What can and can’t the city do about junk, dumping, recurring problems? South Park resident organizes tour to illuminate

Story by Tracy Record
Photos by Patrick Sand
West Seattle Blog co-publishers

The mural along the alley exhorted, “Love where you live.”

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We saw it during a walking tour of the section of South Park where Jeff Hayes has lived for going on two decades. He organized the tour out of love for his community – but promised it would not be a pre-planned, pre-sanitized, city-sanctioned walk. Indeed, other sights along the same alley fulfilled his promise.

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About a third of the two dozen or so walkers were from the city, including Councilmember Lisa Herbold and representatives from her staff and those of Councilmember Lorena González, Mayor Ed Murray, and the Department of Construction and Inspections. An hour before Monday night’s sunset, participants gathered at a South Park food store/eatery, Phoralé, for introductions, before heading out.

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Important preface: This isn’t a story about how bad things are in South Park. There are all too many neighborhoods in Seattle where this kind of tour could be organized. It reminded us, in fact, of one we covered in North Delridge – also organized by a neighbor/community advocate, also with councilmembers and other city reps in attendance – almost eight years ago.

Hayes lives next door to a problem house, as chronicled by a KNKX (former KPLU) radio reporter half a year ago. But that was just one of his concerns. To start the tour, he led the group along 14th Avenue South, south of Cloverdale, stopping to point out empty storefronts on the southwest corner.

Hayes pointed out that all of the property there by the southwest corner of 14th and Cloverdale is owned by the same person. He considers it “irresponsible” that the storefronts are left vacant. “Why has it been difficult to find tenants?” one participant asked. “Parking” was one reply.

The building once contained medical-marijuana enterprises, Hayes noted, while mentioning – more than once, before the tour is over – that he’s not a marijuana opponent; he described himself as a “partaker.” But that particular type of business took up space that could have been used by other types of neighborhood businesses.

As another example, he gestured further east to the South Park Bridge, rebuilt and opened two years ago. The two most prominent commercial buildings in view by the SP end of the bridge look closed, vacant, inactive – one, Hayes says, is a former grocery store being used as a warehouse for scooters (the ownership is an LLC called South Park Warehouse); the other, a former dry cleaners, is or was being used as an indoor marijuana farm (the city’s online files show a marijuana-business license for that address). He said he had met with business owners who were “sympathetic” but not receptive to improving the buildings’ exteriors.

Next, Hayes led the group back to the alley south of Cloverdale, the heart of the tour. He described it as a “main thoroughfare for criminal activity.” The SDCI staffers (formerly DPD) who came along were in the spotlight for most of this. Questions included what could be done about vehicles in yards. If they’re inoperable, that’s against the rules, if it’s a single-family zone, the SDCI rep said. Here’s one back-and-forth with her and Hayes:

Hayes pointed out that as you head west along the alley, the property ownership remains the same between Cloverdale and the north side of the alley, up until (and excluding) an apartment building on the east side of 12th Avenue S. (City files show past complaints for all five of the single-family properties with that same ownership – 1235 S. Cloverdale, 1227 S. Cloverdale, 1225 S. Cloverdale, 1219 S. Cloverdale, 1215 S. Cloverdale.) Along the way, this back yard was the most startling sight:

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The house with an alley-side yard full of trash was described by Hayes as “an encampment on private property.” While the group stood and stared, a man bolted out of the house and past the group, into the alley, to drive away in a car that had been parked there. Another man came out of the house onto the porch and started yelling about being “pushed out.”

In another yard along the alley, a mangled car was clearly visible.

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“Now THIS IS AN INOPERABLE CAR!” the SDCI rep all but shouted. “This, I will deal with.”

On the alley side of the South Crest Apartments at 12th and Cloverdale – the only property with different ownership on that side of the block – trash was strewn around by an overloaded dumpster.

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At that spot, Hayes said, the alley is at times “completely choked with junk.”

