Westlake Tenants Take “Disorder” Into their Own Hands

1500 4th #700

Once again, the city and Downtown Seattle Association have proposed a new initiative, called Urban Parks, to “clean up” downtown Seattle. Last time, it was the nine-and-a-half blocks centered around Third and Pine, where the city addressed a longstanding open-air drug market by moving bus stops to less-convenient locations, closing down several public alleys (belying the city’s much-praised efforts to “activate” vacant alleys downtown), and arresting more than 100 drug dealers and users.

This time, the city and the downtown merchants’ group is focused on Westlake and Occidental Parks, which, as a KOMO story on the new effort put it, are “not the most comfortable” places for people (you know, normal people like you and me) to walk through—”as anyone who’s been there has likely noticed.”

Speaking of Westlake Park, KOMO continued, “The city would like to get rid of the the park’s dirt and grime and shady elements and replace them with things like food trucks, lunchtime music, and ping pong tables.”

That’s kind of a weird reason to spend more money since the city has already done all those things, but apparently they weren’t enough to eliminate the “shady elements” who congregate in the city’s public spaces, so the DSA and city plan to spend another $700,000 and hand over management of the two parks to DSA to tackle the problem.

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Tiny, but effective. Or so I’m told.

They aren’t the only ones trying to push “shady” people out of sight of downtown’s public spaces. (During the announcement, Murray emphasized that he wanted Westlake and Occidental Parks to be welcoming to homeless people, but not the kind that make people uncomfortable). In the absence of complete cleanup at Westlake, some local residents are taking matters into their own hands.

The condo owners’ association at the Seaboard Building, a historic landmark structure that anchors the northwest edge of Westlake Park, recently installed a noisemaking box called a Mosquito on the outside of one of its lower floors. According to the website of Moving Sound Technologies, the company that manufactures the device, the box emits a high-pitched noise that is undetectable to people older than about 25 (non-ruffians) but is unbearably shrill to people 25 and under. (Ruffians. The company has also started making an all-ages Mosquito box.)

Matt Griffin, head of the Pine Street Group, which owns the Seaboard Building, says Westlake “was a pretty scary place” before the city implemented its nine-and-a-half-block strategy. “I was accosted one night and threatened [with stabbing] with a knife right at the entrance to the Seaboard Building,” Griffin says.

“The problem with the park at that point was a number of people who were younger who were in the park. You may remember the story, a couple of years ago, when we had a concierge beat up.” The concierge, Joseph Crudo, was standing outside the Seaboard Building. “It was urban youth who did it,” Griffin says.

Neither DSA nor city’s Department of Planning and Development (which oversees permits) or police department (which enforces the city’s noise ordinance) knew anything about the machine or had received any complaints about it.

Maybe that’s because most adults can’t hear it. I know I can’t. So one recent afternoon, I picked several younger-looking people who happened to be wandering through the park to describe what it sounded like. “Unbearable!” said one. “Really shrill,” said another, covering his ears.  At any rate, city officials told me that if it doesn’t exceed maximum decibel limits (the issue with the machine is the pitch, not the loudness) , it doesn’t violate the noise code.

At any rate, the machine, which costs about $1,000, could be coming down. Griffin says the city’s efforts have been making so much difference in downtown disorder, “maybe we should reevaluate” whether the machine is necessary anymore.