By Tracy Record
White Center Now editor
Topline from tonight’s meeting of the North Highline Unincorporated Area Council, which drew about 40 people, more than double the usual turnout, and ran for three hours:
WHITE CENTER SHELTER? Three weeks after the tumultuous meeting (WCN coverage here) about the shelter proposed for the former King County Public Health Center at 8th SW and SW 108th, the topic was in the spotlight again at tonight’s NHUAC meeting.
Burien/Normandy Park FD fire marshal Ray Pettigrew was asked to speak about concerns raised by the county’s proposal to change “what is basically an office building and turn it into a residential structure.” Concerns, he said, would be the plan for “occupancy classification” – it would need fire alarms with automatic detection, for example. “You would have to put a different kind of sprinkler head in there that takes care of the fire quicker, so occupants have a chance to get out,” for example, Pettigrew said. Whatever you think of the proposal, the department must look at the safety of the 70 people the building would house, some of whom might have “some degree of impairment,” and firefighters’ safety would have to be taken into account too.
Exit paths should be no more than 75 feet, but he said plans for the building didn’t seem to have addressed that yet. There would likely be a need for fire suppression in the building’s kitchen, too. Carbon-monoxide detectors are needed as well as smoke detectors. He also mentioned “panic hardware” and the potential draw on resources, “a facility that might add one or two calls a day … you’re looking at impacts to the area, and how are they going to be mitigated?” In response to a question, he said there has been communication with the county Fire Marshal’s Office. “But,” pressed an attendee, “can they occupy it without all (of this mitigation)?” Yes, King County could do that, because they “own the permitting process.” Pettigrew made it clear that he doesn’t have the jurisdiction; Chris Ricketts, King County fire marshal, does.
Then a nearly surprise guest – King County Sheriff John Urquhart. He said he only found out about it a couple weeks ago, and while he probably has no say over the decision, “it’s probably going to add to our call load,” and if they have to add resources, they will. “Sounds to me like this train is coming down the track, but if anybody is going to stop it, it’s going to be this group here.”
What can citizens do if things go really bad? asked an attendee, bringing up the now-notorious Interbay sports-field camping. “You know why that’s happening? Because it’s the city of Seattle,” he said, bringing up pending legislation in the city that would reportedly allow camping on a lot of public property.
“But we don’t operate out here like that. If someone is camping on private property, we will get them out of there. If it’s public property – and they are trespassing – we will get them out.” He said, “I have compassion for the homeless, but they can’t be parking in front of somebody else’s house, for more than 24 hours.” If they want to park longer than that, “send them north of Roxbury,” he said, to laughter.
Attendees brought up safety concerns for kids walking to schools. But Urquhart pointed out that King County has had “tent cities for a long time, and crime didn’t go up” – because, he said, the encampments were self-governing and had rules. “We have devolved so far from there … it is a terrible situation,” Urquhart said.
He had called it a “political decision,” and NHUAC board member Elizabeth Gordon said, “You mean the executive’s office?” “And his people,” Urquhart replied. “…but that’s not a value judgment, that’s just the way it is. Dow and (Seattle Mayor) Ed Murray have said there’s a homeless emergency in this region, and they’re right, there is an emergency. … They have an empty building, and they want to put 70 people into it.”
If it goes through, and you see problems, one attendee said, “call 911 – call police – every time.” Urquhart said he agreed with that solution. “Super-important to call 911,” not just so they have a record of it, but so they can do something about it.
That segued into a reminder that while White Center might have the minimum-level two deputies on duty at any time, if need be, they can get backup from other areas of the King County Sheriff’s Office-served areas nearby.
Also – White Center resident Joseph Benavides (sp?) talked toward the start of the meeting about continuing community opposition to the shelter proposal, mentioning an online petition and crowdfunding for a lawyer.
NHUAC president Liz Giba said she had asked King County leadership to come to White Center for a meeting on the proposal, but had not received a reply.
Later in the meeting, she said they’re hoping to get guests to talk about it at next month’s NHUAC meeting, including elected officials such as King County Councilmember Joe McDermott.
CRIME UPDATE: Storefront deputy Bill Kennamer talked about this afternoon’s robbery – “four dudes with four guns,” but the store operator, Lawless Clothing, won’t cooperate. “We’re doing our best to shut them down,” he said, alleging that the business has an unlawful sideline. He mentioned that while the helicopter was in the area, it picked up a LoJack (stolen vehicle) signal, and while KCSO does not have LoJack in its cars, Seattle Police came over and helped them find the vehicle near the Evergreen campus.
