LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Burien’s Shoreline Master Program Requires Citizen Involvement

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Burien’s Shoreline Master Program will not accomplish its goals without the active involvement of Burien residents.

The largest owner of shoreline property is the City of Burien, and city managers have chosen a hands-off approach to managing over 170 acres of shoreline parks.

One remedy for this would be a Park Ranger system—something that will never happen unless Burien citizens ask for it.

The first four goals of the Shoreline Master Program are:

  1. The Shoreline Master Program shall result in no net loss of shoreline ecological functions and processes.
  2. Regulation and management of Burien’s shorelines should be guided by ongoing and comprehensive science.
  3. The City should be proactive in managing activities within the shoreline jurisdiction.
  4. Implement an adaptive management approach to respond to changes and to ensure continued effectiveness.

The requirement of “no net loss of shoreline ecological functions and processes” is the same requirement we have always had since the Shoreline Management Act was passed 38 years ago. During those years, I have walked along the beach at least several thousand times, and I have witnessed gradual and continuing degradation. While I have not seen new bulkheads, and few if any new houses have been built near the shore in the last few decades, I have seen an increase in off-leash dogs, graffiti, vandalism, and trash. These types of shoreline degradation come from public parks with no enforcement of laws or park rules. The City has not been “proactive in managing activities within the shoreline jurisdiction.” They have been entirely inactive.

Every day, I witness people walking their dogs to the park, usually on a leash, and when they get to the sign that says “Obey Leash and Scoop Laws,” that’s when they let their dogs off leash. They usually don’t grab any blue bags from the dispenser. At Seattle beaches, it is a $500 fine to have your dog at the beach at all, so people drive to Burien to let their dogs run free, where they know the rules will never be enforced. I have three dogs, I live next to a Burien park, and I drive to Grandview or Westcrest to let my dogs run free, legally and safely. Since Burien’s incorporation in 1993, I’ll bet that not one single citation or arrest has ever been made for off-leash dogs, vandalism, graffiti, littering, or fires in Burien’s shoreline parks. If anyone from the City can provide documentation that proves me wrong, I would like to see it. I know that on my several thousand visits to the beach I have witnessed tens of thousands of violations of the rules, and never once have I seen any sort of enforcement officer asking anyone to change their ways. It is a small minority of park visitors that disregard the rules, but these same people come back day after day, inflicting damage on shorelines owned by all of us.

What would it cost for Burien to have a Park Ranger system? It might cost about $300,000 a year, or it might cost as little as $40,000 a year if the City hired a volunteer coordinator and implemented a volunteer Park Ranger system like the City of Kirkland has. With either a volunteer system or paid professionals, the emphasis could be on education and encouragement rather than strict enforcement and punishment. If the regular park abusers knew that someone was watching, and that enforcement was even a possibility, most of them would change their ways. Whatever the cost of a Park Ranger system, it has to be measured against the cost of having no enforcement at all. This daily abuse of our public spaces by a handful of miscreants costs all of us real money. The environmental degradation they cause is not some abstract concept. I can’t give you an exact dollar amount of the damage because government has not amassed the “ongoing and comprehensive science” the Shoreline Management Act requires. I do know that Burien citizens have suffered millions of dollars of lost property value. Many studies have shown that property values decrease up to 15% in areas with graffiti and vandalism, such as is currently allowed in our parks. Burien homes and businesses are worth billions of dollars, collectively, and even a 1% loss of property value would total millions of dollars. Not having a Park Ranger costs all of us real money. If the citizens of Burien require their government to comply with the Shoreline Management Act and “be proactive in managing activities within the shoreline jurisdiction,” then the environment and the citizens will benefit.

As a member of the ad hoc Shoreline Advisory Committee, I have attended about a dozen meetings over the last two years. It is my impression that the process of developing the Shoreline Master Program is merely a formality, a process the City is required to go through. No one in government or on the Shoreline Advisory Committee believes that the final document will actually result in “No net loss” as required by law. All this document will do is to create a new set of rules that gather dust on a shelf somewhere, ignored like the old rules have been for decades. Only when the citizens of Burien take this seriously and demand environmental protection will real change happen on our beaches. Please attend one of the upcoming meetings and ask that the City begin to enforce environmental regulation, for the benefit of us all.

