by Martin Barrett
After a 3-week break, the Burien City Council met again on Monday, July 17. As is the norm for this year, the discussion and the public testimony revolved around the homeless crisis. In the end, nothing was decided!
Instead, a reworking of the same motion the Council passed a few weeks ago directing City Manager Adolfo Bailon to identify potential sites that other governmental organizations owned for temporary homeless housing was put forward and passed again, with a larger scope. Here is how it happened.
Bailon began the meeting by presenting four properties. The first, named NERA, is owned by the port of Seattle. It was pointed out that it is a toxic site.
The second, a site currently leased by Burien Toyota (the city of Burien’s largest taxpayer,) who inventories a third of their cars in this location, is owned by the city of Burien. The County has said that if Burien breaks the lease and makes the site a homeless camp, King County will give Burien Toyota space in the parking lot next to the transit station.
In a later public comment, John White asked, “Why doesn’t the County just use two of the empty floors of the parking structure to set up a homeless campsite on their property? It is covered, and the space is woefully empty”.
Council Member Jimmy Matta later pointed out that the cost of running the camp will far exceed the $1 million offer by the County. If the camp is on County land, it would be the County’s cost. It would be the Burien taxpayers’ cost if it is on Burien City land. Still, Council members Hugo Garcia and Cydney Moore pushed this as the best option.
The third site is owned by the Highline School District, which communicated a few days before Monday’s meeting that they were not open to moving forward in the conversation.
The fourth site is owned by Seattle City Light, adjacent to Kennedy High School. Bailon pointed out that this land has problems. There are environmentally sensitive sections of the plot. When pressed on what those might be, Bailon said he was unsure; it is likely water-related.
It is noteworthy that the bottom of every slide describing each property contained the following statement, “Villages (pallets, tiny homes) and sanctioned camps are not permissible in this zone.”
During the conversation, Bailon stated that nothing could happen quickly, even if the property was determined at this time. There are zoning issues. There would need to be conversations and agreements with the landowners. Bailon added that this process would need to go through the currently defunct Planning Commission before it could make it to the Council for a vote. Bailon said the city staff intended to present a process to the Council for restarting the Planning Commission next week.
As noted in an earlier article, it is puzzling as to why this is taking so long! The process of choosing Commissioners is known and has been used dozens of times. Why the delay? In the midst of the homeless crisis, knowing any solution must go through a disbanded commission is very poor management by city staff. It raises questions.
Next, a discussion of a potential “No Camping on Public Property” Ordinance proceeded. City Attorney Garmon Newsom II presented the policies of several cities from California, Oregon, and then closer to Burien: Seatac, Auburn, and Kent (noting that all have some type of “No Camping” Ordinance.)
During the conversation, Bailon shared that he had been at a meeting with the CEO of DESC, which is opening one of its “housing first” facilities in Burien, the first outside of Seattle. Washington State Representative Tina Orwell and Washington State Senator Karen Kaiser attended the meeting. A conversation regarding DESC taking in Burien’s homeless arose in the meeting. The DESC CEO reiterated that the process goes through the County: a committee decides; many Burien folks will not qualify.
It was later pointed out in the discussion that Burien is receiving 95 county homeless, most with addictions and/or mental issues. In exchange, Burien gives up all tax revenues and bears the emergency services cost. This was highlighted to show what “deals with King County” devolve into, with Burien left “holding the bag.” As Matta said, “We are a small town with a limited budget. We just cannot afford it !”
Public comment followed, mostly favoring the King County offer of $1 million through the King County Regional Homelessness Authority. What was different on this Monday was the number of comments made by non-Burien residents and organizations directly benefiting if the receipt of the funds.
After more discussion, Kevin Schilling put forth a motion:
To direct the city manager to investigate the NERA site or other King County sites for potential use as a temporary site for limited-term housing in partnership with utilizing the $1 million from KCRHA. The city manager is to provide information on the use and limitations of the million dollars, specifically for substance use treatment and recovery, mental health services, and property management requirements.
This motion was passed 4 -3, with Schilling, Matta, Mayor Aragon, and Council Member Stephanie Mora voting in favor.
The next council meeting will be July 24, at 7 PM at Burien City Hall.