Burien City Council approves ordinance controlling ‘disruptive’ public behavior
by Jack Mayne
The Burien City Council approved by a 6 – 1 vote an ordinance (excerpt above) updating the city statute for dealing with people on publicly-owned property “whose behavior is dangerous, unsafe, illegal or unreasonably disruptive to others.”
The measure voted on Monday night (Aug. 18) will permit police “to issue trespass warnings” rather than arresting persons who are committing criminal violations such as “lewd and lascivious acts/indecent exposure, sale or possession of narcotics or illegal substances, disorderly intoxication or conduct.” Officers could issue the “trespass warning” which would bar that individual from returning to that location for seven days for the first offense, up to 90 days for the second violation and up to a year for a third trespass within a year.
The Council also heard a preliminary outline of the next biennial city budget and heard citizens for and against the Highline School District’s $385 million general obligation bond issue on the November ballot.
Under the newly passed public behavior ordinance, a person getting such a trespass warning longer than seven days could seek a hearing before the city’s hearing examiner to have the matter dropped or the time banned from the property shortened.
The measure was drafted with support of the King County Library system because the library occupies portions of the first floor of the city hall building. Also participating in the drafting was City Attorney Craig Knutson, Police Chief Scott Kimerer and City Manager Kamuron Gurol.
The lone opponent of the measure was Councilmember Lauren Berkowitz.
“I do not support this motion or this ordinance,” Berkowitz said, adding it was “dangerous and unnecessary,” noting that the United Nations universal declaration of human rights “lists both government and access to government and access to education as human rights, so I think that trespassing people and preventing them from engaging in these human right activities warrants something that is gravely egregious.” She said if a hearing is held, the evidence should be “clear and convincing,” and not simply a “preponderance of evidence, which is “incredibly easy to prove.”
Councilmember Gerald Robison said he agreed with Berkowitz on the standard of proof point being “clear and convincing.” He added he was also concerned about allowing hearsay evidence from “other government employees” into hearings.
“What makes other government employees particularly reliable witnesses that we would ask the hearing officer to rely upon?”
Councilmember Steve Armstrong said the revised ordinance would give the police a needed tool and noted that “lots of people are concerned to come to this facility” – the library and city hall – because there has been some misbehavior in the area.
Berkowitz reiterated that many of the behaviors proscribed in the ordinance can be “incredibly obnoxious and irritating but I would never think they (people) should be removed from the access to the library or accessing their city government” for such things as not wearing shoes or a shirt or playing their music too loud.
Eventually Berkowitz’s motion to remove a part of the proposed ordinance that would restrict behavior that is “unreasonably disruptive to other users” failed on a 5 to 2 vote (Berkowitz and Robison for it).
As the council made it final vote on the ordinance, Robison said the city staff did a good job putting the language together and while he agreed with Berkowitz on several issues, he would vote to approved the measure, making the vote 6 to 1 in favor.
Highline Bond Issue
The Council gave initial approval of a resolution supporting the Highline School District, which is asking voters to approve a $385 million dollar general obligation bond issue to build two now middle schools, rebuild Highline High School, upgrade and modernize two other high schools, repair deteriorating roofs and structures at other district buildings, expand student access to classroom technology at all schools and to make “safety and security improvements.”
The resolution will be on the consent agenda for final approval at the next Council meeting.
Several people told the Council why they should support the issue, while some homeowners expressed opposition to the measure.
Rodha Shiekh, Highline High School student body president, said the upgrades were urgently needed. “The heating system of Highline is awfully unreliable. Three of my six classes had an intermittent heating system and for weeks straight we had no heat working in those three classes.” She said that in some classes with heat, it was too hot, noting the boiler system is “just too old, which jeopardizes student’s health and discourages student from coming to school.” She added that the plumbing system is “hygienically unacceptable” and the ceilings often leak onto the classrooms. She hoped voters would approve the bond issue on the November ballot.
Laura Casanova, Des Moines, opposed the measure, saying she was upset that “we’re being asked to raise our property taxes once again to fund public construction yet again with another public school bond” after approving bonds in 2002 and 2006. “What people have to realize it that those are not paid off yet. Somewhere along the line, Highline School District has lost fiscal responsibility and again are asking the homeowners to come up with this difference. When did it become the responsibility of a homeowner to fund public education.”
Councilmember Debi Wagner asked Highline officials if there were matching funds available to help with the projects covered by the bond issue.
Scott Logan, the chief operations officer for the Highline district, said two sources are available to the district. One would be from the Federal Aviation Agency for sound mitigation due to the closeness of Sea-Tac Airport. The other avenue is the state superintendent of public instruction, which has matching funds available for all of the projects in the bond issue.
“The total was about $70 million,” Logan said.
Wagner said she had heard the cost of replacing Highline would be 50 percent higher than if the structure were repaired and upgraded.
District Superintendent Susan Enfield told Councilmembers that estimated cost of rebuilding Highline High School is $150 million, so perhaps the figures Wagner had heard referred to that number.
The Burien City Council on Monday night approved two proclamations, one to recognize Sept. 14 as Gay Pride Day in South King County and the second to declare Sunday, Sept. 27 as Mayor’s Day of Concern for the Hungry.