Latest Updates (Blog)

January 2018 Update

This is the January update from Protect Volunteer Park.

This month the Seattle City Council will consider, and possibly approve, the Asian Art Museum expansion project. Below we reiterate the many reasons we believe this project not to be in the public interest, particularly the proposed 55-year lease/subsidy deal which was first revealed on December 1, 2017.

What You Can Do

There are two important actions you can take now:
1. Comment at the public hearing on Friday, January 12, 2:00 PM
2. Email “” in your own words before January 12.
See below for suggested talking points.

You may also be interested in the January 17 (2pm) meeting of the Civic Development, Public Assets, and Native Communities Committee (new name of the parks committee) when we believe the Committee is likely to vote on the legislation to expand the museum.

About the Public Hearing

The Council will hear public input about legislation to exempt Asian Art Museum from the land use code. This hearing is on:
Friday, January 12, 2018
2:00 PM
Council Chambers, Seattle City Hall
600 4th Avenue
Comments will likely be limited to 2 minutes.
RSVP to to get last-minute info.

We believe that the Durkan administration has already signed the museum deal in December, anticipating retroactive Council approval. It will be void if not approved by the Council. This is a lousy deal which should not be approved without full consideration of alternatives. Seattle Art Museum (SAM) staff have sent communications organizing the project’s supporters to attend this hearing. Please come out and help show that many people have an alternative view.

Suggested Talking Points

We wrote a comment specifically for this hearing, which you can read at this link:

For your convenience in planning your comments (or emails to, we repeat here our 16 main points of objection to this museum expansion proposal:

  • The proposed expansion is visually dominant and spoils the Olmsted Brothers’ naturalistic design of Volunteer Park. With great foresight the Olmsteds planned a landscape park to give the public the psychological benefits of being in nature, within a city they recognized as likely to become much more dense and built-up.
  • The proposal makes the museum building taller, contrary to claims by Parks Department staff (and the legislation’s misleading language about “elevation”). A wall over 49 feet tall would be placed directly in the greensward, blocking Olmsted-designed vistas.
  • We have documented that there is not enough parking available in Volunteer Park to expand the museum program. Seattle Art Museum (SAM)’s submitted parking study is inadequate, as it counted cars on two wet November days and claimed that to represent peak demand from park users.
  • Alternatives were never offered to the public, as the Parks Department’s Public Involvement Policy requires. It is not public involvement to repeatedly present one single plan, claiming it is “necessary”.
  • The proposed lease commits the City to 55 years of subsidy of one partner without the opportunity for any reconsideration. The old agreement was not a long-term commitment and could be ended by either party with 3 years notice.
  • Under the proposed lease deal, the City commits to spend $19 million immediately, plus 55 years of free rent for SAM, 55 years of subsidy payments to SAM, and take responsibility for major capital repairs to the building. Over the entire 55 years the City is to receive absolutely nothing, $0, in exchange for taking on these obligations. This deal is in blatant conflict with the public interest.
  • A fair process would consider proposals from multiple potential tenants, not just one.
  • Seattle Art Museum (SAM)’s Asian art exhibits were founded in the 1930’s when racist laws forbade people of Asian / Pacific Islander background to immigrate, own real estate, and build wealth. We would only perpetuate institutional racism by committing to an additional 55-year subsidy of SAM’s Asian museum without allowing any other organization to be considered as a potential partner.
  • SAM is not a “public museum” as referred to in the proposed development agreement. The public has no ownership of SAM’s assets, right to elect its directors, or control over its operations. SAM is a private corporation whose non-profit status requires it to be operated for an educational purpose, prior to any City subsidy.
  • The Parks Department is the wrong department to select a huge arts subsidy. Arts investments should be handled through the Office of Arts and Culture, with involvement of the Arts Commission, evaluating fairness relative to other City arts investments.
  • This investment in expanded Volunteer Park facilities violates the Parks Department’s equity goal of focusing capital improvements on underserved areas and rapidly densifying urban villages.
  • SAM has already built 8 floors of expansion space downtown with the help of a City subsidy in the form of a bond guarantee. SAM now declines to use these floors for its expansion, preferring to lease them to for-profit corporations linked to SAM’s trustees, with SAM keeping the revenue. Each of these 8 floors contains twice the space proposed to be added in Volunteer Park.
  • We take climate action by preserving green space. It is climate-harmful to build expanded facilities in public green space when suitable expansion space is already built downtown, having much better public transportation options.
  • The City’s original subsidy of the Volunteer Park museum came with an agreement that the museum be free of charge, four days per week. The proposed new agreement requires only four free days per month. The public subsidy has increased while the public benefits have been reduced.
  • SAM’s planned Asian Paintings Conservation Center at the expanded Volunteer Park museum is an industrial use, not recreational, and of no direct public benefit.
  • The proposed additions are too close to two exceptional beech trees, coming right up to the drip line and (in the case of the Park Lobby) overhanging the drip line and depriving the tree’s critical root zone of needed rainfall.

