Seattle Councilman Wants To Ease Rstrictions On City Parks FWD

Tom Boland (
Sat, 22 May 1999 11:48:38 -0700 (PDT)

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FWD  Seattle Times [Local News] - Wednesday, May 19, 1999


Linda Keene
Seattle Times staff reporter

     When the rights of one group collide with another, laws are
introduced, debated, enforced and tweaked. So it goes with an ordinance
that bans some people from Seattle parks.

     Seattle City Councilman Nick Licata wants to dilute the law, saying it
has a disproportionate impact on the homeless and minorities, and it has
jailed people unjustly for long periods of time.

     Seattle police, park officials and some residents disagree, saying the
ordinance has made parks more orderly and safe - protecting the rights of
park users against uncivil and criminal behavior.

     A public hearing is scheduled tomorrow night to debate proposed
amendments to the Parks Enhanced Code Enforcement Ordinance. It will be at
6:30 p.m. in the Seattle City Council chambers in the Municipal Building.

     "This has had a devastating impact on people of little means," said
Licata's aide, Lisa Herbold.

     The ordinance, in effect for almost two years, allows police, park
officials and animal-control officers to banish anyone from a park for
engaging in unlawful activities, such as drinking, camping, using drugs or
weapons, indecent exposure or walking dogs off-leash.

     The first offense is typically punished by a seven-day exclusion from
the park, or other parks in a surrounding zone; the second is a 90-day
banishment. Three offenses in one year mean exclusion from all city parks.

     Records from the first year show that 53 percent of the people were
banished for drinking and 22 percent for camping or trespassing. Forty
percent of those excluded were minorities - twice the citywide average.

     Licata's proposed amendments to the ordinance would "limit the impacts
on communities of color and the homeless," said Herbold, who noted that
most of the exclusions - 65 percent - occurred in downtown parks where
homeless tend to congregate.

     Seattle police don't want the law changed. Lt. Ted Jacoby said the law
has helped officers deal with repeat violators in parks.

     "People argue that this is just another tool for cops to pick on
people who are already downtrodden," he said. "In fact, that argument
doesn't hold up intuitively or statistically."

     Jacoby said most of the exclusions were for drug violations, weapons,
fighting and alcohol abuse.

     Park officials agree. Crew chiefs have seen a "noticeable decrease in
vandalism and graffiti - the nuisance sort of things," said Dewey Potter,
spokesman for the Department of Parks and Recreation.

     Others argue the law is too narrowly directed at the homeless.

     Carol Ellerby, staff attorney with the Seattle/King County Public
Defender Association, said she represents a Native-American man who has
already been in jail 10 days for criminal trespassing based on an exclusion
notice he received when he was in a Denny Regrade park with three unopened
cans of malt liquor. He was not intoxicated.

     "It's outrageous," she said of the law. "If a Belltown resident was
walking through the park with a bottle of wine in his pack, no officer
would stop him. I think this law is directed at the homeless - to move them

      Lisa Daugaard, another attorney with the Public Defender Association,
said she represented a Somali man who was illiterate in his own language
and in English when police arrested him last August. He had been excluded
from a park, and was in a different park when he saw police ticketing
someone else for drinking, Daugaard said.

     The man approached the officers to tell them he was not drinking, she
said. Police did a check on his name and discovered he'd been excluded from
another park and was in violation of the exclusion law. He went to jail for
two weeks.

     "I think this law makes it criminal to be homeless and to choose to be
in a park," she said.


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