By Tracy Record
White Center Now editor
Information and frustration both emerged from lengthy Operation Center of Attention updates at Thursday night’s North Highline Unincorporated Area Council meeting, particularly regarding the fact that one of the establishments considered a focal point of the law-enforcement operation, Papa’s Pub, apparently could still get its liquor license renewed despite everything that’s happened (including citations for alleged liquor-law violations).
The meeting included a number of high-ranking guests from the law-and-justice sector. Here’s how it played out:
OPERATION CENTER OF ATTENTION – KING COUNTY PROSECUTING ATTORNEY: “This is a place worth fighting for,” Dan Satterberg began, noting that his dad Dick Satterberg practiced law in the area for many years, which meant he spent a lot of time here in childhood. “It was a place that put food on our table, as a family.” He offered some background on his office/staff, including the fact that 230 of the 480 employees are lawyers, before launching into some words about “Operation Center of Attention,” and its origins a few months back as part of a national program targeting “hot spots.” … “For 90 days we had some outstanding undercover police officers and agents working the streets, and the epicenter was south of Roxbury on 16th … they came to town and started making friends … and very soon were led up the ladder to make” major drug deals. He says many of the 53 suspects are in custody and charged, and some are still being pursued. “Most are serious crimes … particularly being a felon in possession of a stolen firearm.” However, he said, a one-time operation isn’t going to fix things forever, so he’s glad there’s a new storefront deputy, for example. He said it’s the epitome of the old “Weed and Seed” – “we’re gonna weed some of the bad elements, at least 53 of them, out of the community, and plant Deputy (BJ) Myers here to do some of the work” that needs to be done.
Were the guns and drugs from here? asked NHUAC member Patrick Mosley. Crime respects no borders, Satterberg said – mentioning some other areas like Delridge and Seatac. Where did they live? asked president Barbara Dobkin. “All over,” said Satterberg, but “the emphasis was in that area around Papa’s Pub.” The owners of that and other targeted businesses were not arrested, he confirmed, but mentioned a letter is going to landlords to make sure they are “aware illegal activities are going on .. and they have to take steps to stop it before some kind of abatement action can occur.” Now it’s time for the community to “replace some of the blights that allowed this to happen,” he noted. Dobkin pointed out that this kind of illegal activity had been discussed and reported for a long time, “so going forward, what do we need to do?” Satterberg replied, “That’s a great question – and I don’t have an answer for you.” He said high police visibility will be important, future undercover operations, and overall for law enforcement, “We have that resolve to be there.”
Asked if the murder of Sweetheart Failautusi had any connection to the activities targeted by Operation Center of Attention, Satterberg said no. He was also asked if anyone who’s been arrested and charged is out on bail, but didn’t have any specifics on that. Sheriff’s deputies said they’ve seen some of the suspects back in the area. “If they’re out and they continue to be committing crimes, we’d love to be able to” make a new case against them, he said.
On a separate topic, Dobkin asked Satterberg about medical-marijuana businesses’ proliferation in White Center. He recounted the ongoing state of flux in state/local law, and the fact that marijuana continues to be against federal law. Dobkin explained that the local businesses weren’t just “dispensaries,” but include a lounge where “you can go in and listen to jazz and smoke pot,” as well as a “farmers’ market.” Satterberg noted it’s not legal to smoke marijuana in public even if you have a medical certificate. NHUAC member Christine Waldman wondered why the crackdown in Eastern Washington, involving the U.S. Attorney on that side of the mountains, couldn’t be replicated here. “It could,” Satterberg noted, but said it’s also a matter of “police priorities,” which marijuana has not been in King County. Bottom line, he had no answer for the concern, and Dobkin said with some frustration that they feel as if they’ve been “left to fend for (themselves).” But he invited the Sheriff’s Office to talk with his office about “what you see on your tours.” He promised to return and “continue this conversation.”
OPERATION CENTER OF ATTENTION – U.S. ATTORNEY’S OFFICE: As he had been at the briefing after the busts, as he had been at a community meeting days later, and then again at the White Center-South Delridge Community Safety Coalition days later, Thomas Bates from the U.S. Attorney’s Office was at tonight’s NHUAC meeting. He took on some of the questions that had been asked previously: “The task force that did this operation remains … (even though) the 90-day period has ended,” he said, urging people to continue to report what they see. That includes his office; he said “odds and ends are still coming up,” and in fact, just this week another suspect was arrested in connection with a “7-gun buy” and had made a court appearance. “Things continue,” he stressed, adding that landlords are indeed on notice about what’s going on in their buildings, and that other actions are being taken to make sure “the business core is flying right.” Where it stands now:
–”The cases have been split” – 27 of them are federal, such as “some of the bigger” drug and gun cases, with tougher penalties from the feds. “A lot of those people have already been indicted,” and trial dates are set, some as soon as next month, according to Bates.