Thank you for your interest in protecting Volunteer Park.

Best regards,

The Protect Volunteer Park team

October 31 update – and Public Hearing TOMORROW

We haven’t been in touch in a while, so read on for an update. But first:


The City has reached the last phase of the approval process to expand the Asian Art Museum building into Volunteer Park. This phase is where your voice counts the most: the City Council. Here are upcoming opportunities including TOMORROW:

TOMORROW, November 1, 2017
5:30 PM
City Council Chambers, 601 5th Ave.

Very very quietly, the City has scheduled a public hearing on committing $19,000,000 of City funding in 2018 for the proposed Asian Art Museum renovation and expansion project.

Suggested talking points:
* We don’t object to $11 million for seismic and ADA renovations.
* We do object to the extra $8 million for expanding into the park.
* Those funds should be used for fixing neglected community centers.
* There was no public involvement process that offered alternatives.
* Seattle’s public open space is precious and should be protected.
* It’s no fair to have a hearing and not tell anybody.

Agenda (which was posted on today, 10/31):

Public testimony will be allowed 2 minutes per person, or less. Numbers matter so please come out!

If you can’t come, you can make written comments to anytime until around November 20 when the final budget is approved. Commenting early (today) will give the most influence.

December 7, 2017 (TENTATIVE DATE – see our web site to confirm)

The Parks Committee will hold a public hearing after the committee considers the Asian Art Museum expansion project. This meeting will be a chance to comment on the proposed new lease agreement at Asian Art Museum (which we don’t have yet), and its public benefits. This is a very important hearing to influence key council members. We will email again once this hearing date is confirmed.

Monday, November 13, 2017
2:30 PM (or after full Council meeting)

Not strictly Volunteer Park related, but if you want to increase investment in maintenance of park facilities (not expansion), you may want to speak at this meeting of the Seattle Park District (aka City Council wearing a different hat).

The proposal from Friends of Funding our Aging Park Facilities:


We haven’t emailed in a while, so here’s an update about Protect Volunteer Park and our aim to, yes, protect Volunteer Park from the proposed expansion of the Asian Art Museum building.

