Myers frustrations, libraries’ future, more @ North Highline Unincorporated Area Council

By Tracy Record
White Center Now editor

The most intense discussion at tonight’s North Highline Unincorporated Area Council meeting was a side trip off the agenda and outside the county – the Myers Way campers, with and without vehicles, on City of Seattle-owned land right over the boundary.

But first, from the agenda – WC’s new library – and its role in the annexation debate:

NEW LIBRARY, AND ITS FUTURE IF SEATTLE ANNEXATION HAPPENS: New NHUAC president Liz Giba pronounced the new White Center Library “awesome.” KCLS executive director Gary Wasdin took centerstage right after that, declaring it a “wonderful space.” It’s now been almost two weeks since the dedication/ribboncutting (WCN coverage here). He quoted Rachael Levine of the White Center Library Guild – present at the NHUAC meeting too – who had said at the ceremony, “if you want to support the library, use it.” He said, “Every single step of the White Center Library has been driven by community.”

He acknowledged that “top of everybody’s minds” is the issue of annexation and what happens if White Center is annexed by Seattle. “Nothing has really happened” since last time he talked about it, he began. For one, he reminded everyone that KCLS also has a library in Greenbridge. “Should annexation (happen), a decision has to be made about the future of those (two) libraries … and whether they are King County libraries or Seattle Public libraries … To be perfectly fair, that’s not my decision to make.” It’s the community’s decision, he said. “We will support whatever decision is made and will make it work and will fight to make sure you have libraries. … As a reminder, there are basically two options … assuming annexation is approved and happens: Option 1, that SPL takes over operation of the libraries,” which he said would require “some kind of written agreement with the city of Seattle” including a commitment that they would remain libraries. Or “Option 2, Seattle contracts with King County Libraries” to operate them. “Why would you do that? Actually, there are pros and cons to both sides.” That includes the fact that library patrons would continue to be both city and unincorporated-area residents. “We have an agreement with SPL that (people can) interchangeably use both systems.”

As for finances – with the caveat that it’s his opinion – “I think it makes more sense for Seattle to contract with us. … Let’s say annexation takes place, you all stop paying the King County Library operating tax. … Seattle could opt to pay us for the lost tax revenue, to continue to operate the two libraries. The reason that’s a benefit to the city of Seattle is that the cost of operating them is far more than the tax revenue that is generated.” He says that likely wouldn’t and couldn’t be an indefinite agreement, “but it’s the option that we’ve floated … we’ve shared it with Kenny (Pittman, Seattle’s point person on annexation).” He again said the community ultimately needs to make the decision. And he suggested that those interest in this should share it “with anybody who will listen to you” – and that includes the Boundary Review Board, which has a two-day hearing on Seattle’s annexation proposal coming up in two weeks in White Center (he said KCLS will have two staff members at the hearing), June 13, 14 and possibly 16. “You have a little leverage here because they [Seattle] need a positive vote. … Libraries are different … You all paid for this library” – via levy – “so you should have a say in … what you think the future of that library should be.”

Wasdin said he hasn’t seen anything regarding the cost of “the physical act of annexation” – he alluded to a past agreement, now expired, that at one point had KCLS planning to pay Seattle to take the libraries, but that was before the current WC libraries were built. Now, “it would just be a transfer … obviously with a lot of logistics …” and that could be complicated, including the fact that the state owns the land on which the new library was built, Wasdin said. He said it’s around $2 million a year to operate the two libraries in WC. Getting things in writing are important, he said, given that whatever commitment elected officials make, there’s no guarantee they’ll be in office forever.

Wasdin also pointed out that for example, KCLS operates a library in downtown Seattle, in the Convention Center – operating its 49 libraries is NOT a matter of district boundaries.

“This is the cheaper option for them,” Wasdin reiterated, in terms of the decision to be made if annexation happens – but he said he doesn’t believe most layers of Seattle government, such as the mayor and council, have even thought about it yet.

Asked about the debt on the buildings, Wasdin said that the bond payment, through 2024, would continue, as far as he knows. He said that’s another argument for KCLS continuing to operate it even if the area is annexed – they’d still be paying it off.

What about the old White Center Library building? It’s been sold to West Seattle Montessori School – the deal hasn’t quite closed yet, said Wasdin. “That’s a very special building, sentimentally,” he added.

As Wasdin’s section of the agenda wrapped up, NHUAC board member Elizabeth Devine said she was looking forward to the new library’s air conditioning with the sizzling weather expected this weekend.

