By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
Less than a year into its existence, the Westwood-Roxhill-Arbor Heights Community Council has taken on some of the area’s thorniest issues – safety in Roxhill Park, Westwood Village, and environs.
Chair Amanda Kay Helmick called it “the meat of the meeting” for WWRHAH last night; she was one of the volunteers who helped build Roxhill’s new Castle Park playground and says she’s there with her family at least three times a week. She wants to apply for a grant for the park – but wants public input “what should we do with the money?”
That opened a discussion about the park’s components – which go far beyond the newly renovated playground and the newly installed skatepark. Safety topped the list because of incidents in recent months from armed robberies to an incident just last weekend in which someone was threatened with a knife at the playground.
The discussion led to revelations including a Seattle Police announcement that the park now has regular foot patrols.
Some on hand were worried about Roxhill’s restored natural area – the results of years of hard work by volunteers – being scapegoated as unsafe.
“It’s not the bushes’ fault,” Rory Denovan said, defending the diversity of native plants in the area and saying he doesn’t want to see the restored bog/wetlands area blamed for the crime/safety problems. His ideas include improving the water flow in the area and also altering a path into the area so bicycle riders could use it and so police could get in if necessary.
Native-plant steward Scott Blackstock picked up the discussion, saying sightlines have been improved lately. But he said one big problem is easy to find there – he’s found hundreds of liquor container components. And he said the transit stop’s increased traffic is a huge factor as well. But “You do have to realize, you have a jewel in that park,” Blackstock implored.
That’s why they want to know what the community would want to see, Helmick reassured him. Blackstock subsequently suggested lighting, for example, wouldn’t necessarily cure everything, since many problems have happened in broad daylight.
A resident who has long been active in the neighborhood mentioned seeing police in the park earlier in the day and seeing them there daily recently (something SPD elaborated on later). “The park is high on the radar,” said Andy Thompson from Westwood Village management.
Seattle Parks’ Phil Renfrow said they’ve been aware of issues there for years and have been working with Blackstock and volunteers. “We feel like the wooded wetland is going in the right direction.”
Could a grant be used to encourage more volunteerism to help maintain the bog, to “put people there and help the plants?” wondered Chris Stripinis of WWRHAH. Volunteers are hard to draw, Renfrow and Blackstock noted. It was suggested by a representative of nearby Roxhill Elementary that the school community might be able to help. Listening to that potential connection being made, “that’s why this group exists – to make connections,” Helmick observed. Former Roxhill principal Carmela Dellino, who now works for the city, noted that other area schools could be brought in to help, too – Denny, Chief Sealth, Arbor Heights (which she pointed out will soon have an eSTEM curriculum) – “These young people are the people who are going to help take care of this.”
Mat McBride, an area advocate who’s been helping facilitate during WWRHAH’s first year, said that getting students to the park had been a challenge in the past; it was subsequently suggested that perhaps buses for that purpose could be a target of the grant.
Another idea: An alternative to interpretive information that replaces the current signage, which one attendee pointed out is frequently hit by graffiti vandals.
McBride suggested ideas could eventually be woven together into a vision. “A well-used park” is a park that doesn’t have so many problems, he suggested, and if Roxhill Park was even more of a destination, that could help. “Is it possible for us to create something that brings more people (to the park) to do more things?”
Even more discussion of the park’s layout challenges ensued – which path is passable, which is not.
Michelle from park-adjacent Daystar Retirement Village said they are dealing with issues, too, from campers to loiterers, and they are calling 911 whenever something comes up.
Community Police Team Officer Jon Flores entered the discussion at that point. He explained that Officer Jon Kiehn usually handles this area but has been on medical leave (and is coming back soon). “I understand Roxhill has become a major point of concern for most of you … we are well aware of the issues.” He said many issues about a year ago ‘could be traced back to gang tensions,” yet they also know some issues are not related, such as drinking and camping. “The campers you’re seeing at Roxhill are a lot different than many of the transient encampments we deal with – it’s more of a 4-hour motel stay as opposed to an extended stay.”
Officer Flores then confirmed there are now routine foot beats in the park, particularly involving the Anti-Crime Team. If you don’t think you’ve seen them – “that’s the point,” he said, because they might be low key, undercover, starting in the late afternoon. “They are walking the park.”
Regarding last Sunday’s confrontation and knife-pulling at the park, he said that a suspect has been identified but not arrested. He said it seems the suspect thought someone was a rival gang member (but apparently wasn’t). He says “checking out Roxhill” is a high priority for all officers who work the area, even if they’re just passing by. Also: “They’re taking a zero-tolerance policy with underage drinking and narcotics use. You might say, ‘why is that happening just now?’ Much of what we do is at officer discretion – enforcement could be a warning or ‘aren’t you supposed to be in school? we’ll take you back’ but now it’s zero tolerance … citations for adults, report for juveniles that could be referred for criminal prosecution … if it is something more, there could be an arrest made. … They’re going to see that we mean business now … there are consequences.”
Liquor theft from the QFC is also a focus. He mentioned the charges announced this week against 5 suspects including a local restaurant owner (WSB coverage here) and that “some of those suspects” were involved, and this has led to a closer relationship with the stores, including reviewing surveillance video. “A lot of these bigger stores typically handle liquor theft internally,” but now with Roxhill Park concerns, that has changed, and the stores are working more closely with police. He notes that the rush for private sales last year didn’t necessarily come with close security scrutiny – but that is changing “because they are seeing the losses. … Safeway, QFC, Target, they are definitely aware of it now and changing practices.” However, Officer Flores also noted that drinking in the park is often done with legally purchased alcohol – it’s not all from thefts.
He also said they hope they are not cleaning up the park to leave it empty – “we want to see a park that’s being used.”
What about “you’re being watched” type signs in the park? asked McBride. Maybe that’s something for the potential grant, it was suggested. Carol Baker from Seattle Parks said they do need more eyes on Roxhill Park.
The wall of buses on Barton is a factor preventing some of that. “We recognize that problem too,” said Officer Flores, noting that West Seattle sees few Metro Transit Police, though the buses and stops are technically that agency’s responsibility.
Parks’ Carol Baker brought up the park sign recently proposed by the Morgan Community Association for Morgan Junction Park (as mentioned in our coverage of MoCA’s recent quarterly meeting). It could be considered for Roxhill Park, she said. Blackstock warned of the vandalism targets that signs tend to be, though.
What’s the best way to make the park safer?
“Get legitimate people in there.”
Daystar is a neighborhood-watch community and its residents have called in incidents, said Michelle. And it has walking groups, too.
Wrapping up the discussion, Renfrow pitched for the Green Seattle Partnership, and getting involved. “We need more understanding, we need more people who are trained … we need to get kids involved, move forward .. The city has this fabulous program. … We need residents that are in it for the long haul.”
ROAD-SAFETY UPDATE: Stripinis, who leads WWRHAH’s infrastructure committee, says SDOT finally answered the council’s request to take on SW Roxbury safety issues. Starting early next year, you can expect public meetings for area residents to voice their concerns, he said.
WEST SEATTLE TRANSPORTATION COALITION: WWRHAH is now officially on record as supporting it, after a vote at the meeting.
Keep up with WWRHAH and its future meetings at wwrhah.org.