As she toured Capitol Hill with community and business representatives Tuesday, Mayor Jenny Durkan said she has no regrets Seattle reversed course on a head tax last summer even as the social, safety, and sanitation programs it would have helped pay for are more vital than ever with her administration working to address a wave of gun violence and concerns about what she says is a rising tide of street disorder and property crimes in certain areas of the city.
“Police response is always the last resort,” Durkan said Tuesday at the end point of the short morning tour that began at Elliott Bay Book Company and meandered through Pike/Pine and up Broadway to Capitol Hill Station. “Police have to show up when other things to prevent violence have not worked.”
“Crime is up,” the mayor conceded as the TV cameras surrounded her at Broadway and John. “Particularly certain types of crime are up in certain neighborhoods,” she said.
Durkan’s hastily arranged tour — community group representatives said they weren’t told about the planned visit until over the Memorial Day weekend — followed CHS’s report last week on a call from neighborhood business representatives and the Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce for more attention on Pike/Pine and Broadway public safety after the mayor left the area and the Central District off her “seven neighborhood” list for increased policing and infrastructure and clean-up work from City Hall departments.
Tuesday’s most concrete message about new public safety efforts on Capitol Hill from Durkan wasn’t really news. “As it has done in recent years, the Seattle Police Department (SPD) will also have its regular summer emphasis programs in Golden Gardens, Alki Beach, and Capitol Hill (for nightlife),” the announcement from the mayor’s office following Tuesday’s tour read.
Capitol Hill’s regular nightlife emphasis efforts — basically, more officers working later hours in the East Precinct — will start in coming days after a deadly early spring with a wave of shootings across the Central District that have left a 19-year-old murdered and a shooting in March in Capitol Hill’s Cal Anderson where 21-year-old Hakeem Salahud-din was gunned down next to the park’s basketball court.
In addition to Capitol Hill’s nightlife patrols and the gang emphasis patrols that SPD says have been underway around the Central District and in Pike/Pine, the department says its longterm efforts including social programs to curb gun violence are working. Increased involvement with the FBI and ATF following the recent shootings has also helped remove more powerful weapons from the streets.
But away from the TV cameras, most of Tuesday’s conversations were about smaller, more hyperlocal issues. A mother with two young children in tow told the mayor it was hard to see how the city “cherished families” in the neighborhood. She said she was concerned about people going to the bathroom outside in Cal Anderson and afraid of the discarded drug needles she sees around the neighborhood at 10th and John. Mayor Durkan said she shared the mother’s concerns and said more was being done to address homelessness under her administration citing the recently released partial report from the county that shows a drop in homelessness this year. She also said that although Seattle has been “stymied” by the federal government on safe consumption sites, the city is also doing more to clean up discarded needles. A city official said a report on the city’s Find It Fix It app will dispatch a clean-up effort in under 24 hours. The new all-gender bathrooms under construction in Cal Anderson will also have needle disposal features, a parks official said.
Another complaint that came up on the tour was an issue with neighborhood gardens, flower beds at businesses, and plantings at private homes being continually harvested and the ripped-ff flowers and greenery offered up for sale outside places like Capitol Hill Station. The mayor’s assembled crew of city officials including new Department of Transportation head Sam Zimbabwe made a note of it.
There were more serious issues raised. East Precinct commander Capt. Bryan Grenon said the property owners of the Harvard Market shopping center have agreed to implement new security measures hoped to cut down on the nightlife violence that has occurred in the upper level parking lot. The property management company has agreed to pay about $15,000 for a control gate that will require people to pay the lot at night, according to Grenon. The property has also agreed to upgrade its security system to better monitor the lot. Grenon said QFC is also working with the East Precinct to make it easier for officers to bust repeat shoplifting offenders at the company’s Capitol Hill stores.
Other issues included unhelpful 911 dispatchers, slow response times, and why there aren’t more officers on foot or on bikes would need more time for answers, Capt. Grenon, Durkan, and city officials said. Grenon did add that the city’s difficulty in recruiting new officers in a tight labor market makes it more difficult to spare people for foot and bike patrols.
Meanwhile, not everything on the tour was about crime and justice.
Joey Burgess, owner of Queer/Bar and Grim’s, told the mayor he was happy to finally have his street back open to traffic again after years of construction “that almost killed 11th Ave.”
As the tour passed 11th and Pike, Shelley Brothers of the Wildrose talked about how they typically have to take on cleaning trash off the streets on their own to get the area read for Pride. The rainbow crosswalks, meanwhile, might look shabby after being torn up by recent Seattle Public Utilities work but they will reportedly be repainted in full rainbow splendor in time for this year’s LGBTQ celebrations.
And a few new ideas got kicked around. Monica Dimas who operates Sunset Fried Chicken inside Queer/Bar suggested that the mayor and the business community consider solutions that added instead of subtracting to the neighborhood. Her idea? Busking spots like you find in Pike Place Market dotted across Pike/Pine and Broadway to keep corners alive and busy with activity.
That idea like many of the complaints and issues became another entry in the mayoral staff’s notebooks. Paying for it and the other solutions talked about Tuesday isn’t yet an issue. The mayor told CHS that the policing end of things is “on budget.” Adding new ideas and new programs in Seattle as it begins the process of $5.9 billion belt tightening under a predicted revenue slowdown will be another matter. The scuttled head tax plan included housing and homelessness services spending with enough money to build an estimated 591 affordable units in five years, and around $15 million per year for services including rental subsidies, shelters, “innovative temporary housing,” and more than a million a year for “city-wide sanitation and garbage services such as but not limited to Seattle Public Utilities’ Clean Cities program.” That is off the table, of course, with no replacement plan for new revenue in sight.
While she has no regrets about the lost tax, Mayor Durkan on Tuesday said she knows Capitol Hill will need more than emphasis patrols.
“The influx of a lot of people, change in the housing stock, a lot more density, lack of affordability. All those challenges come to roost right here,” she said as the tour group assembled inside the Elliott Bay bookstore.
“There’s just a lot of anxiety everywhere in the city. And I think Capitol Hill, while one of our most vibrants neighborhoods, if not given attention, can change most quickly.”
For now, Durkan can cite the preliminary data showing a possible drop in King County homelessness and the early returns of her seven neighborhood emphasis push where she says SPD’s statistics show good signs. The mayor said early stats show a drop in calls to police in the emphasis areas and an increase in officer initiated actions and investigations. She said Tuesday the emphasis efforts will continue.
“It’s not like we picked a stop date,” she said. “We will continue to have and work with those communities on an ongoing basis and looking at that data.”
“You never advertise in law enforcement, ‘Hey, we’re done now,'” she said.
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