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Service Corps Spotlight: West Seattle Junction Intersects with a Challenging Path

Submitted by Nora Tabler, 501 Commons volunteer writer, 3/18/2021

Charles Bookman is a seasoned 501 Commons volunteer with 10+ projects under his belt. When he was asked why he volunteered for 501 Commons he stated “our work as volunteers helps 501 Commons’ clients become more than the sum of their parts. The capacity building that we undertake through the Executive Service Corps helps organizations deepen their neighborhood roots and broaden their community canopies.” He added that he was challenged by the problems presented in the nonprofit world and enjoyed giving back to the community from which he received so much. He encourages all retired professionals to consider volunteering their time to 501 Commons.

An interesting project came his way in 2019 from the West Seattle Junction Association (WSJA), a 501 (c ) (3) nonprofit created to support the West Seattle business district. One of its duties was to pay property taxes for property set aside in a land trust for free parking for district shoppers. Due to increasing property values, the Junction was faced with ever increasing property taxes in the trust and in need of outside assistance to address the situation.

The WSJA Executive Director reached out to 501 Commons to see if they had a volunteer who could offer guidance and strategic thinking for this complex situation. Charles Bookman was suggested as a suitable volunteer for this project. His background included  work at the National Academy of Sciences where he advised Congress and Cabinet agencies about economic growth and the environment. After moving to Seattle in 2000, he balanced the budget and delivered large projects as Director of the Seattle Department of Transportation’s Traffic Operations Division. Add to this resume Charles’ passion for tackling complex problems, he seemed to be the ideal volunteer for this project. After introductions, he and the WSJA Executive Director agreed to work together.

Their first step was to develop a strategy paper that would help the West Seattle Junction board understand their dilemma by seeing the land value and property tax history, changes coming to the area such as redevelopment and light rail, the parking utilization in the neighborhood, and the number of businesses who benefitted from the parking covenants.

The paper concluded with a conclusive set of findings that described the WSJA’s current situation as unaffordable.

The options included:

  • charge for parking in a business district where free parking has been sacrosanct
  • buy the land from the trust
  • walk away and let the trust redevelop the properties

In early January, Charles was notified of the Junctions’ decision about this issue. They decided to start charge for parking in their four lots effective January 14, 2021.

When he discussed the West Seattle Junction issue he said, “Strategic planners don’t always get the future quite right. Who would have foreseen that the neighborhood’s key link to downtown would close suddenly to traffic for years to come, imposing a lengthy detour on 80,000 Seattle residents? This is a good argument for updating strategy as circumstances change!” And with COVID-19 adding extra pressure for all businesses to stay afloat, strategic planning is more important than ever to help businesses continue to prosper.