Follow-up Letter to Mayor Durkan

Dear members,

The following letter was submitted to Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan on September 10, 2018 in preparation for her visit to Highland Park for the September 26 meeting of the Highland Park Action Committee:

September 10, 2018

Mayor Jenny A. Durkan
City of Seattle
600 4th Ave, 7th Floor
Seattle, WA 98104

Dear Mayor Durkan:

The residents of Highland Park and adjacent communities eagerly look forward to your visit for the September 26 meeting of the Highland Park Action Committee (HPAC). All summer I have heard from neighbors expressing excitement and marking their calendars; the optimism is certainly palpable.

In addition to the letter sent by HPAC on July 17, 2018 requesting assistance in closing the funding gap for the Highland Park Way and SW Holden Street Roundabout Project, there is more work to be done to reach equity in infrastructure and resources for our neighborhood.

I am reaching out today to broach the additional issues of neighborhood safety and community development in Highland Park which we wish to have addressed along with the Highland Park Way and SW Holden St. Project. For ease, I will divide this letter into three parts: (i) Crime and Safety, (ii) Homeless Encampments, and (iii) Community Development.

(i) Crime and Safety

The results of the 2017 Seattle Public Safety Survey show that Highland Park has among the highest fears of crime in the Southwest Precinct. Limited Seattle Police Department (SPD) capacity, car prowls, and shots fired rate as the highest public safety concerns for our neighborhood listed in the survey. Additionally, HPAC has also heard neighbors’ concerns about break-ins and burglaries, drug activity, illegal trespassing and squatting, abandoned houses, illegal dumping (especially in our industrial areas to the east), vehicle theft, and pedestrian safety.

Undoubtedly, perceptions of crime in Highland Park are situational. Our neighborhood borders South Delridge to the west, which experienced a 56% increase in crime rates when comparing the three-year periods of 2008-2010 and 2015-2017 and has the 6th highest crime rate in the city, according to the Seattle Times. Additionally, Highland Park is bounded by unincorporated King County to the south and Washington State-owned land (WsDOT) to the east. This geographic location presents a jurisdictional challenge for law enforcement.

While a Mutual Aid Agreement exists between the law enforcement agencies of King County, the University of Washington, and the cities of King County (including Seattle), it is unclear whether this agreement is designed to address the nature of the crimes experienced in our neighborhood. For example, would the spate of property crimes that have afflicted neighborhoods north of Southwest Roxbury Street in recent months be sufficient for SPD to request aid and establish incident command if suspects are discovered to originate primarily in unincorporated King County or Burien? Or is such a process limited to only the most serious, but ultimately rare, crimes and emergencies? What happens if the request for aid is not granted, and how does SPD determine which crimes warrant additional resources beyond its agency?

Certainly, the Public Safety Survey shows that limited police capacity is the biggest safety concern in the entire city! The Southwest Precinct Patrol Budget Control Level is the lowest in the city, at 124 full-time equivalents for 2018. While officers can be moved around to respond to particular needs, a shuffling of existing resources will not hide the fact that Seattle has a low per capita rate of officers for a city of its size and prominence. For being the premier city of the Northwest, it is not encouraging that Seattle has the same per capita rate as Mobile, Alabama or Seguin, Texas.

(ii) Homeless Encampments

The 2017 Public Safety Survey results also show that homelessness as a public safety and public health issue was the most prominent theme in the narrative comments for Highland Park.

Highland Park has, over the past 10 years, hosted three encampments (Nickelsville on two occasions and Camp Second Chance since 2016) and served as a staging area for a proposed safe lot for individuals residing in recreational vehicles. Additionally, the presence of RVs along Myers Way Southwest and the surrounding neighborhood has not been adequately addressed and acts as a magnet for derelict vehicles of all kinds.

This burden has negatively impacted our neighborhood and those immediately south of us along the city limit. In Highland Park, for example, we have a homeless neighbor who has been unhoused for over 2 years who has accumulated a camper, two mini vans, and a truck parked all across the neighborhood. She has a tendency to feed animals, attracting rats and raccoons, posing a public health concern. In the Riverview neighborhood immediately to our north, neighbors have complained of an accumulation of RVs that illegally dump their waste into the street and local park. Even Camp Second Chance, one of the city’s many sanctioned encampments, is among the very few that correlate with a measurable increase in crime for the surrounding neighborhood, according to an independent analysis by the Guardian newspaper.

The neighborhoods of Highland Park and the various neighborhoods comprising the unincorporated urban area of North Highline were disappointed to learn earlier this spring that the City of Seattle extended the permit for Camp Second Chance for an additional 12 months at the Myers Way Parcels (Fiscal and Administrative Services PMA #4539-4542). The community pressed hard for these parcels to be retained by the city so that they could be repurposed into green space. With this extension, the camp will have been established at the site for 2 years and 8 months, easily exceeding the allowed 2 year stay duration for encampments as outlined in Seattle Municipal Code Section 23.42.056, subsection E.1.

