By Erica C. Barnett
On Tuesday, Seattle Department of Transportation crews removed some of the dozens of concrete “eco-blocks,” including many originally installed by Fremont Brewing to prevent homeless people from setting up tents or parking their RVs there, that abut a patch of mulched dirt known as the Leary Triangle.
They did not, however, remove any of the dozens of blocks that still surround the brewery, which is owned by Seattle City Councilmember Sara Nelson and her husband Matt Lincecum. The blocks have sprung up all around the city to prevent people who live in their vehicles from parking in industrial areas, which are the only parts of the city where RVs and oversized vehicles can park overnight. Fremont’s eco-blocks occupy two full block faces and prevent anyone, including neighborhood residents and visitors, from parking on either street without being in the roadway.
Placing obstructions in the public right-of-way, including sidewalks, curb space, and parking strips, is unambiguously illegal under the Seattle Municipal Code, which authorizes the city to order property owners to remove obstructions at their own expense. However, the city has chosen not to enforce the law; when PubliCola asked about the proliferation of eco-blocks last year, SDOT director Greg Spotts said the department wouldn’t prioritize removing eco-blocks, a point he reiterated later on Twitter.
SDOT is also a partner in the city’s Unified Care Team, a group of city workers that removes homeless encampments and RVs from public spaces.
A spokeswoman for SDOT said the department removed the blocks “as a part of a larger City of Seattle project to reopen Leary Triangle.” After the city is done with its work on site, she said, the area where the blocks once stood will become a four-hour parking zone, to “make it easier for people visiting Leary Triangle and nearby businesses to park for a short period of time.” Removing the eco-blocks from the surrounding streets would create more parking spaces, but turning the area around the new dog park into a four-hour parking zone will have the effect of permanently banishing people who live in RVs or other vehicles.
PubliCola asked SDOT why they didn’t remove the other eco-blocks that surround Fremont Brewing, since they, too, are preventing “people visiting Leary Triangle and nearby businesses” from parkingfor any period. “The concrete blocks were removed in this location due to construction from a larger project to reopen Leary Triangle,” the spokeswoman said. “The circumstances are unique to this location.”