The City of Seattle is citing support from property owners, businesses, and community groups as it prepares to clear homeless encampments and activists from Cal Anderson Park.
“The situation within the park grows worse and more unsafe by the day,” one key letter — sent to Mayor Jenny Durkan December 14th and provided to CHS this week — reads. “The park has now morphed into a safety concern for both the individuals within the park and the neighboring community. Violence, drugs, vandalism, and other harmful activities in Cal Anderson are adversely affecting our community members to the point where any park activation efforts cannot make any lasting impact.”
The December 14th letter is signed by Hunters Capital’s Michael Malone who owns properties across Capitol Hill including the Broadway Building across from Cal Anderson, Shelia Edwards-Lange, president of Seattle Central College, Chris Persons, CEO of affordable developer Community Roots Housing, and a dozen more signatories including property owners, small business owners, and the developer of the major mixed-use project rising above nearby Capitol Hill Station.
Earlier Monday morning, city personnel accompanied by a dozen or so police officers marched from the nearby East Precinct to post notice of “order to remove all personal property” from the park.
Police arrested one person for investigation of assault for shoving an officer and say a second person who assaulted officers fled.
According to the notices, the park is to be cleared beginning 7:30 AM Wednesday. Seattle Parks says “a multi-day intensive maintenance and cleaning project” will follow. City officials tell CHS that there have been around 40 homeless people contacted by outreach workers at the park since last week and 10 were referred to shelter.
Activists, meanwhile, are calling for supporters to come to the park and help stop any sweep Wednesday morning.
Cal Anderson has remained officially closed and has been swept of encampments multiple times since this summer’s CHOP occupied protest was cleared out. Tents, mutual aid stations, protesters, and activists have returned — sometimes within hours.
What the city’s appetite for a more lasting clearance will be is unclear. During Tuesday’s meeting of the City Council’s Select Committee on Homelessness Strategies and Investments, chair Andrew Lewis and the six other council members on the committee didn’t even bring the situation at Cal Anderson up though Deputy Mayor Casey Sixkiller did emphasize that “outreach is still occurring” for homeless people across the city despite the growing number and size of some encampments.
But Durkan, who started the month promising an initiative to reopen Cal Anderson, appears to have sizable support from property owners, businesses, and community groups in the neighborhood.
“At a high-level, I’d personally say threatening behavior in in our community should not be tolerated, whether it’s in a park or outside of our small businesses,” Don Blakeney, a member of the Cal Anderson Park Alliance tells CHS. “Unfortunately, serious issues have recently escalated in Cal Anderson Park this month, putting community members and city employees in harm’s way.”
More from Blakeney who spoke with CHS as a concerned neighbor and not on behalf of CAPA:
As for the community’s voice, the community has been vocal for months now, asking for thoughtful but urgent action to address the backlog of maintenance and safety issues in Cal Anderson Park.
Over the summer, Community Roots Housing and the EcoDistrict called for an end to violence in the park, on behalf of the community and the nearly 700 residents living in their income-restricted buildings nearby.
In October, variety of neighborhood and parks groups (including Capitol Hill stakeholders) called for the creation of an inter-departmental team to address the complex issues in Seattle’s parks in a letter to the City.
The Cal Anderson Park Alliance, also issued a separate letter to the Parks Department asking to reopen and activate the park.
Lastly, a community petition was circulated earlier this month that received over 1,100 signatures, calling for the reopening of the park.
“It seems that the community has been consistent in their ask for thoughtful but urgent action to bring a much-needed and much-used neighborhood open space back-online,” Blakeney writes.
The Cal Anderson Park Alliance was also getting set to release its own statement on the city’s planned clearance. We’ll update when we receive the statement.
UPDATE: Here’s the CAPA statement —
The Cal Anderson Park Alliance has been asking to have our park reopened in a way that is aligned with community values and provides safety and access for all. We believe the unhoused population in our park needs human services, kindness, and compassion. Sweeps of the unhoused population do not support their needs and are not supported by CAPA. We expected and continue to want housing services and humanitarian outreach. Our community is asking for transparency and participation in decision making about what happens in our park.
The Broadway Business Improvement Association is also supporting the clearance.
“The Broadway BIA’s core purpose is to support a thriving, clean, and safe business district for all, and the park is part of that ecosystem,” the BBIA’s Egan Orion said. “It’s become clear that the situation in the park has become unsafe both for both those living housed and unhoused in our neighborhood. Community Lunch, serving those experiencing homelessness on Capitol Hill and beyond, had to move its services away from the park because of safety issues. Nightly fires in the park and no park lighting (because of the park’s closure) has created critical safety concerns and because of these issues, police, fire, and medics are thwarted from safely responding to emergencies in Cal Anderson Park.”
“We strongly support housing and services for those living outside—especially during the darkest and coldest days of winter—and at the same time believe that a park open and safe for all should be an imperative for the city,” Orion tells CHS.
The Capitol Hill Business Alliance and the GSBA did not respond to CHS inquiries about their position on the city’s planned sweep.
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Other letters provided by the city include a December 13th message to Durkan from Community Lunch on Capitol Hill, the nonprofit that has been providing hot meals for the hungry across from the park at Central Lutheran and at Broadway’s All Pilgrims Church for decades.
“At this time, Community Lunch on Capitol Hill has no plans for offering meal services out of Central Lutheran Church until we can ensure the safety of our guests, volunteers and staff. We are committed to serving all that are in need, but we cannot sacrifice safety,” executive director Jeff Wolcott writes. “We look forward to a time we can return and continue our mission in the Cal Anderson park area of Capitol Hill.”
The city is also citing this October letter from business and community groups about a “spiraling public health and safety crisis” in Seattle’s parks. Seattle Central College, the Freeway Park Association, and the 15th Ave E Merchants were some of the area groups and organizations represented in that call for action at City Hall.
Many of the names joining Malone and Edwards-Lange on the December 14th Capitol Hill letter were also part of that October message. Their criticism of the situation — and, especially, the activists — in Cal Anderson has grown even more pointed.
“The fact of the matter is that there are now dozens of people occupying the park who are not unhoused, but rather are treating the park as a base of operations for their occupied protest,” they write. “What this translates into is the blocking the entrances to the park, constant damage to park infrastructure, regular bonfires and intimidating and threatening behavior directed at our community members—not to mention the staff of our nearby institutions and city employees.”
“This is unacceptable,” the letter continues. “We urge you to honor the legacy of Cal Anderson and reactivate the park. We urge you to intervene and stop this threatening behavior, while working with the community and qualified service providers to help those in need so that they can find shelter and housing.”
“We stand ready to support the City doing the right thing for our neighborhood,” it concludes.
UPDATE: We have removed a portion of the signees from the letter provided by the city after some of the individuals reported receiving threats.
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