Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Welcome To Brazil

The great thing about being the City of Seattle is that, apparently, you get to make up the rules as you go. Summer before last, for example, the city began destroying homeless people's campsites and throwing away their stuff without notification. When their secret policy eventually came to light, they commenced a closed process to build a legal framework to justify what they were doing anyway. This came to be called the city protocols for illegal campsite removal.

Now, when confronted with Nickelsville, a homeless encampment that doesn't just conveniently disappear on command, they've made up a new set of rules. This time, they've treated the entire encampment as an enormous building code violation for which everyone and their uncle bears responsibility. Even stranger, this notice of violations (download PDF here) — and subsequent penalities — stretches endlessly into the future to cover any possible future encampments anywhere within the city. And anyone at anytime, apparently upon the city's whim, may be held responsible for these present and future violations.

The bizzarro-world legal framework, designed on the fly for the sole purpose of crushing Nickelsville through a strategy of intimidation, explains why Karen Zaugg Black, the latest in a series of Mayoral henchmen, darkly threatened a visitation of building inspectors when Nickelsville moved last week to a state-owned parking lot adjacent to their original site.

The "building inspectors" have arrived. Treating Nickelsville as a homeless enampment, subject to city protocols, doesn't offer the penalties or latitude the city needs to properly bully the campers. For that, they need the Department of Planning and Development Code Compliance Division. So, the document posted at Nickelsville is both a "notice of exclusion" (nice turn of phrase, that), and a notice of violation of city land use codes, which is something we haven't seen Since the city attacked El Centro de la Raza and Trinity United Methodist in 2001.

There is much about this document that would be laughable if it weren't so serious. First there's the shotgun approach to identifying any and everyone who could be nailed for this, either now or at any time in the future. There's a SHARE/WHEEL identified in Vancouver, WA that organizers have never heard of. Veteran's for Peace, the U-District youth shelter ROOTS, the Interfaith Taskforce on Homelessness, all "encampment occupants," and, incredibly, "all John Doe(s) and Jane Doe(s) who are otherwise responsible for the violation." I guess that should about cover it.

These people are threatened, each and everyone of them, with fines of $150 daily that escalate to $500 daily after 10 days. To stop the clock from ticking, the site must come into compliance, which apparently involves one of the persons loosely identified here contacting DPD, in writing, for a reinspection.

Some choice lines from the document.

You may be subject to arrest for trespass and subject to fines and imprisonment.

If this encampment relocates or regroups at another site within the City of Seattle, that encampment will also violate City land use codes.

This ... is official notification of possible legal consequences for organizers, volunteers, or residents continuing to use any property within the City of Seattle for an illegal encampment or any similar use.

This notice of violation also notifies all parties ... that in the future the city will not issue additional notice of code violation, but will immediately initiate legal action.

And finally, my personal favorite:

This serves as the only and final notice to you for any future encampments under city's encampment protocol. You will be required to to remove any future encampments and all property immediately.

The notice served to Nickelsville appears to completely override the city's encampment protocols by executive fiat, and to make anyone they deem responsible for Nickelsville responsible for any other encampment that appears anywhere in the city at anytime in the future.

This, no doubt, is nine-tenths intimidation to scare off potential allies and site hosts, and will hold legal water about as well as a wet Handi-wipe. Still, notice has been served. The gloves are officially off.


Anamaria Siriani said...

Caro Sr Tim Harris,

I Would like to know why this post receive these name? What you mean?

I'm Brazilian, my country isn't a perfect place, you know!?

But, I'm living in Seattle and for me your country is not a perfect place, too! So???!!! I mean! I wouldnt write a post with "Welcome to USA" name to talk about my country/city issues...

What do you thing about changing the post name and stopping put other countries/cities/people in the spotlight?

Tim Harris said...

The image that accompanies the title is from the movie Brazil, which most people reading this would recognize. The following is from the Wikipedia entry. No offense to the Nation of Brazil is intended.

Brazil evokes the melancholy, dreamlike quality of its theme song, an English translation of a 1939 Brazilian song, "Aquarela do Brasil," featured in Disney's Saludos Amigos (1942). In that escapist film, Brazil is represented as a romantic, fantasy location that is the opposite of gloomy, northern countries. Gilliam was inspired by this song to create the fictional totalitarian government and the overall dystopian mood of the film.

The film centers on Sam Lowry, a young man trying to find a woman who appears in his dreams while he is working in a mind-numbing job and living a life in a small apartment, set in a dystopian world in which there is an over-reliance on poorly maintained (and rather whimsical) machines. Brazil's bureaucratic, totalitarian government is reminiscent of the government depicted in George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four, except that it has a buffoonish, slap-stick quality, and lacks any kind of figurehead.

Jack Mathews, movie critic and author of The Battle of Brazil (1987), characterized the film as "satirizing the bureaucratic, largely dysfunctional industrial world that had been driving Gilliam crazy all his life." Though a success in Europe, the film flopped upon initial release in North America, even with the extra publicity of the fight with the studio. It has since become a cult classic.

Dr. Wes Browning said...

Ironic, because land use laws are one of the principle first causes of mass homelessness in industrial societies.

BTW, you'd think someone who trolls for all "Brazil" references on the internet would know there was a movie by the same name, and recognize a picture from it.

Retromancer said...

Un - freakin' - believable. This notice is essentially a declaration of a "state of emergency". It is now apparently a prosecutable offense to materially aid anyone illegally camping in the City of Seattle!

"This ... is official notification of possible legal consequences for organizers, volunteers, or residents continuing to use any property within the City of Seattle for an illegal encampment or any similar use."

doe said...

guilty until proven innocent. welcome to the independent nation of seattle, a place where the laws of the u.s. of a. are turned upside down. i am rather surprised that those seeking to hold their city jobs by simply "following orders" have lost any recollection of the cadre they now join. none of this of course excuses the one giving such orders. it is imoral and shameful. no other words apply.

doe said...

oops, misspelled "immoral," lest city staff think i am just a dumb doe

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