‘We need to take action now’: Besieged business owners’ White Center plight draws promises from King County officials

By Tracy Record
White Center Now editor

Eleven days and 750+ signatures after a White Center petition declared the community to be in a state of emergency, King County officials convened an online meeting to promise they’ll do something about it.

Tuesday afternoon’s meeting included one major promise: Extra King County Sheriff’s Office presence, via overtime spending. This, instead of the %175,000 worth of private security demanded in the community petition. KCSO presence at the meeting included the new Precinct 4 commander, Major Joe Hodgson. He brought updated crime stats for the heart of White Center, which are part of the slide deck used for the meeting:

A key community question for Hodgson and KCSO Patrol Operations Chief Jesse Anderson – how much money and time would the overtime investment in White Center total? And given community concerns about KCSO’s “ongoing unresponsiveness,” would the plan just bring “more of the same”? The department officials didn’t have exact numbers handy but insisted, “White Center is a high priority for us.” One business owner said words aren’t enough: “These issues, somebody has to do something about it … We need to take action now.’

Insistence that the county is already doing something was voiced at the very beginning of the meeting, when County Executive Dow Constantine spoke, trying to counter the petition’s pronouncement of a “lack of timely and effective action.” He said the county already had directed money to businesses affected by the fires, and made commitments – besides the KCSO OT – including providing the businesses with more “technical assistance.” He also said he’s seeking a disaster declaration that, if granted, would among other things qualify the fire-affected businesses to apply for sizable loans.

As for the fires themselves, investigator Tom Devine recapped what they believe so far – the July fire that started at the Lumber Yard Bar remains “under investigation … we’re actively pursuing all leads” and still very interested in community tips. The two Locker Room fires “weren’t criminal” but resulted from “reckless acts.” The fire at the old Atlas Electric building on 17th is believed to have been “not intentional” but rather related to “homeless people” and “some recklessness with flames.”

North Highline Fire District Chief Mike Marrs presented fire-prevention information, with specifics on how to make your property less fire-prone (you can see that advice in the slide deck above). He urged people to call and report even small fires, even if they’re already out.

The call for community tips and overall watchfulness was repeated by multiple meeting participants. For fires, crimes, even just something suspicious … report it. You might not get an instant response, but it will be on record.

Another theme: Cross-jurisdiction cooperation. Seattle Police and Fire leaders spoke at the meeting too. From the latter, SFD Chief Harold Scoggins didn’t give a presentation, but did answer a question about last month’s fire in South Delridge, noting that his investigators had ruled its cause “undetermined.” From SPD, the second in command from the West Seattle/South Park precinct, Lt. Dorothy Kim, brought crime stats from the West Seattle neighborhoods that border White Center (you can see those in the slide deck above, too).

The meeting, facilitated by Department of Local Services director John Taylor, hopped around to a variety of topics, including what the county is doing to “reimagine public safety” as it moves from an elected sheriff to appointed sheriff. But it circled back to community involvement toward the end, with KCSO’s Manny Apostol listing projects he’s coordinating – a community cleanup, a mural project, a “business block watch.” (No specific dates yet, but if you’re interested in any of the above, email him at manuel.apostol@kingcounty.gov.)

Taylor concluded by insisting again, “We heard you.”

(If you missed the meeting, you can watch the recorded video here:)

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2 Responses to “‘We need to take action now’: Besieged business owners’ White Center plight draws promises from King County officials”

  1. Tracy, thank you for your coverage!

  2. Question Mark Says:

    The problem with the Department of Local Services being asked to comment on the county’s now and future public safety strategy is that the Sheriff’s Office isn’t a part of Local Services at all. Neither is Housing and Human Services nor Parks, which both also either have a potential future in the re-imagining of policing/public safety or (Parks) have their own security/police force.

    I wonder why Constantine felt it expedient to leave the response to a department head of his that has no say at present. (Actually, I think we can all guess the reason.)

    What will the election bring in the very important area of public safety concerns? Unfortunately, citizens of the county’s unincorporated areas, like White Center, don’t even have a majority say in such issues.