When you drive over the South Park Bridge you leave Georgetown and Boeing Field behind. You cross a super fund site, the Duwamish River. A picturesque marina filled with sailboats is off to the left.
The first traffic light is at 14th Ave. South and South Cloverdale. This is South Park’s sleepy business district with two story old brick and stucco buildings.
On a Wednesday morning, it’s fairly quiet. But Raina Anderson, who has lived here for over a decade, knows what happens at this intersection all too well, “There’s drug use, prostitution, you’ll see people fighting, women getting hit by their pimps. You’ll see overt drug deals which boggles my mind! You’ll see people drag racing through the intersection.”
Anderson wonders, if it’s happening out in the open, here, what is, “happening in alleys and the neighborhood directly?”
Anderson and her partner are raising their daughter here. She helps run a local arts organization and recently moderated a candidate forum for the eight people running in the primary on August 4, hoping to secure the top two spots to run for City Council.
Many South Park residents say the leaders at City Hall have a history of neglecting them.
Jeff Hayes, a retired captain from the Seattle Fire Department and another long-time South Park resident, gestures to the South Park Bridge as an example. It connects the neighborhood to the rest of the city. It was closed in 2010 after it was deemed structurally unsafe. At the time it was shut down, city and King County leaders did not have a plan to reopen it.
“The fact is, that bridge was allowed to deteriorate,” says Hayes. “Do you think that would have been allowed to happen with any of the other city bridges? The Fremont Bridge, the Ballard Bridge? The bridge in South Park was allowed to close. To me that is insulting.”
Eventually enough financing was pieced together from King County, Seattle, Tukwila and the federal government to replace the bridge. It reopened last year.
South Park residents hope to avoid scenarios like this in the future as Seattle shifts from city-wide council seats to seven district-specific seats. Two of the positions will remain at-large. The idea is to give voters more of a voice.
Under this new system, South Park is in District 1, which includes all of West Seattle. Community activists like Anderson say the person who ends up filling that seat has to do something about crime, starting with 14th Ave. S. and S. Cloverdale.
The intersection is home to a Mexican restaurant, a few medical marijuana dispensaries and a shop that sells disposable cell phones. It’s also the location of a 30 year old South Park institution, Napoli Pizza.
Maria Porco, behind the counter, greets customers by name and knows whether they like olives or to go easy on the pepperoni.The warmth and humor here is an example of what South Park fans say is so great about their tight knit community of a little over four thousand people. But Porco admits crime is a real problem, “Not to long ago, my baker was here, some kids smashed the front door. Luckily she was in here and scared them off. It happens, you know.”
South Park is one of the few pockets left in Seattle where you can buy a single family home for under $300,000. Affordable housing is what brought Raina Anderson here, but she thinks it’s also what contributes to the higher crime rate.
“People buy houses here because it’s cheap, and they don’t maintain them, so the crime creeps in,” says Anderson.
Since January aggravated assaults are up 13 percent residential burglaries are 8 percent higher and car thefts have seen a 7 percent uptick.
Hayes has been doing whatever he can to fight crime in his neighborhood. He takes pictures of license plates when he sees illegal activity happening in cars and posts the photos on neighborhood blogs in an effort to shame suspects. At the intersection of 14th Ave. S. And S. Cloverdale, Hayes says criminals know they aren’t being watched by police and act with impunity.
“We’ve been here and have seen no Seattle police cars, no bike patrol, no parking enforcement. No one from the Seattle Police department is doing any type of patrolling,” says a frustrated Hayes.
When we contacted the Captain of the Southwest Police Precinct, Pierre Davis, he wouldn’t agree to a recorded interview, but he did agree to talk. He says crime in South Park ebbs and flows. He says he is using the resources he has to the best of his ability and that while he’d love to, he can’t just pull more cops out of a hat.
Scaling back city council representation from at large to districts is definitely inspiring more people in South Park to become politically active. Raina Anderson says the new system is more accessible and is making her and others think hard who they will vote for in the primary.
“Who’s out there who is going to run for me and my neighborhood?” asks Anderson.
The future District 1 council person won’t just be asked by South Park residents to bring more police to their neighborhood. There are many other basic items on the neighborhood's wish list. Anderson says South Park deserves to have at least one grocery store. She says a bank would be great too.
KPLU is exploring an issue central to each of the seven new districts in the upcoming city council primary election. Last Monday, we explored South Park in District 1 and residents' concerns about crime. On the following Tuesday, we were in District 2 at the Othello light rail station, where residents wait for as-of-yet undelivered new commerce. Then on Wednesday, we went into District 3 and the Central District where locals fears gentrification is changing the neighborhood for the worse. The next day, Thursday, we went to District 4 where we talked with group of neighbors who were able to limit a developer’s proposal to build five townhomes on a lot currently containing a classic single-family home. On Friday, we discovered why walking is a little riskier in in far-north District 5 than in other parts of town. Yesterday, we heard from District 6 where Ballard residents are concerned about the breakneck pace of development. We wrapped up primary election district coverage with District 7, where an apartment building on Queen Anne's Roy Street has traditionally has been home to service-industry employees. But now residents there are wondering how much longer can they afford to live in the neighborhood.