By Jack Mayne

At its council meeting Monday night (April 19), City Manager Brian Wilson presented steps to address concerns of Burien businesses on city crime and safety, the proposed DESC supportive housing project was delayed, and the City Council voted to allow food trucks only when storefront restaurants are fully operating.

“We have received concerns from our business community in the form of a letter about crime and safety and the issues they are facing,” said Wilson. “These concerns are real.”

He said the staffing level of police in Burien is the lowest of any city in South King County, although the city crime rate was second lowest to the city of Normandy Park, and the city has “made a great deal of progress.”

But he said that “by no means lessens the impact our local businesses have seen” and said the city is committed to working with Burien’s business community. The city manager commended Police Chief Ted Boe for his “partnership between police and human services” but the city still has “a ton of work to do.”

Upward or Downward?
Police Chief Boe said violent crime has been “trending downward in recent years.” But, the Burien Police Department is staffed at the lowest level of South King County cities — approximately one officer per one thousand residents.

“Our minimum patrol staffing is three officers from midnight to 10 a.m. and from 10 a.m. to midnight,” Boe said.

The King County Sheriff’s Office is having difficulties hiring to fill Burien vacancies in the 44 cities contracted police departments.

“While staffing issues are a challenge, we are working hard to deliver an improved sense of safety in response to the community’s concerns,” Boe said, adding the department has “instituted overtime patrols in various business districts several days per week.

“The object is both to be a visible deterrent to crime and to address criminal behavior … These patrols are at random hours of the day and overnight hours with officers walking foot patrol or bicycle patrol” and are not being used to respond to calls for service unless the call are directly related to downtown assistance.

Grant finances officer
Boe said he has obtained a grant to finance a downtown storefront officer in partnership with Discover Burien. The goal is to have a “single point of contact” for problems in downtown Burien.

“The grant funding allows me to staff an officer (downtown) Thursdays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.” the chief said and there is enough money to keep the officer for the rest of the summer.

The concern over the crime rate in downtown Burien emerged recently in a letter to The B-Town Blog by House, owner and operator of the Tin Room Bar and Tin Theater.

When consent isn’t
A regular portion of the Council’s agenda is called “consent agenda,” but “consent” was far from reality at the April 19 session. Mayor Jimmy Matta noted that Deputy Mayor Krystal Marx moved to accept the consent agenda. Then Councilmember Nancy Tosta moved to take an item off said agenda and discuss the issue to quickly approve the Downtown Emergency Service Center (DESC) into the city’s Affordable Housing Demonstration Program.

“It raises significant economic concerns,” Tosta said, as well as concerns for use of the property and impact on the surrounding area because of parking problems and the lack of public space, commercial space — “all of the things any entity locating in our downtown area to provide.” She added that the “majority of the things we are hearing are expressing concerns about this project.”

Affordable housing
As we’ve previously reported, DESC has proposed a new affordable housing development in downtown Burien. The building is designed to be five stories and will contain 95 units of housing with supportive services onsite including behavioral health care, crisis intervention, and employment services. Housing will be available to Burien community members making up to 30 percent of King County Area Median Income and 25 of those units will be reserved for veterans meeting the same criteria.

DESC is a Seattle not-for-profit organization that has been providing a wide variety of housing programs in King County since 1979. This organization has been credited with successfully operating permanent supportive housing for 27 years and recognized both nationally and regionally for their work.

Tosta said the reason to pull the DESC item from the consent agenda was because of “significant and substantial comments we have had on this in the last two weeks, as well as questions raised” about approval of this in the housing program. Tosta said she feels members of the community do see a need for this but are concerned about the location and concessions DESC may receive and would have to comply with in the downtown area.

“I am very much in favor of a program that can come in, build 95 out of the 144 units that we need in a way that does not cause Burien to have to work up overhead costs to get in place,” Marx said.

Blatant fear mongering
Councilmember Cydney Moore said she has heard the concerns of the public that vary from valid concerns to … “magical forecasting,” and what she called “blatant fear mongering.” “There is not a single argument that I can see yet that validates any reasoning to deny this project,” she said. “It is and has been validated as qualified for our affordable housing demonstration program. They have jumped through all the hoops the Council set. They have not failed in a single instance.”

Moore said the Downtown Emergency Service Center (DESC) “fully intends to prioritize Burien’s population. They fully intend to do outreach and have contacted organizations that operate here, have heard from leadership that operate here… .

“They know for a fact, have identified over 200 individuals that live unhoused on our streets, so we know that now we have a sizable enough population that would be served by these units,” Moore said. “I don’t think Burien wants to be a city that paints itself as unwelcoming, that paints itself as disregarding the needs of our people….”

