Tag: Port of Seattle

No Solutions for Unsheltered Burien Residents After Another Contentious Council Meeting

By Erica C. Barnett

Burien officials continue to insist that they are doing everything in their power to shelter several dozen homeless people the city has been sweeping from place to place since March, even as they have antagonized potential partners, including the King County Regional Homelessness Authority and King County, and proposed a total ban on sleeping in public.

At a meeting of the Burien City Council Monday night, City Manager Adolfo Bailon doubled down on this no-fault narrative, laying out a version of events in which the city of Burien considered, and is still considering, every possible option for temporarily or permanently housing the city’s homeless residents,.

“We had these options that initially seemed like they were great options, and they just kept falling away,” Bailon said.

The truth is more complicated. In April, the KCRHA told Bailon it was willing to amend the bidding process for a new city of Seattle-funded tiny house village to specify that it would be located on a Seattle City Light property in Burien, with half the units reserved for Burien’s unsheltered residents. The catch, it seems, is that Burien would have to foot half the bill for its reserved shelter beds.

Bailon said he saw no reason to tell the council about the KCRHA’s proposal or city officials’ ongoing conversations with the KCRHA, any more than he would share mass emails from marketing companies marketing “the latest, greatest” new software

According to the homelessness authority, the city never responded to the KCRHA’s offer, and the deal never happened.

On Monday, Bailon said he saw no reason to tell the council about the KCRHA’s proposal or city officials’ ongoing conversations with the KCRHA, any more than he would share mass emails from marketing companies marketing “the latest, greatest” new software, as both were “unsolicited offers … superfluous to the general operations of government.”

Bailon said the offer “was not at all what we had been talking about with the City of Seattle,” adding that he had needed to “take a break from the particular issue for a few hours” before forwarding the proposal to city of Seattle officials.

In a followup email to PubliCola, a spokesperson for the city of Burien said the KCRHA’s offer “included factual errors that misrepresented the nature of the conversation commenced by the City of Seattle” about the City Light site. “The offer letter was shared by the City of Burien with appropriate personnel from the City of Seattle; they confirmed that the City of Seattle was not consulted and did not contribute to the creation of the offer, and subsequently expressed similar concern over the information and characterization presented by KCRHA. The City of Seattle and City of Burien decided jointly to move forward without providing any additional comment to KCRHA.”

PubliCola has reached back out to the city of Burien as well as City Light for more details about their decision not to move forward with a shelter on the City Light-owned property.

After the City Light plan fell through, King County proposed a land swap that would have provided Burien with $1 million, a free place for the unhoused people to stay, and enough Pallet shelters to accommodate up to 70 people, but the city council voted down the offer on a 4-3 vote last month, in the same meeting where they asked the city attorney to draft a camping ban.

Two other nonviable proposals appear to be officially off the table: A former Econo Lodge hotel owned by a company called REBLX, which has been “eliminated from consideration,” according to a council update posted July 27,  and a contaminated site owned by the Port of Seattle next to SeaTac Airport that the Port has said is uninhabitable.

Although Bailon implied Monday that the REBLX site may still be an option, KCRHA chief of staff Anne Burkland told both Bailon and Councilmember Kevin Schilling in a July 31 letter that REBLX “was clear that the use of its building would require rental of the entire hotel at significant cost, as well as identifying and contracting with a service provider for day-to-day site management and service connection.” As Bailon has repeatedly made clear, Burien does not have the money to fund a shelter on its own, much less rent and staff a 116-room hotel.

The Port had already informed Bailon that it would be impossible to locate a shelter on the site, and the reasons why, well in advance of the July 17 council meeting when Bailon first presented the site as a viable option that appeared to have “no contaminants” on site.

As for the Port location: On July 27, the Port’s aviation environment and sustainability director Sarah Cox sent a detailed memo to the council and Bailon explaining why the location is “not an option for any type of residential or housing use,” including shelter. “[A]mong other concerns,” the memo noted, the site “is not compatible with Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) safety requirements, existing soil and groundwater contamination and associated Department of Ecology site requirements, and high airport noise levels.” For example, the site is at the end of the airport’s third runway, in a Runway Protection Area that has to remain unoccupied “to protect people on the ground,” Cox wrote.

Cox noted that the Port had already informed Bailon that it would be impossible to locate a shelter on the site, and the reasons why, well in advance of the July 17 council meeting when Bailon first presented the site as a viable option that appeared to have “no contaminants” on site. On Monday, Mayor Sofia Aragon defended keeping the site on the table, saying the additional study helped the council “get information to say, how possible is it to remediate that site? And so we’re hearing a lot more on the negative side at this time, but that wouldn’t have happened unless it was put out there as a question.”

