Civic groups express 'serious concern' over proposed Seattle RV rules

Seattle City Council considers a new bill that would allow broken down RV's and other vehicles used for shelter to be allowed to parked anywhere in the city.

Three prominent civic organizations filed formal letters with the City of Seattle expressing serious concern over a draft ordinance that would relax parking regulations for RV encampments.

The Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, Ballard Alliance and SoDo Business Improvement Area (BIA) filed letters this week about Councilmember Mike O’Brien’s draft ordinance, which would severely restrict parking enforcement for derelict RVs and create RV safe lots.

An early draft, circulated around Seattle City Hall, included language exempting the impound of a vehicle used in sexual exploitation.

O’Brien’s legislative aide Jasmine Marwaha acknowledged that clause was part of an earlier draft, but the legislation is now "significantly different."

The Ballard Alliance and BIA were part of O’Brien’s Vehicular Living Working Group, but both expressed formal concern over the legislation.

"The SoDO BIA has serious concerns regarding the Vehicular Living Working Group recommendations which are to be presented to the Seattle City Council on August 9th, 2017.  When invited to participate I was hopeful this would be a productive process that would develop recommendations that would both provide necessary support for those living in vehicles and also address the negative impacts that vehicle living has on our district.  However the lack of representation from neighborhoods, businesses and property owners made this goal unattainable,” BIA Executive Director Erin Goodman wrote. “However, the recommendations from the working group places emphasis on items that would further negatively impact the district and moves away from the City’s state goal of making homelessness rare, brief, and one time. The focus of our efforts should prioritize strategies that move people into housing."

Goodman added, "Several solutions offered by the working group are a significant departure from this goal, specifically the recommendations to change existing parking regulations."

The letter claims that RVs that are forced to move every 72 hours, via city code, do not accumulate garbage and other items, but that "SoDO businesses are at risk of losing their food handling certificates because of garbage, needles, and rats associated with RV's parked for weeks near the buildings."

Goodman’s letter also claims that water theft has increased in SoDo over the past year, and attributes that to people living in RVs.

The Ballard Alliance, which was also part of the working group that O’Brien chaired, wrote a letter dated Tuesday noting recommendations “were not supported unanimously by the group.” And there is particular concern with “the creation of new RV safe parking lots and the relaxing of current parking regulations throughout the city.”

The letter, signed by Executive Director Mike Stewart, noted that there was limited representation on the working group from business and residential leaders.

President and CEO of the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce Maud Daudon wrote an email Tuesday that was distributed to supporters.

It read "I’m writing to ask for your help in urging Seattle City Councilmembers not to be distracted by these kinds of short-term fixes that we already know do not work, and to stick to the long-term Pathways Home plan that was informed by the assessments and recommendations from the Barbara Poppe and Focused Strategies reports. This proposed ordinance would take away the city’s ability to effectively address public health and public safety issues, which in turn will impact economic activity in our neighborhoods. The ordinance would also tie the City’s hands when it comes to addressing issues resulting from vehicular encampments in public spaces."

Daudon wrote in bold, "We can do better." And "The current proposals being considered are a distraction and inconsistent with the long-term plan and solutions."

Scott Lindsay, who ran Mayor Ed Murray’s homeless navigation team before resigning to run for city attorney, has also criticized O’Brien’s legislation. 

"As drafted, this proposed ordinance is a major step in the wrong direction," he wrote in a blog post. "The net effect of the legislation would be to make residential vehicles beyond the law. That will not help vehicle residents get into shelter faster, will not keep them safe in their vehicles, and would have a dramatic impact on the landscape of neighborhoods across the city." 

Lindsay also wrote, "Seattle needs to do much more to address the homelessness and addiction crises gripping our streets. That should mean investing in compassionate programs that work, not those that have already failed. Seattle previously piloted safe lots for those living in their vehicles. According to the Human Services Department, the cost of that program (including porta potties, water, and case management) was almost $2,000 per vehicle per month – in other words, it costs as much to responsibly support someone in their vehicle outside as it does to get them into traditional housing. And, unfortunately, few people transitioned to safer shelter during that pilot program."

On Monday afternoon, KING 5 sent a request to O’Brien to discuss his draft ordinance. He did not respond.

Instead, he recorded a YouTube statement attempting to quell concerns, saying the language in his proposal, as reported on KING 5, has been "sensationalized and played on the worst fears that people have about who are our homeless population in our community.” However, he acknowledged that homeless RV campers "do not have the resources to pay tickets," and "we need to have an alternative path."

O’Brien acknowledged his draft ordinance includes "alternative enforcement path for people that are participating in a vehicular residence program." He also said "I do not intend to have that exemption for sexual exploitation." 

He claims he may have something to formally introduce next week, although his working group’s findings will be discussed at a Council committee hearing Wednesday afternoon.

© 2017 KING-TV


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