Rantz: Seattle Mayor Durkan, admin keeping homeless lot details close to vest

Feb 26, 2019, 5:55 AM | Updated: 6:01 am
Genesee Park...
Genesee Park and Playfield. (City of Seattle)
(City of Seattle)

Mayor Jenny Durkan’s administration hid facts of a homeless parking lot program from taxpayers and the media, redacting key details in the internal documents they released for a public disclosure request.

The city is days away from announcing a pilot plan to the public, though they’ve done no meaningful public community engagement yet. The timeline is eerily similar to the city’s roll-out of a Tiny Home village they told the community wasn’t a sure thing, while they moved forward with the project behind the scenes in secret.

The Department of Neighborhoods has identified potential locations for a parking lot to be used by homeless car owners. The preferred spot by Durkan’s administration is Genesee Park, according to two city sources speaking to the Jason Rantz Show on the condition of anonymity, as they haven’t been given permission to publicly discuss the plan. Durkan hasn’t publicly taken a position on the location.

The lot at Genesee Park is meant to give homeless car owners a spot to park their car safely, while connecting them with working showers, bathrooms, and housing services. Individuals with cars oftentimes hold full or part time jobs, using their cars as temporary homes. It will not house RVs and the cars must be in working order, which is a key change to a similarly failed program under former Mayor Ed Murray. It’s unclear if there will be security.

Matt Markovich of KOMO originally reported on this development, but the city would not provide transparency in the program details, arguing the deliberative process may be shielded from public disclosure. Per Markovich:

KOMO News filed a public disclosure request for emails related to internal discussions on the placements of the safe lots. We received redacted emails with potential site locations blacked out. Typically redactions involved sensitive or personal information, but the city felt it necessary to black out the potential locations.

A city source tells me the department will unveil the Genesee Park plan to the community shortly, but didn’t have an exact timeline, though a spokesperson told Markovich that the plan is “a work in progress.”

Mark Prentice, Communications Director for Durkan, confirmed the general pilot plan via an email to the Jason Rantz Show on KTTH, comparing it to a San Diego plan.

…Mayor Durkan added funding for a safe parking pilot that would offer a safe place to stay overnight and a connection to supportive services for people living in their cars, not in RVs. The City is evaluating a series of potential sites at City-owned properties, and the City will begin community engagement as it moves forward on any potential sites.

Prentice explains that a recent count showed “3,372 people are living in vehicles throughout King County. Based on the experience of human services providers, often people who are living in their cars are working or attending school during the day and have recently lost their permanent housing. A car may be a person’s last asset.”

Previously, similar attempts to provide spaces for homeless vehicles were failures in Seattle. The costs were out of control, and it lead to an uptick in noticeable crime according to people in the neighborhood. The memory of that plan is leaving locals concerned about this new one.

“Children are here without parents, I’ve seen parents doing nefarious things in the car and children are watching them,” a resident told KOMO of the Durkan pilot program. “I’ve seen everything in this park and I’m here for only about 20 minutes a day walking the dogs.”

“We anticipate that the program will have low community impact, but a potentially significant impact for participants,” offers Prentice.

As they unveil the plan, the city will need to combat concerns that the decision hasn’t already been made.

Last year, the city secretly planned a tiny house village in South Lake Union. City officials claimed they hadn’t made a decision about the placement for weeks, though they put up signs declaring the village was a certainty. The permit for the village had already been filed and city officials dragged their feet, even confirming the first community engagement meeting was to take place. The meetings were meant to give the community a voice in the future spot of the village. But that didn’t happen. At the second meeting, which was supposed to be a listening session, city officials explained they would move forward with the low-barrier encampment anyway, though they refuse to call it low barrier. Many in the audience wondered what the point of the meetings were if a decision had already been made.

Is the same process about to unfold with Genesee Park?

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Rantz: Seattle Mayor Durkan, admin keeping homeless lot details close to vest