[EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is a Letter to the Editor, written and submitted by a verified organization. It does not necessarily reflect the opinions of South King Media, nor its staff. Responses from four Burien City Councilmembers are included afterwards:]
The 33rd District Democrats Executive Board condemns the Burien City Council’s June 15th, 2023 vote to remove volunteer Charles Schaefer as chair of the Burien Planning Commission.
Mr. Schaefer was removed by the Council at a special meeting dedicated not to addressing the homelessness crisis but only to punishing Mr. Schaefer and City Councilmember Cydney Moore. We do not condone the bullying of volunteer public servants by elected officials. Removing public servants who engage in the best interests of their community, simply out of disagreement, is an abuse of power and breaks public trust. Then-Chair Charles Schaefer acted in support of people experiencing homelessness when the Burien City Council chose not to act.
Rather than take constructive action towards housing these people by working with the County, and rather than take responsibility for their own inaction, the City Council has instead chosen to take punitive action by scapegoating Mr. Schaefer, a dedicated volunteer public servant.
King County offered $1 million to Burien along with 35 shelters, valued at another $350,000, with no strings attached to the provisions aside from them being used to shelter the unhoused. This was provided in a June 7th letter, and acceptance of these resources was proposed by Councilmember Garcia in a special meeting on May 30th. The proposal was voted down by the Burien City Council 4- 3, and has not been revisited. The following day, unhoused individuals were told to leave the empty lot and have since moved to multiple locations around the city, leading to multiple subsequent sweeps.
After the City Council supported the removal of unhoused individuals from the area adjacent to City Hall, some of these individuals moved to a nearby empty lot on 152nd St. This lot quickly filled up to a quantity larger than what was previously used adjacent to City Hall. The City Council then sought to remove these individuals by way of executing a lease with a local non-profit, so that the lot could then be considered private property in a transparent attempt to avoid claims of illegality. King County issued a letter on May 19th stating their belief that this action still may nevertheless be unconstitutional, and refused to allow King County Sheriffs, whom Burien contracts with for law enforcement services, to assist in the action.
Therefore, the 33rd District Democrats Executive Board further condemns the Burien City Council for its persistent refusal, overriding the will of Burien voters, to take action to address the city’s homelessness crisis despite clear options being available.
Subsequent to the removal of Charles Schaefer as Chair of the Planning Commission, nearly the entire Planning Commission resigned, along with members from other volunteer commissions, totaling 11 resignations. In effect, the Burien City Council’s actions have decimated the body of passionate and dedicated volunteers on whom the City of Burien relies, lost trust with public servants in the City, and perpetuated harm to vulnerable members of Burien’s unhoused community.
We call upon the City Council, in particular Mayor Sofia Aragon, Deputy Mayor Kevin Schilling, and Councilmembers Jimmy Matta and Stephanie Mora, to apologize to Mr. Schaefer and Ms. Moore, to offer reinstatement to Mr. Schaefer, to cease further punitive action against volunteer public officials, and to commit to supporting Burien’s corpus of public sector volunteers in an effort to bring back the resigned commissioners.
We also call upon the City Council to take action on Burien’s homelessness crisis by listening to the voters of Burien, by ceasing traumatic and ineffective sweeps, and by promptly taking advantage of King County’s offer of resources to provide housing to Burien’s citizens experiencing homelessness.
33rd LD Democrats Chair
33rd LD Democrats Vice-Chair
On behalf of the 33rd LD Executive Board
Below are responses we’ve received from Burien City Councilmembers:
From Mayor Sofia Aragon on behalf of herself, Deputy Mayor Kevin Schilling and Councilmember Jimmy Matta:
“We are writing in response to a Letter to the Editor from the 33rd District Democrats objecting to the Burien City Council’s handling of homeless encampments and asking for reinstatement of former planning commissioner Charles Schaefer and the other commissioners who resigned after his removal. The letter claims that the Council has been inactive in addressing the encampments in our City. We are just three individual council members, and so cannot speak on behalf of the whole council, but we’d like to address some of the statements in the letter.