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SDOT is responsible for the right of way, while Seattle Public Utilities is accountable for trash and dumping, it was pointed out. “We will ask SPU how many times they’ve been out here,” said Herbold.

The mention of multiple city departments/agencies led one of the other residents along for the tour to observe that dealing with “layers of bureaucracy” makes it even tougher – not knowing which agency is responsible for what. And repeatedly reporting the problems is not an ideal solution, Hayes explained:

Could the city require the apartment building to get more trash capacity? Not necessarily, was the reply, as eyes turned to mattresses dumped by the Dumpster.

Another question: What does it take to get a property condemned?

“It takes A LOT,” was the emphatic reply.

The walk continued west of 12th, still in the alley south of Cloverdale. On the south side of the alley, some properties were in good shape, with grassy back yards. Then there was one with a van, and another with a trailered boat that did not appear to have been anywhere near water for a while – it had been vandalized with tags, and the trailer appeared to be sinking into the mud.

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The tour included a look at the house by Hayes’s, which had been “abated.” “Nothing has changed,” he declared, wondering again why the city didn’t have a way to follow up on it aside from him “filing complaints.”

A city rep countered, “We have no way to address what owners and tenants do on their property” – aside from, as Herbold put it at that point, dealing with “symptoms” that might violate codes.

Meantime, not far from there, the man who had been yelling from the back porch a block away appeared in the alley, shouting some more. “Sh-t happens!” he hollered. “You gotta deal with it!”

Which is what Hayes was attempting to do.

Also pointed out along the alley: More tagging, painted onto a spot that clearly had been painted over previously. It included some abbreviations for gang names. “It’s a constant reminder of gang activity,” said Hayes.

Little light remained as he led the group over to Cloverdale and then east. Trouble spots here included stretches of sidewalk by new townhouses, torn up and not replaced.

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We fell behind for a few blocks, dealing with a breaking West Seattle story. Traffic roared by on busy Cloverdale, headed to and from 14th, and the entrance to the bridge. When we caught back up, everyone was saying their goodbyes.

This morning, we e-mailed Hayes to ask if any of the city reps had contacted him with followup the next day. His reply: “No contact from any of the city agencies at this point, and we had another volley of 8 to 10 gunshots go off in South Park this morning at 4 am.”

P.S. As noted here a month ago, Councilmembers Herbold and González got the new city budget to include a provision for “a task force on public safety in South Park,” which could lead to a more-effective way of addressing/preventing recurring problems.

PROBLEMS IN YOUR NEIGHBORHOOD?
While the system is far from perfect, as Jeff Hayes and others pointed out during the tour, it’s what’s in place, for now. So we’re offering these links:

Reporting potential code violations – junk, inoperable vehicles, etc. (SDCI)
Reporting illegal dumping (SPU)
If you aren’t sure who to report your problem to – this city webpage might help

33 Replies to "What can and can't the city do about junk, dumping, recurring problems? South Park resident organizes tour to illuminate"

  • KM December 21, 2016 (11:49 am)

    Those photos are heartbreaking. South Park seems forgotten by the city in many ways. I have dealt with illegal living violations next door to me in WS and they were promptly addressed by the city with citations, which was enough for our neighbors. If the property owner isn’t willing to abide by those rules and warnings, there needs to be real consequences. This is truly the responsibility of the city to handle these issues, more so than many of the issues they currently address. I’m skeptical a “task force on public safety” is going to fix the trashing of properties and our environment, especially since the “layers of bureaucracy” appear to be an issue in dealing with the existing problems.

  • old timer December 21, 2016 (12:36 pm)

    This is a really sad story.

    So many people on so many levels not living up to their responsibilities.

    From the taggers to the waste producers/droppers. to the property owners, to the myriad city “officials” who hide behind their procedures and rules, it’s a colossal exhibition  of childishness  and wanton “me first.”

    Big congratulations to Jeff Hayes and his great energy.

    Prayers for resolutions to the situations.

  • John December 21, 2016 (1:57 pm)

    I can’t wait for the rezoning to pass!  Looking forward to these waste droppers and taggers moving into the newly created affordable houses that will be surrounding  my current home….  Thanks Mayor Murray!

    • WSB December 21, 2016 (2:12 pm)

      Though that’s off-topic for this story, since you mention it, South Park is an “urban village” and is proposed for more dramatic upzoning in spots than parts of West Seattle. The single-family lots mentioned in this story, for example, are proposed for upzoning to Lowrise 2. And just to be sure everyone’s clear, if you’re upzoned, it doesn’t mean the “affordable housing” is supposed to be built there – the builders get the option to either build a percentage as “affordable” or pay a fee to the city to fuel a fund for building it somewhere else. (Here is the citywide map showing what’s proposed where – you can zoom/pan around – http://seattlecitygis.maps.arcgis.com/apps/webappviewer/index.html?id=6aafeae86b1f4392965531c376489676 )

  • John December 21, 2016 (2:01 pm)

    Mayor Murray needs to get on a bike and ride from West Seattle to downtown..  The waste dumping is an absolute embarrassment to the City.  The homeless thru everything directly outside their shelters.  Owns it get real bad and starts to smell they leave.  The City doesn’t seem to clean it at all……..  I’m sure the rats love it.  You can see them running across the bike path.  Other bikers will tell you the same. 

    • WSB December 21, 2016 (2:17 pm)

      Also, though Jeff Hayes describes the most-trashed-lot on the tour as an “encampment” of sorts, this is also NOT a story about homeless = bad. Many if not all of the other properties are owner/renter-occupied, including the one he’s been dealing with that’s next to his house. – TR

      P.S. You should invite the mayor on a bike tour! That’s the only reason this tour happened – Jeff Hayes agitated for it.

  • John December 21, 2016 (2:04 pm)

    Sorry…lots of spelling errors….  I can’t see how I can get back in and fix them.

  • wsn00b December 21, 2016 (2:18 pm)

    Wow. Somebody call the Hoarders TV people. Private outdoor junk hoarding is sadly all over Seattle/West Seattle in almost every neighborhood. Gatewood (where I live) has many houses with visible junk inoperable cars. DPD/DCI works on it in via an extended process but the (lack of) results is evident if you stroll around these neighborhoods.

    Heck Seattle city itself contributes to this if you believe in the broken glass theory. For e.g SDOT’s lack of maintenance with broken roads, weeds, etc. For example, weeds/garbage, potholes on west seattle bridge and every major road . If the area fundamentally looks like a sh–ty neighborhood that even the city doesn’t care about, the situation gets worse by people who don’t care.

  • Danger Zone December 21, 2016 (4:11 pm)

    I hope I’m not the only one that realizes a plague is inevitable in our city and surrounding areas. 

  • West Seattle Hipster December 21, 2016 (4:30 pm)

    Illegal dumping is an epidemic in this city right now (Ballard, SODO, Chinatown, Downtown, etc) but the current “leadership” is not doing anything of substance to control the problem.

    • ugh December 21, 2016 (6:12 pm)

      If you think it’s bad in the city, be glad you don’t live in unincorporated King County.  I had a neighbor dumping her trash in my yard leaving me with the choice to either clean it up at my own expense or deal with it (putting it in her yard just made it come back).  I was told my only option was to get photographs of her doing it myself and submit them to the King County Sheriff so she could be fined $200 (with the caveat that they were understaffed and backlogged and may never get to fining her at all).  Having multiple departments handling the dumping issues isn’t idea, but at least there’s SOMEONE doing it in the city limits.

    • Steve December 21, 2016 (10:05 pm)

      Maybe the money wasted on pronto could be used to clean up the city, which is becoming one big dump!