CRIME BRIEFING: Storefront deputy Bill Kennamer was at the meeting with the newest information on local crime trends. Here are the three sheets he circulated:

Auto theft is way down – though they’ve recovered more cars than were stolen locally (“stolen somewhere else and brought here”), said Deputy Kennamer. Burglaries “have spiked significantly,” and he thinks both the heroin-use epidemic and increase in people experiencing homelessness are to blame. A resident in the Myers Way area says the latter “is getting ugly … if we don’t do something about this, it’s going to drag the community down.” Another attendee said, “The police can’t handle all this … and it’s not just here, it’s everywhere.”

Deputy Kennamer says he’s frustrated too – “the only thing I can do is hassle people as they come and go, I can’t tow cars, I can’t call code enforcement” because the Myers Way site is in Seattle city limits. He also talked about the pollution that seemed to be happening on the land on the east side of Myers because of unauthorized encampments. Asked how many people are there, he suggested hundreds, and thought at least 11 RVs are currently camped by the entrance to the Myers Parcels on the west side of the street.

(If you don’t read our partner site – here’s the latest proposal for what the city might be doing with the land.)

Much discussion ensued with concern about whether Seattle Police are doing anything about the problem, and some alleging that the Seattle City Council has taken action or made statements somehow hindering SPD from doing anything.

Elizabeth Gordon of the NHUAC board suggested that perhaps the community could use this situation as leverage related to the ongoing annexation discussions, “basically something that says, ‘this is what we want if you want us to vote for annexation – that doesn’t guarantee we’ll vote for annexation but it sure might help,” perhaps requesting a city-county task force “to address the situation on Myers Way jointly,” among other things.

One attendee noted that it’s “not just a law-enforcement situation” and mentioned a model in San Francisco for how people experiencing homelessness are being helped, “not the model we have (here) now.”

NHUAC vice president Barbara Dobkin said in her view it’s a “Seattle problem” that the city is not addressing. Board member Devine said she’s worked with people experiencing substance abuse and it’s important not to “lump all the homeless” together, but it is important to take a look at those who are “a menace to our community” and ensure they are not “immune from the consequences of their behavior … (don’t just) say ‘the homeless’ and think we are covering it all.” Her voice broke as she spoke of someone who wound up along Myers Way because he was down on his luck, and got mugged and robbed by “predators.”

Deputy Kennamer said at that point that earlier in his law-enforcement career, people experiencing homelessness broke into three categories – substance-addled people who had burned all their bridges, people with mental illness, people running from the law. Now, he said, he is seeing a younger group of people who decide to live this way “and steal everything they can steal … and the vast majority … are drug addicts – that’s the group we have to aggressively police. … I spend the bulk of my day dealing with them, chasing them from one park to another park … but I’m not handcuffed. The Sheriff’s Office is not handcuffed.”

While he says “there’s drug dealing going on,” he says the days of meth labs in RVs appears to be over – it all comes from elsewhere.

Discussion meandered back to why people are on the streets, and one attendee pointed out that many have wound up there because of domestic violence. Board member Devine pointed out that services are available for DV survivors – that they could call 211 to seek resources.

Keep calling police, Deputy Kennamer advised, as well as political pressure – “show up at the King County Council meeting – you have a voice.”

The talk then circled back to an attendee wondering if there could be a regional way to examine the problem. “We are talking about human beings living in a region, and we should be looking at a way to deal with it rather than just looking from one place to the next.”

Toward the end of the discussion, Kennamer pointed out that the shortage of law-enforcement resources leads to a shortage of ability to be proactive. And improvement isn’t on the horizon – he said a recent meeting included information that the department is almost $4 million short, which could mean no air and sea resources.

Meantime, Deputy Kennamer said September 1st is the target date for the White Center storefront to move from 16th SW to its new home at Steve Cox Memorial Park.

After he left the front of the room, NHUAC president Giba worried aloud that the Myers situation did not portend well for how Seattle would treat this area if annexed. But she expressed hope for working in collaboration with Highland Park and South Park – “they are our neighbors.” Meantime, though, she noted that King County government is the current government of this area and needs to be pressured to protect the area from being abused.

ANNEXATION CODA: Before meeting’s end, annexation came up again, with the aforementioned Boundary Review Board hearings looming. NHUAC president Giba said that what’s needed right now is information from Seattle – “be straight with us.”