  • Almost all the approval hurdles for this museum expansion have been passed. The last step for approval is the City Council. This is more democratic than the DCI and Landmarks processes which emphasized technical issues. The City Council is accountable to the voters and we can sway them with mass input.
  • Our legal effort is suspended and we are not asking for funds currently. We appreciate your past donations for legal work.
  • Over many public objections, the Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections (DCI) issued a Declaration of Nonsignificance for the project, making it unnecessary to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement.
  • Over many public objections, the Landmarks Preservation Board (LPB) voted to issue a Certificate of Approval to allow the expansion. We do salute the two members of the LPB who dissented and voted against the project.
  • The Seattle Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR) continues to insist that expanding the Asian Art Museum building is an appropriate use of their very scarce capital funds, and that Asian Art Museum is a “recreational” use under Initiative 42 (although somehow it is never included in any of their planning documents for recreational facilities). The city administration’s position has not seemed to change through the transition from Mayor Murray to Mayor Harrell and now Mayor Burgess.
  • DPR is negotiating a new development and lease agreement with its partner Seattle Art Museum. We have not been able to access any drafts of this proposed new agreement. The long-standing existing agreement is a total giveaway, granting SAM free rent at Asian Art Museum. SAM pays nothing toward routine maintenance of the building. SAM does not even pay for its own utilities or custodial services, the City makes payments to SAM to reimburse its spending on these.
  • We conducted a do-it-yourself parking study and documented that Volunteer Park’s parking supply routinely becomes 80% full, even with the museum closed, on weekends in May through July. SAM’s plan to expand visitorship 54% will overload the parking supply in Volunteer Park. We also analyzed SAM’s parking study, which counted cars in November and took that to represent typical park user demand. For more information, see our web site:
  • The final approval stage is the City Council. We expect on December 7 (tentative) the Parks Committee will get its first look at the proposed development and lease agreement (and so will we). The Parks Committee may vote at that meeting, or send it back for changes and more review in additional Parks Committee meetings before consideration by the full Council. Watch our emails for updates or check our web site:
  • SAM also asks the City Council to approve a zoning change that gives the Asian Art Museum a zoning exception for its bulk and the lack of parking. Otherwise the museum expansion cannot legally go forward. This may be addressed by another committee or may be handed off to the Parks Committee.
  • If the City Council approves the museum expansion, there is one more approval stage we know of. The proposed zoning change gives the DCI director the discretion to determine whether there are adequate parking facilities. We will advocate for our parking study to be considered.

Thank you for supporting the preservation of our precious public open space.

Best regards,

Jonathan Mark and Protect Volunteer Park


Press Release: Legal Fight Begins Over Mayor Murray’s Park Land Giveaway

(A press release we issued on May 7, 2017. For more information and context, please see our legal page: Legal Action to Protect Volunteer Park.)

Legal Fight Begins Over Mayor Murray’s Park Land Giveaway

Seattle – Protect Volunteer Park (PVP), a pro-public park community group, today began what may become a major legal fight and campaign issue over Mayor Ed Murray’s decisions to improperly give away Seattle public parkland.

PVP sent a substantive legal letter (PDF) to the Mayor and Seattle Parks and Recreation protesting the Mayor’s parkland giveaway at Seattle’s Volunteer Park and demanding the City follow city law by holding a public hearing to determine whether the expansion truly is necessary and whether reasonable and practical alternatives exist.

“Volunteer Park is a priceless gem of the Seattle Park System, an invaluable resource for park users, Seattleites, and the residents of Capitol Hill,” said David Bricklin, PVP’s legal counsel and environmental law expert. “The public deserves an open hearing on the issue as Initiative 42 requires.”

“Our City’s parkland can’t be sold, transferred or changed from park use without a public hearing,” said John Colwell, PVP’s spokesperson.

The decision of the Mayor and Seattle Parks and Recreation to expand the Seattle Art Museum’s Asian Art Museum project at Volunteer Park will take valuable public landscape parkland for a new 13,600 square foot, 50-foot high building expansion.  What began as a simple renovation project has now become a large expansion and land-grab by the SAM and the Mayor in one of our City’s most beloved public parks, in clear violation of Initiative 42.

“Mayor Murray, Parks Superintendent Jesus Aguirre and the Seattle Art Museum have negotiated a backroom deal to build a bigger museum in Volunteer Park,” Colwell said.  “The public has largely been left out of that deal.”

Art Museum leadership claims I-42 constraints don’t apply to their project. The Mayor and Parks Department concur, thereby avoiding a public hearing and a compulsory exploration of alternatives.

“Voters declared 20 years ago that a public park is just that: a “park,” not a “museum” or a “building,” said Colwell. “They codified that with I-42, which says repurposing parkland demands a public hearing. The Mayor and Parks need to follow the law.”

Initiative 42 (Seattle Or. 118477, Section 1) reads as follows:

“All lands and facilities held now or in the future by The City of Seattle for park and recreation purposes, whether designated as park, park boulevard, or open space, shall be preserved for such use; and no such land or facility shall be sold, transferred, or changed from park use to another usage, unless the City shall first hold a public hearing regarding the necessity of such a transaction and then enact an ordinance finding that the transaction is necessary because there is no reasonable practical alternative . . . .”

David Bricklin’s Letter to the Mayor and Parks Superintendent (PDF)


May 2017 Update

Here’s the latest from Protect Volunteer Park!

We’re on Facebook and Twitter

Follow us for the most frequent updates, and share/retweet our postings:

Twitter:    @PVPseattle

Environmental Review and Our Appeal

Seattle Dept. of Construction and Inspections (DCI) completed its Environmental Review and found that “potential significant adverse impacts have been identified” on the landmarked features of the park. Nonetheless, DCI did not require an Environmental Impact Statement, and instead released a Declaration of Nonsignificance (DNS).

We believe this decision is based on faulty legal reasoning. Therefore, Protect Volunteer Park has filed an appeal with DCI, assisted by the leading environmental attorney David Bricklin. To learn more about PVP’s legal action, see: Legal Action to Protect Volunteer Park.

Our hearing is scheduled for June 7, but there will not be any opportunity for public comment, so don’t come out unless you really like this kind of thing.

So We Have Legal Bills Now

If you can, please donate to help fund legal action to protect Volunteer Park! We have been consulting with our attorney for several months, with the bills covered by our core team. Now that we are involved in actual legal proceedings, the legal expenses have grown and your help would be much appreciated.

Our legal page tells how you can donate: Legal Action to Protect Volunteer Park

Next Steps

The City of Seattle and Seattle Art Museum are still trying to move this project forward with all its adverse impacts on the naturalistic landscape of Volunteer Park.

There are still some hurdles:

Landmarks Preservation Board (LPB) approval is required. A few LPB members have expressed resistance, but the majority appear likely to vote to approve the project.

City Council approval is required, both because the project violates the zoning and would require a code change, and because the Council must approve spending $19 million of City funds.

We have updated the Action Center to feature the most important officials to contact, so please click that link to send a message.

We are also watching the public meeting agendas and will send action alerts when a relevant event is coming up, so please follow our Facebook (protectvolunteerpark) and Twitter (@PVPseattle). It’s fun to come out and give a 2 minute comment. Maybe we have a strange idea of fun, but there it is.

Public Benefits and Costs at Asian Art Museum

Did you know that the museum in Volunteer Park originally had free admission, four days per week? What happened to that, anyway? See our new article, Public Benefits Cut, Public Spending Maintained.

Connecting with Other Seattle Parks Issues

There are other parks where the City administration wants to give up park land to construct facilities for the benefit of a private operator. We open space advocates can benefit from getting to know each other, and each other’s issues. And maybe you’ve heard something about the “privatization” debate at the Green Lake pool? See Privatization in Seattle’s Other Parks to learn more.

Thank You

Thank you for reading our update and caring about Volunteer Park. We appreciate your advocacy and support.

If you have comments, please email .

Web Site Redesign

As you can see, there is a new design of the web site.  We hope you find it useful and informative.

The home page is intended as an information resource for all users. The text provides an overview of the situation, and links lead to deeper information for those who want to get involved and learn more.

The series of blog posts (which used to be the home page) are now at this page which gives you the latest updates: Latest Updates (Blog) .

We invite your comments! You can comment on this page, or email: .

Much Happening in December (and new Online Action Center)

December has become a busy month for protecting Volunteer Park! More info below, but first, check out our new

Online Action Center

On this page are links which you can click to very easily send an advocacy message to City decision makers. They need your messages. Seattle Art Museum is asking its members to advocate in favor of expanding the museum building into Volunteer Park. I am sure that the opponents outnumber proponents, but we need to show that!