  • Kravitz December 21, 2016 (5:28 pm)

    This completely turned my stomach. There is no excuse for this in ANY community. What the hell has this city become? I feel like we’re in a third world country when I see things like this, and when I think about the elected officials and taxes we pay, it is completely laughable and inexcusable. Excellent effort and patience by Jeff Hayes to essentially single-handedly attempt to address and bring this to the attention of the city. We need more people like him in all of our neighborhoods. 

    • Jonathan December 22, 2016 (10:17 am)

      Here here – Jeff refused to let SP be forgotten. Without him, I don’t want to think where the neighborhood would be.

  • Dale December 21, 2016 (5:41 pm)

    I was on that South Park walk.  Lisa Herbold almost stepped on a dead rat in the middle of the alley, adjacent to the properties piled high with garbage.

    As usual, great reporting by WSB.

  • Jen December 21, 2016 (6:00 pm)

    Looks like we have a slum lord here in South Park.  I think those houses just rent by the room, so the piles of garbage and cars probably don’t even belong to the current tenants.  Pressure should be applied to the property owner to clean it up.  

    Maybe the tenants could benefit from some community outreach/support.  

    • B.W. December 21, 2016 (11:52 pm)

      Yup. South Park does have a real slum lord. And he owns a lot of property in SP. His name is Sal Hernandez. He is the one responsible for the lack of up keep on the store fronts at Cloverdale and 14th. Just go take a look at the southwest corner property and all the garbage right on Cloverdale.  And the many no operating vehicles in the lot.

  • KP December 21, 2016 (6:22 pm)

    I live in WS and work in SP in a light industrial area.  I will say, use the Find it Fix it app to report anything.  When I first started working in SP I couldn’t believe all the dumping around the building I work in.  Then I took a photo and uploaded to the app and thought I’d see if anything ever happened.  2 days later a crew was there to pick it up!  Have used it 5 times with results every time.  Works for potholes too!

    • KM December 21, 2016 (7:43 pm)

      I have had good luck with the app too, I used it frequently on walks, and rarely do I take a walk without finding a use for it, sadly. It handles the cleanup, but doesn’t address the perps, unfortunately. One of our neighborhood repeat offenders is our blockwatch captain, nonetheless. 

  • Mike December 21, 2016 (9:19 pm)

    Call in the EPA, if there’s hazardous waste reaching into water ways and soils, they’ll go after the city and land owners.  You want to see your city council jump and ask how high?  Call the feds.

  • dsa December 21, 2016 (11:57 pm)

    Are the empty storefronts a result of the bridge being out?   

  • captainDave December 22, 2016 (12:26 am)

    South Park needs an active public waterfront.  Several years age, we were working on developing an idea similar to the Center for Wooden Boats at South Lake Union.  We envisioned a “South Park River Walk” floating sidewalk along the river bank near the 14th St. bridge.  The idea was to elevate the perception of South Park to a desirable waterfront community.   There is a nice calm body of water from the bridge up to the turning basin that would be great for paddle boarding, sailing, kayaking, fishing, etc.  South Park currently has no public access to the water.  If it did, then maybe people would be inspired to do positive things instead of tagging buildings and dumping garbage.  Unfortunately, City bureaucrats abruptly put an end to our program, but I hope someone else thinks about using South Park’s unique location as a valuable asset to revitalize the community.

    • Danger Zone December 22, 2016 (7:59 am)

      Captain Dave this is a very good idea! I think it should be pushed and pursued again. The only thing I could imagine that would of caused city officials to shoot down the idea is that it is such a great idea and the area would become more popular and have more parking than the Seattle waterfront.  Our officials like to think that the Seattle waterfront is some great attraction for residents and visitors and it really is nothing great.

    • John December 22, 2016 (10:38 am)

       capt Dave best check his nautical charts.

      There already exists public waterfront access at the Duwamish Waterway Park.  It is a beautiful cove just a few blocks from the South Park Playfield.


