(Images: Bryan Cohen/CHS)
These days, most Capitol Hill business owners can point to at least two or three giant cranes above — and two or three construction projects directly impacting their business in some way. Neighborhood growth hasn’t come without growing pains. Mayor Ed Murray got an earful about those effects and the impact of the area’s growing nightlife economy from a handful of business owners during a little publicized Monday evening stroll through Pike/Pine.
The issues raised during the scheduled meet-and-greet probably won’t come as a surprise anyone living on Capitol Hill, but it gave business owners an opportunity to speak directly with the mayor on home turf.
Inside Retrofit Home, co-owner Lori Pomeranz explained how the neighborhood’s already limited parking has been inundated with construction trucks and worker’s personal vehicles. “Every single spot is taken up by construction trucks,” she said. Pomeranz proposed writing parking restrictions into future construction permits and timing construction projects across different blocks.
Wildrose owner Shelly Brothers said her weekday business has taken a big hit in recent years because of the lack of parking. “People don’t stop in after work for a beer anymore,” she said.
— SEA Mayor’s Office (@OfficeofMayor) February 24, 2015
A block down E Pike, Mike Meckling has been dealing with a slightly different parking issue. The Neumos and Barboza co-owner told the mayor construction crews often claim they have parking permits for work trucks that are at odds with permits obtained by Neumos.
“When they show up and say they’re going to tow our tour busses, it’s infuriating,” he said. “I’m not anti-development, I’m anti-shitty communication.”
In order to help improve that communication, Cafe Pettiroso’s
Robin Wright Miki Sodos suggested the city provide a nighttime contact for nightlife establishments to call if construction is impeding business.
Last year, the city launched the Construction Hub Coordination Program to help ease the impact of construction in the area.
The need for more daytime businesses was another common refrain heard on the tour. Pomeranz pointed out that many second-story offices in older buildings have disappeared with new developments. Brothers said she was excited about the Castle Megastore sex shop moving in downstairs, but she’s eager to see more daytime activity.
Public safety was a mixed bag issue on the tour. Several business owners complimented the police for their increased foot patrols, saying it made Pike/Pine’s streets feel considerably safer. Bill Taylor, manager of the 11th Ave Value Village, said he’s felt the impact of more foot patrols, but shoplifting and non-customers using his bathroom are persistent problems. Tayor proposed installing a public bathroom in the area. “It’s a big deal for our homeless population,” he said.
Still, Brothers said it only takes one or two belligerent bigots to unsettle the neighborhood. “People just don’t realize where they are,” she told Murray, who later beamed with pride when he found out his 31 years on Capitol Hill put him one year ahead of the Wildrose.
“The return of this is pretty remarkable,” said the mayor regarding recent reports of gaybashing in the neighborhood. “The question is ‘how are we going to prevent this culture clash?'”
The caravan — which included representatives from the Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce, Capitol Hill Housing, and Capitol Hill Community Council — was supposed to stop at the Broadway Shell gas station, but one mayor’s office staffer said the owner never responded to the invitation.
The neighborhood walk-though was considerably more low-key than the mayor’s Find It Fix It walks — though one man couldn’t help showing he was a fan when he yelled out “Hey, it’s Bill Murray!”
UPDATE: There’s no word yet if the East Precinct will see a similar deployment, but SPD is rolling out a new Neighborhood Response Team to take on “persistent, low-level” crime downtown:
A new seven-member police squad is patrolling the downtown core to tackle persistent, low-level crime that can make streets and parks feel unsafe.
The Neighborhood Response Team, created last month, is focusing on so-called “street disorder” crimes, such as shoplifting, public urination, defecation and drug use. Downtown businesses and community groups have increasingly raised concerns about the problem and pushed for the city to take action.
The officers are helping connect people to social services, as well as giving warnings and issuing citations to repeat offenders.
While the new emphasis should make a difference, it would be a mistake to think seven police officers can eliminate street disorder, West Precinct Capt. Chris Fowler said.
“This is a very complex problem throughout the city,” he said. “This squad is really charged to affect the most critical areas downtown. They aren’t going to solve it throughout the city. They aren’t going to solve it throughout the West precinct. But they might be able to help in some of the worst areas.”
The squad, comprised of six officers and a sergeant, began foot patrols the first week of December. It operates out of the West Precinct office, at 810 Virginia Street, and concentrates on persistent problem areas, including around Westlake and other downtown parks. The officers generally work from 6:30 in the morning, until 3:30 in the afternoon.
They have one job — reducing street disorder, Fowler said. “They will not be called away to routine 911 calls,” he said. “This is their assignment and unless there is a true emergency, they are not going to be pulled away from their core responsibilities.”
The officers will become experts on the complex web of rules and regulations covering street disorder.
The city, for example has an ordinance that says people can’t sit or lie on sidewalks from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. in an area that stretches from Denny Way to King Street and from Interstate 5 to the water.
However, it is legal for people to sit and lie in city parks and, in some cases along the waterfront, park boundaries include the sidewalks. So officers have to understand where they can and can’t enforce the ordinance.
Enforcing laws surrounding smoking marijuana, or drinking in public, also can differ depending on where the offense is taking place.
In the end, though, it’s not just about writing tickets.
Lisa Daugaard, policy director for the Public Defender Association, hopes the squad will spend much of its time connecting people with drug addiction and mental health issues to services that can help them, such as the Crisis Solution Center and the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion, LEAD, program.
The LEAD program, for example, gives officers the ability to connect low-level non-violent drug dealers and users with treatment and services as an alternative to taking them to jail.
That’s a much better approach than just directing people to shelters, Daugaard said, noting “People know where the shelters are.”
SPD officials say the squad has a large toolbox to work with, including connecting people with programs like LEAD. Ultimately, the success or failure of the squad won’t be based on how many citations they write. “it’s going to be on how the behavior has changed,” Virginia Gleason, the police chief’s lead strategic advisor.
In many cases, just having officers patrolling problem areas can make a difference.
“One of the things we see at Occidental and Westlake parks is there are groups of people who specifically go there because they know those are places to buy and sell drugs,” Gleason said. “If a police officer is there, they are not going to engage in criminal behavior.”