The Sobering Van – Substance abuse patrol at risk under the stress of state budget cuts

(Photo: PunkJr)

The inevitable products of the state’s budget cuts and a reluctance to raise taxes are service and program cuts. Here in Seattle, the Emergency Service Patrol (ESP) is one of the many services that we take for granted, and one that could be on the chopping block.

The ESP (a.k.a. the “Sobering Van”) is a 24/7 service that drives around Seattle assisting, triaging, and transporting endangered citizens under the influence of drugs or alcohol. While it primarily works downtown, it reaches here in Central District, as you’ll sometimes see it mentioned in our scanner reports. According to Sherry Hamilton, the Communications Manager for King County Department of Community and Human Services, the ESP responds to 911 dispatchers and businesses needing assistance with intoxicated individuals. Once the van arrives, Hamilton said the specially trained drivers assess the situation, and either provide on-site help (like cool water in last week’s heat), take individuals in need of medical attention to Harborview, to the Detox center for serious substance abuse help, or to the Sobering Center on Boren Ave. if they just need to clean up for the night. 

But people that benefit the most from this service are not the latter. Hamilton said the individuals are the chronically homeless, chronically intoxicated that need help, but often refuse. Drivers of the ESP visit some people so often that they have gotten to know many they assist by name and condition, said Hamilton.

The 1811 Eastlake project from the Downtown Emergency Service Center has eased the load off of the ESP by taking 75 chronically homeless persons off the streets, but the 2008 Emergency Services performance review still reported 15,381 transports and triages by the ESP in 2008, and 2,499 unique visitors to the Sobering Center with 26,145 total admissions.

With those stats, it is no surprise that the Sobering center has reached its capacity. There have been statewide budget cuts on substance and mental health services said Hamilton, but she couldn’t say what that could mean for the ESP or the sobering center. “We’re still working on a plan for how we will absorb those budget cuts,” Hamilton said.

Coming soon: Interview with CD mayoral candidate–post your questions

Tomorrow I’m going to be interviewing Wyking Garrett, a Central District native looking to make Seattle a better place as Mayor. He had the crowd cheering at the forum at Mt. Zion, and had quite a following at last weekend’s Umojafest, but I’m looking to bring out the real local boy in him, and I want your help.

Post your specific, CD related question ideas in the comments, and I’ll add them to my list for the interview tomorrow morning.

Renovation will ‘keep the plum’ in Plum Tree Park

(Photo: Scott)

You may have looked at the fences around Plum Tree Park with a heavy heart, as crews have torn up and closed a lot

of the park, but the construction is part of an renovation project set to be completed at the end of September. 

Joelle Ligon from Seattle Parks said the park is being upgraded as part of Seattle Conservation Corps work. According to Ligon, Parks plans to rebuild new retaining walls, create new ADA trails and ramps as accessibility for disabled persons, and make irrigation improvements. While plans for the new landscape include removal of trees, Ligon assured CDNews that new plum trees will be planted to “keep the plum in Plum Tree Park.”


The park’s playground areas will remain open during construction and will not be changed according to a sign attached near the site.

Central District takes full advantage of Night Out

It seemed like every street between Union and Cherry was blocked off for a night out party, and staring at the event map put together before last night was quite daunting. But each party I visited last night was as unique and popular as the last; CD definitely capitalized on this great opportunity.

There was a lot of food, a few fire truck showings, and even live music down on 18th Ave. A few gatherings had name tags for quick meet and greets, and all had at least a little wine. Check out the pictures and find your block party.

(Photo: Lucas Anderson/

(Photo: Lucas Anderson/

(Photo: Lucas Anderson/

(Photo: Lucas Anderson/

(Photo: Lucas Anderson/

(Photo: Lucas Anderson/


Urban Agriculture: A rural sanctuary on 34th Ave

In searching for the final piece of the series on Urban Agriculture, I wanted to discover something profoundly un-urban and out of the ordinary.  After visiting the bee hives featured in a previous article, I was directed up the street to a secluded home on 34th ave and promised a view of urban agriculture at its finest. I was not let down, and was introduced to the first legally born goats in Seattle in decades.

The backyard of DeeDee Burpee and Tom Beirley’s home was teeming with life. Gardens, bees, trees, chickens, and goats each contributed to an ecosystem that Burpee now considers their own home farm. It started four and a half years ago, when the family acquired hens for eggs and company. While they have always been gardening, the bees and goats are new as of last year. The goats are lively, friendly but a big commitment. “We go out and gather food for them every few days, and after the pregnancy, milk the mother every morning at 5:30 AM,” said Beirley. But they are still part of the family says Burpee, adding that they make good company on hikes and even around the backyard. 

The family’s friend, Jenny Grant, a local goat activist and head of the Goat Justice League, was the original provider of the family’s goats. Grant was the driving force behind the legislation to bring goats back into residential areas after they were banned during the urbanization era of the Seattle area.

The new code limits goat ownership to certain miniature goat breeds, and requires males to be dehorned and neutered. “The rules are fine,” said Beirley. “You really don’t want a unneutered male in your back yard. They smell terrible.”

Burpee and Beirley estimated it would cost only about $200 to $300 to adjust an average backyard for goats, but warns people of the level of responsibility involved with owning goats. If you are up for the challenge, the three three-week-old kids are looking for a good home, and someone experienced enough to take care of them.

