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Group calls on city to immediately ‘safely re-open’ Cal Anderson Park — UPDATE

(Image: CHS)

A group of business and community leaders and the organization formed to help create and maintain the public space are calling on city officials to immediately reopen Capitol Hill’s Cal Anderson Park. The reopening would restore much needed resources and basic upkeep and repair on a regular basis in the park, the group says, and would require city officials and Mayor Jenny Durkan to find a constructive way to move campers from the park and offer them safer, longer lasting shelter options.

“It’s heartbreaking to see Cal Anderson Park closed for months on end—this is a critical community asset that now is damaged, poorly maintained, and sits closed without a plan for reopening,” Don Blakeney, a neighbor and member of the Cal Anderson Park Alliance tells CHS. “Our center city public parks must work for everyone, especially during COVID, at a time when our parks are one of the only places people can safely interact. Cal Anderson Park provides essential outdoor space for over ten thousand people who live within a five minute walk of the park—most of whom are apartment renters and have little space of their own.”

Provided to CHS, the letter sent by the group including Blakeney, who also serves as vice president of advocacy and economic development at the Downtown Seattle Association, and a roster of community and business leaders including Thatcher Bailey, president of the Seattle Parks Foundation, Dr. Sheila Edwards-Lange, president of Seattle Central College,  Louise Chernin, president and CEO GSBA, and Donna Moodie, executive director of the Capitol Hill EcoDistrict, demands that Seattle Parks superintendent Jesús Aguirre immediately meet with the group to plan a fall reopening of the park.

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“Together, we know our community can find constructive solutions… but only if the park is officially opened and maintained,” the letter reads. “We strongly believe that, aligned with the latest pandemic-related guidance from our public health officials, the community can work in partnership with Seattle Parks and Recreation and other City departments to safely re-open Cal Anderson Park.”

While the group says that the city has agreed to meet, it is not clear what Seattle Parks and City Hall has planned for Cal Anderson and if it is prepared for the challenge of outreach and services that will be required to safely clear and reopen the park. A department spokesperson took questions from CHS for Aguirre after declining our request early last week for an interview and did not respond to the inquiries. CHS asked what factors were being considered in keeping Cal Anderson closed and whether those factors are changing or improving — and what is being done to address those factors.

We also asked what role Seattle Police has played if any in keeping the park closed.

The Seattle Parks spokesperson did not respond.

A SPD spokesperson tells CHS that the department, to his knowledge, has not requested the extended closure.

UPDATE 10/13/20 2:00 PM: “SPD is there to support should there be any dangerous activity in the park,” a parks spokesperson tells CHS. “If SPD asked us to close a park because of public safety concerns we would do so.”

The city spokesperson tells CHS Cal Anderson remains closed “to address past and ongoing vandalism in the park.”

“We continue to have park ambassadors in the park to remind folks of the closure, we are servicing the park weekly for trash clean up, and repairing any vandalism that occurs,” the parks department representative tells CHS.

The park ambassadors activities vary. Frequently, the three or four workers wearing safety vests tend to stick together and stay to the edges of the park to avoid conflicts with campers and the mutual aid activists who set up near 11th Ave and E Olive St. A member of CAPA who declined to speak on the record about the situation told CHS that the parks department has said workers have expressed concerns about their safety during ambassador and clean-up activities.

The parks spokesperson said that outreach and clearing the encampment is currently not an option.

“Early on in the pandemic, the City of Seattle put a hold on encampment removals ​except in instances of extreme public health and public safety concerns in response to CDC guidelines to reduce the spread of COVID-19,” the spokesperson said. “The recent vote to eliminate the Navigation Team currently leaves the City without any tools to address encampments that pose health and safety risks.”

In its letter, CAPA calls on the city to meet with the group to discuss “continued public health and safety concerns,” but does not ask for the camp to be cleared.

So, what can neighbors and residents do to help Cal Anderson reopen?

“Be patient with us as we work to ensure that we can reopen Cal Anderson Park safely,” the spokesperson wrote.

(Image: CHS)

Cal Anderson has remained in a peculiar state of limbo after Seattle Parks officials opted to designate the space as “temporarily closed” during the CHOP occupied protest and encampment. After Mayor Jenny Durkan ordered CHOP and the park raided and cleared in early July, the closure has continued.

“The park remains closed for the time being,” a department spokesperson told CHS in July. “Our crews have at least another week (maybe two) of work to do—repair damage to the shelterhouse and restroom, repairing the irrigation system, and further repairs and professional sanitation of the turf field, along with additional graffiti removal.”

