This meeting originally began on Monday, Feb. 13, but the power went out due to a windstorm about 15 minutes in, so the rest of the meeting was resumed on Tuesday night, Feb. 21, 2023.
Burien’s Severe Weather Shelter is open again this week and looking for volunteers to help in all kinds of positions (learn how you can help here).
Officer Shortage Worst in County
According to City Manager Adolfo Bailon, Burien has the highest need for police officers based on calls, yet the lowest number of officers per capita, among cities that contract with the King County Sheriff’s Office. The number of officers serving Burien has dropped from 39 in August of 2022 to 34 currently, with the officers we do have working very hard to fill the gap. The longterm plan is to bring that number back up, but it’s up to the Sheriff, who has not prioritized Burien’s needs in the past. Bailon will be meeting with the Sheriff to make the case for increasing our officers.
Problems with City Hall & Library Building
The City Hall building is co-owned by the King County Library System and the City of Burien, with the Library having a majority 2:1 vote on all building decisions. Unfortunately this has been an issue recently, with many city staffers experiencing harassment on their way to work in the building, blocked entrances, and fire hazards from unhoused people camping around the building. The City is pushing for protection from harassment, as well as eliminating the accumulation of items and fire risks, particularly following the recent fire in the library that closed the building for repairs for months. The Library has so far not supported addressing these issues.
Public Comments: Eagle Landing Stairs
Of the over 40 community members who showed up either in person or via Zoom to comment, seven asked Council to explore fixing the staircase at Eagle Landing Park, to make it safe and usable again. One said fixing it would be one third the cost of removing the staircase altogether, and that modern engineering can make the once magnificent park usable again.
Public Comments: Renters & Landlords
Public Comments were extended from the usual 30 minutes to 1 hour, and each person’s speaking time reduced to 1 minute, to make time for the many people who showed up to comment. Approximately 20 people asked Council to leave the renter protections in place as written, stating that there are many other local jurisdictions with similar laws in place and that they did not think Burien’s law was in violation of State Law. They argued that laws need to protect the have-nots, and that these tenant protections are key to avoiding homelessness. They warned that the City would eventually end up footing the bill for any increase in homelessness. A rep from the Puget Sound Tenant’s Union said that “landlords just sit around collecting checks” and another said that while tenants are trying to take care of their families, landlords are just trying to make a profit.
Approximately 13 people plead the opposite case, saying that being a landlord is already difficult, and has become more expensive and onerous lately, without being able to evict problem tenants. They said good renters are not the issue, and would not have to worry about landlords pushing them out. Several described violent tenants that can’t be evicted for many months, making life unsafe for other renters in the building.
Amending Burien’s Renter Protection Law
A small change in local law regarding Renter Protections seems to be required after the City of Burien was found to be at odds with a Washington State law, passed in 2021. City Attorney Garmon Newsom explained to Council as well as the gathered crowd that there was a lot of misunderstanding around what exactly will be changed. He reminded everyone that State Law trumps Municipal Law, and this move is in response to a problem identified in litigation. The ordinance has nothing to do with bad landlords or bad tenants, but just correcting a legal conflict.
Under the new version of the law, landlords can still evict a tenant under any of the “just cause” reasons, things like drugs and illegal activity, or if an owner’s family member requires the use of the property. Burien’s law, until tonight, said that these just cause evictions are the only way to evict a tenant. Under the new State law that Burien needs to be in compliance with, owners can allow the rental relationship to come to a close at the “natural end” of the term. They must provide notice and meet other requirements, but no “cause” is needed.
Councilmember Cydney Moore argued strongly that the City shouldn’t roll over at the first legal pushback, and wanted to postpone making any change to renter protections indefinitely.
Councilmember Hugo Garcia concurred, saying that we should stand up for laws that Council spent so long making.
Attorney Newsom reminded council that this City law was originally created before the State law prohibited it, and now it needs to be in compliance.
Mayor Sofia Aragon said that Burien is a leader in renter protection, with a whole suite of recent additions to the laws protecting tenants, showing the City to be very supportive of renters.
Council voted 4–3 to comply with State Law.