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AGO 1964 No. 108 - June 17, 1964
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John J. O'Connell | 1957-1968 | Attorney General of Washington


PARKS ‑- CITIES AND TOWNS ‑- COUNTIES ‑- STATE PARKS AND RECREATION COMMISSION ‑- AUTHORITY TO ACQUIRE AND OPERATE PUBLIC PARKS ‑- JOINTLY OR INDIVIDUALLY WITHIN THE BOUNDARIES OF ANY MUNICIPALITY.

(1) A city or town may acquire and operate a public park located within the corporate limits of another city.

(2) Two or more municipalities coming within the provisions of RCW 67.20.010 may jointly own or operate a public park located within the boundaries of one of the municipalities concerned.

(3) A county may acquire and operate a park within a city.

(4) A city or town may operate a park within the boundaries of a park and recreation district.

(5) State parks and recreation commission may obtain land for park purposes located within a city or town without any special legislative authority.

                                                              - - - - - - - - - - - - -

                                                                   June 17, 1964

Honorable Donald H. Webster
Director, Bureau of Governmental
Research & Services
3935 University Way N.E.
Seattle, Washington 98105

                                                                                                              Cite as:  AGO 63-64 No. 108

Dear Sir:

            By letter previously acknowledged you have requested an opinion of this office on the following paraphrased questions:

            (1) May a city or town own and operate a public park located within the corporate limits of another city?

            (2) May two or more municipalities jointly own and operate a public park located within the boundaries of one of the municipalities?

            (3) May a county own and operate a park within a city?

             [[Orig. Op. Page 2]]

            (4) May a city or town operate a park within the boundaries of a park and recreation district?

            (5) May the state parks and recreation commission obtain land for park purposes located within a city or town without special legislative authorization?

            We answer each of these questions in the affirmative for the reasons set forth in our analysis.

                                                                     ANALYSIS

            The answer to your first four questions can be found in RCW 67.20.010, which provides as follows:

            "Any city in this state acting through its city council, or its board of park commissioners when authorized by charter or ordinance, any separately organized park district acting through its board of park commissioners or other governing officers, any school district acting through its board of school directors, any county acting through its board of county commissioners, and any town acting through its city council shall have power, acting independently or in conjunction with the United States, the state of Washington, any county, city, park district, school district or town or any number of such public organizations to acquire any land within this state for park, playground, gymnasiums, swimming pools, field houses and other recreational facilities, bathing beach or public camp purposes and roads leading from said parks, playgrounds, gymnasiums, swimming pools, field houses and other recreational facilities, bathing beaches, or public camps to nearby highways by donation, purchase or condemnation, and to build, construct, care for, control, supervise, improve, operate and maintain parks, playgrounds, gymnasiums, swimming  [[Orig. Op. Page 3]] pools, field houses and other recreational facilities, bathing beaches, roads and public camps upon any such land, including the power to enact and enforce such police regulations not inconsistent with the constitution and laws of the state of Washington, as are deemed necessary for the government and control of the same.  The power of eminent domain herein granted shall not extend to any land outside the territorial limits of the governmental unit or units exercising said power."

            Thus, segregating this rather complicated and lengthy statute into its essential component parts, we find that:

            (1) "Any city . . . shall have power . . . to acquireany land within this state for park . . . purposes . . . and to build, construct, care for, control, supervise, improve, operate and maintain parks . . . upon any such land . . ."  (Emphasis supplied.)

            (2) "Any city . . . any separately organized park district . . . any school district . . . any county . . . and any town shall have power, acting independently or in conjunction with. . . any county, city, park district, school district or town or any number of such public organizations to acquireany land within this state for park . . . purposes . . . and to build, construct, care for, control, supervise, improve, operate and maintain parks, . . . upon any such land . . ."  (Emphasis supplied.)

            (3) ". . . any county . . . shall have power . . . to acquireany land within this state for park . . . purposes . . . and to build, construct, care for, control, supervise, improve, operate and maintain parks . . . upon any such land . . ." (Emphasis supplied.)

             [[Orig. Op. Page 4]]

            As a matter of fact, the only limitation upon extraterritorial acquisition of land for park purposes contained in this statute is the last sentence thereof, which reads:

            ". . . The power of eminent domain herein granted shall not extend to any land outside the territorial limits of the governmental unit or units exercising said power."

