Myriad hot topics, from homelessness to fireworks enforcement, at North Highline Unincorporated Area Council’s June meeting
By Tracy Record
White Center Now editor
Summer break has begun for the North Highline Unincorporated Area Council‘s meeting schedule – but not before an info-packed June meeting, held online last Thursday. Here’s how it unfolded:
NEW BOARD MEMBER: Brigitte Vaughn was voted in at the start of the meeting.
COUNTY COUNCILMEMBER JOE McDERMOTT: It’s his 13th and final year on the council, as he’s decided not to run for re-election. He first recognized Pride month, pointing out that its roots are in the Stonewall uprising in 1969, with significant leadership from drag queens (who are under attack in some parts of the U.S. these days) – “While in our local jurisdictions we may feel supported, well over 200 laws have been introduced in recent years” seeking to delegitimize LGBTQIA+ people, and vigilance is vital – “Pride isn’t a weekend a year or a month, it’s something we have to be engaged in throughout the year … recognize that we cannot ‘other’ marginalized communities and we must champion (them all).”
That said, McDermott offered some reflections on his 22+ years in elected office and says he’s excited to find his “next career.” From there, NHUAC’s Liz Giba started with questions – homelessness first, and this week’s murder at the unsanctioned encampment on Myers Way. McDermott pointed to the situation in Burien, where a controversy is raging after an encampment sweep that has led to a new camp on city-owned land and an order to vacate that site. He said living unsheltered isn’t “ideal” but “you don’t sweep an encampment without a place for people to go,” noting that federal judges have made that clear. The people along Myers Way haven’t been offered places to go. The Regional Homelessness Authority has been working on outreach at the site for more than a month, he said. “What’s essential to understand is that those links (to services and shelter) don’t happen in one visit” – in some cases it might take seven visits/contact to build a relationship to the point where they’re ready to accept it. NHUAC’s Barbara Dobkin noted that the greenspace at the site is being destroyed. Who’s responsible for preventing that? The conversation digressed from there and McDermott noted that the contention that many homeless people come here from out of town is erroneous – most list “last fixed address” as in King County. An attendee jumped in with questions such as whether the county has a fund to help people avoid becoming homeless. McDermott said, “We’re not at the point where we should be to prevent homelessness in the first place,” even eight years after he and other leaders declared that homelessness is an emergency.
Next question was about the hotels bought to help chronically homeless people; McDermott noted that a small sales-tax increase was instituted to fund that, and that more than 1,000 units have been procured, with 1,600 the goal. Some are empty, McDermott said, because they don’t have enough staff to run them. But still, he said, up to 1,000 of the purchased-so-far 1,200 units are occupied. The labor shortage is indeed at least in part because human-service work pays poorly – 37 percent less than private-sector workers doing similar jobs, with similar skillsets, McDermott said.
PERFORMING ARTS CENTER: The discussion of homelessness likely could have lasted the entire meeting, but some guests had to interrupt because they could only stay for a short time – they’re from the Burien Actors Theatre, working toward creation of a Burien Performing and Visual Arts Center. Arts brings money into the local economy, declared Maggie Larrick. She tag-teamed with Eric Dickman, who said that they want to build a 300-seat center. Their many arguments in favor of the center included a study that communities with arts centers have less crime. They want to build it on a county-owned site near the parking structure in downtown Burien. Affordable housing could be built over the center, they explained. They’ve talked to Metro, which they say plans community meetings to talk about the site’s possibilities. Dickman and Larrick say they need “control” of the site – some kind of commitment – before they could start major fundraising. “We find this is a way to make art more accessible,” especially for South King County residents who don’t want to, or can’t, go all the way to Seattle, said Larrick. McDermott says he’s met with them before about the idea.
BACK TO CM McDERMOTT: The problem of graffiti vandalism was surfaced. If it’s not public property, it’s up to private-property owners to take care of it – but county workers can help if it’s OK with the property owners. John Taylor with the Department of Local Services said they do try to get to gang graffiti as fast as possible. Same goes with hate graffiti, McDermott added. Giba wondered what the Conservation Corps‘ responsibilities are. It’s a transitional work/housing program, currently with two 5-member crews, who are mostly deployed in the North Highline and Skyway areas. So how would private property vandalism be addressed/ It would be brought to the county’s attention, Taylor said, and then they’d try to get the property owner’s permission so they could handle it.
