorization from the King County Council and voters renewing the King County Parks Levy during the Aug. 6 election. That is up from $20 million to protect 40 open space projects funded in 2018.
“We are advancing the Land Conservation Initiative with urgency and purpose, tripling our investments for open space preservation,” said Executive Constantine. “The legislation I am announcing today will save thousands of acres of our last, best open space lands, farmlands, forestlands, urban greenspaces, and trails. This will help ensure that all people who call King County home can enjoy the natural beauty that defines our region."
This tripling in funding is possible because the county has placed additional tools in its conservation toolbox. One tool the county added last year was to increase the debt financing capacity of the Conservation Futures Tax from 50 percent to 80 percent, making it possible for the county to pull forward up to $148 million in capital over the next several years to acquire open space. Executive Constantine’s proposed legislation would pull forward the first $35 million of the $148 million to protect conservation lands right now.
Another tool is the additional $120 million for open space protection that Executive Constantine included in his proposal to renew the King County Parks Levy, which the County Council put on the August ballot.
Here are a few examples of projects included in the legislation:
- Finishing the work of protecting the most critical farmland, with easements in the Snoqualmie Valley, on the Enumclaw Plateau, and on Vashon Island
- Preserving forests on the slopes of Cougar Mountain
- Adding much-needed greenspace throughout urban areas
- Adding to the Eastside Rail Corridor to improve access and better connect it to the regional trail network
- Acquire properties along Bear Creek as well as Cedar, Green, and Tolt rivers to restore salmon and wildlife habitat
Executive Constantine’s legislation embraces recommendations from the community-led Open Space Equity Cabinet to apply the principles of equity and social justice as King County and its cities accelerate the protection of important urban green space, forests, farms, and habitat lands.
Launched by Executive Constantine in 2018, the Land Conservation Initiative is a plan for the county and its cities to protect the highest conservation value open space within a single generation before the opportunity is lost due to population growth and development pressure.
By front-loading investments over the next 30 years, instead of the next 70 years, the county and cities together can double the amount of open space they can protect, and do so with minimal impact to taxpayers in these early years of the initiative. Since land and real estate become increasingly expensive over time, this acceleration will save the region $15 billion compared to protecting the same amount of open space over 70 years.
The legislation that Executive Constantine announced today will ensure that the accelerated funding for land conservation will protect more urban green spaces in communities lacking this important public infrastructure investment, in addition to protecting more forest, farm, and habitat lands.
Ensuring everyone in King County has access to open space
The county is using open space funding generated by the Conservation Futures Tax to catalyze the creation of new green space in communities with the greatest disparities in access to open space. These communities are primarily located in South King County. One quarter of King County residents — about 500,000 people — do not live within easy access to a publicly owned park, green space, or trail due to decades of inequities and injustice that limited investments in public infrastructure in these communities.
Seven of the open space projects recommended for funding this year qualified for the new waiver that Executive Constantine proposed in 2018 based on recommendations by the Land Conservation Initiative Advisory Group. Using this new approach, cities that can demonstrate that protecting an open space property will promote equity and social justice no longer have to put up matching funds to receive funding from the Conservation Futures Tax.
The new legislation now advances to the King County Council Committee of the Whole for its consideration.
- STORYMAP: King County Land Conservation Initiative
- Executive Constantine’s plan will ensure all King County residents have access to open spaces
- VIDEO: B-roll footage of open space projects
- VIDEO: Executive Constantine announces plan to triple King County's land conservation investments
We are advancing the Land Conservation Initiative with urgency and purpose, tripling our investments for open space preservation. The legislation I am announcing today will save thousands of acres of our last, best open space lands, farmlands, forestlands, urban greenspaces, and trails. This will help ensure that all people who call King County home can enjoy the natural beauty that defines our region.
I am very proud of all the people and efforts that went into creation of the Land Conservation Initiative. Our work over the last 3 years matched the urgency of protecting our natural heritage with a commitment to embed equity in its outcomes. Tripling the rate of land conservation represents our willingness to continue to lead the way on protecting our environment, our health, and our way of life in the region.
The Land Conservation Initiative commitment to accelerate the pace of land conservation is key. By tripling the rate of protection in this first year, we have made a strong start. Whether it is farmland, parks in underserved neighborhoods, trails or conservation properties, they are all becoming more expensive and scarce.
Thirty years ago, King County made smart investments in parks, trails and open space that are a big reason the Mountains to Sound Greenway is now a National Heritage Area. As our region continues to grow, Executive Constantine’s Land Conservation Initiative will make bold and visionary investments to ensure the opportunities and benefits of parks, trails and open spaces are accessible to all for generations to come.
As our region grows, it is of the utmost importance that everyone has access to places to get outdoors, and the Land Conservation Initiative is an important tool in ensuring this access. This initiative will help us continue our work to create urban parks, improve access to outdoor recreation, and preserve King County's most special places -- all of which make our community healthy, livable, and climate resilient.
For more information, contact:
Alex Fryer, Executive Office, 206-477-7966