Here’s our recap of Monday night’s (Sept. 18, 2023) Burien City Council meeting:
Proclamation: Hispanic Heritage Month
National Hispanic Heritage Month runs from September 15th – October 15th each year, and celebrates the histories, cultures, and contributions of people of Hispanic origin. Nearly 23% of Burien residents identify as Hispanic, according to the 2020 Census. Burien celebrates the Hispanic community through many events and festivities, including the upcoming B-Town Fiesta and Dia De Los Muertos, Welcoming Burien, which took place recently, and in ongoing exhibits at Highline Heritage Museum.
Recology Contract Amended: Slight Cost Increase
King County Solid Waste is changing how they charge in order to create a more stable revenue source, independent of fluctuations in the market. They will now be charging a fixed annual rate to Recology as well as all other trash providers throughout the county. Recology will pass that charge along to its customers. The annual rate is determined based on tons of waste disposed of in the previous year, so lower use of the trash service will result in lower costs down the line. Residential customers with a typical 32 gallon bin are likely to see an increase of $1.50 per month on their bill. Customers with smaller bins will see a lower cost.
City Manager Hopes to Raise Property Tax Cap
Another increased cost Burien residents may see in the future is on their property taxes. Currently, property tax increases are limited to 1% annually, but City Manager Adolfo Bailon is hoping to see that change to a new cap of 3%. NOTE: property taxes are controlled by the Washington State legislature, not the city.
Twenty eight people signed up to speak, and more came forward during the public comments section, requiring the council to extend speaking time multiple times. Nearly all comments were about the encampment. One spoke via Zoom, saying he no longer felt comfortable leaving his wife and young son at home to come to meetings in person, since crime to homes and vehicles near the encampment had gotten so bad. He said his property is continually used as a latrine by the homeless, so his son can no longer play in his own yard. He added that there is a police record of a brutal rape at gunpoint that took place earlier this summer in the encampment.
Another speaker said there are children living in the camp, alongside drug addicts. He said that the camp is spreading out of its previous boundaries, and trash from the homeless is now building up again in Salmon Creek Park, years after a big effort to clean it all out. He added that a men’s shelter is desperately needed. Another person mentioned that the camp has gotten so large it’s impossible to safely turn either direction onto Ambaum from the intersection, and people are wandering unsafely and carelessly in the busy road.
One speaker said she witnessed the explosion that occurred on August 28th, and it was not caused by people in the encampment. She said it was a calculated act of aggression meant to scare away the campers. She said this dwelling option needs to be taken off the table, and homeless people given real help, a “hand up” instead of “hand-outs.” Multiple eyewitnesses have said that they have seen young girls sex-trafficed at the camp; and that the city’s inaction, allowing it to continue, is complicity.
One gentleman who works with the homeless at Transform Burien said that a homeless gentleman he knows told him the house and car break-ins are not necessarily from the people living at the encampment themselves, but from an organized group of young men who come to the camp to buy drugs, and then break into mailboxes, cars, and homes to pay for their drugs.
Several people said that a camping ban isn’t a solution, and reiterated how difficult it is to move when you have no place safe to go. Multiple people brought up the tiny pallet home village they believe the city should build for the homeless, with one adding that the camp needs both supervision and a fence or they’ll keep going into neighborhoods. One person mentioned that if just six tiny home villages were built in the county, all of King County’s homeless could be off the streets in the next four years.
Unlawful Public Camping Ordinance Moved to Consent Agenda
Four of the seven councilmembers voted to approve the camping ban by placing it on the consent agenda, in order to make it a little harder to camp endlessly on city property. Councilmember Hugo Garcia, who voted against it, said that it will be impossible to enforce this ordinance, since Burien does not have the shelter beds required to offer before forcing the homeless to decamp. Garcia also said the actions of the council majority “reeks of white supremacy” and were racist because they have consistently moved the homeless from better neighborhoods to lower income neighborhoods, where he said residents tend to be black and brown. Councilmember Stephanie Mora asked for a formal censure of Garcia after he called members of the council white supremecists, but she did not get council support.
Deputy Mayor Kevin Schilling said he considers this a public safety ordinance, and necessary to address the break-ins and other crimes around the encampment. He said that public space needs to be fairly used and usable by all citizens. Mayor Sofia Aragon said cleaning up the encampment is about equity, because the people living in encampments are living in the worst conditions and cannot be left as they are. Schilling also said that the ordinance expands the City Manager’s ability to authorize permits for shelter space.
City Attorney Garmin Newsom brought up research that staff found in looking into other cities with camping bans. He said there have been 82 cases of litigation regarding the ordinance, with 16 dismissals, 16 siding for the plaintiffs, and 40 favoring the defendant cities. He also explained the difference between “sweeps” and “clearing” encampments. Clearing requires adequate time and notice given to all residents, so they can relocate their belongings. During sweeps, which are basically never done anymore as they are not seen as acceptable, camps are emptied without allowing proper time for relocation of belongings.
City Manager Bailon said that after the camping in parks ban was passed years ago, there was only one arrest made in a six-month period. Adequate time was given to let everyone know of the new ordinance, and it did not result in the predicted increase of arrests. He also said SCORE will not incarcerate people for trespass alone, after the camping ban is in effect; however, if trespassers are found to have outstanding warrants or other infractions, they could be incarcerated on those grounds. The new citywide camping ban will allow for a long educational window of time before it goes into effect on November 1st. It still needs to be passed in the consent agenda of the next business meeting before the educational period will begin.
Other Business: Lakeview Park
Council passed the use of Community Development Block Grant funds to rebuild the play structure at Lakeview Park. In 2022, the funds were used to purchase the park. Some commenters spoke against using funds to build a play structure, when money is so desperately needed for bigger problems. However, Councilmember Sarah Moore explained that parks are a way to provide equity for people throughout the city. The motion to move it to the next consent agenda passed unanimously.