December 7: Seattle Landmarks Preservation Board received another briefing about the project. Some of the Landmarks members have responded favorably to our public comments. Send them a message at the Online Action Center.

December 10: Seattle Art Museum is having one of their community meetings where they present and advocate for only one option, their museum expansion plan. Seattle Parks is not co-hosting this meeting, so there may not be any City employees present.

December 15: Seattle Dept. of Construction and Inspection has scheduled a public meeting about the project. This means that the previous November 30 comment deadline is extended to December 15. Please come to this meeting and speak out! And even if you do so, they need email comments too: see the Online Action Center. The public meeting is:

Thursday, December 15, 2016
6:30 PM
Miller Community Center

Environmental Review! Comments needed by November 30

Events are accelerating around the museum expansion project. The Master Use Permit signs have appeared with a deadline of November 30 for public comment. (The deadline was extended by written request.) We need as many people as possible to send public comments!

Send comment letters to and be sure to reference Master Use Project # 3024753. You can also enter this number at this City web site to see project documents.

In commenting on an environmental review, it is helpful to reference questions from the SEPA Environmental Checklist such as:

  • What views in the immediate vicinity would be altered or obstructed?
  • Would the proposed project displace any existing recreational uses?
  • What measures do you propose to avoid, minimize or mitigate for deliberate impacts to historic structures or cultural resources?

On behalf of the park, thank you for taking action when it was needed.

Opportunities for Action

The Seattle Board of Park Commissioners is having its regular meeting on Thursday, October 27, with an agenda that includes an update on the Asian Art Museum expansion, and the opportunity for public comment. Click here for a PDF document describing the agenda and meeting information. If you cannot attend in person, written comments may be sent to .

Also, the Seattle City Council is engaged in budget deliberations. At issue is the Mayor’s proposal to add $5 million in parks capital funds for the  museum expansion. For more details, see the “Department of Parks and Recreation” memo linked at SCC Insight. You can comment by email to the council members, whose email addressses can be found here.

Brief report on the October 15 Community Meeting

Seattle Art Museum held one of its monthly community meetings today about the Asian Art Museum renovation and expansion project. We handed out our Position Statement outside the building. It clearly made an impression, since SAM CEO Kim Rorschach opened the event by holding up a rain-spattered copy of the Position Statement and saying that it was misleading and contained several falsehoods. During the Q&A period, I had a chance to ask what was wrong with it. Kim said that Seattle Art Museum will be posting their own information in rebuttal. She questioned phrases we used such as SAM being “heavily subsidized”, but did not cite any specific factual errors. If we learn of any, we will correct them.

Here are a few other observations and thoughts about the meeting. I did not count the attendees but I would guess 40 to 50.

Notably there was no one present from the City of Seattle (except one person who disclosed being a City employee, but was commenting only as a member of the public). At one point an audience member asked if anyone from the Parks Department was in the room, but there was no reply. This was totally a SAM event.

There was a good long Q&A period which I always appreciate. Out of about 24 speakers I counted 10 opposed to the project or the process, 10 in favor, and a few in the middle. So it is safe to say that there continues to be significant debate about the merits of this plan, among the people participating in SAM’s community meetings. To be clear, no one expressed opposition to anything regarding the seismic upgrade and HVAC work. It is all about the additions.

As with the previous meetings there was very limited outreach. No notices have gone out yet to residences in the neighborhood. The City put out a strange press release on October 13, announcing the meeting less than 48 hours before it occurred, and listing among the goals: “adding vital gallery and education space with a modest expansion”. This echoes the exact language SAM staff use to sell the project. I would prefer to see the City government act less captive.

But even if this process included good outreach, something more would be required. I appreciate the person at the meeting who stood up and said that there is a difference between public outreach and public engagement. Outreach is letting the public know about something that is going to happen anyway (but maybe small changes can be made). Engagement is actually listening to the public’s needs and opinions. This project has gone too far without true public engagement. Let’s pause to make sure we are doing the right thing, and discuss what a responsible process would look like. Volunteer Park is a special place and we should be careful with it.

