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Burien Dispute with Sheriff Over Homeless Camps

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July 27, 2023

Burien is one of several cities in King County that does not have its own Police Department, and instead contracts with the King County Sheriff’s Office for police services. Burien wants the Sheriff’s office to remove homeless campers from a city-owned vacant lot, but Sheriff Patti Cole-Tindall is refusing to do so.

In a letter to the City from the County Executive’s General Counsel, King County asserted that removing the homeless campers would violate two recent decisions by the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals which has jurisdiction over much of the west coast, including Washington state.

The facts giving rise to the dispute are relatively straightforward.

Burien’s City Hall and the Burien Library are located on land that since 2010 has been managed by The Burien Condo Association. Recently, the Association began enforcing a “No Camping” rule against homeless campers on the property.

Separately, the city owns a nearby vacant lot (at 6th Ave. SW between SW 151st and 152nd streets) that has been used as a dog park.

On March 30th—when homeless campers were required to leave the property managed by the Association—City Councilmember Cydney Moore & Planning Commission Chair Charles Shaefer drew the campers’ attention to the city’s vacant lot, and noted the city does not have a no-camping ordinance that would prevent the campers from moving to that location. Campers then began moving from the Association-managed property to the city’s vacant lot.

Meanwhile, on May 1, the City leased the vacant lot to Burien CARES (an animal-oriented non-profit organization) to re-institute the dog park. The City Council ratified the lease on May 15th.

The City requested the Sheriff remove the campers from the lot pursuant to the city’s police services contract with the county. The County refused, fearing it would be sued.

The City issued a statement indicating the County was mistaken regarding Burien’s facts, and mistaken in its application of the 9th Circuit’s decisions to Burien’s situation. The city reiterated that Burien has been trying to help the campers, and criticized the County for lack of support in addressing the needs of the homeless.

The City Council also scheduled a special meeting for Thursday, June 15th to allow Moore and Shaefer to show cause (in response to a 9-item City Council Agenda Bill) why she should not be disciplined or removed by the City Council.

After an intense 3-hour special meeting, the City Council postponed indefinitely the show-cause proceeding against Councilmember Moore, but voted to remove Schaefer from the Planning Commission. The following day, the remainder of the volunteer planning commissioners indicated they were resigning in a show of support for Schaefer.

In the wake of the Sheriff’s refusal to help under its police services contract with the city, Burien businesses and volunteers have been sweeping the property, reportedly with considerable success. What the situation will mean going forward for other cities that contract with the County Sheriff for police services (and previously provided 58% of the Sheriff’s budget) is not yet known.

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