This article was corrected on August 23, 2023 regarding Chief Boe’s presentation.
by Staff Writer
At Monday’s Burien City Council meeting, council members again failed to take meaningful action toward resolving Burien’s homeless crisis. Ordinance 818, Unlawful Public Camping, is modeled after Bellevue’s anti-camping ordinance, and according to City Attorney Garmon Newsom II, solid case law supports the proposed rule.
Ordinance 818 was set for “Introduction and Discussion” at the August 21st meeting (agenda). However, Council Member Stephanie Mora, citing urgent public concerns, proposed the council vote on the ordinance at this meeting.
Approximately 45 people weighed in regarding the proposed ordinance, and many of the impassioned, coordinated speakers were not Burien taxpayers. The first speaker pointed out this pattern and requested that all speakers identify their Burien neighborhoods. He also suggested that the council prioritize Burien residents over outsiders.
The remaining Burien residents seemed evenly split.
Those opposed to the ordinance expressed concern for unfairly criminalizing the “unhoused” and the “inhumane sweeps” of our “camping neighbors.” They want Burien to provide shelters and public housing. They were upset that the council has yet to accept King County’s million-dollar offer for temporary housing assistance. (It is unknown what long-term consequences or costs this will bring.)
Speakers who favored passing the law were also concerned for the homeless population. However, they balanced it with the well-being and safety of the community at large, including young families, children, patrons, and employees. Some homeowners and business owners shared their direct experience as victims of crime and witnesses of criminal activity.
Many supporters stated they do not wish to criminalize homelessness, just the criminal activity that seems to accompany it. And especially if a person is offered shelter and does not accept it, they should not be allowed to camp on public property.
A growing encampment on the traffic meridian at 120th and Ambaum is now a hazard to drivers, campers, and nearby residential neighborhoods.
Additional confusion was evident as to where the “campers” originated. Long-time residents observed that this is a relatively recent phenomenon. So where did they all come from – suddenly – as Seattle is busy clearing out its homeless encampments?
After a short recess, the business agenda continued.
Once Ordinance 818 was introduced, Council Member Stephanie Mora, proposed that the “two touch” procedure be suspended and that the council vote on Ordinance 818, removing “Section F”, thereby making it effective immediately. Tents would have to come down during the day.
Instead of voting, the remaining council members requested more detailed information about “reasonable shelter” accommodations, law enforcement costs, and possible lawsuits they could face. Manager Bailon agreed to moderate research for their upcoming vote.
Council vote was postponed until a future meeting, possibly September 11.
As for other agenda items, the meeting began with three presentations. The first was the 2022 Crime in Washington Annual Report from Police Chief Ted Boe. He explained the distinction between public “feeling safe” and actual analytic data. As of mid-2023, statistics showed that Burien’s crime rate has reduced in the past couple of years. He states, “This is a change in the trend, but overall, we still see crime very prevalent here.” He noted that Burien crime “falls in the middle of the pack” compared to our neighboring cities. Even though the department is short-staffed, he described efforts to reduce the effects of crime on the community. The department is actively recruiting for additional officers.
Secondly, the Burien 2044 Comprehensive Plan was presented and updated. The consulting group focused on Housing (Middle Housing, Racial Disparate Impacts, Zoning) and how to best support Burien’s 2021 Climate Action Plan. Housing guidance included adding 7500 dwellings and 1393 emergency beds. Climate Resilience included an explanation of the “Climate Vulnerability Index,” which is calculated based on “Exposure + Sensitivity + Adaptive Capacity.” Public comment and open houses will be held later this Fall, 2023.
Thirdly, the council members heard a presentation to potentially raise water and sewer utility taxes. No further action was taken. Any vote will wait until after the upcoming B&O tax presentation.
After the council member reports, City Manager Adolfo Bailon gave his report, including the option to contract with “The More We Love,” the independent company that recently relocated the homeless campers on 152nd St. He also mentioned the need for more Planning Commission volunteers and a possible homeless temporary housing site – no specifics, yet.
The consent agenda included authorization to purchase the Lakeview Park property from Highline Schools.
The meeting lasted over three hours, ending at 10:08 pm.
Perhaps the September 11th meeting will result in a more decisive step in addressing the homeless encampments and the continued public health threat to Burien.