Residents of our neighborhoods are compassionate and wish to address the homelessness crisis with empathy. We bear no ill will towards the residents of Camp Second Chance or our unhoused neighbors. Nevertheless, we do feel it is unfair that the city continues to impose its responses to the homelessness crisis onto communities who have little to no power to challenge them.

HPAC has communicated, on record, the neighborhood’s concerns about homeless encampments to the city’s Human Services Department on multiple occasions. Yet, despite finally receiving a reply from the department’s former director, Catherine Lester, on April 18, we do not feel that our concerns have been satisfactorily addressed. In as much as the City claims to promote equity, we ask that neighborhoods like ours not continue to be overwhelmed with the responsibility of shouldering the City’s homelessness policies while more privileged neighborhoods remain largely unscathed.

(iii) Community Development

Let me be clear that the narrative here is not one of privileged NIMBYs fighting against progress, but rather one of long-ignored communities that are struggling to get an equitable share of the investments that seem to be lavished upon communities in North Seattle, or the Duwamish Peninsula west of 35th Ave SW.

Highland Park suffers from a historical lack of investment that has held the neighborhood back in numerous ways. A traditionally working-class area that provided affordable housing for workers in the industrial Duwamish Valley below, boom and bust cycles over the last century have acutely restricted the area’s growth and prosperity, leading to the neighborhood being redlined in the 1930s. Even today, with the exception of South Park, Highland Park remains one of the most (if not the most) affordable neighborhoods on the Duwamish peninsula.

Again, data from the American Community Survey (5-year Series, 2009-2013) show that Highland Park (Census Tract 113) has a lower median income ($53,182) than Seattle as a whole ($65,277). Additionally, Highland Park has a higher proportion of residents who identify as a race or ethnicity other than White (49.8% versus Seattle’s 29.4%).

In Census Tract 265, which overlays the southeastern-most portion of Highland Park in the City of Seattle and a portion of White Center (part of the North Highline unincorporated urban area), the proportion of residents who identify as a race or ethnicity other than White increases to 60.1%, while the Median Household Income drops to $35,857.

Even with the recent favorable real estate market, homes in greater Delridge still sell for well below the average price per square foot of other neighborhoods. The City’s own analysis recognizes that residents of the Westwood-Highland Park urban village face a higher risk of displacement with low access to opportunity.

Compare a leisurely drive along California Ave SW in West Seattle versus one along Delridge Way SW in Delridge, and the differences in access, opportunities and investment become as clear as night and day. Lack of investment is especially apparent in the neighborhoods bounded by SW Holden to the north and SW Roxbury to the south, where a high concentration of vacant properties attracts squatters and contributes to neighborhood blight.

Zoning, too, works against our neighborhood. As much of Highland Park is zoned for single-family use, the very few legacy commercial zones within our neighborhood are inadequate to serve the needs of the community. We have already lost an opportunity for potential small business startups recently when a developer built townhouses on one corner zoned Low Rise 2 Residential Commercial, but no ground floor commercial space. Additionally, infrequent transit service and inconvenient routing make it difficult for many neighbors without a vehicle to access essential services or grocery options.

Highland Park has long been in need of the kinds of improvements and investments that have spurred economic development and social opportunities in wealthier neighborhoods. It would be helpful if the City could work with us to develop a framework for promoting positive development, since the current Delridge Action Plan does not cover the southerly neighborhoods of greater Delridge.

We have been encouraged by the implementation of the Duwamish Valley Action Plan and Equitable Development Initiative, which highlight the City of Seattle’s commitment to promoting equity in the city’s historically underserved communities.

Mayor Durkan, the Highland Park Action Committee cannot thank you enough for accepting our invitation to visit the neighborhood of Highland Park. Your visit signals to our community that your administration is dedicated to promoting the well-being of all neighborhoods in the city, regardless of income or demographic composition.

Sincerely,

Charlie Omana
Chair, Highland Park Action Committee
(206) 880-1506
hpacchair@gmail.com

CC: Kyla Blair, Director of External Relations and Outreach
Amanda Hohlfeld, Office of the Mayor
Carmen Best, Chief of Police
Jason Johnson, Interim Director, Department of Human Services
Andrés Mantilla, Interim Director, Department of Neighborhoods
Samuel Assefa, Director, Office of Planning and Community Development
Council Member Lisa Herbold, Chair: Civil Rights, Utilities, Economic    Development and Arts
Council Member Kshama Sawant, Chair: Human Services, Equitable Development, and Renter Rights

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