The reopening has never come. Instead, Cal Anderson has remained technically closed as protests and unrest in the area have continued, with groups often using the park as a gathering area. Groups advocating for a mutual aid station and resources for the homeless community at the park have also continued to maintain a presence at Cal Anderson after a brief occupation of the park’s shelterhouse this summer. Garbage has occasionally piled up and graffiti covers everything from sidewalks to the park’s fountain. Capitol Hill old timers might ask what else is new — but even they will admit they’ve never seen Cal Anderson quite like this for months on end.

(Image: CHS)

In the meantime, a city contractor has led a series of community meetings to “memorialize” the summer’s Black Lives Matter protests with a plan for a permanent community garden and speaking area.

Blakeney says he believes that response to CHOP could be extended to include safety and security improvements to Cal Anderson including chopping back overgrown trees and bushes and adding lighting to areas to improve visibility and security in the park.

The group signing the letter includes a few business leaders who also are likely to get attention in Durkan’s office including Jill Sherman, the partner heading up Portland-based developer Gerding Edlen’s massive investment in housing and retail above Capitol Hill Station across from Cal Anderson.

Durkan and Aguirre are also hearing from Capitol Hill-based developer Hunters Capital.

“This park absorbs a huge amount of crisis for this city,” Jill Cronauer of Hunters and a leader at CAPA says. “It is in much need of support from the City through regular maintenance, functioning facilities, operating lights, etc. so it has the chance to rebound from events that take place here.”

Hunters Capital is the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit against the city over Mayor Durkan and then SPD Chief Carmen Best’s handling of CHOP.

Others signing the letter include Jason Plourde, executive director of the AIDS Memorial Pathway, the memorial project planned to connect Capitol Hill Station to the park, and Michael Wells, former head of the Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce and currently a small business advocate with the city.

“Sadly, with the park officially closed, we are not able to engage our community in the rebuilding of our shared space or healing from recent events. In fact, for those who pass by the park today, it’s nearly unrecognizable,” the letter reads. “Park garbage cans are currently overflowing, lights are broken or not working, and water features remain turned off, inviting graffiti, vandalism, and damage to critical community infrastructure that has certainly incurred more cost to repair than any funds saved. As a result of these disturbing developments, our dense neighborhood of people who live and work here (ranging in age from children to seniors) stays away from the park, fearful for their health and safety.”

The full letter is posted here.

Cal Anderson Park Alliance Letter

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36 thoughts on “Group calls on city to immediately ‘safely re-open’ Cal Anderson Park — UPDATE” -- All CHS Comments are held for moderation before publishing

  1. Thank you to those who spoke up. I’ve been wanting to join forces with other locals to push for our park to be reopened in its original state. I have attended all three Zoom meetings and the Parks and Rec moderator Andy Sheffer made it clear that they were envisioning the park as a space for activism. He said that their plans for the park were less about physical changes and more about “programming”. As a 30-plus year resident that is not what I want and I do not know anybody- whether people who have lived in the neighborhood for 3 weeks or who were born here- who want that. The only people who want it seem to be outsiders. I find it interesting to read articles below about Africatown in which the city has made massive accommodations to the black community in that neighborhood for something that’s just theirs. But for some reason Cal Anderson belongs to the whole city and local residents are having less of a say than outside activists and community organizations with no history pre-CHOP. This feels like a power grab at the expense of the neighborhood. I also noticed how the language changed and now they are saying they’re giving preference to “BIPOC and LBGTQ communities”. I’m not really understanding how the BIPOC community became more important than the LBGTQ or other long-term residents who are not.Look at the Calw Anderson website run by Park and Rec- they make it clear they’re showing racial preference- “we lead with race”.

    • When Parks does their analysis, I’d be curious whether they segment results by:
      – “people who actually live in the neighborhood”
      – vs “people who feel that living somewhere in the Greater Seattle area should give them a say in the management of a small neighborhood park (for which they may not even pay any taxes to support)”

      …and to see how those compare.

  2. No one can reasonably disagree that something must be done about what has happened to Cal Anderson Park. It must NOT become a permanent location for homeless camping (and the inevitable trash and graffiti) and far-left activism. Kudos to this group for trying to get the City/Parks Dept to come to its senses.

    • Ooo, far left activism, the horrors of people asking for :

      Justice for all
      An end to police violence
      A place for people to eat in a city that declared homelessness an emergency 5 years ago

      The things some people get frightened by are strange to me.

