Seattle Municipal Code is clear: No one is allowed to park a vehicle on the same block of a city street for longer than 72 consecutive hours. As the Seattle Department of Transportation dryly notes on its website, “Public streets are not an appropriate place for long-term vehicle storage.”
However, even before the pandemic parking enforcement was spotty at best. That meant RVs and other vehicles formed encampments that in some places lasted for years.
Take, for instance, Southwest Andover Street in West Seattle, where a line of dilapidated RVs and trucks dug in next to Nucor Steel Seattle and across from a health club for more than six years. The West Seattle Blog documented several shootings, as well as police reports in the area for theft, property destruction and harassment.
When the city finally cleared the encampment in June, nearby business owners weren’t taking any chances after vehicles left.
In a move replicated in other neighborhoods across the city, large concrete blocks have been placed in the public parking strip, preventing RVs from coming back.
Who places these structures isn’t always obvious, but the message is clear: Business owners and neighbors would rather have less parking if it guarantees they won’t be subject to the chaos and violence of entrenched vehicle encampments.
As detailed by Times reporter Amanda Zhou, this riled some homeless advocates, claiming the city is enforcing parking laws but not cracking down on those who place illegal concrete blocks in the right of way.
This is a wrong perception.
The concrete blocks symbolize civic mistrust. No one gleefully limits available parking near their business. It is an understandable response to years of neglect and fighting for City Hall’s attention.
To state the obvious, businesses pay the taxes that help fund the human services that are needed for people living in their vehicles to transition to more permanent housing. This includes setting up dedicated parking lots where people can stay in their RV and receive support, a long-overdue first step.
According to the 2020 Point-In-Time count, 2,748 people were living in vehicles in King County, a 28% increase from the year before. Most observers say the actual number is much higher.
This editorial page has urged greater resources and attention for those living in vehicles.
In June, the King County Regional Homelessness Authority awarded the Low Income Housing Institute $1.9 million to create the Seattle RV Safe Lot. The contract runs until December. Much more needs to be done.
Seattle city government has something to prove. Can it effectively return to enforcing the laws, and provide basic public safety in all neighborhoods? If so, the concrete blocks should be removed.
But for now, these obstacles represent a rejection of the status quo, and an act of desperation by those who fund city services and whose goodwill and patience has stretched past the breaking point.
The city’s focus should be on finding solutions to those living in their vehicles, not fining business owners for trying to make up for the government’s failings.