"We've got to get them out of here," O'Brian declared at one meeting. He's pissed because 23 sex offenders released from prison have been living in the Stevenson Apartments on Carleton and Corson Avenues South for up to a year.
O'Brian and his supporters have a right to feel dumped on. They know that Georgetown is considered the armpit of Seattle. Discovering the high concentration of rapists and child molesters in their neighborhood just rubs it in their faces.
However, the sex offenders are a diversion from the real issues that plague the neighborhood, including Boeing's expansion plans, the worst air quality in the city, and drugs. Neighbors were making progress on these things, but now, with lynch mob attention shifting to the sex offenders, there's a split in the neighborhood group -- a split that some neighborhood leaders believe will undermine the group's effectiveness at tackling important issues.
O'Brian leads the pack of angry residents who have risen up to oust the sex offenders. They feel that the city wouldn't stick this many dangerous people anywhere but in Georgetown.
"They'll put the sex offenders down here because we have no future," says O'Brian, who has lived in Georgetown for 10 years. O'Brian is also quick to point out that because only about 1,500 people live in Georgetown, 23 ex-cons make too big a splash in the tiny pond.
However, the complaints don't resonate with the Seattle Police Department. According to Detective Bob Shilling, who attended a few angry community meetings, no sex crimes have been reported in Georgetown since last January, when the first sex offenders started to move in.
Sex offenders need to live somewhere when they get out of jail, Shilling says. "They're given $35 and a bus ticket, and they're going to go to places where they can afford housing." Once they serve their time they can live wherever they want, and Georgetown is not the only place with sex offenders. There are 45 registered in Capitol Hill, 48 downtown, and 38 in Queen Anne and Magnolia.
The knee-jerk reaction of some neighbors against the ex-cons makes community newsletter editor Chris Chinn sick. "It's irrational to kick these people out, and to attack the police and the Department of Corrections as if they put them there," Chinn says. "I think we all tend to jump to conclusions that we're being dumped on."
Resident Sorrel Stielstra adds, "It's not that their concerns aren't completely valid. But I can't stand up for the witch hunt mentality."
Georgetown's split over the sex offender issue is best dramatized by tension between O'Brian and his council co-chair, Karolyn Lerner. Lerner, who cut her teeth convincing the city to help fund a community center project at the Georgetown City Hall, says the most important issue in Georgetown is not the sex offenders, but airport expansion. The community has spent years collecting thousands of signatures, while raising $55,000 to head it off.
At a recent meeting, while Lerner tried to keep order, O'Brian flung insults, and audibly huffed out accusations under his breath. Sadly, Lerner -- an obvious voice of reason -- is planning to resign, thanks to the tension over the sex offenders.