      Do hope to see the city be honest about why the park is still “closed”, just as we are waiting on an answer to who abandoned the precinct.

      • Calm down, no one said they are frightened of anything. We all want Justice and an end to violence.

        It is possible to have both a safe city park and a gathering space for protests. Cal Anderson Park was never meant to be a campground.

      • So, how does turning the park into a homeless camp solve any of those problems? Especially in the winter when tents don’t give much shelter and there are a number of actual shelters that where they could be staying? The answer is that it doesn’t, so don’t shame us for wanting the park to be a safe place that EVERYONE can enjoy. Also, crime has up since the summer. My building has had problems with break-ins and attempted break-ins that we’ve never had before. I assume you actually don’t live on the hill at all, ‘CapHillTom’ but rather are just another troll.

      • Those are all goals that I, too, support. But as someone who lives two blocks from the park, the reality of the activism currently taking place there and on the surrounding streets has meant many sleepless nights in a row while explosions, both from the cops and from activists, go off, people walking down the side streets screaming and banging pots both in the middle of the day while we’re working from home, and at 11 o’clock at night on weeknights when we are trying to sleep because we have to be functional at work. Last night two huge explosions went off within blocks of me and I couldn’t even find any info on them anywhere. It’s extremely stressful.

        So while I support protests and activism, the activists are too young to either truly understand or care that they are negatively affecting the lives of the residents here. There should be limits. The city should be enforcing curfews as to how late these protests are allowed to go on for, and they should limit the number so that we aren’t dealing with them several nights a week for months on end. I worry that if we turn Cal Anderson into an activist park, the battles between the activists and the police will never end, and I’ll have no choice but to leave a neighborhood that I’ve lived in and loved for 25 years.

      • When you put the concepts like that, no one has a problem. The devil is in the details. Does “justice for all” mean forced outcomes of socially engineered equity? You have zero nuance to your arguments.

    • @Longtime Resident

      I agree, Cal Anderson is not a great shelter situation. But noone here seemed to latch onto the 5 year emergency remark.

      When are y’all going to wake up to the reality that even with the issues, the situation for homeless in Capitol Hill improved this year. Sure, it’s more in the face of y’all that can afford $2000 studios and such while collecting tech wages. But to sit here and say there’s plenty of shelter space is a denial of reality in this city for over 5 years now.

      Maybe instead of pissing on the most marginalized among us, start using the energy to ensure this city works for all of it’s people, not just the Amazon and other tech workers that have flooded into the area this past decade, bringing gentrification and crimes of wage theft and tax evasion to the area.

  3. Interesting that Kshama Sawant has a perfectly reasonable plan for reopening the park (i.e. defund the police and us the money to address homelessness), but this article can’t even be bothered to mention the city councilwoman whose district Cal Anderson is in.

    • ‘Reasonable’ and ‘Sawant’ are two words that do not belong together. Her ‘leadership’ is a major reason Cal Anderson is currently the cess pit that it is.

    • LOL. That’s not a “reasonable” plan, be serious. NO ONE in City Government is considering that, in any way. That’s exactly the same as saying you have a “reasonable plan to give everyone a magic unicorn”. That’s not reasonable. Capitol Hill has always been a high crime area (ask ANY merchant). Any reduction in police patrols would be increasingly catastrophic due to the damage inflicted by Swawants “supporters” who are the ones destroying Cal Anderson (the ones ripping up the field, damaging the fountain, etc). So this “reasonable” position is “support us and we MIGHT agree to stop destroying the park”. That’s ridiculous on its face. And if you replay that Sawant’s supporters AREN’T the ones destroying the park, great, then you’re ADMITTING there is a very high level of random criminal activity there and we NEED someone to protect that park, PLEASE gather Sawants supporters and go find shelter for those folks and clean up the park. I know, that’s a joke, they won’t.

    • judging by her previous actions, Sawant would turn the park into a permanent CHAZ from where her black block friends could terrorize the people of Seattle every night. No thanks!

    • How is that a plan for reopening the park? Regardless, CM Sawant is NOT calling to “defund the police and us[e] the money to address homelessness” she’s calling to defund the police and put that money into the “BIPOC community” so your premise is just wrong.