COMMUNITY SERVICE AREA MEETING: President Giba gave a recap of the recent annual North Highline Community Service Area meeting at Seola Gardens; among other observations, she said it was disappointing that this area’s King County Councilmember, Joe McDermott, wasn’t there. “It was shocking that our councilmember wasn’t there,” said NHUAC board member Dominic Barrera. One top county official who was there, Sheriff John Urquhart, drew kudos for his presence and presentation.

COMMUNITY ANNOUNCEMENTS: Gill Loring announced the work party this Saturday, 9 am-1 pm, at North Shorewood Park (see our earlier announcement for details) … Another attendee announced June 9-10, 1-4 pm, car wash at New Start High School … The King County Council committee’s next hearing on proposed marijuana rules is coming up at 9 am June 16th, said Mark Johnston, who’s been a community watchdog on the issue, saying anyone with concerns about marijuana zoning in unincorporated King County should “speak up” – public comment will be part of that meeting … Another attendee noticed a sign up for a new affordable-housing project at 1st and 112th in Top Hat, almost 300 residential units and 38,000 square feet of commercial space. (We’re researching this right now and will have a separate followup.) … White Center Kiwanis‘s annual Jubilee Days pancake breakfast is coming up … Petitions for Initiative 1491, allowing a family member to petition the court to “suspend access to a firearm of a loved one who has become a danger to himself and/or others,” were brought to the meeting … A part-owner of the Highline Bears was on hand to make sure NHUAC knew about the team, with home games at Steve Cox Memorial Park the next three Friday nights, 7:05 pm.

The North Highline Unincorporated Area Council meets first Thursdays, 7 pm, but will be on hiatus now until September, when the county Comprehensive Plan will be on the agenda – watch for updates. You’ll also see board members at the aforementioned Boundary Review Board hearing – again, here’s the notice for that hearing, set for two days and possibly a third.

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8 Responses to “Myers frustrations, libraries’ future, more @ North Highline Unincorporated Area Council”

  1. Interesting this mark Johnston person I have been going back and forth with him on a couple of blog’s. I have come to find out he is a word smith. He has done some work with some political action groups in the skyway area. I have asked him questions about his statements. He seems to think the state’s liquor board is forcing these pot shops to come to white center and skyway. He fails to realized the state does not pick the location of these stores the individual looking to run a pot shop is the one that picks the location. Mr.johnston
    Has also failed realize parts of law have changed like 1,000 foot buffer zone has changed to with in a 1,000 no closer than 100 feet of schools also the mention of arcades in the buffer zone has been removed from the law. But Mr Johnston still in his letters to the editor he talks about how many recreational pot shops there are with in 1,000 of full-tilt ice cream a location that has a liquor license. Also seems fail to mention anything about the medical pot shops that have been in that area for year’s. Mr Johnston unfortunately seems to think that pot is new to this area that there has not been pot smoking going on in this area for year’s before I -502 was created. Mr Johnston also has failed to mention that King county is accepting the business permits for these locations also they are collecting business taxes from these locations.

  2. Please note that King County Library System does not operate a library in downtown Seattle at the Convention center – instead, Gary Wasdin noted that KCLS operates a library in the King County Juvenile Detention Center.

  3. The fact is that with 17 retail marijuana stores reportedly to be sited in unincorporated King County, and with 4/5ths of unincorporated county residents living adjacent to or east of the county’s urban growth boundary, 14 stores should have been sited in those annexation areas and rural areas where most people live.

    Instead, the Washington Liquor and Cannabis Board chose to inappropriately concentrate these stores in White Center/Top Hat and Skyway instead. Nowhere else in the state has the Board concentrated so many stores in communities the size of White Center and Skyway.

    Some people may say it’s no big deal to have so many stores in small communities. However it goes against what the state-appointed regulator is doing everywhere else. Community members have a right to be concerned and speak up when state regulation is not being applied fairly.

  4. The city’s have allotted amounts of cannabis shops and the unincorporated areas do not. Also white center is near the airport. Do you think the nimbin pot shop sold over 2 million dollars in cannabis in under year just from white center citizens alone. I have feeling a lot of people are traveling out side of white center to come and get some legal cannabis. Like right now in burien there are no cannabis shops open there are 2 in the process of opening. So anyone in burien wanting to purchase legal pot would most likely go to white center instead of Seattle or Des moines. Then there also no stores in sea-tac and some other near by city’s do to ban’s and moratoriums. So people that live in these areas that want to purchase legal pot have to have some ware to go. Since white center does not have a allotted amount of cannabis shops and plenty of store fronts that need renters. It’s a no brainier that these areas are going get more cannabis shops than the city’s.

