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Tuesday City Council Votes to Move Camping Ban onto September 25 City Council Meeting Consent Agenda

by Martin Barrett

This photo is a stock image.

In a heated exchange, Council Member Garcia called his fellow Hispanic and Asian Council Members white supremacists due to their support of Ordinance 818.

Burien City Council passed ordinance 818 to prohibit camping on public land. It will now go on the consent agenda for next week’s meeting. If passed as part of the consent agenda, it will become effective on November 1, 2023. Mayor Sofia Aragon, Deputy Mayor Kevin Schilling, Council Members Stephanie Mora, and Jimmy Matta all voted in favor of the ordinance. Council Members Cydney Moore, Hugo Garcia, and Sarah Moore voted no. 

City Attorney Garman Newsom said the ordinance was based on the City of Bellevue’s ordinance. Newsome presented a lengthy document summarizing court decisions and legal precedent regarding the Martin v Boise case, restricting how cities may address the homeless crisis. Newsom noted that nothing in legal proceedings says anyone has a right to pick a place in public land to stay or how long they can remain. Burien’s attorney went on to say that there is no obligation on a city to provide housing and shelter. He emphasized that cities have a great deal of authority regarding where and how long someone can stay on public land. 

The public testimony demonstrated the great divide on this issue. About 35 folks spoke, roughly 2/3 asking the council to reject the ordinance. 

Prior to the vote, in open council discussion, the exchange became heated. 

Council Member Gracia said, “This is bad policy; there is no place for these folks to go, and therefore it is not enforceable. We are just pushing them to other places. From wealthier to poorer places. This reeks of white supremacy. The next place will be worse. But it is OK because it is in an area of black and brown people.” Council Member Mora, a Hispanic, called for a motion of censure against Garcia for calling the other council members racists. There was no second, and the censure did not move forward. 

Mayor Aragon pointed out that Seattle declared homelessness an emergency 7 years ago, and they have not resolved it; it has gotten worse. When folks say we have not made any significant progress, it must be in perspective. All the options are still being discussed and pursued, according to Aragon. “When under the influence of drugs, someone getting into housing is not going to happen,” the Mayor stated. 

Council Member Jimmy Matta noted that South King County and Seattle are the top areas being affected by homelessness. If we should be calling anyone out, it should be Seattle, the county, and the state. We are number 3 in homelessness in the nation. When will be advocating for the working families with two jobs barely making it?” a visibly frustrated Matta said.

Deputy Mayor Schilling, who ran the meeting, said, “This is a public safety ordinance. The school district has said that kids are not able to get to school because it is not safe. Everyone in Burien should be able to use our public land. But they must use it responsibly as a responsible community member.” 

Schilling said that City Manager Adolfo Bailon has been working with a private landowner to place pallet homes. All the real options are being pursued. In their research and work to provide options, the Burien City Staff has concluded that the proposed 35-pallet home village would cost the city more than the $1 Million pledged by King County. 

City council candidate Linda Akey states: Tent encampments are inhumane. We must stop enabling people to live in these unsafe conditions, end tent encampments as a “solution,” and offer actual services that help people move from “unhoused” to “housed and healing.”

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