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Wednesday, March 10, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.

Voters defeat proposal to remove weeds

By Natalie Singer
Seattle Times Eastside bureau

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Voters on Mercer Island were putting their pocketbooks before their plants yesterday, with late returns showing a sound defeat of a 10-year, $12.5 million proposal to remove English ivy and other invasive weeds from the city's forests and open spaces.

The so-called "ivy initiative" would have made Mercer Island the first city to launch such a comprehensive, tax-funded effort to beat down some of the region's most persistent non-native plants. It also would have been the single-largest property-tax increase in the city's history.

The citizen initiative was placed on the special-election ballot by Rita Moore, Virginia Arnon and Judith Roan, three island residents who are horticulture activists. After volunteering to help remove ivy, the women decided the problem was growing out of control. So they gathered more than 3,000 signatures — enough to place their proposed solution on a citywide ballot.

"We are unhappy with the outcome," Arnon said. "But we still feel that we were able to spark an awareness and do some public education."

"We did our best," Moore added. "And this is not a loss, because it's an issue now." The proposal would have cost owners $19.80 per $100,000 of assessed property, or $99 a year for a $500,000 home.

Critics of the property-tax increase, including the Mercer Island City Council, argued that $1.25 million a year was too much money to spend on invasive plants.

The amount the tax increase proposed to raise would have surpassed the city's entire administration budget and would have dwarfed the $1 million a year the city spends on recreation services.

The initiative also would have paid for replanting with native species and some open-space acquisition, trail construction and education.

Invasive plants cover more than 60 percent of the area in most of the city's parks and open space, according to a recent city study. Invasive species choke out native plants, steal food sources and can alter delicate ecosystems. Forests attacked by ivy eventually fail to regenerate.

In King County, landowners must control the invasives targeted by the ivy initiative, but they are not required to eradicate them.
The special election came just a month after voters approved a four-year, $4.7 million school levy that will cost about $19 a year per $100,000 of assessed property value, and less than six months after voters approved a six-year, $415,000-a-year maintenance levy for Luther Burbank Park.

The initiative required a simple majority to pass. Absentee ballots will not be completely counted until March 19.

Natalie Singer: 206-464-2704 or

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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