This evening I attended The CASA Latina Neighborhood Forum held at the Douglass-Truth branch of the Seattle Public Library at 23rd and Yesler. The small meeting room was filled with over 60 people, including residents, business owners, and even a few public officials. The purpose of this meeting was to discuss the impact of bringing CASA Latina, a well known and controversial day-labor organization, into the CD, specifically the area of 17th and Jackson.
The forum was organized by the Jackson Street Community Association, not to be confused with the Jackson Place Community Council (JPCC) that is the city-recognized community group for Jackson Place. The Jackson Street bunch are a splinter organization made of Jackson Place residents who feel that their voices have not been heard regarding CASA Latina and the signing of the Good Neighbor Agreement (GNA). We became aware of their existence last week, and posted a story Dueling Community Groups here on CDN.
Jackson Street did a good job of articulating their arguments. Three members of the group spoke, Genji Shiga – local attorney and president of the group, Adrienne Bailey – chair of the Central Area Neighborhoods Stewardship, and Pat Murakami – president of both the Mt Baker Community Club and Many Countries One Message (MCOM). Interestingly, the fourth speaker was Chris Farrell, a board member of Judicial Watch, a right-wing watch-dog group out of D.C. known for their battles against illegal immigration. The speakers all agreed that CASA Latina’s presence will result in:
- increase in crime – loitering, drugs, and violence
- increase in homeless population of the area
- increase in people who aren’t affiliated with CASA looking for work
- all of these problems occurring around schools and parks
They also spoke of the GNA and its inability to protect the neighborhood from any problems arising from CASA. They feel that it is an unenforceable, meritless document that only protects the best interest of the city and leaves the neighborhood vulnerable.
The floor was opened to questions and comments from the room and the main point of discussion was why so many people in the neighborhood have not heard of CASA Latina’s move until now. Genji Shiga pointed the finger at the JPCC and Squire Park Neighborhood officials, accusing them of holding meetings and making decisions regarding CASA and the GNA, without sufficiently notifying those whom they represent. Two officials from the JPCC and Squire Park were present in the room and stated that they held public meetings and notified members of the neighborhood through newsletters and websites of when and where the meetings were to be held, and openly invited all residents to attend the meetings. But, hardly anyone attended, and they were forced to move on and make decisions.
The forum was cut short because the library closed, but it seemed like discussions could have continued on for hours.
Upon leaving the meeting, my mind really wasn’t changed. I think that CASA Latina is a well intentioned group that serves many hard-working people to make better lives for themselves. But, I think that there will be some problems, specifically loitering, that will be a headache for that area. It just seems that a day-labor organization is better suited to a more industrialized area away from residential neighborhoods. I also feel that the neighborhood organizations did the best they could at trying to get people involved in the process. The problem was that residents didn’t listen and made the choice not to come to some boring neighborhood meeting. But, I think that many of them wish that they did now.
At this point, there is little standing in the way of CASA Latina coming to the CD. The JPCC and Squire Park have both signed the GNA, and the city is fully behind the move. The only thing left is the physical move of the operation. It appears that the Jackson Street group will fight CASA until that day comes, and will probably extend their fight far into the future.