Patrick Hall (left) and Paul Popelka take care of flower plants purchased recently in an online auction. The blooms were to have been planted by the city of Everett, but due to budget cuts were sold to bidders. The Downtown Everett Association, helped by volunteers, will plant the flowers next weekend in the planters along Hewitt, Colby and Wetmore avenues. (Craig Skotdal photo)

Patrick Hall (left) and Paul Popelka take care of flower plants purchased recently in an online auction. The blooms were to have been planted by the city of Everett, but due to budget cuts were sold to bidders. The Downtown Everett Association, helped by volunteers, will plant the flowers next weekend in the planters along Hewitt, Colby and Wetmore avenues. (Craig Skotdal photo)

Everett will still bloom as helpers take on flower program

City layoffs include a horticulturist, the “heart and soul” of the plant program.

This question, part of a Q&A related to budget cuts, showed up May 1 on the city of Everett’s website: “Where are the Viva Color plants going if they won’t be planted this year?”

The official answer — “All plants will be sold via City auction until May 3” — didn’t tell the whole story.

With the devastating toll of COVID-19, the fact that Everett won’t be planting seasonal flowers isn’t anyone’s biggest concern. Still, in summers past it’s been lovely to see vibrant blooms in downtown planters.

Patrick Hall, president of the Downtown Everett Association, has a welcome answer regarding where nearly 2,900 plants once destined for the city flower program will go. Next weekend, they’ll be planted by association members and volunteers — in the city’s downtown planters along Hewitt, Colby and Wetmore avenues.

On April 22, the City Council approved $3.4 million in emergency budget reductions, a painful response to the coronavirus crisis. Closed, at least through 2020, are the Forest Park Swim Center and Carl Gipson Senior Center. Library services and staff were cut, arts events discontinued and the city’s annual flower program eliminated.

“We’re starting a flower program from scratch in a month,” said Hall, who spent a recent Sunday online as he bid for plants on the publicsurplus.com website. “The city is not allowed to give anything away. The flowers were auctioned off.”

The association, made up largely of downtown property owners, supports the revitalization of Everett’s historic core. Hall said the group paid $1,436 for the flowers, which he estimated have a value of about $10,000.

“Flowers make people want to be downtown,” Hall said Wednesday. “We see flowers as an economic development tool.”

Kimberley Cline, Everett’s communication director, said by email Thursday that a “License to Use City Property” agreement for 2020 will allow the group to use the planter pots. The city “anticipates selling the planters through a competitive process later in 2020 or in 2021,” she said.

Hall wasn’t the only bidder in the plant auction. Flowers were sold to 231 bidders, 131 with Everett addresses, Cline said.

About 80 volunteers are needed Saturday, when Hall said 200 pots will be planted. Details of the project, scheduled for 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, are listed on the Eventbrite website. Helpers are to sign up online and will be asked to come to Wetmore Plaza at staggered times as a social distancing precaution.

A separate Eventbrite page seeks volunteers for an “Adopt-a-Planter Program.” The downtown group plans to hire a contractor for watering — some pots are already irrigated — but help is needed through Sept. 30 for weeding planters and “deadheading” flowers.

Red geraniums, yellow marigolds and petunias, blue-purple ageratum and brightly colored canna are among thousands of plants now being tended at a local home. They fill about 25 pallets. “We want to get these into soil as soon as we can,” Hall said.

The city had 284 downtown planters in 2019, but volunteers will plant 84 fewer this year. And there will be no hanging baskets.

While the city isn’t planting flowers, Cline said Everett’s parks will once again be mowed.

Recently, parks have taken on the look of overgrown pastures. They were on a reduced maintenance schedule to comply with Gov. Jay Inslee’s “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” order, she said, and it wasn’t until May 8 that the governor “clarified that the mowing of parks was allowed.”

“We are now able to bring seven furloughed maintenance staff back to work to keep our parks mowed and maintained,” she said.

Some residents took it upon themselves to mow parks — an act seen as heroic by some Everett neighbors commenting via Nextdoor, the hyperlocal social networking platform. The city, though, doesn’t encourage folks to mow a park.

The lawn at Everett’s Legion Memorial Park was overgrown on Friday. According to the city, some workers who had been furloughed are back on the job and parks will be mowed this season. (Julie Muhlstein photo)

The lawn at Everett’s Legion Memorial Park was overgrown on Friday. According to the city, some workers who had been furloughed are back on the job and parks will be mowed this season. (Julie Muhlstein photo)

“Unfortunately it poses liability issues for the City to have neighbors mow the parks,” said Cline’s email, which requested that people “refrain from providing this service.” Instead, the city asks that people pick up trash in parks. Other information about volunteering with the city is available online.

Neither flowers nor freshly mowed parks can disguise all that’s being lost in a place that only a year ago offered so much. Last spring, Everett families looked forward to the Forest Park Animal Farm, the summertime ferry to Jetty Island, Cinema Under the Stars, outdoor music programs and the Fourth of July parade.

Lost, too, are the jobs of longtime workers. Craig Callies, a horticulturist with the city for 22 years, was among dozens of Everett workers laid off due to the budget cuts.

“Craig Callies was the heart and soul of the flower program,” said Michael Rainey, of the Washington State Council of County and City Employees, and the Everett union representative. City workers belong to AFSCME Local 113. Callies, Rainey said, “managed the greenhouse, grew all the plants, and was the lead of seasonal workers.”

Hall is keenly aware of the lost expertise. His group considered waiting until 2021 to take on the flower project, “but we worried about the knowledge getting lost, or the equipment being sold,” he said. “It’s not as spectacular, but we’re doing the best we can.”

Will Everett recover the amenities it’s losing?

“My personal opinion, many of those things will come back — but many will not be done by the city anymore,” Hall said.

Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; jmuhlstein@heraldnet.com.

Help plant flowers

The Downtown Everett Association needs volunteers 9:30 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday, May 30, to plant flowers downtown. Sign up at:

www.eventbrite.com/e/downtown-flower-planting-tickets-105903367824

There’s also a need for helpers to “adopt a planter” this season. Sign up at:

www.eventbrite.com/e/adopt-a-planter-program-tickets-105903658694

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