LETTER: Foreign Visitor's Open Letter To Residents About Lake Burien

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AN OPEN LETTER TO THE CITIZENS OF BURIEN about their lake (Written from notes after a visit in Burien on July 2nd 2009 on the occasion of my father Thomas Sieverts speaking in Burien (read our previous coverage here ).

I remember the unbelievable story of an invisible lake in the center of a town called Burien. There was no public access to the lake, but my father and I were introduced to one of the “owners” of the lake and she invited us to take a bath. She was talking about the good quality of the water that is due to the common non-use of motorboats of the neighbouring properties and the renouncement of fertilizer in the gardens, which I found really impressive. She then said that when the lake would get a public access, all this would be gone. I wondered about that argument, because, apart from the bewildering strong conviction of a lack of responsibility of her common citizens that it showed, there are of course ways of controlling water pollution at public accesses, be it by neighbourhood control, by closing hours at night, by park wardens, by the arrangement of a public bath with attendants or other solutions, which she obviously had not ever even thought about.

The second line of her argumentation was, that if the lake would get a public access, the values of their properties would fall and then they would pay less taxes which could not be in the interest of the municipality, a fairly absurd way of thinking, which I will come back to later.

And the third line of her argumentation was, that there are enough lakes nearby. When I asked her, what nearby means, she talked of distances, that are only practicable by car, and of course this is a deep and profound difference, if you can walk from your own city center, maybe with an ice cream in your hands, in just 5 minutes to such a wonderful nature spot or if you have to go back home to get the car and drive there. As my father and I had just been shown before, Burien has made a big effort to become an urban, pedestrian friendly, sustainable and atmospheric place. I could only understand the inaccessibility of the lake as a kind of relict of other times, when there was maybe less citizen spirit or so, which I don´t know.

When we got to know, that there would be a property to sell in the near future, and that if the city administration would buy it, they could get a public access, we looked at that property and it was just perfect in its position to the city center as well as in size and character.

Boris Sieverts is the son of noted German urban planner Thomas Sieverts.

Talking about the issue with council members, we got the impression that they were not willing to face the people that live around the lake and try to keep it exclusively their´s. What, under these circumstances, did all the embellishments and structural improvements of the city center, that we had just been shown, mean? Were they just covering the real scandal of what was happening in this town?

To give away the unique chance of a public access to the lake after all these efforts would at least heavily affect everything that you, the citizens of Burien have done and reached for in the past years. The fact, that the vacant lot in question is just on the perfect location seen from the city center (you could even have a nice pedestrian´s connection through the alley between 152nd an 153rd street, that leads right on the spot), to me was like a sign from above that this is a chance to fight for, because it will never come again.

I am convinced that, if it would be well managed, the neighbours of the lake won´t be seriously harmed by a public access (except maybe that they have to give up the idea that the lake is “theirs”, which in fact it is not) and that at the same time the overall image and value of Burien as a whole (not only in the city center) would rise remarkably. Close to Cologne, where I live, there is a small town called Haltern. It is close to a lake. A couple of years ago they changed their name to “Haltern am See” (Haltern on the lakeside). Property prices have nearly doubled since then!

The degree of hypocrisy of those who keep the lake for themselves now and thereby pretend to do it for the best of nature and the city of Burien is hard to bear. Municipalities need money to invest in the quality of life in their boundaries. For no tax money in the world, Burien will be able to invest in such a good improvement in the quality of life of its inhabitants as a public access to the lake on that spot would mean. And for the nature argument: Public access must not necessarily mean pollution, there are enough good examples for that. People are a part of nature too. They must not deprive themselves from it just at places were it hurts them most! The inhabitants of the lake are the best example for that!

Lake Burien has enough space for everybody, those who live there and those who come to visit!!!

Imagine future Burien citizens talking about their childhood: “On summer evenings we got ice cream on main street, left the store by the backdoor terrace and went down the alley to the lake. There was a charming little boardwalk, a meadow, huge trees and a house to change clothes. It had all been there for decades. My parents said, that there were times when no one knew about it. Can you imagine?”