–”I’m only aware of one federal defendant that is not currently in custody,” he said, saying the rest are in the federal jail in Seatac
–Information from last week’s Community Safety Coalition meeting is being passed along to detectives and the task force – reports “are not falling on deaf ears,” he promised
–What’s next: Fighting crime like this is a “three-legged stool” – enforcement, prevention, and “what we are all engaged in together, where do we go from here, what do we do to make sure the infrastructure of the community” can “collectively do to be sure we are moving forward, to make sure this is not ‘one and done’.” Bates says, “That’s the part I’m most focused on.”
–The #1 issue, he says, is how vital “law enforcement visibility” is. “No one wants to let things go back to how they were.”
–Another issue, legislative priorities, like working on a nuisance law similar to what Seattle has, enabling action to be taken if a property is continuously the site of nuisance activities.
–Another one – focusing on the business core. “We’re hearing about … other businesses engaged in activity that is not viewed as beneficial to the community,” he noted. In response to a later question, he declined to name them, saying ongoing investigations were in the hands of the Sheriff’s Office.
–And the “resources bucket” is important, he acknowledged – what else can they draw on? Additional drug counseling, for example, though some of that might not be available under terms of the latest state budget proposal, he said (while being clear that he was not offering any opinion about legislation, which is outside the purview of his role). But his office’s role is limited, he clarified – 70 lawyers, and “we’re not the boss of a lot of people” with whom they have to deal, or on whom their efforts might be contingent. “Continue to think of me as someone you can come to with ideas, and needs,” and he will do his best to “be very honest” in terms of whether there are connections to be made or help to be offered – or not.
OPERATION CENTER OF ATTENTION – LIQUOR CONTROL BOARD: The question kept coming up – so what can be done about the businesses involved, especially considering they had been the site of law-enforcement “service requests” over and over again (43 in 5 months in one case, said Bates). Captain Susan Blaker from the WALCB was on hand along with Lt. Woodrow Perkins, who has been a fixture at public-safety-related meetings in the White Center area (though, as he mentioned, the area he supervises is much bigger). He said they had been working several cases on 16th SW even before being asked to be part of Operation Center of Attention. He mentioned that Papa’s was cited for two more violations recently, one just last Friday, for providing liquor to intoxicated persons. “Right now we are in the process of reviewing reports,” but he’s not sure if other violations will be found. Burien, Tukwila, and East Marginal Way establishments were examined as well as White Center businesses, he said.
Regarding license revocation, Capt. Blaker stepped in. She says the “request for non-renewal” has been forwarded back to local investigators who are sending a report for possible action, and that there was something of a timing problem, since Papa’s had recently renewed its license. The issue of what kind of review and notification ensue when a license is up for renewal generated some additional discussion. Karen Freeman from King County Executive Dow Constantine‘s office – which has a role in reviewing license renewal requests – said they don’t know “which licenses to flag … to start to renew” unless they hear from community members “that this place is a problem.” That brought a heated response from community member Gill Loring, who says that meeting participants have asked over and over for that kind of information, “we’ve been out there and been asking you and telling you … but we’re not getting information, so we can’t react to it. This thing about Papa’s was out of the blue … it was mentioned at the last Community Safety Coalition meeting that the license was up for renewal but we thought we had a month or so, and next thing we know, we hear it’s renewed.” The executive’s rep said that a “very long list” is circulated and they have to be able to appeal “at just the right moment,” which is difficult to determine, and observed that the laws are very specific and difficult to work with. She also said that her office even encountered some confusion in what their role in the liquor-license-renewal-review process is – “was it zoning, or …” She said they are “learning a lot” about how it all works.
NHUAC member Liz Giba expressed frustration at that point regarding responsiveness of the County Executive’s Office in general, saying she had left a message after the August murder – and only got a call back this week, from Freeman. “We need a better contact in the King County Executive’s Office,” Giba declared. “Fair enough,” said Freeman.
Captain Blaker offered the fact that her officers carry massive caseloads, each responsible for 452 licensed premises.
