City Hall

McGinn's SODO Encampment Timeline May Be Optimistic

By Erica C. Barnett March 2, 2011

Mayor Mike McGinn announced yesterday that he was sending legislation to the city council to open a "semi-permanent" homeless encampment at the old Sunny Jim's peanut-butter factory in SODO. Under the plan McGinn submitted to the council last week, the new encampment would open sometime around October of this year. But McGinn's proposal could run into problems, starting with the schedule.

Seven months is a short timeline to open an unprecedented (and controversial) city-sanctioned encampment---potentially too short, according to the chair of the council's land use committee, which will be responsible for considering the plan. "If you want to do it legally, it doesn't feel all that realistic, because what they're proposing at Sunny Jim is within the manufacturing and industrial center," and will thus require not only a text amendment to the city's land use code, but an amendment to the city's comprehensive plan, land use chair Sally Clark says---echoing comments made by most members of the city council back in November.

Each of those proposals will then have to go through environmental review under the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) before they can be approved. Additionally, SEPA determinations can be challenged---Clark says it "seems like a no-brainer" that any SEPA finding on the Sunny Jim's site will be challenged, given that businesses in the area continue to oppose the project---potentially adding months more to the process.

I have a call out to Mike Peringer, head of the the SODO Business Association, to find out whether the group is planning to challenge the encampment.

Setting up the camp and doing environmental mitigation would cost $21,000 from a one-time insurance payment that resulted when the Sunny Jim plant, which is on city-owned land, burned down; any money left over would pay for insurance premiums on other city properties, and any additional costs would have to come out of the city's general fund.

Additionally, the encampment would cost the city around $86,000 to operate for the last three months of this year and a little over $202,000 in 2012, funding that will have to come out of the city's already-strained general fund budget. The proposal would require a good-neighbor agreement with surrounding businesses and residents, would require residents to adopt goals aimed at becoming self-sufficient; and would require residents to go to school or get volunteer or paid employment as a condition of living at the encampment, with the goal of obtaining stable housing within a year. The pilot program would last until August 2013.

The $202,000 would pay for three new employees (title: "self-sufficiency advocates") to staff and administer the site, plus $11,000 in indirect costs and $15,000 total for operating supplies and direct client assistance like bus tickets. That figure seems low compared to the $50,000 SHARE/WHEEL, which operates 270 shelter beds including Tent City, has demanded from the city in the past (staking sleep-outs at council members' houses and threatening to close down their shelters if the city refused to provide the money). Asked about the seeming discrepancy, Pickus responded only, "That is the budget for the pilot project."

One issue with even the (potentially unrealistic) September opening date is the relocation of the current Tent City, which has been stationed in a firehouse in Lake City since last November. Council staffers say Tent City's temporary contract for the Lake City location runs out on May 15, after which it will have to apply to the city as a permanent use (and go through the SEPA process). The mayor's office has reportedly not contacted Lake City residents (who were generally very supportive of the temporary encampment); Pickus said "I don't have anything new about the [Lake City] encampment" but is asking the city's administrative services department about the contract.
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