King County’s $1 million offer is still outstanding, but without a location, the money is theoretical. The county has made clear it will not release the money until the city has identified a site in Burien, or found a location in another city that agrees to host a shelter for Burien’s homeless residents. The next Burien City Council meeting is scheduled for August 21.

Port Police Review Suggests Hiring, Use-of-Force Policy Changes

By Paul Kiefer

With the Seattle Police Department at the center of attention during city-wide protests in the summer of 2020, the Port of Seattle took the opportunity to launch a sweeping review of its own police department.

Although the Port Commission did not launch the review in response to public criticism of Port police, the department’s reputation was on shaky ground. When protests erupted at the end of May, Port police officers joined SPD during widely scrutinized clashes in downtown Seattle, and in June, the department placed its chief, Rodney Covey, on administrative leave pending the outcome of an investigation into allegations that he discriminated against a Black officer.

A month later, with the department in the hands of acting chief Michael Villa, a task force led by the Port’s director of equity and the president of the Port’s Black employee resource group began sifting through the policies and practices of the Port police.

To steer the task force, the commission tapped national police consulting firm 21CP Solutions, a firm replete with former SPD leaders, including former Seattle Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole, former SPD Chief Operating Officer Brian Maxey, and former Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best.

The task force presented the final product of its year-long review to the Port Commission on Tuesday, offering a mostly positive assessment of the department with some notable suggestions for improvement.

Most of the group’s recommendations involved the department’s policy manual, which relies heavily on a service called Lexipol—a library of boilerplate law enforcement policies that subscribing agencies can modify to match local laws. The reviewers deemed many of Lexipol’s policies “overly complex and technical, hard to comprehend, [and] disjointed,” and noted what while the Port police can adjust the policies to make them easier for officers to understand, the department has modified only 45 percent of the Lexipol policies in its manual.

The task force also outlined a slew of changes to bring the department’s policy manual in line with statewide standards for law enforcement and the department’s on-the-ground practices.. Notably, Port police policies don’t currently require officers to de-escalate confrontations when feasible.

The review could not account for 11 uses of force by Port police officers during protests in downtown Seattle and Tukwila in May  2020, including the use of tear gas, in part because the Port police only started wearing body cameras this year, after a new state law forced them to do so.

When reviewing the remaining 90 incidents between 2018 and 2020, the consultants found that officers typically tried to use some de-escalation tactics even in the absence of an explicit requirement in their policy manual. Because of the lack of body-camera evidence to corroborate these officers’ accounts, the reviewers noted that their analysis was “only as deep as the reporting was accurate.”

The majority—75 percent—of these 90 incidents took place at SeaTac airport; the rest happened on or near Port properties in South King County, the Duwamish shoreline, and the Ship Canal.

More than half of the department’s uses of force involved trespassing calls, which are a rough proxy for responses to unhoused people on Port properties, particularly at the airport. The people on the receiving end in these incidents were disproportionately Black, whereas almost all uses of force against “members of the traveling public” at Port facilities involved white people, who were generally intoxicated, experiencing a mental health crisis, or both. While the reviewers largely avoided criticizing the officers’ decisions to use force, they raised concerns about two incidents in which officers used force to take people into custody for trespassing instead of simply allowing them to leave the airport.

In response, the task force recommended that the department shift away from a “police response to homelessness,” which they argued could also drastically reduce racial disparities in the department’s uses of force. The department recently hired a sworn officer with a background in social work to fill a new crisis coordinator position, which launched as a pilot last month. The goal, Villa said, is to “reduce the number of people experiencing homelessness at the airport” by referring unhoused people to services elsewhere in King County.

The report found that officers of color were more likely to report feeling undervalued and excluded from opportunities than their white coworkers; interviews with department staff later clarified that the officers’ concerns stem from perceived “cronyism” within a mostly white group of department staff. To address equity and fairness concerns, the task force recommended the department adopt formal policies to address conflicts of interest in the disciplinary process and reduce opportunities for bias during promotion decisions. The reviewers also suggested that the department develop a plan for recruiting Latinx and entry-level female officers; the department currently employs only one Latinx officer, and it has not hired a woman for an entry-level sworn position in three years.

The department has six months to create a plan to implement the recommendations. Deborah Jacobs, the former head of King County’s Office of Law Enforcement Oversight and one of the outside experts who participated in the review, believes the department is on firmer footing than other police departments that have faced similar reviews. “These aren’t the kinds of extreme issues we see in some other departments: these are fixable,” Jacobs said. But like all police departments, she added, the most intractable challenges—and the most difficult to pin down—are cultural. “As we have seen time and time again, culture eats strategy and policy for lunch.”