Waldman then asked – what about DK’s, also mentioned in “Operation Center of Attention”; is its license up for renewal any time soon? Reply: That’s being doublechecked.
(Here’s how the renewal process works – from a licensee’s standpoint, anyway.)
“If the owner/licensee has knowledge (of crimes) or participated in it,” the license could be in jeopardy, Lt. Perkins said.
But, asked Waldman, the LCB was involved in the 90-day Center of Attention operation, so certainly they knew about Papa’s being under investigation? That wasn’t enough for the liquor license not to be renewed, Capt. Blaker said, since no violations had been found. She said public-safety violations have to be adjudicated – and in this case, they weren’t. (That was a key point – even though arrests have been made and items have been seized, nothing has been proven yet, no one has been convicted, so that means what’s happened doesn’t exist for the purposes of deciding a license renewal.)
For the future, KCSO insisted, “I think we have something that’s going to work.”
How are complaints filed? Through law enforcement or a hotline to the LCB.
As for what happens once there’s a violation – “It’s administrative, it’s due process, hearings have to be held if the licensee requests them” – and in the case of Papa’s, there are five public-safety violations on record, with hearings requested in all of them. Even though a suspension date might be set when a violation calls for it, Perkins says, that doesn’t mean it’s going to happen on that date. If a business has requested a hearing, they can continue to operate while awaiting it, “just like being out on bail,” Perkins said. Even once there’s a hearing, the judge has a month to issue a ruling. And even if a liquor license is suspended, he noted, an establishment could still continue operating as a restaurant – just without selling alcohol.
WELCOMING STOREFRONT DEPUTY B.J. MYERS: “We’re quite proud of him,” said Capt. Joe Hodgson, recounting his background including two military deployments, service with KCSO since 2007, “well-respected, high-performing deputy who’s earned the respect of his supervisors and his peers … The thing that probably impressed us the most about him is his wide perspective on White Center … (He) recognized that while there’s a time and a place for heavy law enforcement, you have to get to root causes .. that’s the one strength we latched onto.” He promptly introduced Myers, who discussed what he had learned so far. “I hope I am bringing a perspective to this job that makes sense for White Center,” he began. “I’m encouraged by how many people are invested in this community as evidenced by this council and many other committees that I’ve bene invited to,” even people he says have “stopped their cars in the middle of the street” to say hi and welcome him. “That’s a big reason I’m excited to be here … I’m not alone in trying to combat some of the challenges in White Center. Working with other people is going to be the key to my success in this job. I hope that WC is a safe place to raise kids, that has a robust business environment …” He says he’ll focus on “using traditional law enforcement as well as working with other agencies, maybe doing creative problemsolving on specific issues around here …” He says he’s “excited … it’s a little bit of a different hat than the traditional law enforcement I’ve been doing in Burien.” He wants to know more about recurring issues. He was asked about “shoes thrown over wires,” and whether that meant anything. “I’ve never gotten a good answer about exactly what that means,” Myers said, but Capt. Hodgson said he is only familiar with “lore” that says that might mean a drug house and “couldn’t answer with any specificity” about what it might signify these days.
What’s the best way to get information to him, if someone sees or hears something? he was asked. “Right now I love as much information as I can get because it’s all new to me right now … if there’s something happening on your block that seems unusual … if you see evidence of drug crimes in a certain area … I love to have that information because it lets me know where to focus some of my attention to.” He promised he’ll follow up on those types of reports, to see what he sees at the locations he’s told about. In the business district, “whatever it is … you’re feeling,” shoplifting or whatever else, he wants to hear about it. Right now, bottom line, any and all information is good, “I appreciate all the information I can get.” His e-mail is email@example.com. NHUAC had a cake for him, by the way.
ANNEXATION, AND OTHER BURIEN UPDATES: Myers’ assignment is good news, Burien City Manager Mike Martin told NHUAC, mentioning a role that Myers played in the review of whether Burien should go solo in police services provision. “That’s a real score for you guys,” he said, while acknowledging Burien was sorry to see him go. It’s budget time for Burien – “no layoffs anticipated, no reductions in services, probably going to hire a couple more guys for our (road maintenance and drainage) services,” he said, expecting “no major plans changed” in the budget, and saying that he’s not recommending Cost-Of-Living Adjustments for city staffers. He says Burien is hiring Nhan Nguyen, who had been working with the WC Community Development Association as “the person I will be throwing all kinds of things over the transom too, including the work I expect to be doing up here” regarding annexation outreach. “He knows the area well and will be the go-to person I bring with me” when Martin speaks to groups about annexation. “I’m really pleased to have brought him on staff.”
