Here’s our recap of the Burien City Council regular meeting, held Monday night, July 17, 2023:
The house was packed again with community members coming to express concerns to council on the homeless crisis, and an overflow viewing room was provided. There were 47 people signed up to speak, and of those the vast majority implored council to take the $1 million dollars offered by King County Regional Homelessness Authority (KCRHA) and build a tiny home village at the earliest opportunity. Many pointed out how much time has been wasted by not taking action when this offer was first made over a month ago.
Several speakers also asked council not to impose a camping ban, particularly before the construction of sanctioned permanent small dwellings for the homeless. One spoke directly to Deputy Mayor Kevin Schilling, stating that Schilling has repeated misinformation when he says every homeless person in Burien has been offered shelter options multiple times. They said there were only nine offers of shelter for 40 people, and eight of those were accepted. Later, Schilling addressed this comment, explaining what his statements were based on and reading sections of multiple letters confirming the offers made to the homeless population.
One woman said she had worked with the homeless population in her capacity as a nurse, and that nearly all the current homeless individuals are former homeowners who fell on hard times. They are, she said, mostly well-educated, and all highly motivated.
Many speakers rallied around the “housing first” model, stating that it is the only method shown to work in dealing with an unstable and addicted population. Two people from Nickelsville spoke about their experiences, describing their years living in the tiny home village. Several people from tiny home companies advertised their businesses to council, hoping the city will utilize their services for construction.
And finally, there were a few business owners who spoke about the difficulty doing business in a downtown ravaged by theft, garbage, harassment by an unstable population, and human excrement. One person said that drug addicts have made a choice to use drugs, therefore they are not homeless against their will, and the city should therefore not be required to allow them to continue camping. Another said that while being homeless itself is not a crime, criminal behaviors like those mentioned above are against the law, and need to be addressed as they are destroying businesses and the community. Many homeless have moved their camp to Ambaum at SW 120th, and their vehicles are causing safety & visibility issues along the busy road.
City Manager’s Homeless Encampment Options
Four options were presented by City Manager Adolfo Bailon to council as being possible locations for a tiny house or pallet home village. Every option would require a change to the zoning code, as a tiny home village is not currently allowed in any part of the city. Bailon said that the $1 million dollars from KCRHA will be available no matter which site is chosen, but that each location comes with problems and some of those are insurmountable.
Northeast Redevelopment Area (NERA)
This vacant property, at the site of the old Lora Lake Apartments, is now owned by the Port of Seattle, so the Port would need to be on board with its potential use as a camp. It is currently zoned as Airport Industrial, and is in a location that experiences high levels of airplane noise. The lot is near services and bus lines, but there are currently other plans for its use.
City Owned Lot on SW 150th Street
This lot is adjacent to the transit center, and currently leased to Burien Toyota. Burien would have to break its contract with Toyota, one of the leading businesses in the city, in order to use the lot. King County has offered another parcel nearby for the car dealership to utilize instead, but Toyota’s owner is not in favor of this move, saying it would be a hardship to his business. The lot is currently zoned Downtown Commercial.
Beverly Park School
This property, located 30 feet outside the city limit north of 116th, is a closed school campus owned by Highline Public Schools. The entire complex is secured by fencing. King County has expressed interest in using this location for another purpose, and more importantly, the School District has recently asked that this location not be considered for the homeless village, and their approval would be necessary.
Lot at SW 136th & 3rd Ave S.
This lot is owned by Seattle City Light, and zoned as Residential Single Family. It has been used most recently as a staging area for nearby construction. The lot may include areas of environmental sensitivity, and would need an ecological impact survey before development. There is also another use already planned for this space by Seattle City Light.
Council Approves Motion to Investigate NERA site
Deputy Mayor Schilling moved to direct City Manager Bailon to investigate the NERA site, or any county owned sites, for a potential temporary location for limited term housing. Bailon will also provide information on how far the million dollars in funding will go regarding the specific needs of drug treatment, mental health services, and property management requirements at the site. As Councilmember Jimmy Matta asked, who is on the hook for paying for the needs of the encampment, once the million dollars is spent? The motion for further investigation passed 4–3.
Following this, Councilmember Cydney Moore immediately proposed a different use of the $1 million dollars, asking that council votes to immediately break the lease with Toyota and turn the 150th Street lot into a tiny home village in one month. This motion failed in a 3–4 vote.
Comparison of Municipal Ordinances Regarding Camping on Public Property
City Attorney Garmon Newsom II presented to council on what other cities are doing to limit camping on public property. He mentioned that both Sacramento and Portland have enacted recent legislation that disallows camping near things like libraries and schools. Some cities have language in their code that allows camping from 8pm to 8am, or sundown to sunrise, but then requires campers to pack up and move their belongings at the start of the day. Their ordinances forbid campers from using hazards like fires and gas heaters. In Seatac, the homeless will be subject to arrest if they refuse offered shelter.
Council Approves Motion to Draft No-Camping Ordinance
Councilmember Stephanie Mora proposed that City Manager Bailon draft a no-camping on city property ordinance, modeled on the city of Bellevue’s municipal code. This ordinance would not allow sweeps if there are no available shelter beds for the homeless. Deputy Mayor Schilling said that Portland is also doing this now, and that the ultimate goal is getting people into shelter and treatment by not encouraging camping.
Councilmember Hugo Garcia said he is concerned with the legal liability of enforcing a camping ban, and that Burien does not have the budget of cities like Bellevue and Portland, should a legal case ensue. Councilmember Mora reiterated that all of the homeless have been offered shelter, and that none of the remaining homeless individuals are willing to accept it. Schilling said this motion follows a regional trend, and that a similar ordinance was passed unanimously in many surrounding cities.
This motion passed 4–3, and an ordinance will be on the table for council vote in an upcoming meeting.
View video of the full meeting here.