Jim Branson

[EDITOR’S NOTE: Have something you’d like to say? Then email us your “Letter to the Editor” by clicking here. Be sure to include your real name and a way to contact you, and, pending our review, we’ll most likely post it. Otherwise, feel free to leave a Comment below…]

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12 Responses to “LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Burien’s Shoreline Master Program Requires Citizen Involvement”
  1. KD says:

    I can see the harm in trash and vandalism, but really, dogs? Come on. I’m sure there are people that don’t pick up after their dogs, but they would probably not pick up after their dogs if they left them leashed, either. Why not create a new dog park at Seahurst? If people like having the offleash space, creating a dog park would encourage use of the park and there would be an on-going clean up effort like you see at other regional dog parks.

    Spending money on a ranger during a time when parks themselves are being closed in our region for budget reasons is hardly a viable solution. How about the community watching over its own beaches and speaking up when people treat them disrespect?

  2. Jim Branson says:

    Dogs are enough of a problem that the Partnership for Puget Sound has made it one of their priorities: http://www.pugetsoundstartshere.org/

    As it stands currently, all of Burien’s parks are off-leash parks. I would be in favor of setting aside a small, upland portion of Seahurst Park for off-leash use, but no one is going to go there if all of Burien’s parks are managed as off-leash areas. Not the people causing the problem, anyway.

    Not having a Park Ranger costs much more than paying for one. Just like not educating our children is much more expensive than paying for their education. A Park Ranger will never happen if citizens don’t ask for it. That is probably what will happen, and our shorelines will continue to be degraded, in violation of our own laws.

    As for citizens speaking up, I wish more people would. Qui tacet consentire videtur. “By your silence, you are assumed to consent.” Every day, a small minority of people degrade our parks with dog waste, litter, and vandalism. The majority of park users follow most of the rules, but they also stand quietly by and say nothing while the minority inflicts costs on the rest of us. If you want to speak up about it, please do. When I have politely asked people to obey the park rules, I have been met with everything from indifference to anger and violence. Try it for yourself and see. If it is a Park Ranger asking someone to comply with the law, the response is going to be different. And the Park Ranger will have resources if the individual doesn’t comply.

  3. napavine says:

    Park Ranger. Equipted w/firearm and ticket booklet. If the suspect is has no valid ID and clearly unable or unwilling to pay the fine, then bring out the firearm. Our relaxed transient and hoodlum policy has to change before Burien will ever be one community.
    The area’s of segragation are already in place and busting down these borders is going to fall on the council. Diveristy is fine until it effects the rich & the property values of your tax payers. More police and park rangers is good money spent. Sorry to bust in on our shoreline, but a little coastal erosion will be small compaired to community erosion that will soon face Burien without a good fight.

    • Jim Branson says:

      I don’t understand your comment, as to what you are arguing for or against. Could you explain? Are you saying Park Rangers would oppress the disenfranchised and that would be a good thing? Or are you saying that environmental degradation is a necessary component of cultural diversity? Either way, I wish you would explain.

  4. napavine says:

    Its more police and some park rangers. Cultural diversity? Neighborhood diversity separates burienites. SW rocks. No more big words Jim. Talk to us slow folk also.

  5. Jim Branson says:

    Well, I have attempted to talk to you, napavine, but I haven’t a clue what you are saying. Maybe someone could translate.

    I did attend tonight’s meeting about the Shoreline Master Program, and most of the time was taken up by over 30 Three Tree Point homeowners saying they don’t want more public access in their neighborhood. There is a trade off that comes with balancing more public access with property values and environmental protection.

    With my idea for a Park Ranger, there is no trade off. Everyone wins. Low income people who don’t live on the beach get access to clean and safe parks. People who neighbor parks and public access get safer and cleaner neighborhoods and increased property values. The people who are currently breaking the law receive protection from their own unwise actions. The tax dollars necessary for a Park Ranger system are repaid many times over in higher property values, increased tax revenues, and healthier living. Nobody loses with the Park Ranger plan.

  6. Kaito J says:

    We have been thoughtfully following the waterfront and parks issues as we are fortunate enough to live on the beach. I respect your views and while I would rather the semi-private beach in front of our home remain as peaceful as possible, the sand and water belong to everyone.

