After more than two years of work and multiple extensions, the City of Yakima and the Yakima Area Arboretum finally have a signed operations and maintenance agreement that both parties can agree on.  The Yakima City Council approved the Agreement during their regular bi-monthly meeting on Tuesday, June 6, 2023.

Here are some of the key takeaways from the new 18-page Agreement.

The term for the new Agreement will be for ten (10) years with two (2) ten (10) year auto renewals, for a total of thirty (30) years.  Either party can request a change to the Agreement if the notifying party gives the other 2 years advance notice to renegotiate.  Otherwise, the Agreement will auto renew.  If something comes up in between times, however, either party has the ability to request to amend the agreement as well.  The City can also not arbitrarily oust the Arboretum without cause, something the Arboretum adamantly fought for. If the City finds that the Arboretum is in breach of the Agreement then the Arboretum has (90) calendar days to remedy the situation and if that doesn’t work then both parties agree to go to mediation to find a solution.

Some folks have asked why didn’t the City just agree to another (30) year term?  Throughout the process, the City has pushed for a shorter term, even at one point insisting on (5) years, stating that they didn’t want to commit themselves or their successors to anything more than that. Understandable to a point, but the Arboretum argued adamantly against this short term, since it would be counter intuitive to ask our members and donors to make a long-term financial investment in the Arboretum when it had a short-term lease. Nevertheless, the good news is that in the event that the Arboretum does decide to do a major capital improvement, such as a new building or paved pathway, the City states that they would definitely consider a long-term agreement if needed to secure a loan, etc.

One important area the Arboretum could not change the City’s mind on, however, was the ending of the City’s mowing of the Arboretum grounds starting in 2027.  When the Arboretum was founded in 1967, the City agreed to work in partnership with the Arboretum to “maintain the property in a manner consistent with the maintenance level at other CITY parks.” For the Arboretum this meant the City Parks Department mowed the lawn each summer and assisted with irrigation electrical expenses.  The Yakima Area Arboretum would then cover all other expenses, truly, an excellent investment for the City of Yakima who originally acquired this old farmland to turn into a city park. The City states that the mowing is a financial hardship for the City Parks Department and needs to end.  Therefore, the mowing will become the Arboretum’s responsibility in 2027.  Irrigation electrical expenses, generally around $3,500 each year, will also end starting January 1, 2024.  In short, all of this means that the Yakima Area Arboretum will now need to figure out how to fund a new $45,000 mower and a seasonal employee to mow in 2027.

Other issues that were discussed in depth related to when the Arboretum needed to request permission from the City of Yakima before making any “substantial” changes to the grounds.  Much discussion ensued about what constituted “substantial” and what needed permission.  The results were that planting new trees or installing trail signage “no.”  A new paved pathway or building, definitely “yes.”  As the Arboretum works to fulfill its new master plan, we need to make sure we do not miss this important step in the process.

Adequate insurance coverage for our facilities and activities, which required a new expensive umbrella policy, and the security requirements the Arboretum requests of groups renting our facilities for weddings or celebrations, etc. were other updates covered at length and are continuing to be discussed.  Another item of note is that since the Yakima Area Arboretum is located on City property the Arboretum must also assist the City in complying with any Public Records Act requests they might receive.

And last but not least, City employees will no longer be able to serve on the Arboretum’s Board of Directors unless they are filling the official Ex-Officio City position.  The City administration now believes that it would be a conflict of interest for City employees to serve on the Arboretum’s board as regular members.  The Arboretum argued against this and felt that a City employee could always excuse themselves during the very rare instance where there might be a conflict, like any other member of the board would do, but the City said “no.”  At this point, the only way a City employee can serve on the Arboretum’s board would be as the Ex-Officio City position required in Section 18.3 of the Agreement.

The journey to consensus for a mutually agreed upon operations and maintenance agreement between both parties was long, arduous and time consuming.  Much appreciation goes out to all of the individuals who took part in the process over the years, and who continue work on some of the finer details, from both sides of the aisle.  Preserving the Yakima Area Arboretum for future generations has unquestionably been a major group effort by everyone involved.