Hizzoner doesn't believe in open and transparent governing or taking much responsibility. I would love to see a Murray v. O'Brien matchup, are you kidding? We know who'd win and then we could FINALLY get some good shit done around here to help families and folks.
mandyv has exactly nailed it.
For anyone who objects to this total lack of public process, there's a petition you can sign:…
The city council may not be legally required to give approval to each and every implementation of code changes but they certainly have the power to consider all manner of resolutions and provide public hearings. They do so on matters far less controversial.

I have read argument that people could and should have participated earlier in the process -- making comments before the legislation was passed. It is true, people could have participated earlier in the process but I believe they didn't do so because they were misled and thereby lulled into inaction. The real interest of the public is only now becoming clear since specific properties have been proposed as the first licensed encampment sites.

I truly believe that most people in Seattle are not specifically opposed to organized homeless encampments on city property in principle. I am not. But I believe you would find if you relied on polling rather than anecdotal evidence, like webform comments or letters to the editor, that most people do have concerns about placement of encampments around residential neighborhoods. I believe some of the reasons for the concerns are well founded while perhaps others are unfair.

Regardless, the fact is that the city (the Mayor's office) issued written statements on the legislation that was being sought and how it would be implemented. He wrote in January that the encampments would not be placed in "residential areas." This was not the way the law was implemented. It restricted encampments from parcels that are zoned residential. The distinction is important. The phrase "residential area" connotes neighborhoods where people live -- of any density and regardless of whether the neighborhood contains shops and businesses mixed in with the housing. It connotes more of a separation from people's homes. I read the press releases from the Mayor at the time and believed that it meant that central Ballard would not be selected for a site as all portions of central Ballard are substantially residential in character with the exception of the industrial ship canal waterfront. Even much of the area south of Market St. and east of Leary is residential in character although there is some light industrial and commercial use in that area. Ballard Avenue and Market Street have commercial space but they (and surrounding blocks) are substantially residential with apartments, condos, townhomes and detached houses.

By comparison, a residential zoned area is a technical legal definition with regulations on what kinds of housing density and types are allowed on parcels within the zone. If you look at the zoning map residentially zoned areas and commercial or industrial areas can be directly adjoining or very close to one another. The Market St. parcel in Ballard that is proposed to house one of the first three encampments is technically zoned "industrial buffer" but it is only separated from neighboring residences to the north by perhaps 25' (or less). There are also homes to the east and west. The whole area has a residential, pedestrian character.

So in excluding encampments only from parcels with residential zoning the law essentially allows encampments in the midst of residential areas as long as the encampment site is not itself on a parcel with a residential zoning designation. This seems contrary to what the Mayor's office seemed to promise back in January. The statements from the Mayor's office were misleading (whether that was intentional or not I can only speculate) and I believe it directly resulted in a lower level of participation from the public.

I have read criticisms of Ballard residents for raising objections but when the encampments move they will be coming to other locations on the Mayor's list and those may also be amidst residential areas in city neighborhoods (albeit technically on commercial or industrial zoned parcels).

The handling of this initiative by the Mayor and City Council may have been to the letter of the law but it has been distinctly contrary to the spirit of transparent governance. In my opinion the relationship between the Mayor's statements about intent and implementation and the City Council's subsequent legislation seems like a very appropriate topic for investigation and public hearings.

Importantly the city also has a responsibility to conduct oversight of the implementation of laws. The public has raised factual arguments that selected sites are inappropriate.

In the case of the Ballard site there is toxic contamination of the site. This is a fact that has only recently come to light. It was not known at the time of the original legislation because toxics testing was only conducted when the site made the preferred list. Apparently remediation is planned by the city (at a cost of around $150,000) but there are remaining questions about how the remediation will be conducted and whether that action itself raises public health and safety issues and potentially litigation concerns (is 18" of soil removal sufficient? Is the asbestos concrete pad going to be removed? Will the removal cause airborne particlate? Will there be follow up testing?). Seattle City Light also says that other properties on the Mayor's list won't be tested because they did not have the same uses. The public (and the homeless that will be living on these plots) are, I assume, to simply accept that SCL will test appropriate parcels and take safe action when indicated but there are potentially significant consequences if they don't. This seems troubling and an area for City Council concern.

Also, the Ballard Market St. site has total sq. footage in excess of that specified in the law for a licensed encampment. But about 60% of the lot is fenced off (the northern portion nearest to the substation). The open portion does not meet the size requirements in the code. That is not clearly contemplated by the law. Does it qualify or not as is? Is the substation going to be removed? Will the whole property be available for the encampment? Was the fenced off portion included in the remediation and the cost estimate given by SCL? It seems germane for the City Council to determine if the city is able and willing to appropriately implement the law with respect to particular parcels.

In summary, I believe City Council will be guilty of dereliction in its duty if it does not examine the misleading communications or disconnect between the communications from the Mayor and the encampment code change, and any impact that disconnect may have had on public comment. It is also neglecting its duty if it does not answer important questions about the Market Street site in Ballard as those bear on current and future site selection and public health and safety and environmental justice.
@5 - The mayor's statements around this have absolutely been misleading. I think he and the city council figured they could just push this through as a fait accompli and have been completely taken away by the pushback from Ballard.

They conducted the site selection process (which I have discovered started even before the three additional encampments were approved) in a way that has been anything but transparent. The Ballard Chamber of Commerce, which has been working with the city on a new neighborhood development plan for months, was notified about the chosen sites only two hours before the mayor's office issued the press release about them. They - and residents - were completely blindsided. There has been absolutely no public process on this at all, and the council's weasely letter makes it clear that they're not interested in hearing any opposition to the proposed sites.

Part of the blowback is about the lack of process, but it's also about how absurdly unsuitable this site is. As @5 points out, it is in a residential, pedestrian area, on Ballard's main street. Beyond it being surrounded by a dive bar, liquor store, two other bars and a convenience store selling cheap booze, it abuts directly only a high-density residential area. Imagine having 50 people living right below your windows. I suspect any of the Slog commenters posting in support of this would change their tune pretty quickly if this was in their own backyard.

Also, not only does the site require remediation, it belongs to City Light, so I assume the city would need to pay City Light to lease the property. How much will that cost? The remediation required has been estimated at a cost of $150,000. What are the total costs for a site that would only house 50 people anyway?

There are too many questions unanswered, too much impact, too little process for this to proceed. The Ballard Chamber has asked the city to halt the process immediately. If that doesn't happen, the city better be prepared for a fight.

Please wait...

Comments are closed.

Commenting on this item is available only to members of the site. You can sign in here or create an account here.

Add a comment

By posting this comment, you are agreeing to our Terms of Use.