    But Mark you want to blame the state liquor and cannabis board alone for this. But why are you not asking king county about why they are excepting the permits to upgrade most of these locations. They are also excepting the taxes collected as in business taxes/sales taxes and I-502 kick backs. Also why don’t you mention anything about the medical cannabis shops that have ran well in white center I know there has been some problems with some locations but you act like cannabis is new to these areas. Also you seem to not understand how many people have consumed cannabis before I-502 and now want to go the legal way of purchasing cannabis instead of purchasing it other ways. Also how many people want to get involved in selling it legally and are looking for locations to rent in areas that able to run such a business. Not only local people but people moving from other parts of world and country. That are also buying homes and moving there family’s to these areas. Then there also the people purchasing the cannabis that are also stopping by local restaurant’s and other locations bringing in more business to these areas. Then you also fail to mention how many illegal cannabis dealers have been put out of business in white center and skyway by these legal shops. But then again you are trying to make it sound bad that there are a few legal cannabis shops in these areas right so to mention the good things would not in your best interest now would it Mark.

    You may have your argument but there things you failed to mention or realize that you might want to think about.

  5. If you put *all* of Burien’s allocation of stores, and add all of SeaTac and Tukwila store allocations to boot, that would still only be 5 stores. (Those cities’ combined population is over 95,000 — more than 5 times the approximately 18,000 in all of White Center/Top Hat/Glendale.)

    The fact that, as some have said, there seems to be no limit on the number of cannabis stores the WSLCB is licensing in unincorporated King County is exactly the uneven regulation that I believe should cause concern for affected communities. And let there be no doubt. It is the state agency that governs where it is issuing these licenses. Paradoxically, it’s also the same agency who has studied marijuana consumption and concluded that 5 stores is sufficient for communities (also near the airport) of almost 100,000 population.

    In fact, just this week the WSLCB announced the 10th state-licensed pot store in and near White Center/Top Hat. So the saga of state mismanagement of their mandate continues …

  6. See mark your still blaming the state for this. Also the WSCLB has worked with city to come what they felt was OK for those city’s. The unincorporated areas are not control by the city’s agreements. Now if these areas would have annexed to the nearest city’s like the county has been suggesting then this would not be a issue. But there where a lot of issues with annexation.

    Also Ike’s was already setting things up before this ban or moratorium. I am pretty sure you already new this from the map you created. Using information from different sources to keep a detailed report of what’s going on. So why make a comment like this is news to you.

    Also while you’re on top things have any of these stores in white center or skyway have had any reports of underaged sales.

    Also with the 8212 places to buy booze in this state have you counted how many are in skyway and white center. How about the DUI reports and compare alcohol and cannabis arrest’s in the area.

    Also why don’t you make a report on the amount of domestic violence calls involving alcohol and compare them to the calls involving cannabis use.

    Or how about a report on the amount thefts involving the use of methamphetamine or alcohol. Versus the amount of thefts involving the use of cannabis in the area.

    But no you have no proof these stores are causing a problem. The county and the state don’t really see a problem. I herd something about king county has said something in the past about using money from I -502 to fix up some road issues.

    King county should have worked with the WSCLB to make a number of allotted stores like the city did in the beginning but they did not so how can you still try to blame the WSCLB for this.

  7. If by “booze” you mean hard liquor, Skyway has 4 places, all bars open to 21 and over only. One, the VFW, is a membership organization. So, one fewer than the pot stores in Skyway.

    You’re right, I’ve found that King County needs to shoulder some of the blame. It turns out that there aren’t very many business zones where retail marijuana businesses are allowed on the east side of unincorporated King County where 4/5ths of residents live.

    However, it is the state agency that is charged with the authority to issue the licenses, and that agency’s regulation has unquestionably very uneven between communities like White Center and Skyway and nearby Seattle, Tukwila, Burien, and Renton.

  8. In booze I mean all drinkable forms of alcohol sold in grocery stores convenience stores and retail locations.

    Also king county was informed of these licensed locations and had the ability to deny them.

    But they decided not to do so. Instead they granted them business permits and building permits.

    These areas are unincorporated and don’t have all the same rules and laws as city’s.

    This also why in next few weeks these areas are going to be selling and lighting off fireworks that are ban in most city’s in the area including Burien and Seattle.

    Then you all so have to think about annexation and that if white center would have annexed to burien or skyway annexed then nether would be in this situation. But unfortunately there are many issues with annexation .