By Jack Mayne

Mayor Jimmy Matta told the Burien City Council at the regular Monday (April 1) meeting that if the city needs more police officers, it would only come after the city asked residents to pay more taxes to finance them.

After Police Chief Ted Boe gave his annual report to the Council, a teacher at the Burien Cooperative Preschool said the Annex area was unsafe for children, who cannot use the playground because of hypodermic needles, and are exposed to a number of homeless that camp out in the park even as police try to steer them into various assistance programs.

No money for more police
More police are out of the question, the mayor said.

“The city doesn’t have any money,” Matta said. “There has to be a tax (added). That’s where we have to go, to ask the citizens.”

Councilmember Nancy Tosta agreed with Matta’s approach and added that “for the most part, crime is going down in the city.”

“Homicides are increasing and it’s horrible, but I think we need to think about what we are doing,” she said. “It will take the schools, it will take the community, even how we design the city streets — all of that is part of the thinking about public safety.” She added a thanks for what Burien Police do “because they are really working hard on our behalf.”

City Manager Brian Wilson, who is a former police chief in Federal Way and also had served as Federal Way interim city manager and as chief of staff when the city changed forms of government, said he wanted to address concerns of citizens regarding the Burien Annex Park.

‘Homelessness is not a crime’
Wilson addressed problems around Annex Park, often known as the Skateboard Park at 14549 4th Ave. SW., and where some use as a place to do drugs, and he said the city was trying in several parks to make it “less comfortable for illegal activities to occur. At the skateboard park, one effort is updating the lighting in the park for better coverage and another is moving the portable restroom to a more visible location to make it harder for users and sellers of drugs.”

Other parks are being upgraded to remove “any attractive nuisances,” Wilson said. The city is also looking for volunteer cleanup crews experienced in homelessness and trained by city staff to assist.

“Homelessness is not a crime, in itself,” Wilson said.

“This past year, we established a navigation team comprised of Burien Police officers, behavior health outreach workers, our human services manager and others,” Wilson said. “This team enters encampments and tries to build trust and connect with people and to refer them to services.”

People told not to camp
Wilson said city staff does inform people camping or hanging out in parks they can’t stay there and staff looks for alternatives for where such people can get shelter. Staff also cleans up the areas where the homeless have camped.

“The city is working with two new public safety programs,” said Wilson. One is the Law Enforcement Assistance Diversion (LEAD) and its recently started community court.

“Just in the couple of weeks that they have been in place, we’ve been able to refer people to those services and have had, arguably, some success at early stages,” he told Council. The city is also working with neighbors around the Annex property “as well as our annex tenants to make sure that they report concerns of behavior and to keep that dialogue open.”

He said the city also keeps doing homeless camp cleanups in the city park system in light of many citizens who have complained of debris in parks, including used hypodermic needles and other drug wastes, as well as trash and garbage of human waste.

There are significant cleanups ongoing in the Salmon Creek Ravine, even to the point of using zip lines to clean up at least six encampments located in that area.

‘Walk over a body’
After Matta listed items that the city is doing to help the homeless and to provide opportunities, Gloria Witters of the Burien Cooperative Preschool said she didn’t see that in her world.

“What you are saying sounds all really nice on paper, but I am in the trenches with our most vulnerable population, little children, and what you are seeing, I am not seeing,” said Witters. “I come to school on the average of four times a month and I have to walk over a body to get into my building so I can open the doors for the children. We find needles everywhere. I can’t let the children outside anymore.”

“There is nowhere safe anywhere over by the Annex building where we can send our children,” Witters added. “Walking to the buildings from their cars is not safe. We found piles of needles on the way into our classrooms.”

Witters said they have to send out parents to check out the playgrounds to be sure they are safe for the children and she said she was thankful that the children did not see the man who died recently nearby (read our previous coverage here).

Burien Co-Op Preschool is located at 425 SW 144th Street.
The nearby Burien Annex with an encampment, as seen on April 2, 2019.

Children should not be near
Homeless are allowed to shower in the park building, and Witters said children should not be near such a facility.

“There are more than one child programs in that building and this population should not be in the same building,” Witters said. “There is nothing to protect us.”

The homeless are in the hallways and crouched in the stairwells, she said.

“They should not be there and what I am here to ask you is that you understand that and to protect little children. This program needs to be relocated. It is a great program but it does attract these folks to the area.

“And it is not safe for the children,” she said. “These areas were dedicated to families and their children and they are no longer safe.”

She said she has been told there are ways the city could help the preschool move, but that is only help they have been offered.

Snyder leaving, new employees
Andrea Snyder, the city’s Economic Development Manager, is leaving to become the deputy city administrator for the city of Issaquah, said City Manager Wilson. “We are very pleased at that opportunity for her, that is a career opportunity that she has … and she will represent Burien very well in Issaquah.”

Snyder was acknowledged by the mayor.

“Andrea, we’re very pleased at the work you have done in Burien and helped us get some stuff jump started in the business here, so thank you so much,” Matta said.

Issaquah said in its hiring notice that the “deputy city administrator will be a person who loves a good challenge, embraces change, engages staff and community members in the decision-making process, and follows through to ensure that desired outcomes are achieved.”

Wilson introduced new city employees. Rio Fernandes is a new communications Intern who will work with expanding and clearing up problems with the city’s newly updated website; Connie Roberts, a human resources technician; Nic Everson, engineering Inspector; Brian Tornow, engineering inspector; and Chris Craig, interim economic development manager.

Proclamations, memorial
The Council approved two proclamations, the first by Councilmember Nancy Tosta to proclaim April 2019 as Sexual Assault Awareness Month in the city, and the second naming April 19 as 2019 Arbor Day.

The Council also heard a presentation by former Burien Councilmember Rose Clark on an addition to the World War I memorial wall at Sunnydale School Memorial Plaza by the Des Moines Memorial Drive Preservation Association.

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