Illegally placed concrete blocks invaded a public parking lot in Seattle. Why are they there?

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For the past month, Michael Diaz has been living in an RV parked outside Ruby Chow Park, a triangle-shaped piece of land, where planes roar overhead as they fly to the county’s international airport of King nearby.

Ahead of Memorial Day weekend, the city is asking him and nearly two dozen other RVs parked around Georgetown Park to leave.

Red “no parking” signs were put up and Joe Ingram, an outreach worker, asked Diaz what he needed to keep his vehicle from being impounded.

Diaz thought all he needed was new batteries and gasoline. But getting the motorhome moving is one thing, he said, finding a nearby spot to park is another.

“Where can we go from here?” To the next block? No,” he said. “Can’t park there. They have blocks.

These days, a significant portion of the public parking lot in Georgetown has been blocked off with large chunks of concrete, between 3 and 6 feet long. The blocks, sometimes referred to as “eco” or “eco” blocks, were placed anonymously and illegally by people hoping to prevent motorhomes from parking in front of their homes or businesses.

Large vehicles cannot park overnight in Seattle unless they are in areas zoned for industrial use, concentrating RV dwellers in a few neighborhoods. Eco-blocks followed, quietly increasing over the past two years in neighborhoods like Georgetown, Ballard and Sodo as the city of Seattle suspended parking enforcement during the pandemic.

But now parking enforcement has resumed, with people living in their vehicles facing fines and the possibility of losing their shelter.

However, enforcement of the growing number of eco-blocks is almost non-existent.

Disproportionate application

It is illegal to place ecological blocks in the public way, sidewalks or parking spaces. The eco-blocks cause “parking to overflow onto adjacent streets, block access to utilities, and cause other accessibility or transportation issues,” according to the Seattle Department of Transportation.

Of the hundreds of concrete blocks across Seattle, only 25 unique property and business owners since June 2021 have been warned they could face fines. According to the city, offenders could be charged $250 for the first offense, $500 for the second and $1,000 for the third offense, with no limit on the number of fines in the year.

Although the ministry issued a second warning for some properties, no citations were issued.

Earlier this year, the Department of Transportation said it intended to tighten enforcement of the rule that vehicles can only be parked on the same block for 72 hours at a time. Since October, the Seattle Department of Transportation has issued 4,000 citations and seized 2,100 vehicles, although the department says it did not seize manned vehicles until mid-May.

Homeless advocates say it’s not fair for the city to expect people in vehicles to obey parking laws while it allows businesses to stop those living in cars to follow them by occupying a public car park.

“The new mayor came forward on a law and order platform and that’s the law,” said Bill Kirlin-Hackett, director of the Interfaith Homelessness Task Force, which runs the outreach program. crime mitigation and vehicle residency. “We just find that to be quite hypocritical.”

The city says the main challenge in responding to complaints about illegal green blocks has been identifying who is responsible. Because the blocks are placed on public roads, sometimes near multiple properties, it’s not always clear who paid for them.

While eco-blocks are typically made with excess concrete and cost around $20 each, each block weighs 1-2 tons and cannot be moved without specialized equipment, making removal potentially costly or time-consuming for the city. The department says it also only responds to green blockages through public complaints and does not pay staff to ‘permanently patrol the city looking for violations’ as it does for parking violations. .

“Tow companies have a contract with the city that determines the fees they can charge for an impounded vehicle, but there is no similar contract when it comes to moving eco-blocks,” said SDOT in a statement.

Why companies are blocking

Dee Powers said blocks were sometimes placed before the pandemic but have proliferated over the past year as the city did not enforce the 72-hour parking rule. Meanwhile, RVs have remained in place, sometimes piling up trash and rats, and drawing criticism from locals.

Powers, who was previously an outreach worker for the city-funded fraud mitigation/vehicle residency outreach program, recalls the stress of trying to find a new parking spot every few days. For about three years, Powers lived in a 32ft RV in Georgetown and regularly moved his vehicle between two and three the spaces to avoid impoundment.

Often the powers would move their vehicle at night when the streets were empty, sometimes swapping places with a nearby friend. Underlying this “merry-go-round” of vehicles, Powers said, is an overwhelming fear of being impounded, losing your home and all of your belongings, and harassment from local residents.