      • captainDave December 22, 2016 (12:03 pm)

        John, There are several public street ends and mini parks on the Duwamish.   None have docks that provide access for people to get on the water.  The Duwamish Rowing Club uses the beach at Duwamish Waterway Park to launch their boats at high tide.  The river bank is very muddy and not easy to transverse when the water is low.   Our idea was to link the ends of Southern Street and Rose St. with a floating sidewalk promenade that would be in the water at all levels of the tide (like this: http://www.portofsouthpark.com/img/SouthParkRiverWalk-view01.jpg)

        • John December 22, 2016 (2:06 pm)

          captainDave,

          Thank you for the correction of “South Park currently has no public access to the water.” to “There are several public street ends and mini parks on the Duwamish.”  

          These all provide public access to the water.

          Apparently a “dock” is the new requirement for ‘public access’? 

          • captainDave December 22, 2016 (6:26 pm)

            John, It depends on how you want to define “access”.  Access to a view of the water is much different than access to get out on the water–the latter requiring some infrastructure to safely accomplish the task.  I started a nonprofit a few years back called the Urban Public Waterfront Association (UPWA.org) to encourage the development of meaningful water access for the public.  While many are in support of maritime access to public waterways, some don’t believe that people should be allowed  such freedom–so it can be a contentious issue.  We are currently not operating in Seattle anymore due to such opposition by certain City officials.  But I hope someone takes up the cause in South Park because I think it could be a great destination neighborhood.

            Without appealing amenities, South Park is just another lackluster industrial neighborhood where people don’t care so much about their surroundings and bored kids lack healthy distractions.  Neighborhoods with enjoyable public waterfronts tend to support higher property values and inspire more civic pride.   Maybe its not such a good thing for the affordable housing agenda, but keeping garbage prone neighborhoods from developing near the waterways is certainly better for the aquatic environment.

            I did a trip with Puget Sound Keepers up the river on their small boat in November.  There were numerous sightings of empty beverage containers and other consumer debris.  The Duwamish is a convenient conveyor belt for getting South Park garbage out to Puget Sound.  I think if locals had easy access to get out on the water, they would be more conscious of the garbage problem.

  • T Rex December 22, 2016 (7:28 am)

    Capt Dave, great idea on the South Park waterfront. 

    Would the Duwamish Native Americans be able to stop that or could they benefit from that in any way? Not sure on the legalities. 

    • Mike December 22, 2016 (8:50 am)

      The feds do not recognize the Duwamish tribe as a legitimate tribe, they don’t get the same clout as Muckleshoot and Tulalip.  It would take a ton of resources to fight for legal rights when the fed doesn’t recognize you exist.

    • captainDave December 22, 2016 (12:17 pm)

      T Rex, I believe the tribes could benefit by building public advocacy and stewardship interest in the river.  Connecting people to the water inspires people to be more interested in preserving the aquatic environment.  With all the garbage piling up in South Park, some of it gets blown and washed into the waterway from winter storms.  I have seen a lot more plastic garbage lately on Puget Sound.  This directly contributes to the degradation of local wildlife including whales, salmon and birds that inadvertently consume the debris. Also, we were looking into having a native canoe paddling program on the Duwamish which would help raise awareness of native heritage in the area.

  • Robert December 22, 2016 (1:31 pm)

    Here it is just 1 day after this article and I see on the corner of Cloverdale and 14th, the landlord outside on his phone and a big green dumpster. I see Scott the neighbor/owner of near by business out with one of his employees helping to clean up the mess. Thanks Scott! We need more business owners like you. Maybe Sal will sell you his building since he isn’t to interested in maintaining it.

  • wsn00b December 22, 2016 (2:24 pm)

    Google Maps satellite views (and then Street View) of that South park neighborhood show many more properties on nearby blocks that have an excessive amount of junk, garbage and cars. The problem seems pretty widespread. I’ve never understood why people hoard junk cars. 

  • Robert December 22, 2016 (7:42 pm)

    The property on Cloverdale and 14th was purchased by Scott and 2 others on Monday. Hallelujah! It’s a start.

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