SeaTac City Council powerless to block closure of The Firs Mobile Home Park


firs-protest-2016-10-27

By Jack Mayne

Objectors, often speaking in Spanish with an English translator, crowded the SeaTac City Council chambers on Tuesday night (Oct. 25), many seeking help to keep The Firs Mobile Home Park open.

A fire damaged the facility in late July and now, the owner wants to close the facility that has operated for decades.

Earlier, The SeaTac Blog reported that although the state Office of Mobile Home Relocation Assistance has primary authority for overseeing park closures like this, the City of SeaTac only has authority to require an owner to submit a relocation plan for city review and approval of the closure plan, not the closure itself.

City is powerless
Under state law, residents have a year from the time the owner provides official notice of the closure of a mobile home park, plus it must pay residents a small amount to help their relocation. If the city had not included a municipal ordinance to review the closure plan, it would have had no power at all in the matter.

That official state notice, over which the city has no power, was given just recently, so owners have until late October 2017 to find new housing and vacate The Firs.

“If everybody sitting up here wanted to keep you in your homes, and we all voted to keep you in your home, we couldn’t keep you in your homes,” said Mayor Michael Siefkes. “It is not under our authority and if anybody is telling you we can help you stay in your homes, they are not telling you the truth.

“This is governed by state law,” the mayor said. “The only person in this room that has any ability to help you is state representative Mia Gregerson. If she is not helping you, then that is the only person here that can help you.”

monica-mendoza-castrejon-2016-10-27People want to stay
Mónica Mendoza-Castrejón (pictured, right), community organizer and counselor at Tenants Union of Washington, said the people want the city’s help to remain in their homes. She also sought a meeting between the city and the people of The Firs Mobile Home Park.

“We are currently in a crisis and … we are requesting for you to extend the appeal process so that families can work with legal processes to have sufficient time to do so,” said Mendoza-Castrejón, adding the time residents were given to appear “was simply not enough.”

“If the families were to leave, it would have a tremendous impact on the schools in SeaTac and the money generated from students attending the schools,” she said. “If the students who live in The Firs homes, then creates a detriment on its behalf … they know that SeaTac is their home, not the hotels which John Park wants to build and displace the families.

“Having the families here brings tremendous help towards your beautiful, diverse community some many people love about SeaTac.

“The kids, hearing about their having to move are scared, worried and cry often, given how they fear they might have to leave. They want to stay in their homes that they are in right now.

“City Council members, this is your decision. It is an enormous opportunity for you all to join in a regional conversation on affordable housing, was well,” said Mendoza-Castrejón.

“This decision rests on you hands, the City Council. You have the power to decide the future of these families. It is a huge responsibility,” she said. “We have a vision for a better SeaTac and it is served by homes, not hotels.”

Wrong, city powerless
Councilmember Kathryn Campbell asked if the city does have the power to block the mobile home park closure.

“None that we are aware of,” Acting City Manager Joe Scorcio told her. Campbell then addressed the protestors, “Will you please translate that for me?”

“It is a private property matter and state law has specific processes for mobile home park closure,” Scorcio said. “The city does not have a role – the Council, particularly, does not have a role in closures of mobile home parks.”

When someone in audience wanted to debate the matter, Scorcio said he wanted to “stress very clearly opinions of other parties relative to the city’s responsibilities are their opinions – we’ve been following this absolutely by the letter of city code. I am not trying to get in the way of this, but I want to assure you that our city code is very clear on what our responsibilities are.

“The City Council does not play a role in the review of these closure plans.”

Councilmember Tony Anderson said people in other mobile home parks in the city could be concerned because “they could be next on the list.”

“We need to get it right, and give it a thorough vetting,” Anderson said. “Is here any way as a Council or as a city give addition time for a comment period?”

No, said Senior Assistant City Attorney Mark Johnsen, because the time is in the city code and would not be fair to the property owner because it would change the rules in mid-process.

Scorcio that that appeal is only on their review of SeaTac to the plans by the park owner to close the facility – it does not have the power to force the park to remain open to its current residents. That is decided by the state and not by the city, he said.

Then Deputy Mayor Pam Fernald said there wasn’t “a person up here (on the Council) who doesn’t understand what is happening and does … is not broken hearted that people will be displaced, but … I think you are getting some bad information and some bad advice.

“I respectfully request that you wouldn’t come here and say it is up to us when we all know it is not up to us,” she said, addressing residents and defenders of The Firs closure.

“We don’t have any legal recourse – if we did we’d be doing it. We can’t break the law, we can’t just change something on a whim. It is not up to us at this point.”

She suggested people who did not like how the closure was carried out should go to the Washington Legislature to get state laws changed.

aminaahmed-10-25Translate city’s website
Resident Amina Ahmed (pictured, left) told the Council it was good the city puts warnings of weather problems, other critical issues, on the city’s official website, but should be translated into the languages of the people living in the area. If there is an earthquake, she said, SeaTac citizens will look to the city for information and advice but often cannot understand English.