As far as I know there is a state law, that says that all water surfaces belong to the state and are thereby public property. If, because of the given fact that the whole shoreline is already private properties, that law is partially without consequence in reality, that is one thing. But if there is a chance and a public will to change that unhappy state of things by the legal and legitimate act of a municipality buying a property, and that process is heavily impeded by certain people, that former unhappy but maybe legitimate state of things finally looses its legitimacy and comes even close to illegality, because it actively tries to cross what the law wants.

I remember the mayor saying, that the municipality could probably even get funding from a state park program for the acquirement of a public access. But she was afraid of facing the influential people that live around the lake. I really liked her, but what kind of municipality is this, where a few influential people can deprive a whole town of one of its greatest treasures?

Imagine you and some others buy a house. Now the others place themselves around that house in a way that you can no longer reach it. If you ask them to let you pass, they say no. Then one of them sells his property. You try to buy it, to get access to your house in the middle, but those who have placed themselves around it do everything for that you can not buy the property that you would need to get to your house in the middle. During all that time they use the house in the middle for themselves. Isn´t that robbery or at least something close to robbery? The house in the middle is the lake and you are the public. The lake is (also) yours. Don´t let them steal it from you!

Get the municipality to buy the property in question!

Collect fundings and donations to buy it yourselves for the use of everyone!

Apply to the social responsibility of the Van Dyke foundation, that is the actual owner!

Start an idea competition on the future of Lake Burien and Burien on the lakeside!

Köln, Germany, March 2010

– Boris Sieverts
Büro für Städtereisen
Pellenzstr. 6
50823 Köln
[email protected]

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21 Responses to “LETTER: Foreign Visitor's Open Letter To Residents About Lake Burien”
  1. Keith says:

    Hear, hear!

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  2. citizen says:

    AWESOME point of view…Thanks for your time to look from the outside …Lets work together to buy the whole darn lake….then…3 tree point will be next….

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  3. Samantha says:

    Why spend more money on something that the city doesn’t need? This “utopia” dream of getting ice cream and walking down to the lake is a pipe dream…. most likely it will just cost more tax $$ to maintain (lifeguard anyone?) cause friction in the neighborhood and bring in outsiders. Do you really think only local residents will take a dip? I have no need for a local swimming pond when I can just inflate a pool in my back yard… I’d rather not see my taxes go up when I get the bill to pay for this whole project. Ever been to Seahurst park? Just wait for the city to get sued when the first drunk dumba$$ drowns.

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  4. Robin says:

    What a wonderful letter! And so true. If something is public, then it’s public. Trying to hoard a huge public resource among a few citizens sounds like a pretty narrow agenda to me! I encourage the Council to think of all the citizens of Burien in the future!

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  5. Rob says:

    I’ve said it before, and I will say it again. I have lived here for 48 years. Never have seen Lake Burien.

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  6. c'mon says:

    “I remember the mayor saying, that the municipality could probably even get funding from a state park program for the acquirement of a public access. But she was afraid of facing the influential people that live around the lake. ”

    – Boris Sieverts

    So the Mayor admitted to this guy that she is a coward??

    I find that hard to believe. The Mayor, the City Council, and the Shoreline Committee do what they want, when they want.

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  7. Len Boscarine says:

    First of all, I would like to thank you for your restraint. To quote the B-Town Bog during your visit to Burien, Boris encouraged everyone to “march down to the lake together.” Schaefer then added “…and go skinny dipping!” Unfortunately for the film crew present, the march and nude swim prank never materialized.” That may be appropriate in Cologne but in Burien we are grateful to be spared such a sight.

    As to the rest of your letter, you state “there are ways of controlling water pollution at public accesses, be it by neighborhood control, by closing hours at night, by park wardens, by the arrangement of a public bath with attendants or other solutions.”

