King County Council advances plan to ‘explore options’ for acquiring City Hall Park

Oct 6, 2021, 8:29 AM | Updated: 3:44 pm
City Hall Park Seattle...
A homeless encampment in Seattle's City Hall Park. (Photo: Jason Rantz/KTTH)
(Photo: Jason Rantz/KTTH)

A King County Council Committee has advanced a plan that could lead to big change at City Hall Park in Seattle, but not without pushback.

Lawmaker calls for Seattle to give county control of City Hall Park following closure

The motion asks King County Executive Dow Constantine to report on possibilities for the county to acquire the park so it can handle its own security, rather than the Seattle Police Department. It also asks for a plan to relocate any current or future homeless individuals who set up camp at City Hall Park.

That last part struck a nerve with councilmembers Joe McDermott and Girmay Zahilay, who get the need for jurors, staff, and the public to feel safe, but say “the question is whether we address the symptoms of homelessness, or do we address the root causes of it.”

“I’m concerned that legislation like this contributes to a narrative about homelessness that I find dehumanizing,” McDermott said.

Councilmember Jeanne Kohl-Welles — who co-sponsored Wednesday’s motion with fellow councilmember Reagan Dunn — stressed that this is only a motion asking for possibilities.

“This is not an either-or situation,” she said.

KIRO Radio’s Hanna Scott says the motion now moves to the full council.

The report that has been asked for would involve an assessment that requires sifting through crime statistics, mapping nearby homeless shelters, and talking with people in the community. That would also include laying out “options for the county” to acquire and assume control over the park, as well as exploring “possible future county uses” for the area.

“It is time for us to reimagine this space to ensure that it is safe for people to congregate, recreate and traverse safely for years to come,” Kohl-Welles said in a recent news release. “We can also take this moment to think big about its future use.”

Constantine would have until Nov. 15, 2021, to complete and file his report.

City Hall Park is currently closed, following work from the city’s JustCARE program to move over 70 people who had been camped out in the area into shelter spaces. Those efforts had come partly as a result of concerns voiced by neighboring King County Courthouse employees regarding safety conditions in the area.

Chronic homelessness reaches crisis levels in King County

The park neighbors the King County Courthouse in downtown Seattle, and has frequently been the site of homeless encampments, as well as a number of violent incidents. Some people — including courthouse workers — have said they no longer feel safe going to the courthouse.

KIRO Radio’s Hanna Scott and KIRO 7 TV staff contributed to this report.

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King County Council advances plan to ‘explore options’ for acquiring City Hall Park