Here’s our recap of the regular Burien City Council meeting held on Monday night, Sept. 25, 2023:
Proclamation: National Literacy Month
This proclamation recognizes the importance of literacy. One-in-three 3rd graders is reading below grade level in Washington State. It’s worse in lower income neighborhoods, where half of third graders struggle with reading. This has consequences later in life. Students reading below grade level are four times more likely to drop out of school, reducing access to higher education and successful careers. Caregivers can improve literacy by reading to children regularly and often.
Access to tutoring programs can also improve literacy, and this proclamation was accepted by a teen who works with Team Read. This after school tutoring program provides paid jobs for teens and greatly improves literacy for elementary students who participate. Team Read matches students in need at different schools with trained teen coaches.
City Manager’s Update
City Manager Adolfo Bailon reported that a sample budget showed that the cost of running a potential tiny home village for the homeless will certainly exceed the $1 million provided by King County. Estimates show the finance gap to be at least $200,000. Staff is looking into sources of money to try to fill in that gap, including reallocating unspent ARPA funds.
Bailon said that city staff is drawing up a potential contract with Kristine Moreland for her organization The More We Love to help the city with the homeless situation. He hopes to have a completed contract soon.
He also asked councilmembers to not conflate separate issues, as that has caused confusion within the community. He said, “At no point has council ever asked me or staff to investigate the potential of an encampment in Boulevard Park.” This was likely in reference to Councilmember Hugo Garcia’s statement at the previous council meeting that moving the homeless from wealthier neighborhoods to lower income neighborhoods was an action that “reeks of white supremacy.”
Councilmember Stephanie Mora again asked for a formal censure of Councilmember Garcia for the implications of his statement, but did not receive council support. Garcia explained that anyone can go back and watch the recordings of his statement at the previous meeting, in which, he said, it is clear that he is not calling anyone a white supremecist.
Speaking time was reduced to 1-minute per person at this meeting because 26 people were signed up to speak, and if everyone had 2-minutes it would make the meeting run late. One commenter chastised councilmembers for reducing speaking time, and several people refused to willingly give up the mic after their minute was up.
Some commenters spoke in support of Councilmember Garcia, one even yelling during her time at the mic, expressing that acts of racism should be called out and it was brave to do so. They agreed that the lot next to the Boulevard Park library was no place for the homeless to be moved to, and that communities need to be consulted with before making such an impactful decision. One commenter who lives next to the Ambaum encampment said that he and his neighbors were not consulted with either, before the homeless made a huge camp there. Another speaker commented that the current location of the homeless encampment is adjacent to a trailer park, which is hardly occupied by the wealthy.
The director of El Dorado West, an assisted living home, said that her elderly residents are being negatively impacted by the homeless encampment on the street outside their building. She said she is seeing mental health issues increasing in this vulnerable population, from heightened anxiety.
One speaker said that reaching rock bottom is the only way many addicts choose to turn their lives around, and continuing to allow the homeless to camp is enabling addiction. Others said that the proposed camping ban, on the consent agenda at this meeting, would only make survival and access to services harder for the already destitute members of the camp.
On a different topic, one person asked council to think of the Climate Action Plan when they chose Planning Commission volunteers. She spoke about how important it was for planning decisions to be viewed through a climate action lens.
Unlawful Camping Ordinance Passes
Councilmember Cydney Moore moved to take Ordinance 818 (the unlawful camping ordinance) off the consent agenda so it could be discussed again and voted on separately. She then shared her story of being homeless as a youth, and said that criminalizing homelessness is counterproductive and goes against evidence-based practices.
Councilmember Sarah Moore also spoke against the ban, saying we need shelters before dispersing people from the camp.
Councilmember Hugo Garcia brought up the $1 million from the county, which he said we could have been using this whole time at a sanctioned camp in the business district, rather than subjecting residential neighborhoods to the encampment.
Councilmember Jimmy Matta spoke in support of the ban, and described losing his father to drug addiction. He said newer drugs are becoming a huge problem, with so many families losing their children to fentanyl. He added that the encampment is not the solution, and that this regional problem needs more help from the county. Councilmember Stephanie Mora said that Downtown Burien isn’t a wealthy area either. It’s an area of small business owners, who have been impacted for a long time by the presence of the homeless.
The ban passed in a 4–3 vote, and will go into effect on Nov. 1, 2023.
New Planning Commissioners Selected
From a couple dozen applicants, council selected 10 to interview for the 7 commission seats. The following people were chosen to be the new planning commission members:
- Shelli Park
- Jimmy Matta Jr.
- Heidi Turner
- Jessica Ivy
- Paul Croon
- Sam Ostrander
- Joshua Halpin
Because of a familial conflict of interest, Councilmember Jimmy Matta Sr. recused himself from the vote last week when it came to which candidates to interview, and did not cast a vote for his son at this meeting. Jimmy Matta Jr. was selected by all six of the other councilmembers, however.
The new Planning Commission will be operational by the end of October.
Watch video of the full council meeting here.