by Erica C. Barnett
(This article was originally published on PubliCola and has been reprinted under an agreement.)
For weeks, the City has been scrambling to make downtown Seattle, Pioneer Square, and the stadium district inviting to the tens of thousands of people expected to pour into the area this week for All-Star Week. In addition to trash pickups and temporary park “activations” (pickleball, a free outdoor roller rink), the City has flooded the neighborhood with police; last Friday, in tiny Occidental Square alone, PubliCola counted at least eight officers, six park rangers, four private security guards, and about a dozen Downtown Seattle Association ambassadors.
And, of course, the City is sweeping unsheltered people by removing tents and RVs from the area.
Last week, Mayor Bruce Harrell’s office categorically denied that the encampment and RV removals had anything to do with the big baseball event, telling The Seattle Times that the sweeps were based on an “objective prioritization matrix” that naturally leads to frequent encampment removals in the area.
PubliCola has filed a records request to find out more about the process that led to the recent removals.
In the meantime, here’s how Harrell’s office dealt with demands by the Mariners to remove encampments around T-Mobile Park, where the All-Star Game is happening, in 2022: By sending a message to the City’s encampment program manager, titled “ACTION ALL – HIGH PRIORITY T-Mobile Park,” asking for an encampment removal in time for opening day along with “clean-ups throughout the [baseball] season.”
The urgent request was prompted by an April 6, 2022, email from the Mariners’ executive vice president and general counsel Fred Rivera, who complained that there was new “encampment activity” that “happens to be in the path between stadium station and the ballpark, which thousands of fans will access on the 15th.”
“Is there anything that can be done to prioritize this area, support shelter placements for individuals encamped here, and clean-up in advance of April 15th and potentially throughout the season?” Rivera wrote.
Three minutes later, Harrell’s strategic initiatives director Tim Burgess responded to Rivera personally, copying Deputy Mayor Tiffany Washington, “who leads these issues. I’m sure you will see some action soon,” Burgess wrote. The following day, Washington forwarded Rivera’s email to Donna Waters, who heads up the encampment program for Harrell’s Unified Care Team, describing it as “a request from the WA State Ballpark public facilities district.
“Opening day for the Mariners is April 15th and they would like to ensure that the public has a good experience,” Washington wrote. “Can you let this team know what you can do to make opening day great?” Waters responded that the City was continuing to do trash pickups and cleaning in the area, but did not say anything about removing the encampment.
Several days later, Burgess followed up. “How is this looking for Friday’s opening day events?” he wrote. “Will there be a removal before Friday or Friday morning?”
“Unfortunately, no we do not have the capacity to complete a removal by Friday,” Waters responded.
Burgess then forwarded Waters’ email to then-Deputy Mayor Kendee Yamaguchi, along with a one-word comment: “Ugh.”
The encampment the Mariners, and Burgess, wanted to remove in 2022 included approximately seven tents and six individuals. In contrast, the encampments and RVs that were removed in the run-up to the All-Star Game displaced an estimated 24 people living in tents, along with 15 RVs.
In response to questions about efforts to remove tents in time for the Mariners’ Opening Day in 2022, mayoral spokesman Jamie Housen said the City does “not have a standard practice” for removing encampments for large events, and noted that the encampment “was not removed before Opening Day but was closed at a later date.” The SoDo neighborhood, he added, “has the highest number of verified tents and RVs in our database. “As such, outreach, remediation, and resolution efforts continue to be a focus in the neighborhood.” This is almost identical to what the mayor’s office said this year to justify encampment removals in the same location.
Erica C. Barnett is a feminist, an urbanist, and an obsessive observer of politics, transportation, and the quotidian inner workings of City Hall.
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