Editor's note: The Burien City Council is delaying the discussion on the trespass ordinance until Jan. 5. City Manager Kamuron Gurol told Real Change that the city council needed to allow more time on Dec. 15 to complete its comprehensive plan and that waiting would allow staff to continue work with the ACLU.
The Burien City Council is considering revisions to a controversial new ordinance that allows police officers in the South King County community to ban people from public property, including parks, for offenses as minor as poor hygiene.
The city council is reconsidering language at the urging of the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington (ACLU), which called the new ordinance counterproductive and unconstitutional. The ordinance will be discussed at the city council’s Dec. 15 meeting at 7 p.m. at 400 SW 152nd St. in the Burien Town Square.
The law, which took effect in August, gives police in the town of 50,000 the ability to bar, or “trespass,” people for activities deemed dangerous, unsafe or illegal, which includes threatening behavior, assault and sexual misconduct. Police can also ban people for behavior that is “unreasonably disruptive,” which can include hygiene that is “unreasonably offensive to others,” or using public facilities to bathe, shave or wash clothes.
For the first offense, police can trespass someone from a public place for up to seven days. For the second offense, police can trespass someone for seven to 90 days. For the third, police can trespass someone for seven days to one year. Anyone who is trespassed for seven days or more can appeal the citation in court.
The city council passed the ordinance in a 7-to-1 vote. Councilmember Lauren Berkowitz voted against the ordinance.
City officials said the law is in response to people misusing parks and Burien City Hall, which also houses the city’s branch of the King County Library.
Police have trespassed people around 10 times in recent weeks for violations such as camping in parks or being in the library garage after hours, City Manager Kamuron Gurol said. The city has long-standing rules against camping on public property, but the new ordinance gives police a lesser enforcement tool that avoids arrest, he said.
The city has met with the ACLU and will release a revised version of the ordinance for council to consider on Thurs., Dec. 11, Gurol said.
“We have been working on some potential amendments to the adopted ordinance to address the questions and concerns we heard,” he said in an email. “As of today, that language is still in process, so I’m sorry I don’t have anything tangible to share yet.”
Berkowitz wants the ordinance repealed entirely, but said she expects the proposed changes to be minor.
At a minimum, she wants the city to remove the section that allows police to ban people for poor hygiene and for law enforcement officials to track the demographics of people who receive citations to see whether the law is applied fairly across the city’s population.
“If you’re going to be trespassing people for smelling bad, I’m out,” she said.