Kennamer said the sheriff has made it clear, no fixed encampments in the unincorporated urban areas – White Center and Skyway – and, he said, they don’t have any. Overall, Kennamer said he would be surprised if this area has more than two dozen “regulars” experiencing homelessness, contrary to the county’s contention that there are at least 100.
He also confirmed that the KCSO storefront has moved to the new location announced earlier this year, the former White Center Chamber of Commerce building at Steve Cox Memorial Park.
For crime stats/trends, he showed the newest month-by-month charts on “case reports taken,” with some modest increases.
Have campers on Myers Way had an effect on crime rates? Kennamer was asked. He said he’s not seeing that.
The deputy also had positive words for the WC Chevron site’s redevelopment for Starbucks and Popeye’s; he said the car wash at 16th and 104th now is part of the trespass program so that should take care of loitering; Drunky’s Two Shoe BBQ should be open by mid-November; across the street, the former Hang Around (among other things) is going to be a beer place. The new Uncle Ike’s marijuana store between 14th and 15th “has had an immediate positive effect on the area … (the proprietor) wants to get soccer moms comfortable enough to come and buy weed (there).”
HIGHLINE PUBLIC SCHOOLS BOND: With one month to go until the $233 million bond‘s fate is decided in the November election, former Burien Councilmember Rose Clark – co-chair of a 40-member citizen committee that worked on the proposal – spoke tonight to NHUAC. She said the committee “spent a huge amount of time” working on assessing district challenges, problems, and requirements. “Remember, a bond is only for buildings,” she pointed out – not textbooks, staff, etc.
She talked about the committee’s tour of HPS schools and finding one building “so old, so fragile, I swear if you take the ivy off the back of it, that building is going to fall down.” She admitted she voted against the last bond for reasons including her belief that Highline HS couldn’t be in worse shape than, for example, Evergreen … but seeing it, she said, swayed her. (The bond measure does include money to start designing new campuses for Tyee and Evergreen, she said; spending $10 million on design in this bond cycle will save $23 million in the next one.) Des Moines Elementary also seems in danger of crumbling “on the heads of the kids” at any moment, Clark said. The statewide class-size mandate for K-3 means more room is needed, in addition to existing needs, she said. Newer schools will get security retrofits – from door-locking to security cameras – and the district would get an emergency-operations center, Clark noted.
For a levy overview – see this page, which has a breakout of which schools would get what if the bond passes. And the district has three open house/tour events planned next week, including one at the Evergreen campus – see the dates/times/locations here. Based on current assessed valuation, this bond measure would cost you 79 cents for every thousand dollars of assessed value of your property.
At meeting’s end, NHUAC board members voted 6-1 to endorse a “yes” vote on the bond measure.
STORMWATER SERVICES PROGRAM: King County’s Trisha Davis spoke about the program and a proposed 50 percent fee increase. “Most of the development in the county was built without any stormwater controls,” she explained, unlike new development – such as the new White Center Library, which she said was built “with extensive stormwater controls.” Stormwater takes pollution off roads and sends it into waterways, where it can kill healthy salmon “within hours.” The stormwater-management fee pays for the program, $171.50 per single-family parcel; “commercial properties pay based on the amount of impervious surface they have.” The current fee brings in $24 million/year. But the county wants to address “more challenges” than it can do with that revenue, Davis said, including roadway drainage and retrofitting “areas without stormwater controls.” Roadway infrastructure that’s in danger of failing in the next decade alone would cost up to half a billion dollars to fix. Looking over the next century, the price tag could go up to $830 million. To start bringing in more money, she said, King County Executive Dow Constantine is proposing a 50 percent increase in the fee, to $258 per residential parcel. The fee increase would affect about 80,000 property owners in the unincorporated area, according to Davis.
Would there be projects in the White Center area? Davis was asked. While she didn’t have a specific list, she said yes. In response to a question, she said that most property owners don’t know that they are aware for managing their own stormwater.
In Q&A, a variety of drainage/stormwater-related concerns arose, involving sites including the White Center Neighborhood Pond. While there are trash concerns, and some loitering problems, a King County Sheriff’s Office rep acknowledged, “it’s nothing like what it was” before camps in the area were removed.
MISCELLANEOUS ANNOUNCEMENTS: A library celebration is coming up on October 29th …White Center Kiwanis is selling candy bars, Godiva for $3, See’s for $2.50, to support local youth. An increase of community support has made them able to offer more support for local scholarships as well as uniforms for Mount View Elementary School. No specific locations/times for sales – “wherever we are.”
The North Highline Unincorporated Area Council meets most months on the first Thursday, 7 pm. Watch northhighlineuac.org for updates and agendas. As the board points out, they need people to get involved and stay involved.