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.