“The Reinstatement of Charles Schaefer and the Other Commissioners: Chapter 2.50 of the Burien Municipal Code (BMC) describes the duties, responsibilities, and membership of advisory boards and commissions. All members must sign the Board and Commission Handbook and follow the code of conduct in that handbook. (BMC 2.50.020.) Like all Burien residents, commission members must comply with city laws. When the unhoused vacated the lot located at SW 152nd Street and 6th Avenue SW, some of them moved to Dottie Harper Park. It was established at a June 15th hearing that Mr. Schaefer coordinated using the park property for unlawful camping. His action caused a violation of a Burien ordinance. This was one of five reasons the City Council voted to dismiss Mr. Schaefer.
“None of the former commissioners has asked us to be reinstated. BMC 2.50.020 (10) says that vacancies must be filled in the same way the council appoints commissioners — a council vote after an open public process. There is no special authority to reinstate members who are removed or choose to resign. Board and commission members who chose to submit resignations to the Council and share their letter with the B-Town Blog are welcome to apply for open positions, like any other interested Burien resident, when the recruitment and appointment process begins.
“With regards to Councilmember Cydney Moore, a majority of the council tabled indefinitely the issue of her censure. She is elected by the voters of Burien. Only the voters of Burien can decide if she continues to serve as a City Councilmember
“The So-Called ‘No Strings’ County Money: We are concerned that 33rd District Democrats’ letter reflects a one sided judgment that Burien is inactive with regards to the homeless. Terms like ‘inaction’ and ‘persistent refusal’ really just reflect their disagreement with what Burien has done to this point.
“Councilmember Garcia contacted the Executive’s Office and made a motion to accept a verbal one million dollar offer and 35 tiny homes to support the unhoused community, on a city lot currently being leased by the city to Burien Toyota. However the City did not receive an official written offer from the County until a week later. Councilmember Garcia wanted to accept a verbal offer and close a deal with the county. However, we supported a more prudent approach, which requires documentation from King County so that conditions and expectations are clear. In addition, Burien Toyota estimates a significant loss of jobs if they lose access to the lot.
“There has been a lot of inaccurate labelling of the $1 million in County funds as ‘no strings attached.’ No government funds come without ‘strings.’ Burien will have to work with the KCRHA and will have to find the resources to pay for city and camp staff, sanitation, and additional fire, police and emergency medical services. When it’s all totaled up, will $1 million be enough? The proposed ‘encampment’ might require breaking a city lease with a long time Burien business. As elected officials and the stewards of public funds, we have to consider all the present and future costs of homeless services, and what’s best for all Burien residents.
“A range of options compiled by city staff from residents, and other interested persons and organizations to address the unhoused will be presented at the upcoming July 17th public meeting. The goal is providing services to the unhoused, including treatment and more stable housing. Due to the clear lack of emergency housing available in the region, short and intermediate term strategies need to be considered. It is a matter of transparency and fairness that we study options and hear from all interested parties.
“There is one very important point on which we fully agree with the 33rd District Democrats’ letter – that the council address the homeless issue ‘by listening to the voters of Burien.’ In tense and emotional hearings, and in our frequent interactions with our constituents, we have been listening, and will continue to do so.”
And this, directly from Councilmember Stephanie Mora:
“The following views expressed are mine alone and do not reflect the views and opinions of the City of Burien or it’s staff.
“I am sorry. I’m sorry that the conduct and actions of an individual who served on a citizen commission were so out of line that it required their removal. I’m sorry that I didn’t see the video that individual posted where they endorse violence against police officers in Burien. I would have pushed harder for their removal had I seen the video earlier. I’m sorry to the Burien police officers who faithfully serve our city and to their families. You deserve much better. Please know that the message contained in that video does not represent how your community feels. We thank you for the job you do every day, we support you, and we want you to return home safe to your families.
“I’m sorry that a local political organization felt the need to write a letter which can charitably be described as factually incorrect. I’m sorry that same political organization sees no issue with one of its members posting a video that calls for violence against law enforcement and then doubles down on their support of that individual. In fact, apparently that organization only finds an issue with the majority of the Burien City Council who followed the law and upheld the oaths that they took when they assumed office.
“Is it the official position of the 33rd District Democrats to now endorse violence against law enforcement? If so, then I would urge the voters of Burien to look at who the two 33rd District Democrat endorsed candidates are in the Burien City Council election this year. Ask yourself, are those the values that you want representing our community? I’m sorry, but it’s sorry.”
– Stephanie Mora
City of Burien
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