Burien's trespass ordinance to address disturbances in public spaces

by: Natasha Chen Updated:

BURIEN, Wash. - A new trespass ordinance takes effect Tuesday in Burien, giving police an additional tool to deal with complaints of illegal and bothersome activity in public spaces.

The ordinance language calls for a trespass warning for any conduct that is “dangerous, unsafe, illegal, or unreasonably disruptive to other uses of public property.”

That includes hostile or aggressive language or gestures, boisterous behavior, using electronics in a way that disrupts others, wearing insufficient clothing or bodily hygiene or scent that is offensive to others.

A first warning could result in being banned from the public space for up to seven days, while additional warnings can lead to being removed for up to a year.

The Burien city manager, Kamuron Gurol, told KIRO 7 the council “really tried to strike the balance – not getting in the way of someone’s legitimate use, as protected by higher laws, constitutional provisions, but also making sure that the environment is safe for everyone.”

Gurol said the ordinance was spurred by complaints at facilities like City Hall, the Burien library, and at Annex Park.

The Burien Evangelical Church sits next to the park, at SW 146th and 4th Ave SW.

Its pastor, Mike Alben, has invited about a dozen of the existing homeless population there to sleep on church property. Otherwise, those who stay in the public park after dark would be asked to leave.

“For the most part, people treat them with little to no dignity. And when they receive a little, they respond,” Alben said.

He said the homeless have cleaned up trash, raked through gravel at the church playground to remove any hypodermic needles, and graffiti is no longer an issue.

But others have felt this arrangement has encouraged the homeless to use Annex Park, and thereby cause problems for others who use the space.

Martin Huerta, who lives nearby, often brings his son to skateboard there. Huerta said he has observed fighting and drug sales.

“Mostly it’s these people, and I don’t know why they’re here,” Huerta said.

He said he’s bothered by people smoking marijuana near children and sometimes behaving aggressively.

Jonathan O’Dell, a 16-year-old homeless boy at the park, said the problems are not from the group who stay at the church overnight.

“Violence came from outside to us,” O’Dell said, describing some confrontations with people who don’t typically stay there.

O’Dell said now the new ordinance unfairly targets them.

“I just think they jump to conclusions, instead of actually coming here and having a one-on-one talk with us,” O’Dell said.

“It’s not targeted at homeless people. It’s targeted at anyone who would engage in behavior that’s unsafe, or dangerous, or unreasonably disruptive,” Gurol said.