By Jack Mayne

The Burien City Council reviewed the city’s proposed new sign ordinance, heard of a new citywide ‘First Friday’ series of community summer celebrations and unanimously voted City Manager Brian Wilson a pay raise to $175,000 annually, backdated to the first of the year.

Wilson’s pay backdating was done because the Council had overlooked the issue in January when the issue was supposed to be included in the new city budget. On Monday night, he was lauded by former Mayor Lucy Krakowiak as hardworking and effective, a view sustained by other members of the Council. His previous and starting pay was $165,000.

Sign code
The Council also voted to update and replace the city’s sign code that was placed on moratorium — not revoked — in 2015 while a sign code in the Phoenix suburb of Gilbert, Ariz., was litigated all the way to the United State Supreme Court. The high court decided that the ordinance violated the First Amendment guarantee of freedom of speech and ruled that such signs were exempt from Gilbert city permits.

The Council decided to wait to upgrade its sign ordinance until the Supreme Court decided the Arizona case that required church attendance signs to be removed quickly after services was a violation of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

Burien Senior Planner Thara Johnson told Council there has been extensive outreach on the suspended sign code prior to asking the Council to put it back into effect with modifications and changes from the Gilbert case and with general local updates.

‘Really, really good reason’
Councilmember Bob Edgar asked what kind of “compelling interest” a government would have to enforce a sign rule and City Attorney Lisa Marshall said “it’s OK to violate somebody’s First Amendment rights if you have a really, really good reason to do so.

“A really good reason might be if someone put a political or religious sign in the right of way and it was unsafe.” The safety of pedestrians may override the right of a person’s political speech, she said. In the Arizona case, Marshall said “essentially the city (Gilbert) was regulating religious speech more stringently than it was regulating commercial speech.”

In Gilbert, she said, the city could not come up with a more stringent reason to regulate religious speech more than commercial speech, the high court decided.

In Burien, Johnson said the city clarified the ordinance to be sure it could begin to apply the ordinance to local businesses. Design standards and sign content were not considered in the local update.

Some signs in the updated ordinance were exempted, Johnson said, including governmental signs, historical site plaques, gravestones, address signs and artwork and murals.

Also removed from the new ordinance are regulations that concern real estate signs, political signs and special events, Johnson told Council. But to replace real estate signage, the city added provision for sale or lease of residential property.

Councilmembers indicated a change should be that all signs can be double sided, not single sided in some cases in the new, proposed ordinance.

‘First Friday’ events
Downtown area shop owners Sarah Klages, and Beka Atwood (pictured, left), represented other businesses to create a downtown monthly “event” to be called First Fridays to draw attention to the downtown area of Burien, an issue that came up when the city was seeking suggestions from businesses. Atwood, who owns The Shoppe Seahurst, said a check of local businesses indicated the city of Burien has “very goodwill, generosity and prosperity.” Atwood said they were working to change the way Burien is thought of outside of the city, where many think it has a negative overview because of crime news.

Klages said the best way they found to change the attitudes of the city from outside its borders was to create a First Fridays event.

“The idea behind the event is that every business that participates has ownership in an event that they create in their space and their venue that they then promote collectively under the tag of Burien First Fridays and we can help with this group we created to help them collaborate with one another.” Klages said if he event goes on “long term, gets bigger and bigger hopefully” to generate positive feeling about Burien and it’s downtown community.

The two are working to get businesses to come up with ideas for events and plan to stay open for such “First Friday” events. They have created posters and handouts to promote the event and hope to get businesses to assist in marketing the new event.

Atwood said they have the summer months already planned, with June being a “Step into Summer” event, July will be “Red, White and Burien,” August will be “Burien Beat” and a “Camp Burien” event in September. She said they also have plans to promote the events of First Friday to the Spanish speaking community, working with Mayor Jimmy Matta.

Both Atwood and Klages say they have been cooperating with the Burien Art Walk and other city groups on summer events.

City has crime problem
Later, during public comments, resident and local realtor Thelma Stefnike said “the powers that be are missing something: we have a gang, drug and crime problem that needs to be addressed or these nice things are not going to be set into place.” She said nothing can be done until the city acknowledges the problem “and I don’t think you guys are properly addressing it.”

If the issue were property addressed, Stefnike said she believes the homeless drug addict population in Burien would decrease, because the issue of major crime gangs would be a focus of police.

Wilson also noted his recent comments on parks published Monday, May 20 on The B-Town Blog. He told Council there has been much work to align and train city staff to “know what shelter options are available” as well as “real time data” on homeless and disadvantaged services that are available. City workers were out in parks Monday letting people know what service are and where they can be obtained.

“I will say that as a core belief in our plan that we treat individuals with dignity and respect, that we apply care and compassion, that we recognize that each person is an individual with individual needs and our focus is in that regard,” said Wilson, adding he is getting “positive feedback” from others involved with working with the city’s homeless.

Opposes car tab increase
The City Council approved a motion to oppose State Initiate 976 on the November ballot. The initiative, if approved by state voters, would limit increases in the state car and vehicle tab fees which, in turn, “provide the city of Burien with funds with which to complete road projects.” Only Councilmember Bob Edgar opposed the measure.

The Council can legally only oppose, or support, a state initiative if it votes on the issue at a public meeting.

New City employee
City Manager Wilson introduced new city financial analyst Anna Cruz, who has worked in the past with Bremerton and with the Washington State Auditor’s office.

Senior Reporter Jack Mayne passed away in December, 2021. In his honor we have created the Jack Mayne Journalism Scholarship.