After much lively discussion and a series of confusing and complicated Roberts Rules clarifications, the Council finally voted to discuss the issue again on at its May 17 meeting.

Video of the contentious consent agenda segment
If you like reality television, local politics and The Brady Bunch (for presentation style), you may enjoy this 1-hour and 1-minute excerpt video from Monday’s council meeting. It all starts when Tosta makes a motion to remove Item E (DESC) from the consent agenda, then erupts into a series of arguments, motions, confusion and more, including sometimes baffled-looking City Attorney Garmon Newsom with his head down, frantically searching for clarifications to Roberts Rules as the chaos continues all around him:

A job for homeless
Tin Room Bar owner Danny House spoke to the Burien City Council Monday night, noting “a great way in helping the homeless is offering and making possible … a job.”

In his recent letter, House commented on the frustration of “Over the past 18 months I and other business owners have been troubled with a constant thought – has my business been vandalized or broken into? This is a new feeling for me, after 30 plus years of business in Burien. I can no longer let my mother, who many of you know, arrive early to sweep the sidewalk.

“I no longer leave our back entrance open for deliveries. I second guess myself about the alarm being set,” House wrote. “I tell my employees to leave the doors locked until we open and to be careful coming and going from the parking area, regardless of the time of day. My truck was broken into at 8 a.m. and I was nearly run over trying to stop the criminals.

“I have had to confront people trying to break into my business and even chased a person out of a neighbor’s restaurant after he walked through the employee entrance looking to steal. He terrified both women working there.”

Olde Burien crime
“Cars are stolen out of our parking lot,” said House.”The church across the street was broken into. The back of our building has become a public toilet. I have two people on video trying to kick down our back entrance. I have another instance of two would-be thieves saying if they returned with a crowbar, they could probably get in.

“We have had the K-9 police unit on the roof of my building. I bought plywood thinking I had to board up my business. All of this in Olde Burien, the gem of our city, the town I love.”

Boe said overtime payments are making up for “not having the resources that really we would like to have” to have officers to respond to some of the problems. He said he would “love to have officers downtown, but that (money) just doesn’t exist.”

During public comments, the Council heard from Andrea Reay, President and CEO of the Seattle Southside Chamber of Commerce. Reay said the Chamber is a longtime advocate of both business and workers. There are many challenges, she said, but a pathway of collaboration is important to follow.

“No matter what challenges we face, when we are able to convene and collaborate together there is nothing we can’t accomplish together,” she told the Council.

Food trucks
Chris Craig, Burien’s economic development manager, said Empresarios Unidos and Restaurants of Burien both challenged the city’s food truck pilot program. He said the city has visited many businesses and had phone conversations with businesses about the food truck issue and said about 50 percent of businesses wanted the distance food trucks park in front of other businesses to be increased. The survey also revealed about 28 percent of those asked felt food trucks were unfair competition.

Craig said his staff reached out to Alfredo Covarubbias, president of Empresarios Unidos to facilitate a meeting. Craig said 25 percent of those surveyed felt the food truck issue should be delayed until April of 2022 or whenever restaurants are back to fully doing business. Another 15 percent said food trucks should not be allowed anywhere downtown.

The most common concerns heard from these businesses regarding the food truck pilot program were the distance that food trucks are required to park from existing restaurants, currently 50 feet, should be increased. Another concern was food trucks offering the same food at lower prices due to lower operating costs creates unfair competition.

Delay until all open
Councilmember Kevin Schilling moved to delay the implementation of the food truck program until after full occupancy of restaurants is restored. After sitting down and discussing the issue with restaurant operators, he said “once we get out of COVID and everyone is able to sit-down at full capacity, it makes sense.”

Councilmember Cydney Moore said she sympathized with the restaurant owners but felt the food truck operators should be allowed to be able to “feed their families and pay their bills.” She also said she has not seen any data that food trucks would threaten the future of established Burien restaurants. She also said that there was a lack of restaurants open later in the evening.

Melinda Behrman was appointed by Council to the Arts Commission.

Kellie Bassen, Greta Fink, Diane Holman and Jenn Newmann were appointed to the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board.

Earth Day proclamation approved by the Council was presented by Councilmember Tosta to Joanna Stodden. The Council also declared April 18 to 24 as Infertility Awareness Week as sponsored by Councilmember Kevin Schilling and acceptedly by Melanie Thomas.

Councilmember Pedro Olguin was given a Council approved excused absence from the meeting.

Senior Reporter Jack Mayne passed away in December, 2021. In his honor we have created the Jack Mayne Journalism Scholarship.