Shortly thereafter, McDermott noted that Deputy Glen Brannon will become the WC Storefront Deputy on July 1st, coming from patrol work in Burien. He described the deputy as “fantastic.” The deputy joined the meeting at that point in a brief prelude to his official appearance later. One attendee had asked if there was an increase in hate graffiti and he said if it’s seen, “we need to stamp that out yesterday.”
Giba then brought up the recurring issue of loud music from the recently opened Tim’s Tavern. She read email she’d received from one of the owners, acknowledging the concerns and explaining how they’re addressing them. That included use of decibel readers, closing at midnight and ending music at 11 pm, some Sunday and all Monday events being held in the building, installing noise-reduction curtains around the outdoor area. Giba said they told her they try to keep decibels to 80 at their parking lot, 93 closer in, but she said residential areas should be maxing out at 55. Dobkin said she’d never in all her years called in a noise complaint but the current situation is “unbearable”; but the KCSO resources weren’t able to respond. “It’s really interfered with our life – we can’t have our windows open,” she said. “It’s a problem.” Deputy Brannon said it’s important to keep calling 911 when you need to. He added, “I would take some consolation in that we have open communication now with the owners of the bar,’ and they can keep communicating.
Regarding criminal justice, Deputy Brannon said they basically can’t currently jail people for non-violent crimes but “we need to be able to.” McDermott said they’re still trying to balance the fact that jail “is not a therapeutic place” and they need “carrot and stick … not just the stick.” But if someone says they’re ready for treatment “we don’t have treatment on demand” available. He said the recently approved crisis-center levy is a “step in the right direction” but “there’s more work to be done.”
Giba next asked about the fireworks ban – last year was an “educational year” so this year, will there be enforcement? There’s no enforcement limitation this year, McDermott said, but it’s “not law enforcement, it’s code enforcement – citations mailed to people.” He noted that if there aren’t enough deputies to enforce things like noise ordinances, there aren’t enough to go around ticketing people for fireworks. He also noted that the fireworks ban’s big achievement so far is the end to sales in the local area. Giba said she understood but wondered how they’re getting the word out about fines, and if they are verifying complaints. Here’s the information Local Services reps provided:
Starting June 14, residents will be able to report violators to the King County Permitting Division:
Online by visiting www.kingcounty.gov/reportfireworks (Users will have to sign up for our system)
No, code enforcement officers won’t be out on the streets, Taylor said – those means of reporting – online and phone – are what will lead to citations. (Video and photos can help.) Taylor added that a “significant amount of public education” is planned, and that people get one warning, so if somebody got a warning last year, this year they get a citation. Last year about 600 complaints came in – more than half in non-KC jurisdictions – and they ended up issuing “between 100 and 200 warning letters to people” after the 4th of July, just a few dozen after New Year’s. He thinks that ultimately this method will be more impactful, with $150 citations. “I’m optimistic,” he declared.
Dobkin then asked if the county can help NHUAC find meeting space so they can get back to in-person again. McDermott and Taylor promised to help brainstorm.
McDermott then warned that since the Legislature hasn’t taken a key tax-reform step, the county is looking at a big budget gap. But they’re fighting to keep even the unfilled funded positions and have not cut any storefront deputies. That led to …
DEPUTY BRANNON’S REPORT: He’s been with KCSO for eight years and says White Center “is a great place to be a police officer.” He said they’re seeing some worrisome trends – including a resurgence in gang activity, and there is a “bit of a gang war going on.” WC has ‘historically been everybody’s property in the gang world” but some gangs ‘coming up from out of the valley” are competing for it, an you might see their two-letter gangs. Five years ago, they managed to push them back down to South King County and get some people in jail, and they’re getting out. The Roxbury Lanes shooting was NOT random and was “kind of gang-related.” There’s been an arrest. “Two gentlemen got caught in a beef and two other people got caught in the crossfire.” That was brand-new news so we missed the last few minutes of the meeting while writing that up as a breaking story – KCSO had not disclosed the arrest earlier in the day, though the jail roster showed the suspect was taken into custody early in the morning, and we had even seen Sheriff Patti Cole-Tindall in person earlier in the evening (at the White Center Pride flag-raising).
NEXT MEETING: As noted above, it’s summer break – but we’re sure to get the announcement when NHUAC’s getting ready for the first meeting of fall.
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