The City's New Mr. Crackdown? Burgess Looks to Toughen Up Seattle's Law on Nuisance Property

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City Councilmember Tim Burgess continues to crank out new legislation aimed at cracking down on perceived social ills. Yesterday's meeting of the Burgess-chaired Public Safety, Human Services and Education Committee saw the first round of discussion on his latest. It's a new version of the nuisance property ordinance, one that attempts to give the law some teeth.

Councilmember Nick Licata seemed to approve, as did Bruce Harrell (or at least the intent behind it). Burgess' new ordinance, he said, seemed to switch the focus from civil nuisances to criminal ones. Harrell also isn't so sure that the current nuisance law isn't sufficient, despite the vagueness of its definition of "nuisance."

"It seems to me that it's an enforcement issue," Harrell told the Committee. "We have the power to do it. So, why are we not doing it?"

Aside from repealing the old legislation, the new draft narrows the definition of "nuisance" by specifying criminal activities like prostitution and drug sales, and provides city officials a legal avenue to revoke the business license of any property owner determined to be ignoring them, explained Burgess. (See a breakdown of the two ordinances here: Burgess Nuisance Property Ordinance.pdf)

Assistant City Attorney Ed McKenna said that the current law requires people to lodge their complaints at a public hearing before the city can try to shut the business down. Since the complaints are later made available to the property owner, many people aren't willing to come forward, said McKenna.

The handful of people who came to speak in support of the new ordinance would seem to belie that concern, however. Most lived on or near the notoriously seedy strip of Aurora North, a corridor that is home to many a nuisance commercial property, where life continues apace.

Last week, the P-I reported that an alleged prostitute stabbed her accuser (also read: john) in the face in a dispute over a $20 throw, but only after they were refused a room at the Seattle Motor Inn. And then on Saturday, police called to the Italia Motel found a wanted felon hiding in a refrigerator. She tried to escape on foot and, after being caught, tried to steal one of the arresting officer's guns.

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