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Burien Moves To Toss Out Trespass Law Criticized As Anti-Homeless

Will James
Burien City Council members at a January 2018 meeting

The Burien City Council has voted phase out local trespassing rules that critics said targeted the city’s homeless population.


In a 4-3 vote Monday night, council members moved to repeal the law. The repeal is scheduled to go into effect in 60 days, which gives the council members time to reconsider or amend the decision.

Critics said the law, passed in 2014, made Burien a symbol of harsh policies directed at people without homes.


“Everyone remembers that this ordinance had given our city a black eye at one time,” said Council Member Austin Bell, who voted in favor of repeal.


“I remember turning on national television shows and seeing Burien not in a positive light,” he added. “That’s not good for us, no matter how good the intent may have been.”


The law, which has been amended twice over the years, allows police to temporarily ban people from public spaces for “disruptive” behavior.


That includes bathing in a public restroom, using electronic devices in a way that is “unreasonably disruptive,” and “unreasonably boisterous physical behavior.”

The American Civil Liberties Union of Washington has said that the law's definition of "disruptive" behavior is overly broad.

Supporters of the law argued it gives police power to keep public spaces safe without having to make arrests.

They also said the law targets problematic behaviors and not a particular population.

“It does not criminalize homelessness,” Council Member Nancy Tosta said at the meeting Monday. “And I think it’s a misnomer to say that that is the case.”


Backers of the law included police and library leaders.


Tosta said that, when council members passed the law four years ago, they were responding to parents who said they were concerned about bringing their children to the library and elderly people who were reluctant to spend time in public places.

“We heard many people express their concerns about how our public spaces are used,” she said. “And, as we heard people say tonight, we share these spaces. We all want to be able to use them.”


Will James is a former KNKX reporter and was part of the special projects team, reporting and producing podcasts such as Outsiders and The Walk Home.