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Downtown Seattle group asks City Hall, King County Council to 'take action' on safety

KOMO-TV Seattle logo KOMO-TV Seattle 10/10/2021 Alfred Charles, Executive Producer

SEATTLE -- A downtown booster group is calling on the Seattle City Council and King County Council Hall to take "immediate action" to address the issues plaguing the central business district.

In a letter sent Thursday, the Downtown Seattle Association asked leaders of both governments to move quickly to improve public safety in downtown by focusing on the "twin crises of mental health and substance abuse."

"There’s a lot of positive momentum toward renewing and reopening downtown Seattle, but we face a safety and homelessness crisis that demands urgent action," Jon Scholes, president and CEO of the group, wrote.  "The lack of a clear and well-resourced strategy to address mental health issues, substance use disorder and ensure public safety and security is a very real threat to downtown’s continued recovery and to the lives of people in need."

The Seattle booster organization said it had met with a group of downtown stakeholders across a broad range of industries, including restaurants, small businesses, non-profits and the arts, to discuss issues affecting the central business district.

Out of those meetings, the group issued a series of requests to the elected leaders, including:

  1. Asking the Seattle City Council to approve Mayor Jenny Durkan’s public safety and housing investments in her proposed 2022 budget that call for increasing police staffing, building new housing and shelter, expanding the Health One program and increasing the number of community service officers.
  2. Urging both councils to fully fund implementation of the recommendations of the 2019 High Barrier Work Group, which came up with a series of suggestions to deal with people who have repeated run ins with police.
  3. Asking the City Council to establish a "safety and security" grant program to provide reimbursement to small businesses, retailers and arts and cultural venues that now have significant security expenses because of reduced staffing for the Seattle Police Department or have to endure lengthy wait times before officers arrive to provide help.
  4. Requesting that both councils jointly fund a program to address and reduce instances of organized retail crime along with working to eliminate criminal shoplifting rackets that are targeting national retailers.
  5. Asking both councils to jointly support the development and funding for a downtown homelessness response strategy led by the Regional Homelessness Authority that will provide necessary emergency and permanent housing, outreach, treatment and ongoing care to the unsheltered population downtown.

The Downtown Seattle Association is a non-profit group that works to boost the fortunes of the central district.

The group said the COVID-19 pandemic has had "an outsized impact on the 12 neighborhoods that comprise downtown Seattle, resulting in more than 500 permanent small business closures, the cancellation of 90 conventions, and a 65% decrease in earned income in 2020 21 for arts and cultural organizations. "

In a written statement to KOMO News, Seattle City Councilman Andrew Lewis said: "“I want to express my gratitude to these leaders for coming forward with thoughtful recommendations to address the public safety crisis in Downtown Seattle. There is significant overlap between the Council’s 2021 budget priorities and the goals of this letter, including a fully-funded police hiring class and investment in the innovative JustCARE program. This fall, we need to look toward building on those investments in the 2022 budget, and these items deserve our full consideration.”

King County Councilmember Jeanne Kohl-Welles also issued a statement to KOMO News in response to the requests by the Downtown Seattle Association.

"I am fully aware of the major safety and security issues facing the downtown community, but I appreciate and respect the Downtown Seattle Association for coming together and making their urgent requests to both the King County Council and the Seattle City Council. Certainly, I think we all understand that the City has the main jurisdiction on this, but I remain committed to doing everything in the County Council’s power to be a productive partner."


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