Powers said most RV locals have found free parking harder to find due to the blocks and lack of parking signs, so they’re more reluctant to move unless forced to. .

Businesses often abandon the blocks right after Seattle utilities ask RV residents to leave temporarily so city workers can clean up the area.

The practice is so common that when the city of Seattle removed an RV and homeless encampment along Southwest Andover Street in June, the nearby West Seattle Health Club made no secret of its plans in a letter to its members.

“To prevent re-camping, the West Seattle Health Club is partnering with our neighboring businesses to place eco-blocks along the surrounding area,” the letter reads.

Eco-blocks appeared, but in an email, West Seattle Health Club General Manager Chauna Agosto said the gym did not place them after the city advised against it.

JW Harvey, one of the owners of the Orcas business park in Georgetown, said people who judge those who put eco-blocks on the street don’t know the reality of living and working near a construction camp. homeless.

Over the past 10 years, but especially during the pandemic, Harvey said he has spent more time delivering water and tools and talking with people living on the streets next to his property than he has. to run his business.

Harvey said he didn’t want to place eco-blocks around his property because they looked bad and took up public parking. However, he is tired of trying to deal with the “ripple effects” of the homeless population in his neighborhood.

Each time the city removes an RV camp and cleans up the trash, it only takes a few weeks for the sidewalk to return to its previous state, he said. Harvey said in his experience that residents and business owners only place eco-blocks because they feel like they have no other choice.

“Individual businesses and residents are putting up eco-blocks like taking matters into their own hands because if they call the city and say there are RVs in front of their business or in front of their house, there’s nothing they can do. do it. ,” he said.

Erin Goodman, executive director of the Sodo Business Improvement Area, said business owners are concerned about the safety of their employees or fear losing their livelihoods when placing eco-blocks.

In many parts of Sodo, the rats that RV camps can sometimes attract can put food manufacturers at risk of losing their license, she said, and fires that break out at RVs. cars can damage nearby buildings.

Although the Sodo Business Improvement Area does not recommend people break city rules, Goodman said business owners have asked for help and are frustrated when threatened with citations.

” I do not think so [warnings] are going to deter anyone,” she said. “They’re still going to do it and even in the period before the city finds out, they get a little bit of relief.”

Where the city stands on the app

Fremont Brewing’s production facility in Ballard has become a particularly criticized example of green blocks. The beer company is owned by Seattle City Council member Sara Nelson and her husband Matt Lincecum.

After receiving reports of eco-blocks around the facility, the city issued a warning to the brewery on September 29, 2021, stating that citations or a notice of violation could be issued if not removed before on Nov. 10, according to records obtained by The Seattle Times.

In November, Lincecum emailed a city employee saying he appreciated “your assurance that the [Department of Transportation] decided to take a break and reconsider how to proceed. Lincecum said it was seeking “written confirmation that the City of Seattle has suspended enforcement of the alleged street use violation for our brewery and the hundreds of other businesses also using ecoblocks,” including a substation in Ballard.

There are also eco-blocks along Northwest 46th Street next to a US post office.

“As I have also repeated, I do not want Fremont to violate city codes and I only kept the ecoblocks in place after receiving assurances from you that we are not currently violating codes. of the City of Seattle,” the email reads.

Lincecum and Nelson declined to comment.

After being questioned about the email, the Department of Transportation denied in a statement suspending enforcement and said it had started sending second warnings when there were no resolution.

“Our goal is to ensure that we have correctly identified the responsible party, and then work collaboratively with them if they wish,” the agency said in a statement. “We hope to encourage them to take responsibility for removing unauthorized obstructions so that we can find a solution that works well for everyone.”

In the meantime, with fewer parking spaces available, recreational vehicles are pushed into other neighborhoods or residential streets and are forced to park closer together, forming clusters.

There they attract more anger.

Garth Caroll, who lived in a motorhome for six years, said the concrete is a physical symbol of animosity towards the homeless.

“A lot of the community has so much hatred built up against us,” Caroll said. “We’re just trying to manage until we can get permanent accommodation.”

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