    You failed to mention however that a great deal of tax money would be needed for each of the solutions. You also mentioned neighborhood control, whatever that means. I only know that those of us who live around the Lake have no police status, no legal protection, and no desire to take on drunks and gang members.

    You also commented “I could only understand the inaccessibility of the lake as a kind of a relic of other times”. In that you are correct. It is a relic of earlier times because the water is the cleanest of any body of water in the state, and serves as a nesting area for rare birds and other wildlife long driven from other local lakes because of human encroachment. It’s one of the few lakes in the state that doesn’t have a problem with milfoil. Both the lake and the shoreline are not filled with trash, as is common on lakes with public access so I guess Lake Burien really is a relic.

    You then went on to insult the members of the Burien City Council with your statement that “talking about the issue with council members, we got the impression that they were not willing to face the people that live around the lake and try to keep it exclusively their’s. … Were they just covering the real scandal of what was happening in this town?”

    Let me reassure you that there’s no scandal in Burien’s city hall. Our council members are very strong and independent individuals who are trying to be fair to all Burien residents no matter where they live or how much money they have in the bank. Previously they have passed several local ordinances that regulate the entire Lake Burien neighborhood.

    You are also wrong when you write, “the vacant lot in question is just on the perfect location seen from the city center. “ None of the lots or homes can be seen from city center because of the retail buildings on 152nd Street (and adjacent side streets). Also, the vacant lots closest to clty center front the largest bid sanctuary on Lake Burien, along with healthy growths of aquatic plans that are prohibited by law from being removed.

    You also point out that “Public access must not necessarily mean pollution, there are enough good examples of that.” While that statement may be true in Germany, in King County, WA, that hasn’t been the case. In fact, property owners granted public access to the Lake on a trial basis back in the 50’s. The lot was fenced off however within a few months after a drowning, numerous near drowning, incidents of people urinating and defecating on homeowners’ property. Just picking up the empty beer cans and liquor bottles was a full time job. And, people made little effort to put food scraps and other trash in the trash barrels.

    Finally you managed to insult our mayor with your ridiculous statement that “I remember the mayor saying that the municipality could probably even get funding from a state park program for the acquirement of a public access. But she was afraid of facing the influential people that live around the lake.” Perhaps you should consider eliminating beer or wine from your lunch because I have known Joan McGilton for years and she would never make that statement. I served on the Burien Planning Commission with her and I have watched her face down developers, state and local politicians and CEOs. She isn’t afraid of anyone, especially Lake Burien homeowners.

    Don’t feel bad that you made so many mistakes. I’m sure that if I were to go to a town in Germany and try to tell their citizens what to do or think about their neighborhood I would probably be just as inaccurate.

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  8. gimmeabreak says:

    I attended a meeting with the writer’s famous father. While he was nice enough, he spouted enough ‘stuff’ to make most of the people in the room roll their eyes. Then when it was pointed out to him that almost half the people in the community weren’t invited to his discussion; i.e. anyone that wasn’t white, he dismissed this item as not important for the development of our community. So while he extolled arts and ‘bathing in Lake Burien’, I wrote the old xenophobe off and went home.

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  9. Coverofnight says:

    Why don’t these European socialists stay out of our business? ‘Course, he actually sounds a lot like most of our local planners that want to take away our property rights. Why don’t these people (all planning departments) get REAL jobs and stop taking from hard-working people to give to slackers who want free entitlements? America is becoming more like Europe every day……maybe that’s why he felt at ease to give us advice on Lake Burien. I’ve lived here over 50 years and have only seen it a couple of times…..doesn’t bother me that I don’t have access – there’s always Angle Lake, Lake Washington, Lake Tapps, Lake Sammamish and on and on…….We don’t need public access and I don’t want to increase our city budget (and my taxes) to pay for it! Citizens Unite! Tell Burien to let it go and move on!!!!! Wipe out the gang problem first!!!

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    • Erik Robbins says:

      I agree. To fight for a park on a lake with zero “wow” factor besides being wet is a waste of time. I would reather go to a lake where I can see some nature not peoples backyards. Ehhh… it’s just a lake, move on to more important matters at hand people.

