Cindy Pierce of the Neighborhood Safety Alliance estimated there were about twice as many people at the Jan. 28 meeting than one earlier in the month in Magnolia. Photo by Joe Veyera
Cindy Pierce of the Neighborhood Safety Alliance estimated there were about twice as many people at the Jan. 28 meeting than one earlier in the month in Magnolia. Photo by Joe Veyera
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Organizers of a recently formed neighborhood group continued their calls for a full moratorium on RV parking at a community meeting on Jan. 28. 

Several hundred people packed a room at Seattle Pacific University’s Gwinn Commons to hear from leaders of the Neighborhood Safety Alliance (NSA), along with representatives from the Mayor’s Office and the Seattle Police Department, among others. 

The meeting, which came just a few weeks after the group’s first public forum in Magnolia, was dominated by discussion on the perception that RVs parked around Magnolia, Queen Anne and Ballard are a magnet for property crime and drug dealing and the cause of an increasing amount of trash and human waste on city streets. 

Throughout the evening, both organizers and attendees had comments critical of the city’s efforts and response to their concerns.  

“I don’t have a problem with trying to help the homeless,” said Magnolia resident Harley Lever of the NSA, “but as the mayor points out, he doesn’t know who’s doing a good job and whose doing a poor job.”

However, city officials on hand were quick to point to their efforts since the last NSA meeting. 

Scott Lindsay, a special assistant to Mayor Ed Murray, acknowledged that there is a “very real property crime issue in this city” but also noted that there was a 10-percent reduction overall in 2015, despite increases in some neighborhoods. 

As of Dec. 8, there was a 59-percent jump in residential burglaries in the Seattle Police Department’s (SPD) West Precinct from 2014 but an 8-percent decrease in property crime overall, fueled by a 35-percent drop in motor vehicle theft and double-digit declines in larceny and car prowls. 

For the NSA, those numbers come with a caveat, with the organization citing a survey that found 26 percent of respondents had not reported crimes of which they had been the victims. 

‘Clock is ticking’

Lindsay said there’s a basic plan in place to deal with the RV issue that had many attendees frustrated, through enforcement of existing parking laws, along with offering a path out and to safety. In the last two weeks, he said, SPD officers have been escorting car campers to safe parking zones in Ballard, Interbay and SODO, as 50-vehicle safe lots in Ballard and Delridge are established. 

Getting those vehicles into the safe zones, he said, ends the “72-hour game” where moving an RV as little as 15 feet keeps a person in compliance with parking laws. 

SPD Assistant Chief Steve Wilske, who commands the Patrol Operations Bureau, said the department has increased its uniformed presence in Magnolia, and since the parking lots were set up, roughly 70 percent of the RVs that had been identified in Magnolia and Queen Anne have moved. Some have ended up in the lots, while others have left the city or the state entirely.  

However, there remain a small number with whom the department is continuing to engage. Wilske said there would be an escalating enforcement strategy moving forward, but the department’s efforts cannot merely be reactionary. 

“From my standpoint,” Wilske said, “I have to be able to plan something. I can’t react. It has to be part of a plan.”

Without that kind of forward-thinking, a rash of tickets would merely move RVs from one neighborhood to another, he said. 

Wilske also noted that officers are offering the services to RV dwellers and making sure they’re aware that “a clock is ticking on their decision” to move to a safe lot or go elsewhere. 

In response to the calls from some to tow away uncooperative RVs, Lindsay cautioned that impoundment sounds like a simple solution, “but it is the last resort. To simply impound their vehicle and leave them with nothing on the streets is a rash reaction, and we need to find them a way to safety.”

Lindsay also said there is no “one-size-fits-all” solution to tent or RV campers.

In regards to litter, Lindsay said several hundred thousand dollars that was set aside by the mayor in November in the state of emergency declaration for homelessness will go toward trash cleanup. 

However, none of the efforts mentioned were the institution of a full moratorium on RV parking within the city limits, something NSA organizers are continuing to advocate for. Lever said after the meeting that such a ban would free up resources for SPD and the Seattle Department of Transportation, leaving savings that could go to address homelessness. 

“The problem is the city’s not listening, specifically the mayor,” Lever said. 

Lever’s frustration was apparent near the end of the meeting, when he argued with Lindsay on stage about the city’s efforts. Another point of contention was the mayor’s absence at the meeting; Lindsay said Murray was participating in that evening’s One Night Count. 

And while he thanked the SPD for the work they’ve done, Lever said the city needs more officers, noting that Boston, a similarly sized city, has 600 more members of its police department.  

More money ‘not an option’

After the meeting, NSA member Cindy Pierce said she was pleased with what Lindsay said and that he explained things in a way she hadn’t heard before. However, she’s unconvinced that the solution is more funding. 

“I hope that they’re not coming to us and asking for more money,” Pierce said, “because that’s, to me, right now, that’s not an option. Throwing more money in it is not an option.”

Moving forward, Pierce said the group would probably work behind the scenes to see how it could help the city and respond to what the citizens want. 

“We truly are grassroots, so it’s just a matter of what we are going to do with all this energy that people have,” she said. “I think that we’ve got to work with that and go with it because a lot of people feel very strongly about this.” 

Lever was critical of both the mayor, who he believes is overwhelmed and doesn’t know how to handle the homelessness crisis, and most of the City Council, outside of District 7 representative Sally Bagshaw, who he called “a woman of her word” in addressing the issue. 

“The other council members are just absent,” he said. “These are the people that make the decisions, but they are not listening to the constituency — they’re just absent.” 

If things don’t change and the current strategies continue, Lever said, “it’s going to get a lot worse.”

“We’re going to have a lot more homelessness, we’re going to have a lot more drug addiction, we’re going to have a lot more crime, and the city has no plans to be able to fix it,” he said. “They haven’t articulated one strategy that they’re going to do that’s going to actually solve the problem. It’s just going to shuffle it around and spend more money.”

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