Responding to concerns about the deteriorating conditions in parks across the city including Capitol Hill’s Cal Anderson, Mayor Jenny Durkan is asking the Seattle City Council to join her in a $5.6 million plan to immediately launch a “temporary surge in increased trash pick-up” and “proactive cleaning in parks and open spaces.”
The effort would emphasize clean-up in areas including Capitol Hill, Ballard, the International District near I-90, Georgetown, University District, Aurora, Lake City, and West Seattle. The mayor’s office says the plan is “not a proposal to increase encampment removals.” Officials have been reluctant to sweep camps during the ongoing COVID-19 crisis over concerns that displacing people living underhoused could contribute to the further spread of the virus.
CHS reported here on a call from Capitol Hill advocates and group representatives including the Cal Anderson Park Alliance nonprofit calling on the city to address the growing park encampments with immediate outreach and efforts to clean up the public space. A group of business and community organizations has also called on the city to act to address the deteriorating conditions.
“Hearing from community members all over the city that more needs to be done to clean our public rights of way and parks, departments across the city have been working for weeks on a comprehensive plan that can be quickly implemented following City Council approval of additional funds,” Durkan said in an announcement of her “Clean Cities” proposal. “Our parks have become an important refuge for Seattle residents during the COVID-19 pandemic, and it is critical we keep our parks and playgrounds safe and accessible to all.”
Seattle has also finally broke through a political logjam over funding homeless outreach services after the elimination of the city’s Navigation Team that SPD officers tasked with encampment sweeps.
The Clean Cities proposal would expand the existing Seattle Public Utilities litter abatement program, expand several other existing and new, smaller service efforts, and create a new $4.2 million “Community Clean Teams” program to fund four groups “comprised of staff/contracted workers from SPR, SDOT, and SPU to provide an efficient, coordinated response to address illegal dumping, graffiti, and trash in public rights of way, parks, natural areas, and around encampments.”
Durkan’s office says the deployment of the new teams would be “informed by Find It, Fix It and other departmental data sources to provide a coordinated, rapid response to address hotspots throughout the city.”
The mayor’s office says an improving revenue forecast for the city thanks to a better than expected financial impact from the ongoing COVID-19 crisis would provide most of the funding needed to back the effort. The mayor will need City Council support to make the funding available.
“Several of these investments will begin immediately and do not require new resources,” Durkan’s office said in the announcement. “However, in order to begin work as soon as possible, remaining investments would require Council-sponsored amendments to the 2020 Quarter 3 Supplemental ORD as well as amendments to the Proposed 2021 Budget.”
Durkan says some efforts are already underway. Seattle Parks is piloting a new Quick Response Team “to quickly respond to reports of abandoned trash on parkland while ensuring personal property is respected” and in mid-October, the mayor says the team held its first “SPR Maintenance Jamboree” around Capitol Hill’s Miller Community Center. At these “jamboree” events, “SPR staff remove trash and litter; mow grass; remove leaves from parking lot and sidewalks; trim hedges and edging along sidewalks; remove graffiti; pressure wash walkways and benches; and clean out shrub beds and tree wells.”
Meanwhile, SPU would also receive additional funding to address trash and graffiti issues around the city, including open space outside of parks. $400,000 would also be made available to Business Improvement Areas for the commerce groups to increase their own trash cans, litter removal, and graffiti clean-up efforts. CHS reported here on the Broadway BIA and its survival after the financial implosion of the neighborhood’s chamber of commerce last year.
It is unclear if the new program could lead to the reopening of Capitol Hill’s central park. Seattle Parks says Cal Anderson remains technically closed to the public “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 told CHS last month.
A Seattle Police spokesperson told CHS that the department, to his knowledge, has not requested the extended closure. “SPD is there to support should there be any dangerous activity in the park,” a parks spokesperson told CHS. “If SPD asked us to close a park because of public safety concerns we would do so.”
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.
The city said this week the condition of its parks has deteriorated “due to a combination of COVID-19 challenges including reduced staffing and lack of volunteer crews, we have seen visible trash accumulating in our parks, rights-of-way, and open spaces at a faster pace than City crews can keep up with.” Data from SPU’s Illegal Dumping program shows Seattle has experienced a 195% increase in the volume of material collected from Q2 to Q3 2020.
In all, the Clean Cities initiative would provide around $1.4 million for an eight month expansion of existing city services plus the $4.159 million Community Clean Team program which would run four months.
Durkan said Wednesday the proposal now sits with the council which will need to amend the existing budget for the remainder of 2020 and add new spending to its final plan for the 2021 budget. The council is set to vote on its final 2021 budget proposal just before Thanksgiving.
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