            But by any of the other authorized means (donation or purchase) the extraterritorial acquisition and development of land for park purposes is clearly permitted.

            In relying upon the above statute to answer your first four questions, we have not overlooked the common-law rule to the effect that two municipal corporations may not exercise "governmental functions" in the same territory at the same time.  In reference to this rule, our court recently made the following comments in the case ofAlderwood Water Dist. v. Pope & Talbot, 62 Wn. (2d) 319, 382 P. (2d) 639 (1963), at page 321:

            "In some Washington cases reference is made to a general rule that there cannot be two municipal corporations exercising the same functions in the same territory at the same time.  Although this so-called general rule has been virtually emasculated by the case law of this state, it continues to serve as a touchstone in the sense that it expresses a public policy against duplication of public functions, and that such duplication is normally not permissible unless it is provided for in some manner by statute.  In a sense, the 'general rule' should alert courts, in situations akin to that of the instant case, to the necessity of closely examining in toto statutory provisions conferring authority upon the potentially competing municipal corporations."

             [[Orig. Op. Page 5]]

            Then, after examining all of the statutes relating to the authority of water districts, the court denied the power of a water district to supply water to persons residing in another water district, notwithstanding that one section of the statutes seemingly permitted the district to "provide water services to property owners outside the limits of the water district."  RCW 57.08.045.  In effect, the court held that "outside the limits of the water district" does not mean "within the limits of another water district."

            However, to similarly interpret the statute now before us (RCW 67.20.010,supra) would do violence to clearly expressed legislative intent, in our opinion.  For among the types of municipalities covered by the instant statute are counties and school districts.  Such municipalities completely cover the entire area of our state.  Thus, to bar them from engaging in park operations in another county or school district would completely frustrate the express legislative grant of power to "acquire any land within this state for park . . . purposes."

            Furthermore, of course, the common-law rule above referred to is merely a rule of law applicable in the absence of a contrary statute.  It is not a rule of limitation on the power of the legislature as it would be were it derived from a provision of our state constitution.  Accord,Municipality of Metropolitan Seattle v. Seattle, 57 Wn. (2d) 446, 357 P. (2d) 863 (1960), and cases cited therein.

            Therefore, on the basis of RCW 67.20.010, supra, we answer your first four questions in the affirmative.

            For ease of reading, we restate your fifth question as follows:

            (5) May the state parks and recreation commission obtain land for park purposes located within a city or town without special legislative authorization?

            In AGO 49-51 No. 355 [[to Howard Bargreen, State Representative on October 3, 1950]], this office advised that only the legislature could authorize state parks within the territorial limits of cities and towns.  This opinion was based upon a statute, § 1, chapter 148, Laws of 1929, providing in pertinent part as follows:

             [[Orig. Op. Page 6]]

            "The state parks committee shall have power:

            ". . .

            "(7) To select and to purchase, lease or in any manner acquire for and in the name of the State of Washington such tracts of land, including shore and tide lands, for park and parkway purposes as it shall deem proper, subject to the following provisions:  (a) No tract, except tracts acquired by donations or bequest, and tracts which abut upon a public highway, actually constructed or located or projected shall be acquiredunless the acquisition thereof be specifically authorized by the legislature. . . ." (Emphasis supplied.)

            This statute was amended in 1955 by § 1, chapter 391, Laws of 1955, to read as follows:

            "The commission shall: . . .

            ". . .

            "(7) Select and purchase, lease, or otherwise acquire for and in the name of the state such tracts of land, including shore and tide lands, for park and parkway purposes as it deems proper.  If the commission cannot acquire any tract at a price it deems reasonable, it may obtain title thereto, or any part thereof, by condemnation proceedings conducted by the attorney general as provided for the condemnation of rights of way for state highways."

            Thus, the language which required authorization by the legislature to acquire property was eliminated and the commission now may acquire property for the establishment of a park by any of the means specified without special legislative authorization.  Accord, AGO 63-64 No. 26 [[to State Parks and Recreation Commission on May 28, 1963]], copy enclosed.   [[Orig. Op. Page 7]]

            We trust the foregoing will be of assistance to you.

Very truly yours,

JOHN J. O'CONNELL
Attorney General

RICHARD J. SCHROEDER
Assistant Attorney General

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