GEE AND URSULA

King County councilmember pushing to condemn park near downtown Seattle courthouse

Jun 22, 2021, 12:13 PM | Updated: 12:26 pm

Seattle, city hall park, homeless, King County Courthouse...

City Hall Park in Seattle, adjacent the King County Courthouse. (KTTH, Jason Rantz)

(KTTH, Jason Rantz)

Safety concerns have swirled around the Third Avenue entrance to the King County Courthouse in downtown Seattle for years. Now, King County Councilmember Reagan Dunn is pushing to have the county condemn a park neighboring that entrance as a public safety hazard.

City Hall Park — situated along Third Avenue directly next to the courthouse — has been home to a growing homeless encampment over the last year, with many courthouse employees frequently complaining about a subsequent increase in violent crime in the area.

“It’s a little bit like a war zone down there,” Dunn told KIRO Radio’s Gee and Ursula Show. “City Hall Park has become a hotbed of criminal activity.”

Dunn points to reports of one employee who “stumbled on a body coming home from work the other day,” while the King County Prosecutor’s Office estimates between two and five reports of assault near the courthouse every week.

Those issues also date back years. In late 2019, that Third Avenue entrance was temporarily closed after an assault on an attorney and a King County Metro bus driver. The entrance reopened in early 2020 after the county council put $600,000 for two additional deputies for on-street security, more security screeners, a marshal on the Fourth Avenue entrance, and outreach workers outside the courthouse to connect people with services.

Prior to that in 2018, then-King County Councilmember Pete von Reichbauer told KIRO Radio’s Dori Monson that there was “no more dangerous part of the city of Seattle or King County” than the area near the courthouse.

City, county to tackle safety at King County courthouse

Given that history, Dunn is hoping to have county councilmembers vote to condemn the land that City Hall Park sits on, buy it from the City of Seattle, and then “create a campus down there that can be properly policed and enforced.”

“We’ve got to address both homelessness and criminal activity [in the area],” he described. “There’s a different set of services for each one of those, and we can better address each of those if we have control of the property.”

State law allows the county to condemn a city’s land “if there is a use for it,” and then “pay fair value for the property” to assume control. And while that would likely be costly, Dunn also believes that it would be “doable.”

“It’s time to take action,” he said. “We need to really think about community safety moving forward.”

Listen to the Gee and Ursula Show weekday mornings from 9 a.m. – 12 p.m. on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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