Here’s our recap of the Burien City Council meeting held on Monday night, Jan. 29, 2024:
Graffiti Removal A Priority
Councilmember Jimmy Matta mentioned that it’s imperative to immediately report any new incidents of graffiti so they can be cleaned up right away. City Manager Adolfo Bailon added that people often assume someone else has already reported it to the city, but if everyone makes that assumption graffiti often goes unreported. Code compliance issues, which include graffiti, can be reported online via this form. There is an option to upload a photo of the problem.
33 people signed up for public comments, and the comment time was extended twice to allow everyone a chance to talk. Comments mostly centered around the hot button issues of the upcoming homeless day center at Highline United Methodist Church (HUMC) and the possible changes to the Public Comment segment of council meetings.
Many people from Casa Italiana came to speak about the problems they have already been facing with HUMC’s severe weather shelter for the homeless. They have had to fence in their business to keep out potential thieves, and they fear that it now feels more like a prison than a welcoming cultural center. They are also concerned for their neighbors, who may not be able to afford to fence in their properties. They would likely not have opened their non-profit in this location if they knew they would have to be cleaning up drug paraphernalia and human feces each day. They universally asked council to reconsider allotting $200,000 to HUMC for a new program that would provide services for the homeless three days a week.
One residential neighbor of HUMC said he and two of his fellow neighbors had their windows broken on opening night of the Severe Weather Shelter. Another said that anyone who really cares about the homeless would require the church to have a high bar for entry, not allowing criminals and drug use or sales in the facility or at homeless camps. One person mentioned that the HUMC grant spells out a program that is missing the elements required to be successful, such as security and experienced staff. Another person mentioned that the recent city council election demonstrated that a majority of the community wants the council to act differently than the previous council did, thus they should rescind the decision to fund this day center. It was also mentioned that Burien already has many organizations with a track record of success, such as Mary’s Place, Transform Burien, and food banks, which could use these funds instead.
Others argued that the day center will be an important intermediary step from living in a tent to working full time and paying rent, a step that may be impossible without services and support.
Many people shared concerns with proposed limits on the public comment period. They were also very concerned that the council may be moving the meeting start time. They worry limiting public speaking will threaten the democratic process and may violate the first amendment. One person mentioned that if council provided a separate forum for dialog with the community, such as a town hall, that might satisfy the need for more information exchange expressed by concerned commenters.
For the remaining several hours of the meeting, council moved to more of a round-table Study Session on several topics, including council rules of order, meeting time & day, and the HUMC day center.
Changes To Public Comments & City Council Rules Of Order
Councilmember Sarah Moore said that people bring up all kinds of important, but off-topic, concerns during the public comments time, and that their comment topics should not be limited to current agenda items. She shared that the first time she spoke at a council meeting during public comments was to mention an issue at a local park; from there she volunteered on the parks commission, and then eventually ran for city council. Thus, opportunity for public comment clearly provides an important avenue for public participation in city government. Council voted unanimously not to limit public comments to topics related to the meeting’s agenda.
Public commenters “may” state their city of residence along with their name, but will not be required to. Burien residents and business owners or employees in Burien may be prioritized during the Public Comments section. Non-residents may still sign up to speak. The sign-up deadline to give public comment will now be one hour before the start of each meeting. It was said that this is standard practice for other cities. No disruptive or noisy behavior will be permitted, including yelling, clapping, or jeering. Anyone breaking this rule may be escorted from the meeting.
They also voted to keep the “two-touch system”, meaning that most business items have the opportunity to be discussed and voted on twice. Councilmember Moore also argued for the importance of this system, as it allows for more thoughtful and thorough consideration of important topics, as well as more opportunity for public feedback on the issues.
All these amendments to the Rules of Order were adopted unanimously.
Time & Day Of Council Meetings Still Uncertain
City Attorney Garmin Newsom highlighted some of the drawbacks of a Monday meeting, including the fact that many holidays fall on a Monday, and the lack of time for adjusting meeting topics should anything of importance happen during the weekend. Councilmembers universally supported the idea of having meetings on a different day of the week. Staff will research the other options and come back to council in the future for a possible decision on a new meeting day.
City Attorney Newsom also listed many of the different council meeting start times of surrounding cities, and they ranged from early afternoon to early evening, with Burien’s 7 p.m. start time among the latest. The idea of a meeting time change was a little harder to come to an agreement on, though it was eventually decided that a 6:30 p.m. start time would be doable, and lessen the impact on staff and councilmembers with meetings going so late. This will be discussed and voted on in a future meeting. Council will also consider setting a hard stop time for meetings, so they are not running until midnight.
Highline United Methodist Church Day Center
Councilmember Jimmy Matta wanted to make clear from the beginning that the city cannot stop the church from operating a day center if it chooses to. The only thing the city can control is the designation of the $200,000 in ARPA funds for the project. However, the funds must be designated by the end of 2024, and if HUMC doesn’t get this money, they could seek funding elsewhere. If Burien does fund the project, that gives the city a measure of control over the activities at the center.
Deputy Mayor Stephanie Mora objected to HUMC being the sole organization providing job training to the homeless, as is the plan, when there are surely organizations better able to provide that training.
Councilmember Alex Andrade said she had recently visited a day center in Federal Way, and that gave her reasons to doubt the success of HUMC’s proposed day center. The one in Federal Way, she said, has many resources for the homeless around it, including a DSHS office, a food bank, and a Health Point clinic. They also have hired security. She said that just last week, they had six overdoses at the day center. HUMC does not have any of these resources around it, nor do they mention security in their plan. Andrade also asked what options neighbors of the center would have to address rules being ignored or dismissed.
City Manager Adolfo Bailon offered to find money in the City Manager’s budget to hire security for the day center. It was also mentioned that any contract entered into by the city will have an exit clause if the contractee does not hold up its end of the agreement.
Mayor Kevin Schilling said that he does appreciate the measure of control over the project Burien will have if the city funds the center, but he has concerns about the low barrier of entry for the program and their plans for handling weapons on site.
Councilmember Hugo Garcia reminded council that as a city we’ve been waiting and hoping for churches to step forward to do more to help with the homelessness issues, and here is one already experienced as a severe weather shelter, offering to provide more services.
Councilmember Linda Akey said that even though the $200,000 does not come from the city budget, we want to be good stewards of the ARPA funds. The program is new and inexperienced with these services, and she wonders if they can really deliver the desired outcome for all the money allocated to them.
The meeting went so late that this discussion was tabled for a future meeting.
Watch full video of the meeting here.