Monday night’s (April 3, 2023) Burien City Council meeting was a raucous one held in front of an oftentimes unruly packed house, focusing mostly on issues of homelessness and the controversial moving of an encampment last week.

Proclamations: Citizen of the Year, Earth Day, Arbor Day

The Citizen of the Year award went to Vicky Hartley, a community organizer in Boulevard Park. She is described as a community champion, and a model of what it means to be a good neighbor. During her acceptance speech, Hartley explained how she got motivated after unscrupulous builders caused irreversible damage to and desecration of the neighborhood’s wetlands and the unnamed stream. This damage resulted in flooding to many homes and properties in the area.

A second proclamation was read in honor of Earth Day on April 22. This day has been celebrated for 53 years in recognition of the responsibility all people, corporations, and governments have for protecting our natural habitats and the environment.

The last proclamation was for Arbor Day, celebrated around the world in honor of the important role trees play in the environment. Trees reduce soil erosion, lessen heating and cooling costs by mitigating temperature extremes, and provide habitat for countless birds and other wildlife. Burien has the goal of increasing the city’s tree canopy by 30% to 40% over the next 20 years. Arbor day, typically celebrated with the planting of trees, is on April 24.

City Manager’s Report: Financial Options for Homeless Services

City Manager Adolfo Bailon reported on the financial and legal aspects of finding a location for homeless services. According to Bailon, the possible funds the city could make available include rerouting money from the following areas:

  • $680,000 from the Eagle Landing Park project, intended to be used for the removal of the hazardous stairs.
  • $400,000 in ARPA funds that were intended to address the root causes of homelessness in a long term strategy, such as job training and health services.
  • $20,000 from the Highline Heritage Museum funding.
  • $4,000 from the remaining Arts Commission funds.

There are also two city-owned lots that could be sold to generate money for homeless services, but Bailon said this would mean the loss of strategic development and growth for the city, as well as the loss of current income and future revenue. It would also take several months to secure funds from the sale of any lot.

On the legal aspect, decreasing liability to the city is a main priority. If the city authorizes a homeless encampment without providing adequate security and services, the city could be liable for anything that happened there. 

The city did not authorize the move to the current tent encampment, which was aided by Councilmember Cydney Moore, acting as a concerned citizen as she described in her letter to the Blog, along with Planning Commissioner Charles Schaefer.

Also, according to a 2018 federal court ruling, cities with no shelter capacity are required to allow camping in public spaces, so the homeless do have a legal protection to stay unless they are being provided with beds elsewhere. A no-camping ordinance by the city would not be enforceable.

Additionally, according to state law, individuals are allowed to use drugs openly. The police only have the responsibility to provide them with information regarding services, and cannot make arrests based on drug use. Municipal law can’t trump state or federal laws. It is also illegal to detain someone experiencing mental health issues or a drug crisis, against their will.

Finally, according to Bailon, the population of homeless campers exploded in size following the public announcement of the intended sweep around city hall. It’s possible that people were spreading the word that housing would be provided for all campers after the five-week deadline, and so more unhoused people came from surrounding areas.

Public Comments: Campers Move Not a Solution

The meeting room was packed with community members who came to speak about the homeless encampment that recently moved from around the library & city hall building, to a lot on SW 152nd and 6th Ave SW that has served as an unofficial dog park. Residents of the area said that they have been dealing with homeless-related crime for a long time, and this move is not a solution. 

The overall feeling was that people are fed up with the problem, and moving it a block or two away was not going to fix anything. People mentioned the crime, including break-ins, theft, vandalism, death threats, as well as public urination and defecation, associated with the homeless living downtown. Residents living near the new location have said incidents in and near their building have already increased since the move.

According to one speaker, Burien already spends more of its budget on human services than surrounding cities, and should not spend even more. Two people took the opportunity to announce they were running for city council with an aim to solve this issue. Multiple people suggested the city should designate the lot where campers are now located as a city park.  Some spoke of the need for consequences for drug use and criminal behavior in order to create change.

Many articulated that the council has a responsibility to keep everyone in the city safe, not just the small population of homeless people. They reminded the council that we all have rights, not just the homeless, including the right to be safe and free from attack and vandalism, and that children cannot enjoy the library or the parks anymore. One requested that Councilmember Cydney Moore resign her position, and another asked for a formal censure, as she acted without council support or authority in relocating the camp.

One speaker said that Seattle is doing sweeps of their homeless encampments, but are moving their resident campers into hotels. This is a practice that Burien has used in the past when clearing campers from a park. 

According to one person, Tukwila has had great success with opening two tiny home villages in the last year, and are considering opening a third. It was suggested that the city provide a porta-potty for the campers. 

One person mentioned that Hope Christian Church offered to provide beds for the homeless individuals, but the city turned them down because they didn’t have the required sprinkler system. He implored council to waive the requirement and quickly solve the problem.

Special Meeting Scheduled for April 10

Councilmember Stephanie Mora (pictured above) requested a special meeting in one week (on Monday, April 10, 2023), to discuss what action, if any, should be taken against Planning Commissioner Charles Schaefer for his role in the camp’s move. 

Further topics were added to the meeting, including how the city might enhance operations more effectively to allow permitting of churches to act as homeless shelters, by Deputy Mayor Kevin Schilling.

Also, Councilmember Jimmy Matta wants to hear more about what other cities are doing to solve issues around public camping and open drug use.

Councilmember Hugo Garcia requested information on the possibility of using the parking lot across from the courthouse as a camp, with city-provided porta-potties.

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Mellow DeTray is a Seattle native who has spent the last 16 years raising her family in Burien. She has volunteered at many local establishments over the years, including the Burien Library, Burien Actors...

4 replies on “Monday night’s Burien City Council was a raucous one held in front of an oftentimes unruly, packed house”

  1. I have lived in Burien for 6yrs an I have proudly attended a lot of the festivals an festivities with my family an Im sad to say we will no longer be apart for the fact that I don’t feel safe walking my 5yr an 1yr old down 152 street. Being harassed just for walking by an let’s not forget about the homeless guy that walks around half naked when it gets warm out. It doesn’t help the fact that my storage has been broken in to, our truck twice, our apartment while we were sleeping in it, plus our mailboxes an laundry room have all been broken into. How are we being protected?

  2. Address the problem, not the symptoms. Our hyper-capitalistic society, with a few people making almost all the money, while the rest of us are left with almost nothing is the issue.

    Capitalism has failed us and either needs to be completely overhauled, or replaced.

  3. I believe that Councilmember Hugo Garcia has a great idea. Move the encampment to the court house parking lot. Even if you have to rent or lease the parking lot. Just get it done.
    I am sure there parking lot will have some law or ordinance or is under King County jurisdiction or something.
    Can someone tell if I am misunderstanding the Federal and state law. The city of Seattle has sweeped several incametments. I don’t think the city had beds for all those homeless. I am going to look into these laws from the State and Federal government.

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