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  10. Lee Moyer says:

    Wow. Great letter that tells it like it is. Maybe from a distance he can see more clearly thru the usual litany of anti public access excuses used by the nimbys near every public access and park proposal.

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    • Len Boscarine says:

      So Lee Moyer:

      Does this mean that you agree with all of the derogatory comments about our Mayor and the city council members?

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      • Lee Moyer says:

        I don’t agree with all his details, but I saw him asking questions, not making drogatory comments and I think they were legitimate. I also think swimming would probably not be appropriate for the property that RDCC is selling.
        BTW, How did the lake residents grant public access in the 50s and then fence it off when there was too much litter, etc? What property was open to the public? Who owned and managed it?

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  11. Robin says:

    I can’t speak for Lee, but I do agree with the parts of the letter that say if something is public then the public should be able to use it. I have no doubt that the people who live on Lake Burien care for it deeply, but the fact remains that the majority of it is public property.

    I don’t own the sidewalk or street in front of my house, nor can I control what happens there. That’s life when your property abuts public property. I don’t have the right to shut the street down because I’m worried about having other people near me.

    Picking out the points about derogatory comments about the Mayor and others is avoiding the main message of the letter. It is not legal or right for a few private citizens to enjoy a publicly owned asset exclusively.

    I’m sure many people will write in after me to talk about how terrible our parks are, and how degraded the environment is, but no one will address the fact that the lake is public property. I’m sure it hurts; you’ve been there for years, but it’s the truth.

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  12. Len Boscarine says:

    Lee Moyer:

    Why should I be willing to answer your question if you weren’t willing to answer mine?

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  13. Lee Moyer says:

    I tried to answer your question. If you want just a yes or no, technically no. But that is just clouding the main issue anyway.
    Regardless, to answer your last question, you might want to answer my questions because what you seem to describe others might find hard to believe as well, if that is all there was to it.

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  14. Jack says:

    Why waste energy worrying about getting access to a tiny lake? It is so funny to read what a non-citizen has to say about something that is so utterly unimportant. Makes me laugh. It would be better served to raise monies for a good pool similar to Colman pool in West Seattle. You can chlorinate that water, at least and employ lifeguards. Anyone ever experience swimmer’s itch? My family was infected on Wapato Point a couple of years ago-no fun!

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  15. Betsy says:

    classic: a european socialist telling another town in another country what’s best for them without living here or having to deal with the consquences of his ideas.

    I’ve never seen the lake but I also don’t pay taxes to maintain it — the last thing I would want is take private property and turn it into a murky lagoon. this is lake burien not central park folks. when i want to see a lake or body of water, my family and i walk down the street to the public access made available to me and my family at Seahurst Park.

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  16. Thom Grey says:

    Duh, Boris-

    I’m not sure who paid for you to come to Burien. Who did?

    Who paid you and your father to do a 15 minute “shtick” model of city planning for Burien?

    Most people in the city could not figure out why you were here. So, why were you here?

    Of the few people who did see you-less than 100-they thought you were a comedy act.
    Why did you tell people to graffiti on private property and go nude in the city?

    Most Germans I know don’t fancy your model of “Crow manager”-fly over, look around, snatch a few scraps of food, defecate and then leave town. And, they don’t like to listen to piffle from unresearched strangers. Verstehen sie?

    Maybe you should read this article on Arbor Lake, which is in the Burien area, before you tell us what to do with our small lakes.


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    • Coverofnight says:

      Hey Thom:

      “Crow manager”……that’s great; hope you don’t mind if I use that sometime.

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  17. Julie D says:

    Love to have the Euro/Germans tell us what to do, and everyone thinks they are so, so much smarter than us…..as their standard of living declines every year.

    These were the same guys who thought Town Square was great. Gave us a Euro Award. Tell that to anyone who has to pay the mortgage. (Be surprised if they can pay the taxes).

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