New sheriff’s storefront location and more at November’s North Highline Unincorporated Area Council meeting

By Tracy Record
White Center Now editor

Another high-profile guest for the North Highline Unincorporated Area Council – last month, the sheriff; last night, the prosecuting attorney. But first, there was big news from KCSO:

MOVING THE STOREFRONT: King County Sheriff’s Office is proposing moving the White Center storefront to the three-story “cottage” at Steve Cox Memorial Park, according to KCSO’s Precinct 4 commander, Major Jerrell Wills. He says the new location would have many advantages over the current one, including a kitchenette and a room where deputies could question suspects. The Community Service Officer would move there too. This used to be the White Center Chamber of Commerce‘s office. It also has a garage that could be used for storage (NHUAC board member Liz Giba pointed out that Jubilee Days uses that garage now, which was news to Maj. Wills). The timeline? “Being realistic … we don’t move swiftly, but this is a first step – being very very optimistic, I would hope we would start moving forward maybe in the first quarter.” Maj. Wills said the current storefront deputy, Bill Kennamer, “is supportive of this move.” It would spare deputies having to drive to the precinct for some things that just can’t be done at the current storefront in downtown White Center. There is going to be a cost savings, Maj. Wills added, though he didn’t have a specific number to share.

Later in the meeting, Deputy Kennamer was asked about the plan, confirming he supports it. The proposal is brand-new, he said, in response to one surprised remark about not having heard anything about it until the meeting. The current storefront space “is a dump … and the landlord won’t fix anything,” he said, and “King County can’t clean it because it’s not a King County building.” The storefront has been in its current space since 1994.

CRIME TRENDS: Before that discussion, Deputy Kennamer started his appearance with crime-trend updates. Violent crimes last month around North Highline included three that “made the blotter,” topped by the October 25th stabbing of Ramon Aspeitia at 15th and Roxbury. Three guys tried to sell the victim meth; he said no; words were exchanged and the three attackers “are considered Hispanic gang members,” he said. They do have “good video from the bus” but “finding out who they are.” The victim did not know them, said Dep. Kennamer. Also, there was a domestic-violence threat at the Shorewood Apartments, husband vs. wife, and the NiMBiN marijuana store armed robbery – “much more dangerous than [the previous case of] driving a car through the window, and it was an organized robbery.” The challenges of finding banks to accept marijuana businesses’ cash was discussed. In other crime stats: Aggravated assaults are up, year-to-year; domestic-violence assaults are the same; commercial burglaries are “way down” as are residential burglaries and auto theft. Residential burglaries 19 last year, 6 this year; auto theft last year 20, this year 12; vehicle recoveries – 18 stolen cars found in this area last year, 6 this year. Very little crime in the new Greenbridge and Seola Gardens developments, he noticed.

One attendee said the person who was responsible for last year’s break-ins, with targets/victims including Dubsea Coffee, is out of jail after a year. “We all know who he is,” Deputy Kennamer said.

He was also asked about what happens if drugs are seen in a car to which a deputy’s attention is called. They should be able to do something about it, he said, adding that they’re not having trouble in The Bog any more “because we’ve trespassed everyone” (ordered them to stay out). The attendee who asked talked about people in cars doing drugs and being told just to leave the area – which results in them driving their cars “while high as a kite, and that’s scary.”

Later, NHUAC president Barbara Dobkin brought up the Seattle proposal to sell off some of the Myers Way parcels to raise money to help homeless people. Deputy Kennamer said there’s a big homeless encampment at Myers and Olson, and it’s city land, and the city doesn’t seem to want to do anything about it. A recent walkabout with County Councilmember Joe McDermott apparently included businesspeople complaining that loitering was harming their business. “It’s not a problem we can arrest ourselves out of,” said Kennamer. He also said there’s one tent left in The Bog and he’s working to find the person who’s responsible for it, so that people can continue to use the park again for its intended purpose.

KING COUNTY PROSECUTING ATTORNEY’S OFFICE: Prosecuting Attorney Dan Satterberg, who talked about his roots in this area, acknowledged the county hasn’t always been the best governing authority for this area, but he wants to make sure it does better, so he brought along some top deputies. He said there are some things the county can do, and first recapped the enforcement action against the 17 unlicensed marijuana sellers, as he described them, who were operating in the unincorporated area as of xx months ago. “We’re in this grand experiment in Washington state” regarding marijuana, Satterberg noted. “We’ve had medical marijuana as a law since 1998, so we’ve had to deal with the fact that that law when passed by the people did not provide for access … it had to fall from the sky for you to actually

“Our goal is to make sure that these stores are out of business by the end of this year, and I think we’re going to make that goal,” Satterberg said regarding unlicensed stores.

Then, it was time to talk about their main subject, the Community Justice Project, a new program to address primarily problem properties. Chief of Staff Carla Lee talked about its genesis in “open-to-entry projects that are attracting the criminal element.”

Deputy prosecutor Cristy Craig talked about moving over to the civil (code enforcement) side of the office. “Sometimes they work together really well, sometimes they get in each other’s way.” So far, she said, they’ve been “going out into the community and reaching out to our Sheriff’s Office so we can hear firsthand where the priority problem code violations are.” Relatively quickly, she said, they were able to correolate these types of structures as “crime magnets,” in other unincorporated areas such as Skyway too, so it’s “become a one-on-one kind of program.” She talked about being in contact with community members including NHUAC president Dobkin regarding the status of particular properties, and getting word of locations where, for example, squatters have turned up. “It’s making efficient and effective use of our resources, including our number one resource, which is (the community).”

