Seattle to maintain control of troubled City Hall Park

Oct 17, 2022, 5:21 PM

city hall park...

King County Executive Dow Constantine and Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell announced Friday the city would be retaining ownership of City Hall Park and handling its security. (KIRO 7)

(KIRO 7)

King County Executive Dow Constantine and Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell announced Friday the city would retain ownership of City Hall Park and handle its security.

“After months of continued engagement on this potential land swap, we believe City Hall Park should remain with the City of Seattle,” said Harrell in a prepared statement Friday. Mayor Harrell dedicated $2.8 million in his budget proposal currently being debated by the city council for “activation, security, and a visible presence” in the park.

It reverses a 2021 plan for King County to take over the troubled park from the city of Seattle, which appeared to lack the resources to ensure its safety.

The move came after a homeless encampment had taken up residence in the park, where a stabbing and several assaults soon followed within the encampment – on top of other security concerns in and around the King County courthouse, including the near sexual assault of a staffer in the ladies room.

Those security concerns prompted King County Councilmember Jeanne Kohl-Wells to propose a measure for a land swap with the city that was ultimately passed by the county council and later signed off on by then-Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan.

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But there was pushback almost instantly, both on and off the council.

“These are some of the last places where our community members can just simply be,” said one public commenter as he pleaded for a delay of the final vote.

“Several questions remain unanswered regarding the future of the public green space,” said another man.

County Councilmember Girmay Zahilay was concerned about the homelessness impact.

“The question is whether we address the symptoms of homelessness or do we address the root causes of it,” questioned Zahilay.

“I’m concerned that legislation like this contributes to a narrative about homelessness that I find de-humanizing,” said Councilmember Joe McDermott.

But ahead of the final vote, County Councilmember Reagan Dunn laid out the bottom line.

“Seattle has the highest homeless population per capita of any city in the United States, we have got to start showing success stories. We have precious few related to homelessness,” said Dunn. “I hope that this turns out to be one of them.”

Kohl-Wells insisted it was not an either-or situation.

The park has had fencing around it for more than a year now as the county worked on coming up with a final plan on what to do with it – but now there’s no need.

The city said it would work with local transit agencies to ensure visible security at nearby bus and rail stations, and work with building owners to make sure there are appropriate security measures in place.

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The city also would allow food trucks in the park on weekdays and create more moveable and fixed seating areas while also helping the business community fill vacant storefronts.

“I’m looking forward to the City of Seattle making investments and improvements to this cornerstone of downtown Seattle,” Constantine said. “Making this long-neglected space a safe and enjoyable park for thousands of King County staff, jurors, customers, visitors, and residents will help restore and revitalize downtown Seattle.”

Many, including County Councilmember Joe McDermott, celebrated the announcement.

“City resources should maintain and operate city parks,” McDermott, who led the opposition to the land swap, told The Seattle Times Friday.

But others who work and live in the area said they still have the same concerns as before, given that Seattle Police have never had the resources necessary to provide the security needed at the park – a situation made worse by the ongoing staffing shortage.

One source who spoke to KIRO Newsradio on condition of anonymity said, at the very least, they hope the city does not remove the chain link fencing that has been up around the park without having a safety plan in place.

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