When “no parking” signs popped up along South Findlay Street in Seattle’s Georgetown neighborhood Sept. 2, residents of the street’s vehicle encampment and their advocates expected a sweep for Sept. 7. The signs indicated there would be no parking on South Findlay between Sixth Avenue South until the dead end, Seventh Avenue South between South Lucille Street and Homer Street, and South Homer between South Findlay and Padilla Place Street from 8 a.m. Sept. 7 to 5 p.m. Sept. 14.
“We won’t find another campsite like this one,” said Brandon, who has found a community on Findlay Street. “Anywhere I go now is gonna be just me in a tent.”
Post Office not sent away
The city did not enforce the tow-away zones designated by 190 “no parking” signs in the area.
On Sept. 8, folks were still living in their vehicles on Findlay Street — a community known as “Post Office.”
Ed Ball, a concerned community member who lives and works near Post Office, said he had two permits from the Seattle Department of Transportation to put up “no parking” signs that, according to receipts, cost around $2,200. At least 25 of the signs have been damaged so far, which will cost $79 each, which means an additional charge of $1,975. Ball expects to pay more. He said that, in retrospect, he would have rather donated this money to a charity.
He sent Real Change a public notice form as proof he had a permit. SDOT said its staff did not review or approve this form, and as far as they can tell, no application was ever submitted for the permit that would have been necessary to make the temporary “no parking” signs enforceable.
“It appears that Mr. Ball went straight to the online form to create a public notice, skipping the steps necessary to apply for the underlying permit,” Ethan Bergerson, the Media & Public Affairs Lead for SDOT, said in an email. “Because this was done out of order and did not result in a legally enforceable sign, our computer system did not send the application to our staff to review or approve the public notice form.”
When Seattle Public Utilities staff noticed an unusual amount of “no parking” signs in the area, they notified SDOT. The signs had Ball’s contact information, and the department said it called him Sept. 3 to “notify him that the no-parking signs were unenforceable and he did not have a valid permit, and to discuss the proper steps to take to request a City led clean up.”
John W. Harvey IV, one of three managing owners of the area’s 150,000 square foot mixed-use Orcas Business Park, seemed frustrated.
“I need help,” Harvey said. “I’ve been neck-deep in this for 10 years.”
In the days of the 72-hour-parking rule, Harvey said he could talk to folks living there and ask them to, as he calls it, “shuffle.” Since that rule was suspended in March 2020, the living situations on Findlay and other streets in the area have become more permanent.
It appears Harvey has established good rapport with the residents of Post Office. He greeted one by name, “Banks,” who he said he has known for five years. Brandon said that Harvey, who he referred to as “J-Dub,” has been “more than fair” — “there’s no way that guy is that nice.”
‘Which “rats” are they trying to get rid of?’
Ball’s goal was to temporarily move the residents a few streets over to address an ongoing rodent issue. He said they did not plan to put up parking blocks and that the residents would be able to return.
“I’m trying to inconvenience people the least amount I can,” Ball said.
Ball said that at night there were “carpets of rats” on Findlay Street.
“There are always rats,” said an outreach worker with the city’s encampment trash program, all but rolling her eyes.
Orkin, a pest-control company, used the number of new rodent treatments reported from Sept. 1, 2019, to Aug. 31, 2020, to rank the 50 “rattiest” cities. Seattle was the 12th rattiest city. Encampment residents stress that, when it comes to living outside, where there is food, there will inevitably be rats.
“They’re getting all metaphorical,” Brandon said. “Which ‘rats’ are they trying to get rid of? Seems more like an excuse.”
According to an assessment by Sprague Pest, there are 80 burrows, or over 250 rats, in Post Office on Findlay. Nearby on Fidalgo, there are about 70 burrows, or over 200 rats.
There are certainly rats — no one doubts that — but Harvey has other concerns about the encampment. Harvey said folks living in their cars often park in the small nearby parking lot that he owns, which blocks the storage units he rents out. He also alleged instances of harassment among the few hundred employees and business owners who have mostly returned to in-person working at Orcas Business Park.
Taking matters into their own hands
The day after the expected sweep, Ball was out on the scene with flyers for a community cleanup scheduled for Sept. 14 at 4 p.m. To him, the rodent problem is a disaster waiting to happen; he pointed to the common association between rats and plague. If the problem persists, Ball believes the city will condemn the area and a sweep would certainly follow.
Megan, a Post Office resident who lives in her vehicle, saw the flyer for the cleanup and, when asked about her plans, told Real Change, “It doesn’t really seem like I have a choice. Looks like I’ll have to go.”
As of 3:30 p.m. the day of the cleanup, it appeared that two vehicles had left the area since Sept. 8. Brandon and his neighbor Kieth were packing up their things, which included about a dozen bikes in various states of usability. Brandon and Kieth were under the impression that they had to be out by that evening. Brandon was confident that they would be all packed up in time. Kieth said there was no way they would be out by night.
“We pretty much can walk off,” Brandon said. “All our crap, they’ll just throw it away.”
Anything they planned on taking with them would have to be cleaned thoroughly because someone from the camp, who Brandon and Kieth had been in close contact with, tested positive for COVID-19. Neither Brandon nor Kieth had any plans for where they were headed after Post Office. Brandon’s mom, who also lives at Post Office, is expected to get an apartment through one of the various housing outreach projects.
Post Office a permanent post?
The Sept. 14 cleanup never happened.
“The city says us walking around with trash bags is associated with homelessness removal,” Ball said. He decided to postpone his cleanup at the advice of SDOT, which allegedly received complaints about his community cleanup.
“The ‘Georgetown Community Clean Up’ event was not organized with City involvement or approval,” Bergerson said on behalf of SDOT. “We do not condone members of the general public attempting to force people living in RVs or encampments to move.”
Michelle Harvey, another managing partner of Orcas Business Park, told Real Change in an email that she’s “pretty sure all residential and commercial property owners in the community are disappointed the cleanup didn’t happen.”
“It’s a very sad living condition and situation for everyone involved, and it is unfortunate that our effort to help was not supported,” she said. “We don’t know what to do next, and hope that something can be done to help everyone and rectify the situation.”
Post Office lives to see another day. On Sept. 9, little had changed at the site. The “no parking” signs were gone, and a new “no trespassing” sign adorned Harvey’s now roped-off parking lot that shares a border with Findlay and thus the encampment.
Vehicles and tents still lined the street’s north side; a group of outreach workers brought water to the residents; and Brandon was still there. He seemed just as surprised to be there as the Real Change journalist who saw him that afternoon.
A crew came by that morning to grab the “no parking” signs. Brandon said they did not seem thrilled that the residents were still there.
He cannot imagine it will be long; he said Harvey made it very clear he wanted them gone. One way or another, whether by “no parking” signs, a community cleanup or a sweep by police force, Brandon said Post Office is bound to be cleared eventually.
As of Sept. 17, Bergerson said the city of Seattle has not scheduled the removal of RVs in this area. People living outside know the city is prone to changing its mind.
As the fate of the community he’s called home for over a year remains somewhat in limbo, Brandon said it makes him anxious not knowing when he will have to leave Post Office behind.
“I keep everything I need packed up,” Brandon said, “so I can go whenever they decide I have to go.”
Hannah Krieg studied journalism at the University of Washington. She is especially interested in covering politics, social issues and anything that gives her an excuse to speak with activists.
Read more of the Sept. 22-28, 2021 issue.