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Wednesday, September 20, 1995 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Skepticism, Cost Helped Kill Commons

Copyright 1995, Seattle Times Co.

The public's anti-tax sentiment and the skepticism of many voters who rarely go downtown helped to kill the Seattle Commons proposal yesterday, according to a Seattle Times poll.

Concerns about high taxes and the project's costs dominated the reasons voiced by Commons opponents in the poll of 388 city voters conducted in the last days before the election. The survey examined reasons behind the voters' decision on the $111 million property-tax levy.

Among the poll's findings:

-- Voters who visit downtown Seattle even once a week were likely to favor the project, while those who do not go downtown opposed the measure.

-- Support for the Commons plan increased with income and with educational level.

-- More of the older voters opposed the measure; more of the younger voters supported it.

-- Despite a vigorous campaign by both sides, most voters made up their minds more than a month ago, and most described it as an easy decision.

The survey was conducted by Elway Research of Seattle. Some poll participants were interviewed afterward by Times reporters.

Fern Buffington, 66, of West Seattle, was among those who objected to the present level of taxation.

"We pay so many taxes as it is, especially living in the city," she said. "It seems like we pay city taxes on everything, and where's the money going?"

Buffington, an office worker for a large union, said she

believes some tax increases touted for certain purposes in the past did not go toward those causes, and that taxes, once adopted, are never repealed.

The measure would have cost the owner of a $150,000 home an average of about $48 a year for the next eight years.

Potential additional costs of the Commons project concerned Myron Brixner, a retired maritime-industry official who lives in Magnolia.

"I don't think they had their ducks completely in a row on this," said Brixner, 76. He voted against the plan largely because he didn't feel the Commons campaign presented clear information on how the "Mercer Mess" traffic problem would be solved, what it would cost, or who would pay for it.

"If that was solved I would certainly vote for it," Brixner said. "I like the idea of the Commons and if it fails, I think we'll get a chance to vote on it again."

More than a third of the voters contacted in the Times poll said they had not been to downtown Seattle even once in the previous week. Of that group, only 31 percent favored the Commons, while 50 percent opposed it and 19 percent were undecided.

Among those who had been downtown in the past week, 47 percent favored the plan, 41 percent were against it and 12 percent were undecided.

Backers of the $111 million levy, attempting to expand interest in the measure, included $11 million for athletic fields citywide, but many still viewed it as a downtown-only issue.

Voters supporting the project said the South Lake Union project would be good for downtown and good for the future of the city.

"This is likely the last chance to create a real green space in the downtown area," said Peter Newman, 42, of Montlake. "If you look at the great cities of the world, so many of them have a large open space where people gather."

Newman, a radio-station manager, works near the proposed Commons site and envisions it as a place where people of various ages and income levels would interact.

In the poll, voters 50 and under favored the Commons 48 percent to 38 percent, while those 51 and older opposed it 50 percent to 35 percent. In each group, about 15 percent were undecided in the days before the vote.

Besides objecting to the costs involved, Commons opponents said the city has other priorities and does not need another park.

"Let's face it, they don't keep up the parks we got now," said Aloha "Big Al" Gardner of West Seattle. "Why spend all that money for another one to go to pot?"

Gardner, 68, a retired operations-crew chief at Seattle Center, said the battered shrubbery and trampled gardens he sees in city parks makes him doubt the Commons would be adequately maintained.

Park security, not just upkeep, was on the minds of some poll participants.

"As lovely as that park may be, you and I know it's going to be full of bums," said Allan Treuer, 81, a lifelong Seattle resident.

Barbara Sidwell, 35, of Ballard, thought the recent pledge of $21 million worth of land from billionaire Paul Allen, Microsoft co-founder, might unite local businesses in favor of the Commons.

"He's a noted visionary in the community and he's putting sizable funding behind this entire project," she said. "It shows a huge commitment to the community and could bring a lot of other corporate sponsorship," said Sidwell, a commercial-insurance agent.

In the poll, voters who have children living at home favored the project, 49 percent to 35 percent with 16 percent undecided. But those with grown children opposed it, 54 percent to 36 percent with 10 percent undecided.

Of those with no children, 39 percent favored the Commons, 43 percent opposed it and 18 percent were undecided. ----------------------------------------------------------------- Why they voted no

Top reasons for voting against the Commons proposal:

It would increase my taxes, 26%.

It's too expensive 23%.

Other projects need attention 11%.

Seattle already has many parks 9%.

It would hurt housing in the area 6%.

It would hurt existing businesses 6%. ----------------------------------------------------------------- How family income affected Commons vote

$20,000 or less. For 28%. Against 53%. Undecided 19%.

$20,000 to $40,000 . For 36% . Against 47% . Undecided 17% .

$40,000 to $60,000. For 48% . Against 40% . Undecided 12% .

More than $60,000. For 50% . Against 41% . Undecided 9% .

Copyright (c) 1995 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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