What's Tony Thinking

Back in Seattle

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Linda and I spent a longer time in the Wallowas this year than ever before. Basically six months. And it has been a especially beautiful fall season there.

I got in one last hike on the Ice Lake Trail last weekend with my good friend, David Laskin. The first photo captures the blaze of Tamarack (a.k.a. Larch) trees alongside the East Fork of the Wallowa River. Tamaracks are the only needled tree I know of that sheds its needles for the winter after they turn a bright yellow.

The second picture is of Aspens along the Trail. The peak in the background  is Mt. Craig.

But then, back to Seattle, and the Ballard neighborhood where we have our little condo nest on Seaview Avenue.

Seattle is in the midst of campaign season, with the offices of Mayor, City Attorney, two at-large Council seats, and three School Board seats in play. I completed my ballot yesterday and walked it down to the drop box outside the Ballard Library.

To get to the drop box I walked through the main park in central Ballard, “the Ballard Commons.” For at least eighteen months now that park has been a crowded, garbage strewn tent encampment. “The Commons” is surrounded by newish (pre-Covid) apartment complexes, built there for access to the park and other downtown amenities. But for now the park is unusable by the general public. Additional tents surround Ballard Library, which is now open. It is kitty-corner from the Commons Park.

Allowing these encampments is a matter of hot debate in the mayoral and city council elections. While I can support authorized, supported encampments (“Tent City”) the unauthorized encampments in public parks and sidewalks seem to me a bad idea. They are unhealthy and unsafe for both campers and general public.

Former City Attorney Mark Sidran (1990 – 2002) has a good article about these issues at the Post Alley site.¬†Sidran is especially helpful in unpacking the 9th Circuit Court’s decision, Martin v. Boise. Many, including Mayoral Candidate Gonzalez, claim that the Court forbade closing unauthorized encampments unless there were alternatives available. That is incorrect. I agree with Sidran that efforts to get the unhoused housed should continue urgently, but that allowing unauthorized encampments in the meantime is bad policy, one that only encourages their proliferation.

Ballard’s main street, Market Street, which runs east to west, is already heavily laden with holiday lighting. Another noticeable thing, on returning and walking Market Street, is the number of businesses with “Now Hiring” and “Help Wanted” signs out. Restaurants, grocery stores and other businesses all are looking for employees. I know it’s hard for anyone living in a tent encampment to appear before a prospective employer “job ready.” But the side-by-side proliferation of “help wanted” signs and tent encampments is striking. Something isn’t working, but you knew that already.

The fall colors are also beautiful here in Seattle. Winter is closer in the Wallowas and will last longer. Spring tends to come early in Seattle. Will spring bring any changes in the direction of City Hall and in dealing with the vexing problems of homelessness? We shall see.

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