Exclusive: City of Burien sues King County for breaking contract in homeless camping ban

Mar 28, 2024, 11:45 AM | Updated: 5:36 pm

Burien lawsuit...

Overflowing trash from a homeless encampment in Burien. (Photo courtesy of KIRO 7)

(Photo courtesy of KIRO 7)

The City of Burien filed a lawsuit against King County Sheriff Patti Cole Tindall. The city is alleging the county breached its Interlocal Agreement (IA) for refusing to enforce a lawfully adopted homeless camping ban.

The lawsuit, filed in Snohomish County Superior Court, argues the county did not follow the agreement by challenging the city’s anti-camping ban in court. Ordinance 832 prohibits homeless encampments within 500 feet of locations with vulnerable populations, such as schools and parks, when shelter space is available.

Cole-Tindall, a political appointment of Executive Dow Constantine, secretly informed deputies not to enforce the ordinance. She never informed city leaders.

After The Jason Rantz Show on KTTH exclusively reported on her orders, the sheriff reached out to city leaders. Days later, her office filed a lawsuit against the city, asking a court to determine the constitutionality of the ordinance. Cold-Tindall claimed that Constantine did not have a hand in her decisions, a position that city leaders find hard to believe.

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Why is the city of Burien suing King County?

In an exclusive interview with The Jason Rantz Show on KTTH, Burien Mayor Kevin Schilling said they brought the lawsuit because the county is refusing to follow proper protocol outlined in the ILA agreement.

“So our process is with the King County Sheriff’s Office Oversight Committee, where they [Sheriff’s Office] would bring something to them. And then the oversight oversight committee would work together with all the other agencies, organizations, cities who are members, to determine if something has been violated or not,” Schilling explained. “So that never happened with the sheriff to us.”

Schilling said prior to filing its lawsuit against the county, the Burien city manager first brought their complaint up with the Oversight Committee.

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What’s the purpose of the Burien lawsuit?

Burien pays the county approximately $16 million for law enforcement services (45% of the city’s budget), according to the mayor. City leaders now question if it’s worth the cost. Many worry a politically-appointed sheriff acts in the interests of the county executive, at the expense of their city.

The end goal of the Burien lawsuit is two-fold, according to the mayor. First, the city wants enforcement of its ordinance. Schilling points out that since the sheriff stopped enforcement of its ban, three homeless people have overdosed, one fatally.

Second, this could give the city a way to end its contract. City leaders may pivot to a local police force under city control, but it’s expensive. They may ask residents to vote on a tax that covers the costs of a Burien Police Department.

“It’s about voters in Burien. And I think there’s been a serious distrust overall, in the relationship between our city and King County, no doubt about it, because they haven’t been enforcing this rule,” Schilling explained. “And we’ve all seen now that King County can just go and say, ‘No, we’re not going to do that.’ And I think that the natural next step to any of this is figuring out how Burien, as a community, can be independent and autonomous, as much as possible, while still maintaining some element of partnership.”

Supreme Court is about to take up this issue

The timing of the county’s lawsuit is curious. The United States Supreme Court has agreed to hear a case challenging limitations on how cities enforce homeless camping bans.

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that such bans violate the constitutional rights of the homeless if no shelters are available. Though the Burien ordinance allows for a ban only when shelter is available, the Supreme Court may decide that’s not even necessary.

The case comes out of Grants Pass, Oregon.

The city contested the Ninth Circuit Court’s ruling, citing public safety and health concerts. City leaders argued that, without the ability to clear homeless encampments, they’ve seen a surge in “crime, fires, the re-emergence of medieval diseases, environmental harm and record levels of drug overdoses and deaths on public streets.”

Cities and associations led by liberals and conservatives have backed Grants Pass, filing amici curiae, legal filings in support of a cause, with the Supreme Court. The city of Seattle and the Washington State Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs filed in support of Grants Pass.

The Supreme Court will hear arguments for the City of Grants Pass, Oregon v. Johnson on April 22.

Update: March 28, 2024, 5:35 p.m.

The King County Sheriff’s Office released the following updated statement to the Jason Rantz Show on KTTH: “The constitutionality of Burien’s anti-camping ordinance is squarely before the federal court.  Burien’s attempt to avoid a binding judgment by filing a lawsuit in Snohomish County is just a misguided distraction as we await decision from the federal court.”

Listen to The Jason Rantz Show on weekday afternoons from 3-6 p.m. on KTTH 770 AM (HD Radio 97.3 FM HD-Channel 3). Subscribe to the podcast here. Follow Jason on X, formerly known as TwitterInstagram and Facebook.

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Exclusive: City of Burien sues King County for breaking contract in homeless camping ban