Letters to the Editor

Letter to the Editor | Parks commissioner responds to Soundview Forest controversy

Posted on January 16th, 2024 By: Justin Teerlinck

I am a City of Gig Harbor Parks Commissioner. While I do not claim to represent either the Parks Commission or the City, I wish to correct a misunderstanding regarding the playground proposal pitched by Carrieanne Ekberg, executive director of the Downtown Waterfront Alliance.

The content of our meetings has been misrepresented. I therefore have a duty to step forward and correct the record, particularly when it gives a misleading interpretation of our work. I was present during both of Ekberg’s presentations. Both the Gig Harbor Now Editor’s Note as well as the mayor’s comments in the (Jan. 5) edition of The Gigabyte newsletter need to be addressed in order to understand this situation.

First, with regard to Gig Harbor Now’s clarification: the Waterfront Alliance is stating that the presentation they made does not reflect their intent. If that was true, then why was it presented to us, taking up over two hours of our time over the course of not one but two Parks Commission meetings?

The presentation was a muddle of computer-generated graphics and fine (illegible) print full of red circles and lines x’ing out various objects whose intended function it was difficult to discern. Ekberg delivered the presentation as if she was deeply embarrassed of it, placing blame at several junctures on her landscape designer friend who created it. Concerns that were raised were either barely addressed or ignored entirely, including my concerns about a lack of access or inclusion of children with disabilities.

Second, I am disappointed in Mayor Markley’s comments in the Gigabyte newsletter stating that Parks Commissioners were “supportive” of this effort. Whether intended or not, it both mischaracterizes Parks Commission discussions and it makes us responsible for another party’s poor planning and decision making. Our comments were “supportive” in that we extended Ekberg the same courtesy and professionalism we grant anyone attending any of our meetings.

The Parks Commission did not approve of, nor were we asked to approve, the plans Ekberg presented us with. Furthermore, almost every individual commissioner voiced specific concerns over numerous aspects of the project. If our politeness and tact in addressing these concerns is going to continue to be spun as “approval,” then perhaps in the future we will need to be more blunt and direct in taking stances on the various projects we are tasked with reviewing.

Third, it is deceptive to imply that Soundview Park was “just one of many options.” In fact, it is a complete lie. We briefly discussed placing Ekberg’s playground in other parks. All alternatives were quickly and systematically dismissed, including my suggestion that the BMX park (which is not listed on the city website) be used for this, since that park has already had most of its natural features severely altered and it receives  little use. When I noted this, I was told by Ekberg that this park was unsuitable because the Waterfront Alliance’s territory only covers downtown—never mind the fact that the BMX park is barely a quarter mile from downtown. The vast majority of discussion focused on Soundview Park.

This is a classic case of the tail wagging the dog. We seemed to be tasked with helping create a playground to suit the needs of the Waterfront Alliance, rather than the Waterfront Alliance trying to determine the needs of the community it purports to serve. Both the agenda presented to us by the city as well as Ekberg’s presentation says “Soundview Park” on the slides and her presentation is listed as “Soundview Forest Park Playground Proposal” in our agenda packet — the entirety of which is available online at the city’s website (look for the Nov. 8 parks commission meeting).

Fourth, we were given no rationale for why this playground should exist, who it should serve, or its larger purpose in our community except that, “it will make people want to buy more lattes at Seven Seas.” We were not presented with any data or any persuasive argument to support this reasoning. I do not believe the primary purpose of our natural spaces or playgrounds should be to sell coffee or merely promote shopping.

Yet that seems to be the purpose of many Waterfront Alliance projects. The needs and interests of children were barely considered in these presentations. Taking an uncritical view of this and similar gimmicks is a root cause for why our downtown is fast becoming a ghost town. While these projects go far in enhancing the social status and reputations of the individuals pursuing them, they divert time, resources, and attention away from focused, collaborative problem solving that is absolutely needed for Gig Harbor to survive its growing pains.

I am also disappointed with an email Ekberg sent to Gig Harbor city employees about the need for “damage control,” in response to a letter from a concerned citizen about the park proposal. It gives the impression that the city has no interest in engaging constructively with concerned citizens except to “handle” them (i.e. make them shut up and go away).

The bottom line is that Ekberg and her Waterfront Alliance appear to want to enhance their status by building a playground. When our community got wind of it, there was — and still is — push back. Instead of taking responsibility for her poor planning and decision-making, Ekberg with Mayor Markley’s assistance decided to walk back the entire effort, and make the Parks Commission responsible for bad ideas foisted upon us in bad faith.

What exactly is the function of the Parks Commission as well as the other commissions? Do they exist to solve problems openly and collaboratively, or do they exist to rubber stamp and provide cover for larger, secretive agendas that we commissioners are not made aware of? I chose to be a commissioner because I wanted to serve our community, not to be an instrument for furthering the self-serving agendas of the Gig Harbor power elite.

I refuse to be a pawn in any scheme or gimmick that disrespects our community or manipulates it in order to obtain compliance — even if it leads to retaliation from those with more power and status than I wield. Thank you for hearing me out.

Justin Teerlinck

Gig Harbor

Gig Harbor Now accepts signed letters to the editor of up to about 800 words. Submit them on the Contact form by selecting “Letter to the Editor” from the Purpose dropdown.