“(If) we are not going to reach the people the information was meant for, then it is for no purpose,” Ahmed said.

Richard Aldrich wanted the city to post on its websites the times that the Council’s study sessions and general meeting are replayed so “people who can’t get there will know when to watch.”

Anti-school bond pitches rejected
Highline school bond opponents Karen Steele and Laura Castronover were told they could not address the Council opposing the Highline School District bond issue on the upcoming Nov. 8 ballot.

Here’s video of the council’s rejection, based on Washington State RCW 42.52.180 (use of public resources for political campaigns):

Steele said she had spoken to three other city councils, but Mayor Michael Siefkes said that those other cities acted incorrectly, that Washington state law requires advance notice so that people can be available to take opposing sides of a political issue.

Castronover said she had spoken to Burien and Des Moines Councils, but Siefkes said other cities may not have followed the state law, but these were “rules we have to follow.”

“Where is our freedom of speech?” Castronover said as she left the lectern.


Comments

7 Responses to “SeaTac City Council powerless to block closure of The Firs Mobile Home Park”
  1. Joel Wachtel says:

    The blog may not have identified that State Representative Mia Gregerson was at the council meeting. It was previously reported that Representative Gregerson was trying to assist the tenants. One has to wonder about the timing of her appearance as it seems she only shows up at council meetings when some organized group is unhappy with the council. Also since she was once the Mayor of SeaTac you would think she would be aware that the city lacks the jurisdiction to give the tenants what they seek and would have shared that with the tenants. Frankly it sounds like another politically motivated show by old guard.

    Never forget that when the old council left they repealed the utility tax and left a $2.5 million dollar deficit to be filled, or rushed to sign a bad deal ILA with the Airport instead of allowing the new council to review it. Now they show up only to stir the pot!

    Now we have a balanced sustainable budget with a surplus thanks to the new common sense approach to running the city. Remember Mia’s scary campaign ads screaming this council would cut services? That didn’t happen! Everything is just as it was, if not better!

    Don’t forget the past my friends. The people newly elected to the council are accomplishing things the old council couldn’t. They’re running the city properly. And that’s Avery good thing!

    • Coffeecrusader says:

      Nothing in your response speaks to concern and compassion for productive citizens of our community and their children who at risk of being put out in the streets. You’d rather take the opportunity to politicize the matter. I know you’re relatively new to the community but do not push your east coast sensibilities on the rest of us. The issue is real and needs constructive discussion not political posturing.

      • Joel Wachtel says:

        Mr. Hide your name, I’m from here you’re not, crusader,

        My wife and I initailly tried to help the tenants from the Firs the first time they appeared at the council. My wife is a naturalized immigrant and she has gone through a very similar experience. So we do care. But our “Easterner” attitudes has taught us to solve problems rather than being part of them. In the current case, the facts are simple, the city can not legally interfere with the law established by the state. I am annoyed that a State Represent who claims to be helping these people appears to be using them for her own purposes. These tenants old us that they were being advised by that representative and they felt she would help them and the next thing we see is them back at place that can not resolve their problem. It doesn’t sound like anybody who can, is actually helping these people to me.

        I see nothing in your post that even suggest you are actually concerned about these people. All I see is a snark hiding in a field of anonymity taking a shot at the new guy on the block, using these peoples misfortune to fuel your perspective. So to me you seem to be part of the problem, not the answer.

        • Pam Pollock says:

          Well stated Mr Watchel,
          Isn’t it amazing how the biggest complainers have no solution or cry out “racism” because they have nothing to offer to help the situation they just try and use blame to try and stir the pot. All part of a well trained agenda to divide the community.
          How come Mia Gregerson having been the mayor and a current legislator is just now coming forward to try and help these people. This is a State issue and Mia Gregerson should know this. Showing up at a City Council meeting and trying to make the City look bad is a politically motivated stunt to help her try and recover from being kicked out by voters for her poor judgment and lack of real leadership.

    • Mysty Beal says:

      This is crap! When a bunch of white, middle-class property owners objected to a drug treatment facility being built in their neighborhood, Des Moines City Council wet their pants and the 33rd legislators and KC Councilmembers all clutched their pearls and worked back-channels to quash it. Now that a tract of land housing poor immigrants is being slated for other development, we all of a sudden don’t have any say in the situation! Good thing Mia Gregerson was there representing her constituents! Where in the hell are the rest of you, if it isn’t white, middle-class babies crying?!?

      • Pam Pollock says:

        Ms Beal, What have you done to help the situation besides cry racism?

        • Mysty Beal says:

          Lived in Angle Lake Trailer Park for ten years, so understand the vagaries and uncertainties of owning a mobile home in the capricious environment of a privately owned mobile home park. I don’t use the racism card often, since I’m white, 50+ and in the $225,000 tax bracket. And, oh yeah, didn’t you lose big tonight?