NHUAC board member Elizabeth Gordon asked, “What specific action can your office take?” First, a situation has to go through code enforcement, Craig explained, via the Department of Permitting and Environmental Review and its complaint system, “and that gets the process started .. they go through an agency process where they document a violation, and generate (a notification for a property owner) that they have to clean it up.” The Community Justice Project brings the prosecutor’s office in earlier, she explained, and that helps with bank-owned properties, for example – the prosecuting attorney’s involvement gets more attention than the DPER notice, she said. And if necessary, they can go to King County Superior Court to get an order. “People tend to respond more quickly when they’re going to be sued.”

“If they fail to comply, what happens?” Giba asked. The case is referred to the CJP; there might be financial penalties, and emergency abatement. “Often we go through a civil court procedure” first, but “if it’s an emergency situation, the county can work more quickly to get an abatement” – while it’s not a penalty to the violator, it at least takes care of the situation.

Asked community member Gill Loring: What qualifies for the CJP? “High-impact violations,” replied Craig, “if those violations are creating a magnet for crime … that’s the #1 issue, though not the only issue.” Chronically piling-up trash could be one; squatters could be another, if it’s having “unusually high impact on the community.”

Satterberg said the KCPAO is working to be sure DEPR gets the priority nature of this project.

“So when they’re boarded up and stay like this for years,” asked Dobkin, “that’s just allowed, so they can stay like that?”

Craig: “There are some limitations to the code itself – once it’s been closed up, even though that property may not be an attractive property in your neighborhood, it’s technically not a code violation any more.” She said there’s one where she lives, with wildlife living inside, so she gets what that’s like – “but if it looks like a roof is starting to collapse, or (something else) where the structure is not quite complete …”

Board member Elizabeth Devine asked if eminent domain could be used to take over a nuisance property. Not really, said Craig, unless “the county needed that property for a specific project,” but demolition is different.

Deputy prosecutor Darren Carnell: “Government has limited ability to force people to sell (properties) … eminent domain laws are pretty limited in Washington.” They couldn’t “buy it and flip it” even if that made sense, for example.

Craig noted that “This is a pilot project and we have had a fair amount of success … if we continue to have success, which we’ve had without additional (funding), and if it continues to be effective and cost-effective, it’s possible that it could be expanded to include more violations.”

Gordon wondered if there could be a workshop for community members to learn about other mechanisms to deal with this. Craig said that for one, this is about empowering the community to solve problems and find creative solutions, so a workshop might be in order. Or, a home falls into disrepair not because a person doesn’t care but “because they don’t have the means to keep it up,” so finding them help – reaching out “maybe to faith-based communities or neighborhood organizations … to assist people who can’t do it themselves.”

For the people who are squatting, this could synergize with the county’s priority on finding solutions to homelessness and connecting people with services, Craig said. But they’re not usually talking about people who are squatting because they need shelter, but “taking (the house) over for other purposes.” She said that when they started the CJP, they asked various agencies and groups for their “top 10” worst locations, where law enforcement is being called time and time again, for various reasons, and with that, so far they’ve had “some pretty fast turnarounds.”

Satterberg clarified that the team has taken this on in addition to their other duties “and this neighborhood is a real priority for us, so we want to know what your Top 10 neighborhood blights are … it’s not going to happen overnight but if it’s on their radar … we’ll keep at it until we turn it around.”

Community member Bob Price observed that it seems different counties are operating under different rules. Carnell said, “That’s right – rules are largely local and different counties, different parts of the state, have different views of how much government should be in the business of private property owners – King County’s rules are stricter.” Part of that has to do with density, he said, “In urban King County … if people don’t tend to their property, that really affects people around them.”

Satterberg promised to return with “some success stories.”

ANNOUNCEMENTS: NHUAC board secretary Pat Price announced that 1-4 pm this Saturday will bring the celebration of renaming Lakewood Park as Dick Thurnau Memorial Park, as recently approved by the King County Council. The celebration is planned indoors, at TAF’s Bethaday Community Learning Space, with participants including musicians from nearby Cascade Middle School and County Councilmember Joe McDermott; a barbecue is planned, too. … Also mentioned: The White Center Library Guild bazaar is coming up Friday and Saturday, November 13-14 … the county’s draft Comprehensive Plan is about to be aired at meetings, with North Highline residents invited to attend the one at Skyway, date and other details here … Gordon said the King County PAL boxers have a tournament coming up at the Evergreen campus.

CSA GRANT: NHUAC is applying for the county’s Community Service Area grant again in hopes of sponsoring forums.

DECEMBER MEETING: A King County Library System rep will be in attendance with updates on the new library, and what will happen to it if the unincorporated area is annexed. The meeting will be at 7 pm December 3rd at the North Highline Fire District HQ, 1243 SW 112th; watch for updates until then.

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One Response to “New sheriff’s storefront location and more at November’s North Highline Unincorporated Area Council meeting”

  1. Thanks for the writeup Tracy.

    On the KCSO storefront move, sounds good, although I have one concern. I wonder if the new location will provide less visible deterrence than the current spot right in downtown WC. Although, maybe the current location doesn’t really have much effect? I don’t really have much to go on there.