Position Statement

[UPDATE: the Position Statement has been updated since this post. For the latest version, go to the page: Position Statement]

[Here is a 1-page position statement from the Protect Volunteer Park team. Also, consider attending the SAM “community meeting” on Saturday, October 15, 2016, from 1:00pm – 2:30pm, at Seattle Asian Art Museum. But remember that this is not a real public meeting, because the general public has not been notified, and only one option is being presented.]

Stop the Expansion of Volunteer Park’s Asian Art Museum

By Jonathan Mark and the Protect Volunteer Park team. Visit us at

A Renovation Quietly Became an Expansion

Seattle voters and City Council have together approved $14 million, plus county and state funds, for “renovations to the Seattle Asian Art Museum including seismic and HVAC upgrades”. We support this important work.

Unfortunately, SAM now proposes two additions which increase the building’s footprint by 15%. The larger is a 3-story glass-walled box on the east side, extending 35 feet plus a 20 to 26 foot terrace. Mayor Ed Murray has proposed an additional $5 million in City of Seattle funds to expand the project. The Asian Art Museum is already heavily subsidized. SAM leases the City-owned building at no charge, and the City pays $200,000 per year for utilities and housekeeping.

Impact on Volunteer Park

“In a landscape park the planning and improvement of its landscape possibilities should always be the first consideration.”
– Olmsted Brothers, quoted in the exhibit in Volunteer Park’s water tower

Volunteer Park is a centerpiece of Seattle’s Olmsted park and boulevard system. Volunteer Park and the Asian Art Museum are both designated historic landmarks. Landmark law requires the historical use to be preserved or minimally changed. It is wrong to improve one landmark (the museum) by sacrificing and degrading another (the park).

The east addition would destroy precious parkland, carefully designed by the Olmsted brothers. and block the park’s sightlines. Its bulk would dominate east Volunteer Park, yielding attractive views from within the glass-walled building, but blocking natural landscape views from many locations within the park. A huge beechwood tree would become half-surrounded by the building and no longer viewable from the south.

The construction process will further harm the trees, plants, animals, park users, neighbors, and local roads. SAM refuses to specify staging locations or construction vehicle routes. This is a dense neighborhood around ecologically sensitive park land, with roads in poor condition, and not well suited to a massive building project.

Volunteer Park does not need enhancements or to be “connected” to any structure (the architect’s word). Public open space is needed to provide respite from the pressures of urbanization and density. The Olmsted Parks in Seattle are such an incredible gift to the citizens of Seattle. Let’s not allow the gift to be squandered.

Lack of Public Process

There been no public process suited to this taking of parkland. SAM has run its own series of public meetings which were not well-publicized or well-attended. SAM does not present any alternatives in these meetings, only SAM’s preferred plan. And yet, $2 million in City of Seattle funds have already been spent, a building contractor selected, and the permit applied for. SAM staff take the attitude that the decision to build additions has already been made.

This is wrong. If there is to be a taking of Volunteer Park land, and major development within the park, the City needs to notify the public and accept real input before a decision is made. This means offering real alternatives, including the alternative of keeping the existing building footprint.


“Meanwhile, the Seattle Art Museum chose not to expand in the park and instead built a new museum downtown.”
– Exhibit in the water tower

The Seattle Art Museum has rights to expand into 8 additional floors of its downtown building, currently leased out to a for-profit company. This location does not destroy or degrade any of Seattle’s public open space, and has good transit connections. Given this ready alternative, we think the public must reject the museum expansion into our Olmsted park.

Visit us and take action at our web site!

John C. Olmsted warned about the idea that landscape parks are “merely vacant land awaiting decoration by public buildings”. This “mistaken idea”, as Olmsted called it, continues to be a challenge for park land everywhere.
– Exhibit in the water tower