Here’s our recap of the Burien City Council regular meeting held on Monday night, Aug. 21, 2023:
Crime in Washington Annual Report
Burien Police Chief Ted Boe discussed crime statistics for the year 2022, with some additional info on how 2023 has been going so far. Total crime statewide rose by 8.5% between 2021 and 2022. Property crimes rose by 4.9%, crimes against persons rose by 9.8%, and crimes against society rose by 3%. The statewide crime rate is 67.5 per 1000 residents. Two officers were killed in the line of duty, and there were 2,375 assaults on officers.
The numbers are looking better for Burien, according to Chief Boe’s presentation. During the same period, crime decreased in our city by 8.5%. Categories with significant reduction in occurrences are burglary, intimidation, and theft. Crimes that increased are vandalism, auto theft, and violation of protection order. The citywide crime rate is 78.9 per 1000 residents.
Chief Boe said that Burien’s crime rate lands in the middle of neighboring cities’, while we have the fewest officers per capita in the county. So far for 2023, crime is down about 10% from 2022’s numbers. Crime is down or holding steady in every category except the following: homicide, intimidation, drug offenses, and auto theft.
Potential Water & Sewer Tax Increase
Yes, they did just increase this tax rate two years ago, but the city is facing a budget deficit and this is one of the few ways they can increase revenue in order to keep providing basic services. City Manager Adolfo Bailon stated that unless revenue is increased, the city will be required to lay off 12 staff members, crippling the government. The tax increase, from 8 to 10%, is likely to result in an additional $2/month for each household.
The other two sources the city is looking to increase revenue from are B&O taxes, and building and planning permit fees. Nothing has been finalized yet, but it looks like council is ready to pass these increases after they hear the final presentation in the three-part series.
City Manager’s Report: The More We Love & Planning Commission Updates
City Manager Adolfo Bailon spoke briefly but positively about recent dialog that city staff has had with Kristine Moreland’s organization, The More We Love. The city is looking into possibly contracting with this organization to help with getting members of the homeless population into shelters or drug treatment. Moreland seems to have had success clearing a dozen homeless campers from in front of the Grocery Outlet, after she was hired privately to do so. Some question her methods, but her organization is now giving all relocation data and information to city staff and practicing the transparency required of any contracted organization. Read more about this issue here.
Bailon added that there is a privately-owned vacant lot that is being considered for a potential tiny house village. He has been in communication with the county about this, and it is a location where their offer of pallet homes and a million dollars could be utilized. Bailon said the process of communication remains slow, but it sounded like he thought this lot might actually work out for the long awaited tiny home village.
Bailon also mentioned that not having a Planning Commission is causing potentially devastating delays for human service organizations that require the commission’s approval before moving forward. $11 million in grant money is at risk. The city has received applications from 11 candidates for the 7 vacant Planning Commission seats. They are still accepting applications, and the council will be moving forward with the selection process with the goal of having a functioning Planning Commission in October.
Public Comments: Frustration over Ongoing Homelessness Issues
Over 40 people came out to speak to council during the public comments section of the meeting, most either speaking passionately for, or against, the proposed camping ban. There are definitely strong feelings on both sides, and a lot of frustration from everyone over the fact that there are still so many people living on Burien’s streets.
Some speakers implored the city not to contract with The More We Love. They mentioned that providing shelters for the homeless would be less expensive than implementation of a camping ban. One stated that 85% of the homeless on our streets are from Burien, and thus should be sheltered here. It was brought up by multiple people that a camping ban only drives jail numbers, rather than effectively solving anything. Others asked that if a camping ban is passed to at least require shelters not to be able to discriminate based on things like religion or sexual orientation.
Others mentioned how many of Burien’s neighborhoods have declined, with drug use and property crime on the rise. People living near the current encampment on Ambaum said many neighbors there were victims of home burglary as well as auto theft. The Ambaum camp was described as a “hub for crime”, with one speaker mentioning that he witnessed underage prostitutes at the camp. They said police come, but are not doing anything to stop the problems. Another said that he now carries personal protection when riding public transportation, and that it is vital that public transit be safe and accessible. One person said that the large numbers of new homeless people in our area came from the sweep of an encampment in Seattle.
Camping Ban On Hold: More Information Sought
The camping ban ordinance in discussion by council was based on a similar ordinance passed in Bellevue. City Attorney Garmon Newsom said that while the law requires that “involuntarily homeless people must have somewhere to sleep” this does not require them to be allowed to sleep wherever they like. Councilmember Stephanie Mora was ready to vote the camping ban into immediate effect, but did not have council support.
Councilmember Hugo Garcia asked staff to bring them more information on the fiduciary impact of a camping ban. Specifically, he wanted to know how much it costs other cities defending the ban in court, or in fees. Councilmember Sarah Moore asked staff to bring back more specific information about acceptable definitions of offered shelter, regarding distance as well as whether that shelter conflicts with gender and religious identity. Deputy Mayor Kevin Schilling asked that emergency permitting of new shelters be allowed. These requests each got majority council approval.