by Jack Mayne The Burien City Council on Monday night (Oct. 13) passed an ordinance on parking and impoundment of some vehicles but only after some acrimony involving three Council members. The Council voted five to one to adopt the state statute as a city ordinance to permit the city to prosecute violators rather than have the county prosecutors handle the cases. Councilmember Steve Armstrong was excused from the meeting. Before the final vote on amending the regulations, Councilmember Berkowitz said she was concerned about the Council making poverty a crime. ‘Criminalizing’ being poor “I just want to reiterate that we have made significant steps in the past several weeks of criminalizing people who don’t have any way to make income and I think that this ordinance would just be another way to make sure that … we can further criminalize people for being poor or having low income,” Berkowitz said. “I urge the council to not to pass this.” Councilmember Nancy Tosta said she wanted to respond to Berkowitz’s comments. “I certainly do not intend to criminalize homelessness or the economically disadvantaged. That is not the intent of any of my votes,” she said. Then, turning to Berkowitz next to her on the dais, added, “I don’t appreciate being accused of having said that … it is not the case and the intent. What we are trying to do here … is to help Burien, as a community to be the kind of place where many people want to live and can live and handle it well. “It doesn’t help being accused of something that certainly isn’t my intent,” Tosta said to Berkowitz. Councilmember Gerald Robison told Berkowitz, “If we only passed legislation that we thought was perfect, then nothing would ever get passed. “I don’t think it is proper governance – you are not showing proper leadership if you take a position that I am just not going to vote for it because I am unhappy with part of it,” Robison said. “The bulk of the ordinance is needed. There are issues in society with people who don’t have money being at a disadvantage in many situations. That is just part of modern life – it doesn’t make life any harder on anybody than it already is and, so I don’t think it is a perfect ordinance … I am not going to vote against it just for that.” Berkowitz did not respond to either Tosta’s or Robison’s comments and was the lone vote against the final adoption of the parking amendments. Retrieving vehicles Earlier in the discussion, Robison wondered about difficulties in reclaiming impounded vehicles. “If it is a rental car agency, they can show up immediately and get the car out of impound, just by paying the towing fees and impound fees, but nobody else has that privilege.” Robison moved to change the ordinance to allow anyone to get their car back immediately after paying fees. City Attorney Craig Knutson said the city can make some changes in state law when adopting it for local enforcement, but cannot change the part noted by Robison. The Council voted four to two not to make the change. Berkowitz and Robison voted for the change. Impound fees, problems Burien Police Sgt. Henry McLauchlan said if officers can determine who the vehicle belongs to, “we have extended ourselves dramatically trying to make sure that every opportunity is given to anybody who shows up in my office.” A person stopped for impaired driving but has a spouse or other non-impaired person in the car “we actually would avoid the impound and release the vehicle right at the scene to that other person and if that person is not there, they can come and immediately come and appeal that process and we do everything we can to get the vehicle back to them immediately if they have a driver’s license and insurance.” McLauchlan said police frequently “go out of our way” to waive the $100 administrative fee, “recognizing we have folks who are unemployed or have different financial problems. As soon as we waive that fee, the vehicle is released immediately.” The “sticky part” of the law the waivers are “only available when we are available.” To which Robison said if a car is impounded the night before Thanksgiving it would be a problem and the police sergeant agreed. Councilmember Lauren Berkowitz said, “the police force does a great job in enforcing the laws and I’ve said that many times when I disagree with the laws,” but she did not see a reason to add the state law to the city’s statutes. “If we were to successfully lobby to change the state law, we would still have this Burien ordinance.” The city attorney later said if the state law were changed, the city would need to amend its ordinance and police would not continue to enforce that part of the city ordinance. Passage of the change, Knutson said, “I think it would subject our ordinance to legal challenge on the basis it would be inconsistent with the state law.” Berkowitz moved for removal of a section of the proposed city ordinance that specifies that a vehicle impounded because the driver was arrested for a violation of driving while a license was suspended for non-payment of fines or for driving with a license suspended by another state. “I am not as concerned about people accused of driving under the influence as I am about people accused of driving while poor,” Berkowitz said. The Council voted four to two not to remove the section, with Berkowitz and Robison voting for the change. Robison then wanted to know if people whose car is impounded got anything in writing to inform them about how to reclaim their vehicle. McLauchlan said the back of the impound form has the rights for people and the information on how to reclaim the vehicle printed on it. Wrong way parking Robison also brought up again the ordinance against people parking on the wrong way on narrow and less crowded residential streets. “I still fail to identify any safety issue with that,” he said. Sgt. McLauchlan said people expect cars pulling out from parking be in the proper lane of travel, and not crossing a lane of travel to get to proper one. He said other parked vehicles might obscure the view of oncoming traffic, be they pedestrians, skateboarders or other vehicles. In other business, the Council at Monday night’s special session (Oct. 13) gave final approval to an ordinance adding theft of rental property as a crime and adding Burien’s portion of the 2014 King County Regional Hazard Mitigation Plan update. The members also approved two proclamations, one declaring October 13-17 as “Discover U Week and one honoring City Attorney Craig Knutson (see story here). It also heard reports of city department heads about goals completed and those set for the coming new biennium.]]>