    Yet adding additional public access next to the property we pay a ridiculious amount of Burien-property taxes for seems hypocritical when Burien citizens don’t even have access to the stretches of beach already owned by the city? Specifically the strech just south of the point covered with squarer garages and what not. That would be a good place to start. Reclaim and improve what Burien already has before they push for what they do not yet have?

    Our two cents for now…


  7. Lee Moyer says:

    I served on the same committee as Jim and we received working maps and other info on the shorelines of Burien. I appreciate your implied generosity of allowing peaceful users on the beach infront of your home. Although the water is public, the land surface is yours. In Burien, the tidelands belong to the upland shoreline owners. In referring to “squarer” (I presume “squatter”) garages south of the point, I presume you mean south of the public access area at the end of Maplewild. Per my maps, the owners on the upland side of the road own the beach and tidelands as well. If there are illegal garages, please give specifics, because you are right, that would be he place to start for getting more public access.

  8. Jim Branson says:

    All of the homes and the garages in that stretch are built in a manner that would not be permitted anywhere else in the city. I think they are calling it a variance. If a homeowner anywhere else in the city asked to build their house or their garage right up to the shoulder of the road, using up the right of way and leaving no possibility of a sidewalk, it would not be permitted. I’m not sure if that means those garages are illegal, exactly. That stretch of SW 172nd is built in a manner that current codes would not allow (without a variance). Most waterfront homes in Burien are built in critical areas where regulations would make it difficult or impossible if you tried to build a new home like that today.

  9. Kai J. says:

    Jim and Lee,

    Thank you for your respectful and helpful response.
    On the Redondo style strip to the south of the point, besides the fact I need to proof read before I click send, I did a bit of homework and was enlightened that so much of the information I had from neighbors and various city resources about the waterfront there was misleading. After reading through a few property legal descriptions on the tax assessor site it is clear that they do indeed have the same ownership as most other Burien waterfront homeowners and the tax bills to go with it. The garages (delete squatter) could stand to be more uniform and attractive, but that is a private consideration and whatever grand-fathering allows then so be it? I stand corrected and am not touching that topic again!

    On the general access to beaches and lakes I had NO idea until I attended the planning meeting last night that such divisive recommendations are being pushed in what appears to be a less than transparent manner. The city has yet to fully utilize many of the street ends and other access points to the beaches, and we all know that while many / most of the beaches are privately owned many non-beach owners make the effort and enjoy a beach walk whenever they please.
    If the city adopts any of the controversial shoreline changes proposed they surely must have a considerable amount of the ailing budget set aside for one heck of a legal battle. If the turn-out last night was any indication, all those impacted tax payers are already galvanizing to protect their rights.


    • concerned citizen says:

      As long as we are talking about taxes,well maybe taxes were only touched on,I feel that you should all know that our new public works director is proposing new taxes for all of us. Larry Blanchard would like us all to pay $3-$5 a month per utility in our home or on our property. So if you have power,water,sewer,gas,phone,tv,internet that is $3-$5 per utility or $21-$30 per month. That is $252-$360 a year for services that we ALREADY PAY FOR. This tax will also apply to businesses in the same way but will also have a square footage charge.The idea is to buy heavy equipment and start a Burien maintenance department. Now I feel that King County does an excellent job servicing the citizens of Burien, so why raise taxes to fund a very expensive street maintenance department that we already pay for now without higher taxes? I have been told that he will present his proposal to the city manager as soon as the end of this month and that Mike Martin(funny how both of these guys came from the City of Kent)will present it to council very soon. It is also my understanding that council can approve this tax without going to a public vote. I for one am concerned about council raising taxes without my approval. Maybe people in city hall need to concentrate on how to fill a very empty town square to bring in revenue instead of raising taxes.

  10. stacy colombel says:

    Did anyone notice since we basically destroyed our small and beautiful Burien Library and now only have the large Regional Library that we are attracting more probem
    transients and teenagers . Witness as soon as we completed there is a lot of vandalism to the property in and out and we require a security guard even in the
    elevator. Today I saw a probable transient inside the library having a heated argument with the staff there. They told him not to set fires.

    Burien needs a extra security guard on the outside as well and inside

    Stacy Colombel

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