ACLU Views the City's New "Nuisance Property" Law As Unfair. But Pete Holmes Remains Silent

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Whether property or tree, all nuisances will wither before the Burgess
City council member Tim Burgess had a dream that was a revamped nuisance property ordinance. In it, the current legislation was repealed, making way for the new. The definition of "nuisance" was narrowed to include specific criminal acts like prostitution and drug sales. And the city's nuisance abatement process was streamlined to make it easier for city officials to target property owners who ignore them. Also, dogs and cats began living together (not really).

That dream, minus that last bit, became a reality yesterday after the City Council voted unanimously to make Burgess' new ordinance law.

The move reflects a growing concern over the city's chronic nuisance properties and the folks who own them.

Under Burgess' new ordinance, they and other nuisance property owners will be given a grace period of 30 days to work with police to alleviate the criminal activity before the harsher penalties--fines, prosecution--kick in.

But not everyone is convinced that this new effort to alleviate site-specific street crime is ideal. The Washington state branch of the ACLU is concerned that the ordinance gives too much discretion to city officials like the Chief of Police, who under the new can declare property owner at fault after three "nuisance activities" occur in the span of six months.

In a strongly worded letter sent to the city council before the vote, ACLU legislative director Shankar Narayan argues that under the Burgess new ordinance, property owners are "guilty until proven innocent."

Obviously, the city Council disagreed. But in those instances where the Chief (whoever that ends up being) does determine a particular property to be a nuisance, the city can pursue redress through the courts, thereby making it the province of the City Attorney-elect.

Reached for comment Jon Brumbach, Pete Holmes' current spokesperson, declined to comment, saying that Seattle's new city attorney would be holding off on making any statements on policy issues until after he takes office. As nightclubs, bars, and the like are also subject to the new ordinance, Holmes, who crested into office on the pro-nightlife wave, will likely have something substantive to say. Angie's fans wait in anticipation.

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