Complaints from a Capitol Hill mother of two about the population of people camping in Cal Anderson Park have the mayor’s office and the East Precinct’s attention. Now she just needs to get Seattle Parks in the game.
“There are a lot of families, and a lot of small children but sometimes the focus is not on the children. In some ways, they’re an invisible population,” advertising VP and busy Capitol Hill mom Laura Stockwell told CHS when we talked to her last week about her tweets to @mayormcginn and @seattlepd calling for more attention — and more policing — of what she says is a growing problem with homeless and other people hanging out and sometimes living in Cal Anderson this summer.
“Three people were sleeping in the playground. I heard a mom say ‘Don’t wake them up,’” Stockwell says of her decision that it was time to stop being nice and start asking for change.
“I had a woman say they were trying to use the bathroom and in the next stall somebody was shooting up.”
“Go find a family friendly place,” Stockwell said the mother was told.
“It’s gone from sharing the park to now I’m encroaching,” she says.
The result of Stockwell’s complaints has been a rapid response from East Precinct. According to operations head Lt. Joel Guay, his units already have increased their presence in Cal Anderson.
“It’s not that they’re there, it’s that they’ve overtaken it,” Guay said of the population of people who make the park their all-day and sometimes all-night hangout.
The precinct has asked its officers on patrol in the beat to check in on the park at least two times a shift and to do more than just drive by on 11th Ave — you should see more cops walking through or on bikes. Guay said part of the long-term plan is to simply make more contact with the people in the park and remind people that they’ll need to move along before the park’s official closing hour of 11:30p.
Guay said SPD had some requests for the Parks Department including increasing maintenance efforts for things like raking beneath bushes and shrubs where dangerous items like hypodermic needles might be discarded to keep the area more safe for children.
The East Precinct has also asked Parks to increase the presence of the city’s Park Rangers in Cal Anderson basically asking the department to deploy its Rangers to just be in the park more often.
Parks, at least in e-mail to CHS, wasn’t exactly receptive to the request:
Parks has received very few complaints about Cal Anderson Park. In the past three years, we have received one report of rats and one complaint about overflowing trash cans after an event. Parks’ security supervisor deploys the park rangers to Cal Anderson Park and other parks as he can. The rangers were hired to patrol in downtown parks as an element of a three-part effort to enliven them through physical changes, better security, and more programmed activity: http://www.seattle.gov/parks/downtown/, so that must be their focus. We do try to have them present at some events and situations where security may be an issue. They cannot routinely be at Cal Anderson Park.
As for the increased maintenance, Parks says after the ongoing reduction in budgets, there’s no money for increasing maintenance in Cal Anderson.
Parks also bristled at another idea being floated by East Precinct to deter camping out in Cal Anderson at night — increased use of sprinklers. The department representative we contacted said nobody has formally requested the sprinkler strategy be deployed but it wouldn’t work anyway because of Cal Anderson’s fancy irrigation system:
It is a state of the art computerized irrigation system installed in many parks. It measures how much water is needed at any given time and turns the irrigation sprinklers on and off at precise times, saving thousands of gallons of water per park each year. It operates only at night when the park is closed. The times are not predicable because of the sensors.
Beyond the intra-department squabbles about how to respond to complaints from those like Stockwell who feel that the park has taken a turn for the worse, the long-term story for the area is that is still much safer than it used to be.
Junkie kids present a dilemma. Just kidding, mom (Image: prima seadiva via Flickr)
In comparison to last summer, it’s not clear there is actually an increase in the number of homeless, panhandlers, skate punks, pit bull punks, druggies, junkies, meth heads, huffers and slackliners using the park.
One factor could be the closure of Bobby Morris for the replacement of its lighting system that has left the southern edge of the park encircled in chain link fencing that has pinched off some of the pedestrian activity in the area. There has also been a reduced schedule at the wading pool due to budget cuts that has cut down on park usage by families. And the seemingly neverending turf overhaul project also may have cut down on total pedestrian flow through the park.
But Stockwell who says she has lived on the Hill on and off since 1994 acknowledges this summer’s frustrations might be equally as much a product of her own growing family and their increased usage of the Hill and its resources.
In addition to her work to push for a safer Cal Anderson, Stockwell has also gotten involved with the design of the new FedRep Park which she was disappointed to find didn’t include any dedicated play elements for kids. She writes about both parks in this post to her Family Friendly Seattle blog.
Back at 11th and Pine, SPD would like to remind you of the bad old days of Pike/Pine to add a little perspective.
“Compared to the distant past,” Guay said, “the park is improved. I feel real good about the positive change we’ve been able to make over the time. People like Laura being real guardians and being real detailed about what they saw help quite a bit.”
Stockwell said one of her reports was an incident where a seemingly homeless man insisted on interacting with her three-year-old. “I leave them alone. I just want to be left alone. When I say don’t talk to my kid, I mean it,” Stockwell said. And this time she meant it enough to tweet the mayor — and eventually call his office — to ask for something to be done.