Story by Tracy Record
Photos by Patrick Sand
West Seattle Blog co-publishers
The mural along the alley exhorted, “Love where you live.”
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.
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.
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:
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.
“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.
At that spot, Hayes said, the alley is at times “completely choked with junk.”
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.
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.
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: