New Burien City Council wants more, better review of homelessness


Print This Post  Email This Post

By Jack Mayne

After electing Jimmy Matta its new Mayor, and Councilmember Austin Bell as Deputy Mayor, the newly-elected Burien City Council turned to a potential repeal of a homeless tresspass ordiance, but decided to have Burien city staff review the issue and report back at a later date.

There were several starts and stops and discussions that are most usual and normal for a council where the majority has changed and newly elected members seated are novices at city government processes.

Matta is Mayor
Mayor Lucy Krakowiak opened the first session of the 2018 Burien City Council study session Monday (Jan. 22) and called for election of a new mayor. As specified by state law, City Clerk Monica Lusk conducted the election.

Councilmember Pedro Olguin nominated newly seated Councilmember Jimma Matta.

Councilmember and formerly Deputy Mayor Nancy Tosta nominated herself for mayor on behalf of “all of the people who elected me and have reached out to me since” and said “the people of Burien want an experienced leader” who does not subscribe to “identity politics … and I look out for all ages, all socio-economic classes, all sexes, genders, geographies, ethnicities and ideologies….”

Tosta said he is not beholden to former Councilmembers or political parties – “they don’t set my agenda.”

‘Two good choices’
Councilmember Austin Bell said there were “two very good choices here” and that “both spoke highly of each other” but he said he was “very excited to cast my vote for next Mayor Jimmy Matta.”

Councilmember Krystal Marx said “it was time to elevate the experiences and skills of people who have been held down” and “I am happy to cast my vote for Jimmy Matta.”

Councilmember Matta said he values the experience of those who have been on the Council, but said “I believe I can bring the healing to our community that we need.” He said it “does not matter how you stand on issues, what matters is that you are heard.” Matta said Burien is “very diverse, with very wealthy and very poor. “

“I’ve given this a lot of thought and I want to make sure that we can heal as a community and I believe that I can bring that to the table and with that I cast a vote for Jimmy Matta,” he said.

Councilmember Pedro Olguin said he was proud to “cast my vote for Jimmy Matta.”

Tosta said “the path is clear” and that she has “tremendous respect for our new councilmembers” but “my vote is for the most qualified candidate, which is Nancy Tosta.”

The final vote was four for Matta, one for Tosta and two abstentions – Councilmembers Bob Edgar and Lucy Krakowiak.

Olguin nominated Austin Bell for Deputy Mayor and Bell received five votes, again with Krakowiak and Edgar abstaining.

Mayor Matta continued the meeting asking the audience to forgive him if “I have some hiccups here” in his first meeting as mayor.

Berkowitz censure revisited
On a 5 to 2 vote, the council aproved Councilmember Tosta’s request to reverse and remove from the record the 2017 censure of then-Councilmember Lauren Berkowitz (pictured, left).

Berkowitz was censured by the former Council because she ignored a Council rule that she not be allowed to Tweet or use social media while the Council was in session.

Only Councilmembers Edgar and Krakowiak voted to retain the censure.

Tosta said the previous Council “unfairly censured Councilmember Berkowitz – these policies say you should not Tweet, they do not say you will not Tweet.” She noted the former councilmember used Twitter as a way of communicating with the public under her “appropriate” First Amendment rights.

Censure was political
Bell said he was “always opposed” to the censure which was done “for political reasons … so I am happy to revoke that censure at this time.”

Councilmember Edgar said, as he has in the past, that “reasonable restrictions” can be placed on speech freedom and he said he “would remain a ‘no’ vote on revoking of the censure.”

Councilmember Marx said she thought the censure was “unfair and should not have been in place” so she would vote to remove it from the record.

New Councilmember Olguin said “we are at an interesting crossroads of technology and its growth and how we relate to voters” and that applying “nineteenth century rules to technology is just — we are living in the past” so he would also vote to remove the censure.

Add to agenda
After the censure removal vote, Councilmember Olguin said he wanted to add some matters to the agenda, even though the Council had moved past the usual point for adding agenda items. City Attorney Lisa Marshall said the mayor could add items “at his discretion.”

Olguin wanted the Council first to repeal and later to get city staff to prepare a repeal or update to rework the city trespass ordinance passed in 2014, and which was updated in 2016. Council instructed city staff to come up with a plan to remove the ordinance and its predecessor measures.

Trespass revisited
In 2016 Council updated a previous measure by adding “due process” to the previous version which then-Councilmember Berkowitz said at the time was “unconstitutionally vague and also is mean spirited” and “it would be better to just repeal this ordinance in its entirety” but she said then that she would support the passage because the changes at the time were “better than nothing.”

Olguin said the tresspass ordinance is “really unconstitutional in a lot of ways … given the history of criminalzation of homelessness” and not considering the problem “in a real way,” and failing to provide human services so “I think judging someone on the way they smell or how they look is not something the city should be engaged in.” He wanted it repealed.

Tosta said how people looked or smelled was not “in our ordinance” and in a study session with no preparation. “I am not prepared to have this conversation.” She said it was “disrespectful to process” with no preparation.

Edgar said it was inappropriate to discuss the ordinance without proper preparation and it could be on a future agenda so the staff could prepare information.

Does not help
Marx said the city’s homelessness ordinance “does not help alleviate homelessness” and she would like to have more discussion on the issue.

The mayor opened public comment and the first person to the podium was former Councilmember Berkowitz, who gave her address currently in West Seattle, and no longer in Burien.

She called for the repeal and “you made a mistake in passing this ordinance years ago. You can make it right tonight, you have the chance tonight. That is the right thing to do.”

Resident Ed Dacy expressed concern over the lack of preparation for the discussion on the repleal of an ordinance and wondered about Council doing business “with no notice to the public and nothing to read to see what the law would be.”

Won’t solve problem
Resident Omaha Sternberg said Burien has a major homelessness problems, but the public and the Council “needed to have some knowlege” before changing the ordinance.

“Just striking it is not going to solve the underlying problem which is we have a problem with homelessness. Perhaps having some more time to look through the problem and come up with ideas to replace it hopefully will.”

Olguin said the issue has been discussed many times but Tosta said there is no basic information and even the proposed motion was confusing.

“This is just inappropriate process,” she said, with not enough information and data available immediately to make a proper decision.

More clarity needed
“We are very premature with taking this action” without city staff and the city attorney clarifying the matter and making a comprehensive proposal to Council “on what we could do to alleviae the problem,” said Tosta.

Edgar noted the city has hired a new human services director and created a human services advisory council to work on such matters “so we can make wise and correct choices for the future.”

“Wow, how long are we going to wait for families to freeze out in the cold?” asked Olguin. “The housing market is pushing people out from their homes. Rents are skyrocketing. Through no fault of anybody, people are on the street and we are going to say let’s wait and let’s analyze.”

Junk vehicles
Olguin also wanted to add discussion of the ordinance regulating junk vehicles parked in public view, but Deputy Mayor Bell said he wanted staff review before the Council took the potential removal or changing that ordinance, which passed in 2016 by a 5-2 vote. The measure allows the city to remove such vehicles from private property.

That prompted Edgar to wonder about why the Council was being asked to review matters that “we don’t even have in our packet” of information for the meeting. Tosta said she agreed with Edgar and since the public was not told of the issues and there was no staff information or past history available she would oppose adding the discussions to the agenda.

Print This Post  Email This Post

Comments are closed.