From KIRO: Seattle business owners say they are plagued by issues with homeless people living in RVs parked by their businesses and the city is going after them for trying to do something about it.
KIRO 7 got copies of letters from SDOT to multiple property owners saying the “no-parking” signs posted on their buildings are a “public nuisance.”
“If you can’t laugh at that right now when our city is in an absolute state of crisis,” Ballard property owner Erika Nagy told KIRO 7 on Friday. “And this is the stuff they’re going after, this is the stuff they’re prioritizing.”
Nagy says in the past, it has taken weeks for the city do anything about issues with homeless cars and RVs impacting businesses that lease on her property.
The letters from Seattle DOT came from the Curb Space Management division. They say the property owners must take down the no-parking signs on their building because part of the area where people park is in the city’s right-of-way. The letter cites Seattle Municipal Code, Sections 11.50.520, 11.50.540 and 11.50.560, which say they signs are a “public nuisance.”
Ari Hoffman said he put up the signs at properties he owns in SODO because of trash and crime that come with the RVs, including one that parked there Wednesday.
“We went over to him and said, ‘Move, you’re not parking here, move,’” Hoffman told KIRO 7. “And he said, ‘I make more money selling drugs than you guys will ever see in a lifetime.’”
The warning from SDOT says if the property owners don’t remove the signs, the city will remove them and charge the property owner for any costs.
The city and Seattle Public Utilities launched the RV Trash Remediation Pilot program in May. KIRO 7 has told you how they’ve done more than 25 cleanups in SODO to clear out RVs and clean up their trash.
Property owners told KIRO 7 on Friday they’re still dealing with issues daily, and both Nagy and Hoffman plan to keep their no-parking signs up.
“You want them down, you come down and cite me,” Hoffman said. “And then we’ll file a class-action lawsuit for everything that’s going on around here. If you want to call this a public nuisance, what do you call the RVs, what do you call the drug-dealing, the prostitution, the damage, the vandalism? But this is a public nuisance, this little sign here?”
Consequently, prostitutes are flocking to Seattle from out of town and cops feel powerless to attack the problem, according to officers who spoke with the Jason Rantz Show on KTTH.
“Law enforcement do want to do something to combat this problem because we know it is affecting the neighborhoods,” one Seattle officer tells me, on the condition of anonymity as they haven’t been granted permission to talk to the press. “We choose not to because we know that we will not get any support from the prosecutor’s office.”
A short drive around the Licton Springs low-barrier Tiny House Village, just north of Woodland Park Zoo, you’ll spot about a half dozen female prostitutes walking up and down Aurora Avenue waiting for clients to solicit them at all hours of the day.
Many of the prostitutes come from out of town, officers have discovered, having heard of the city’s lax laws. They come here knowing they won’t be hassled. Some are there willingly, others are forced to by abusive pimps, who also ravage the neighborhoods with drug dealing and petty theft.
This problem impacts the neighborhood, making it unsafe, while driving down businesses near the corners these sex workers roam. But the impact extends beyond cleaning up the streets and the nuisance they pose.
Cops aren’t necessarily interested in immediately arresting women selling sex on the streets. In many cases, the women are victims themselves and cops would like to help them, every bit as much as the City Attorney’s Office.
But cops want to arrest pimps, as they’re often nearby in a car waiting for their prostitutes to drop off cash from a client. Without being able to use jail time as leverage over the prostitutes to turn on their pimps, it’s a futile effort.
“The women would rather get arrested, get [released] in a couple hours of being booked, than dime out the pimp/trafficker that have intimidated them with bodily harm if they turn in their pimp/trafficker,” a second officer told me.
Holmes did not provide comments for this story. But his office, through his spokesperson Dan Nolte, acknowledges they don’t normally prosecute sex workers because, in the past, “these efforts were met with limited success…”
“The Seattle Police Department would arrest persons committing the offense of prostitution, and our office would charge them,” Nolte said. “But once released, those individuals would return to their pimps (and/or pimps and traffickers procured replacements), and the cycle would continue. Prostitution is a demand-driven industry. As long as demand exists, pimps and traffickers will be incentivized to drive more vulnerable people into prostitution.”
A few years ago, Holmes’ office decided to target the sex buyers, not the sex workers, for prosecution. They want to cut down on the demand. Indeed, last year, Nolte reports they filed 263 charges of sexual exploitation (compare that to the five charges against sex workers; in these cases, it’s because they repeatedly refuse to accept resources to get them off the streets).
Holmes’ office says they also want to go after pimps, but cops argue that job is made harder by the city attorney’s policies.