EDITOR’S NOTE: This story has been updated with a statement from Burien City Manager Adolfo Bailon in response to King County’s letter:

On May 19, 2023, the City of Burien received a sternly-worded letter from King County Executive Dow Constantine’s General Counsel, stating “substantial concerns with the City of Burien’s plan to orchestrate the eviction of unhoused people currently camping” on the city-owned lot on SW 152nd Street and 6th Ave SW, and that it will therefore prevent Burien Police / King County Sheriff’s Office (KCSO) officers from assisting in a sweep of the encampment.

A lease to this lot is currently being negotiated with local nonprofit Burien CARES, which has proposed to take it over for $185/month, clean it up and turn it into a fenced, city-sanctioned Dog Park.

The county’s 5-page letter – signed by General Counsel David J. Hackett – basically says “not so fast, Burien,” and warns of potentially dangerous civil/constitutional violations as reasons for why Burien Police/KCSO will not assist in any removals.

As we previously reported, several of the persons currently living on the City Lot were relocated from an encampment adjacent to the Burien Library and City Hall on Mar. 30-31, 2023, when Councilmember Cydney Moore and Planning Commission Chair Charles Schaefer suggested campers move to that lot.

The county’s concerns have to do with the City of Burien not identifying housing alternatives for the persons who live there, “despite constitutional duties imposed on the City under federal law.”

“Instead, the City is attempting to circumvent those duties by entering a lease with a private party, who will maintain and continue the use of the City Lot as a public dog park while attempting to use criminal trespass to force unhoused persons from the premises,” the county said.

The county adds that it “does not believe that this lease arrangement can be used to avoid the City’s constitutional duties to unhoused persons.”

“As a result, until the City has identified alternative housing arrangements for persons who are camping at the City Lot location, the King County Sheriff’s Office cannot be part of any effort to relocate these unhoused persons, or to sanction them for staying at the City Lot location.

“Above all else, the KCSO must police our communities in a compassionate and constitutional manner that complies with applicable law.”

The county added, in bold face:

“Because federal law requires the City to identify alternative housing and the lease arrangement cannot be used to evade this constitutional requirement, the KCSO cannot participate in the relocation of unhoused persons from the City lot.”

City Manager Responds

At Monday night’s (May 22, 2023) Burien City Council meeting, City Manager Adolfo Bailon responded to the letter with this statement:

“The challenges that are raised by the correspondence that we received from the county – there’s several, I won’t list them all – but the very first point is that the county’s letter incorrectly identifies legal interpretation as facts. We feel that it is very challenging for us to receive a letter that says this is how it is, when it really should be ‘this is how it is to us,’ and that’s not how the correspondence was written to the city of Burien, which is a challenge.

“The letter also misrepresents actions previously taken by the Sheriff’s Office in support of the city’s efforts to address camping throughout the city. We felt it was very challenging to have a letter that states as fact information that was collected only from one party as opposed to every party that was involved, and as we all know, including city personnel and just our partners in the Community that with the action that occurred here at the library, we had more than just King County Sheriff’s Office involved. We had our partners with LEAD with Reach, Salvation Army, the city. So the letter only took into account information collected from one entity which is the Sheriff’s Office, which is also challenging to us for me in the city to accept and then also misrepresents the city’s efforts in general.

“The city has been working incredibly hard to address the issue of housing. We’ve reported to council how we’ve worked to address the issue of housing we’ve had, let’s say, at least a dozen, if not two dozen telephone calls with different agencies including King County to try to find resources to make available to campers throughout the city, especially in the campers that at the lot here in downtown and we have yet to identify an actual location. I will share that we don’t have an actual location identified. We don’t have any actual prospect that has been shared with us as an alternative location and so at this point we have the action taken by Council to direct me to establish a lease. We’re working toward it, but at this time we’re also working to address the correspondence that we received from the county because it has raised allegations that are based on interpretation as opposed to directly based on that. So we’ll have more information to share what Council is that progresses and we also will communicate this information to the winning bidder, the entity that is interested in signing the lease so that we could potentially move forward.”

The county claims that City of Burien officials “believed that leasing the City Lot to a private party relieved them of any obligation to identify alternative housing, or a new location on city property for unhoused campers. As a result, it is our understanding that the City has not found a location for housing those who would be ejected from the City Lot.”

The county says that although the City is able to identify locations where unhoused campers cannot reside, the county says, “the City has been unwilling to designate areas where unhoused persons could go upon their removal from the City Lot.”

During a call with City officials on May 19, 2023, Counsel for County Executive Constantine and the Sheriff’s Office encouraged the City to develop some plan to assist campers on the City lot to find alternative housing, or identified alternative camping locations.

“As commissioned law enforcement, the KCSO has an unquestionable responsibility to uphold the constitution,” the county said.

In addition, the county says that the Inter Local Agreement (ILA) police services contract with the City of Burien reserves such policy and policing procedural decisions for the County.

“According to paragraph 5.1 and Exhibit C to the ILA with the City of Burien, policies and procedures used in providing law enforcement services are clearly within the County’s purview,” the county said. “This includes policy decisions on when it is appropriate and constitutional to eject a homeless camper from a public place. This is in keeping with the County’s ownership of liability for the actions of its law enforcement personnel. Whenever police powers are used by the KCSO in its contracted policing of the City, it is the County who bears all liability for its personnel and therefore retains the sole authority on the appropriate policies and procedures in its police work.

“For all the foregoing reasons, the County requests that the City of Burien focus on working with the County to find a solution to identify alternative housing for unhoused campers rather than potentially criminalizing homelessness in Burien.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: We have reached out to the City of Burien, and will either update this post or publish a new one depending on if/how they respond.

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2 replies on “King County expresses ‘substantial concerns’ about City of Burien’s intention to sweep campers off city-owned lot; won’t allow police to help”

  1. The City of Burien should now understand it does NOT have a police department. It has a pay for services County contract. The County has, for good or bad, chosen to take a prominent role in the crisis of the unhoused. I suggest Burien demand that the County fulfill its desired role and house Burien’s transients and help them with the move.

  2. You never met my mom. There is no way that she wouldn’t have expressed her outrage and disgust at what has happened to Burien since we moved here last summer. Decent residents are being held hostage by the so called unhoused campers. I just called the police about yelling and screaming on the Big Lots stairs since 4 this morning.
    Thanks to those who came up with the idea of putting people on the Main Street. We walked past there yesterday and piles of garbage are everywhere even though waste receptacles are provided. A guy defecated on the patio last week of an apartment in our building. Yep, my mom would have spoken up about all of this. She taught us right from wrong.

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