Martin also has hired an economic development manager, Dan Trimble, from Issaquah. “I expect those two to be working closely together on economic-development issues,” including some in White Center. And he’s hired Maya Andrews as the new Burien public-works director. He says a decision is close on a proposed auto mall where the Lora Lake Apartments were, and he’s “cautiously optimistic.” It would “consolidate all (Burien’s) auto dealers in one area, would take them off 1st Avenue … means we would be reclaiming 30 or 40 acres on 1st Avenue for other retail development.” He’s working with the Port of Seattle on that. Another project: How could the city improve pre-K through 3rd grade? Martin says he’s been working with the principals of elementaries in Burien as well as White Center Heights Elementary, and feels it’s vital to the city’s future prospects. “There’s a feeling that some of the issues we confront, crime and poverty, have their roots in this level of education.” He has a group meeting with the principals set for the middle of this month.
Regarding annexation, he urged people not to be too worried about Governor Gregoire proposing to eliminate the sales-tax credit, and said that he has conferred with other cities that have been involved. “This involves changing the law … there’s a whole legislative process that must be surmounted to do this,” he said, “It’s by no means a slam-dunk.” He says 120 cities signed a letter to the governor saying they were disappointed in that proposal and “others that were in her budget.” … “In Burien we handle things without a lot of drama and we’re going to handle this the same way,” he declared. Burien cannot go forward with annexation without the sales-tax credit, however, he reiterated. Asked about a timeline for a decision on the governor’s possible proposal, Martin foresaw it happening during the regular legislative session. the governor has fulfilled her duty in submitting a balanced budget, he said, and now, he is meeting with legislators. He foresees a “torturous and tortuous process.”
He says that in the meantime, though, the annexation process is proceeding – they have filed their “notice of intent” with the Boundary Review Board. He urged the NHUAC to “let cool heads prevail … we don’t want to say or do anything that would reduce our options in the future.” Asked about the Boundary Review timeline, he said “it’s conceivable we could have a public hearing before Christmas” but isn’t sure the board will move that quickly, saying January is more likely. He thinks summer or fall are the most likely annexation election dates. “I myself would like to see a huge turnout.” He believes “Seattle is going to sit this one out” so that potential complication does not exist.
(Later, county executive’s office rep Freeman said that they had registered their concern with the governor’s office, since the county has three major annexations in the pipeline right now, including this one for North Highline. She said that the annexation proposal is “her project” – and right now what she’s doing is preparing the proscribed “response to Burien’s filing”; she added that her intention is to “write a brief that supports Burien’s proposal” – provided it meets all the criteria it needs to meet. She also warned that these types of things frequently include some sort of issue, however small.)
ANNOUNCEMENTS: 11/15 is the next King County Housing meeting at Greenbridge, according to NHUAC’s Pat Price … the Community Safety Coalition will meet on November 17th (a week earlier than usual because of the holiday) at the Boys and Girls’ Club at Greenbridge …the White Center Library Guild’s holiday bazaar is expected on December 3rd … president Dobkin says the county Comprehensive Plan is out and available for review …
OTHER BUSINESS: Steve Cox Memorial Park tennis-court renovations could be done this month, Waldman announced, and the courts are expected to be open to the public shortly, even if there are a few final touches remaining to be done in spring. … Council member Ron Johnson brought up the issue of the “tiered” plan for how roads will be handled – reviewed at a previous NHUAC meeting – and noted he had met a county employee who’s losing their job. He asked Freeman, on behalf of the county executive’s office, about problems that will be inevitable; she said it’s “regrettable” that budgetary matters have come to this, but that they’re working with the County Council on the budget right now, and once that’s finalized, they hope to be able to talk with groups like NHUAC about how things will really work in the future. … President Dobkin noted that the permit has finally been procured for flower-bed planting on 16th. She put out an early pitch for volunteers – “I’m going to need people; I can’t do it by myself!” NHUAC member Pat Price suggested student volunteers might be in order. … Toward meeting’s end, there was a lengthy discussion about whether to offer a nominal stipend of $200 to a photographer who has been rolling video on NHUAC meetings and other community events, potentially to create some kind of video about the organization. There wasn’t a quorum left by the time they might have voted, so that’ll come up again in the future.
NHUAC usually meets the first Thursday of the month, 7 pm, at North Highline FIre District headquarters.