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.