    • Let’s be real here and by real I mean, let’s be honest. Kshama was a regular fixture at CHOP and was pushing for the East Precinct to become a community center and for the police to never return to this neighborhood. She directly contributed to the degradation of Cal Anderson and to the loss of safety for those of us (her constituents) who live close to the park. During CHOP (and since) the building I live in had an unprecedented amount of break-ins and break-in attempts. The police would not come to help us (despite numerous 911 calls) because we were in the CHOP zone. We also were witnesses to rape, gunshots and murder. Since then the park, which was quite lovely before CHOP, has descended into some kind of apocalyptic nightmare.

      The majority of us that live here do not want to live in a world without the police. We experienced it during CHOP and it was terrifying and traumatic. We are sympathetic to poverty, mental illness and drug addiction but do not want our park to become a permanent homeless encampment. That is not the solution.

      Kshama is about ideals but not about caring for those of us that are real flesh and blood human beings in her district. We are workers, we are seniors, we are disabled etc. We are the people she claims to fight for but when the rubber meets the road, she is actually harming us.

      I voted for her twice and I will do everything I can to support her recall or if that fails, her opponent in her next election.

      Restore Cal Anderson Park!

    • We purposely did not engage Sawant because we did not feel her participation would be productive. The city councilwoman has been absent, and her priorities are centered on herself more than any cause. We want to actually get something done.

      • How sad (but true) when we can not engage with our councilwoman (that many of us voted for) when we need help restoring basic health/cleanliness/safety standards to our neighborhood.

      • How sad, but predictable. She’s never been responsive to her constituents unless it provided an opportunity for some screaming about Amazon or capitalism, blah blah

  4. We live a block away from the park. Hoping for a resolution that allows the park to return to its normal functions while offering other housing opportunities for those living outdoors. Seeing our central neighborhood park, our best option to get outdoors and distance during this pandemic, in such disarray and neglect is depressing.

  5. A dedicated park near City Hall (the seat of power) makes more sense for activist activities. City owns the block across the street from City Hall. Build a skyscraper of homeless units including social service offices and a park. Activists would be able to access both politicians and bureaucrats to create change. Issues of homelessness would become more apparent to politicians and bureaucrats and solutions would be more forthcoming.

  6. The idea that unelected Seattle Parks employees can reconfigure the entire park to make it some kind of social justice meeting place is repulsive.

    It seems as if nothing will stop this.

    Thankfully we don’t live on that part of Capitol Hill anymore but I have sympathy for everyone who does. This is just an egregious overreach by city government.

    • Very well said, Louise. I do live near the park and that’s exactly what’s happening. The attitude we see from the city agencies is one of such patronizing contempt. Why is it so hard for them to just let people be? They’re always trying to socially engineer everything. and the park ambassadors sound like an enormous waste of taxpayer funds. They should offer those camping some other place such as the gym of a school that is not being used or some building that is currently not being occupied that the city could temporarily rent for them. Then give the campers an option to go to that place (along with providing transportation) or go somewhere else but that they are not welcome to stay as park residence.

      • We drive by occasionally and we feel so sorry for the neighborhood. It is atrocious that tents are allowed to camp there, graffiti is allowed to be sprayed there and the park might be reconfigured to be not a park, but some kind of monument to social justice with gardens that will be unkempt and including “talking circles.”

        If there is one thing I know about Seattle, after living here for over 40 years ,is that there is no lack of people talking!

        Give the park back to the people!

  7. Can we also please have the sidewalk by the E Precinct back too? Who approved that ugly and invasive barrier, and why was there no public input? Remove the “Pork Chop/Pig Pen” l, it is excessive and absurd. Our police are doing something very wrong if they are that afraid of the people they are supposed to protect.

  8. I knew we were in deep shit when the Cal Anderson 2020 survey came out and it was all, “what does inclusivity mean to you?” “Where should we set up our BIPOC-centered community garden?”

    It’s a public park. It doesn’t have racial biases or microaggressions. It’s grass, trees and concrete. Make sure it’s clean, make sure it’s safe, and move on with your day.

  9. Just a simple question: If the park is officially “closed” by the City, why are they allowing it to be a homeless camp?

    It seems like it is “closed” for ordinary neighborhood residents, but not for the homeless.


    Sawant anti-business motivations are threatening to ruin Seattle economic and peaceful city. Sign the petition, and Spread the word.
    – Ineffectiveness for helping homeless and big increase in crime and theft esp in Capitol Hill.
    – Last month, Seattle City Council just pledged $75,000 of OUR taxpayer money for her court fees against the recall campaign? That money could of been used for helping small businesses, but no. Don’t let Seattle become the next Portland where businesses are closing left and right. Unrest will continue if she continues to be in council point blank.

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