Story, Photos & Audio by Scott Schaefer

On Wednesday night, May 16, around 30 residents – including a surprise appearance by Burien City Manager Brian Wilson – gathered in the back of Marlaina’s Restaurant to hear a presentation by John White, who has been battling the city over landslides, stormwater drainage and even drones near his home next to Eagle Landing Park.

Here’s a quick recap of this issue:

  • As we’ve previously reported, White has recently been arguing via Letters to the Editor with City Manager Brian Wilson over the city’s May 8 use of a drone to survey around – and he claims over – his private property, which is located just north of the park. The City says the drone flight was legal, and White says it wasn’t.
  • The park is in the news after its much-beloved stairway was closed due to landslides and erosion.
  • The City claims that the stairs should be removed. Numerous residents want to save them.
  • Area residents claim that the reason the stairs have failed is because the city has been negligent in its draining of stormwater from the neighborhood. White claims it’s the huge amount of stormwater flow – not erosion from Puget Sound or natural geologic creep – that’s causing landslides in the park and neighborhood.
  • Thursday night, May 17, the City of Burien will hold its own community meeting on this topic at 7 p.m. at City Hall.

Wednesday night, White led a 90+ minute informational seminar on the history of Eagle Landing Park, which included a longterm battle over stormwater being drained into an area above and west of his property. He presented a PowerPoint and talked about the history of the park, his property, landslides, stormwater issues and more.


One of the more interesting elements of this resident-driven meeting was a surprise appearance by Burien City Manager Brian Wilson. Despite a recent, very public argument, he and White shook hands, spoke face-to-face, and seemed like friendly humans – not angry online arguers threatening each other with lawsuits and drones.

White acknowledged and thanked Wilson, and let him speak towards the end of the meeting.

Some notable quotes from Wilson’s speech, which we’re calling “we’re here to serve”:

“I want you to know that the city is here to serve the citizens. That’s why we’re here. Every staff member that’s working on this was not here when these decisions were made about the access, and putting the stairs in and risks associated with that effort.”

“We have geotech reports, and that oftentimes results in disputes and having to figure out what’s the best process to do, but my message to John and to all of you is that we’re here to serve, and some of those reports are going to be of differing opinions to others, and that oftentimes results in disputes and having to figure out what’s the best process to do. But my message to John and to all of you is that we’re here to serve.”

“I will tell you we do have a different perspective in some areas, and that’s okay, we can have the room to disagree, but we’re going to have to find a solution because where it is currently is not acceptable for our citizens, and it isn’t acceptable for the city, (we need to be) working together to find the best solution so again I appreciate the opportunity.”

Also on hand was Councilmember Nancy Tosta.

White proposed his own solution to fixing the stairs using helical piers that he says could shore up and stabilize the failing structure. He has offered to donate up to $60,000 worth of piledriving work, equipment and services.

“I will pay to fix those stairs myself,” White said at one point.


Also on Wednesday, White’s lawyers sent a letter to City Manager Brian Wilson (download PDF here) focusing on the city’s recent use of a drone to survey the area, which appeared to fly around – and possibly over – White’s house.

Here is an excerpt from that letter, which was also provided to The B-Town Blog:

“We are concerned that there are apparently no procedures in place for addressing drone usage by the City when performing this kind of surveillance. The City should not have the unfettered ability to invade citizens’ privacy in this manner. At the very least, citizens of Burien should be given prior written notice that they (or their private property) may be photographed and videotaped by the City.

“Such written notice should, at the very least, include the following information:

  • Name of the City department performing the surveillance (including the name of the department’s head representative, and related contact information), and, if using an independent contractor to perform the service, the name and contact information of the independent contractor;
  • Reason for drone surveillance and citation to proper grant of authority;
  • Date of drone flight and time at which the drone surveillance will be captured (estimated duration of flight);
  • Location of the drone surveillance and line-of-site area (including the flight pattern, properties affected, and takeoff and landing sites);
  • Type of drone, payload of drone, and capabilities of the drone or its payload (e.g., infrared, topography scanning, etc.), including photographs of the drone model;
  • Safety information concerning the drone (including necessary and proper procedures if a drone crashes on the property during its flight);
  • Total estimated cost of drone use; and
  • Access point to all collected footage and photographs taken by the drone (accessible by all citizens of Burien).

“With such prior notice, the City would be able to perform legitimate police functions without concern that an angered citizen may file suit against the City for civil trespass, Constitutional violations, or call for the potential removal of city officials from their posts, costing the citizens of Burien thousands of dollars in legal fees and additional resources, time and expense towards matters that could have been easily avoided.

“By providing proper notice, the City may avoid the unfortunate situation of a City drone filming someone sunbathing in their backyard, disturbing family events, causing a nuisance due to the constant noise of the drone, or unexpectedly crashing into someone’s property or person.

“There must be some accountability and enforcement mechanism against the City when such procedures are not followed, such as potential fines, and the inadmissibility of any findings from such improper surveillance, in addition to any other state or federal penalties for improper drone flight. Otherwise, your office and any other City department will be free to disturb Burien residents and invade their privacy at will.”

We have a feeling that this public feud isn’t over, and White seems certain that it isn’t.
“The city will just be doing a dog-and-pony show at their meeting Thursday night,” White added.

The city’s community meeting starts at 7 p.m. tonight (Thursday, May 17) in City Hall.

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