Urban Agriculture: Making good use of public space

Seattle is full of area markets and huge amounts of fresh, local produce. But for some, the satisfaction of eating great, sustainable food is not enough. For the third installment of urban agriculture in the Central District, CDNews visited the home of Dana Belkhom and Jude Ovalles. Over the last 9 years, Dana and Jude have created a monster garden that nearly engulfs their Jefferson Street home. Dana has even pulled out less than average plants to make room for more quality flowers. But their latest investment was the most intriguing part about Dana and Jude’s garden. This year, they purchased and set up three 12 ft. planters outside of their fences, in the parking strip just past the sidewalk.

“It’s been a great spring for it,” says Dana. Despite an in increase water usage, he has had great success with the huge variety of plants that are in the planter. Tomatoes, green beans, beets, Bok Choy, eggplant, basil, sage, zucchini, pumpkins; even watermelons. Dana and Jude generally use their crops for personal use, but the public space of the parking strip may lead to some “borrowers”. They weren’t too concerned with people walking by and taking a cherry tomato, but “we just don’t want people using it as their grocery store,” said Jude.

Originally, Dana shied away from parking strip planters. “They just recently eased restrictions on planting. No more inspections. The new rules make sense,” says Dana. The department of transportation encourages planting anything besides certain trees in the parking strip, but using raised planters similar to Dana’s and Jude’s requires a free street use permit. Most restrictions on this sort of planting deal with how much space the plants take up, as a safety precaution. Depending on the wood used in the planters and the type of crops you plant, start-up cost can be anywhere from $50 to $300. Maintenance, as with any other type of garden, is usually limited to watering once a day and weeding once a week.

The full text of the planting strip law can be found here.

Squire Park Community Council puts on a great weekend BBQ, meeting

Central District neighbors brought together food, fun and community progress last Saturday at the annual Squire Park community barbecue at Langston Hughes Performing Arts Center. With a bouncy castle, halal and veggie burgers, and lots of shade, the get-together attracted all kinds, including mayoral candidate Jan Drago, King County Executive candidate Larry Phillips, as well as other candidates for local offices.
The event included a meeting of the Squire Park Community Council focused on the development of the youth detention center at 12th and Alder and the overall progress of the vitalization of 12th Ave. Paul Sherfey, the Chief Administrative Officer for King County Superior Court, and Jim Burt, a Project Manager for King County Facilities Management, were at the meeting to bring the community up-to-date on the progress of the court complex. “We want to make sure that we develop a project that is consistent with the community,” said Burt. He explained the nearly fifty-year-old complex is too small, and simply outdated for the needs of the growing community. Sherfey added that on top of creating more courtrooms, offices and parking, the plan includes space to address the complex family matters that come up during youth litigation. To make room, Burt explained that the county plans to take down the Alder wing and Alder tower facilities that currently reside there, but the semi-new detention center is still adequate, and will remain. 

Community concerns from the citizens in attendance included a combination of aesthetics, cost and time. Burt assured the attendees that there would not be a building that towers over the rest of the community, but neighbors at the meeting still had concerns over a possible multiple story parking structure. Burt said that an alternative underground parking garage would cost a great deal more on top of the $85 to $185 million-dollar price tag forecasted for the project. But time remained a prominent issue, as Burt explained the wheels of the planning process are projected to still be rolling through 2010. John O. Perry, an advocate for 12th Ave. development since 1992 and a member of the 12th Ave. Development Stewardship Committee was convinced he would not see it completed in his lifetime. “It’s going very, very slowly,” said Perry.

SPCC Secretary Bill Zosel has high hopes for the entire 12th Ave. district, looking forward to more mixed use development, small scale residencies and retail, and the streetcar(maybe some links to our stories on the streetcar). The development of the court facility adds yet another stakeholder into the battle for the route of the car. Michael Kerns, the Associate Vice President of Facilities Administration for Seattle University said he supports research into a 12th Ave. route, commenting on the power of a streetcar over neighbors, workers, and students alike. “It could accomplish community involvement goals as well as transportation goals,” he said. 

The meeting then adjourned to the barbecue. With three grills fired up, the volunteer cooks had no trouble providing for the huge line of people craving hot dogs, hamburgers, pasta and potato salad. After everyone had food, candidates including Drago, Phillips, Rob Holland for Seattle Port Commission, David Miller for Seattle City Council, and Joanna Cullen for Seattle Schools Director began mingling with the crowd. While none of the candidates could comment on the record about the possible 12th Ave streetcar alignment, Central District resident Michael Hintze was attending the event and just happened to be an Urban Planner. From his experience, Hintze said that streetcar routes spur development, and revitalize neighborhoods. 

A number of Central District News readers were in attendance with a few people having heard about the event on the CDNews event calendar.

Urban Agriculture – What’s the buzz around Central District?

(Photo: Lucas Anderson/

For the second segment on Central District urban agriculture, I visited the home of Chris Rogers. It’s hard to believe that the walls of a steel-clad house on Olive contains a lover of agriculture. After a summer school program he attended when he was in middle school, Rogers became hooked on what became a life long passion: bees.

Hidden behind a stone wall, his hives are easier heard than seen, spewing bees protecting their precious honey. “Bee keeping is the next step after a vegetable garden”, says Rogers, who has been doing urban agriculture for years. Compared to chickens, bees are a little less friendly (and seemed to be particularly spiteful towards reporters). “I probably get stung every time I’m out with them” he said, despite having a beekeeping suit. But the drawbacks to bees end with the stinging, as Rogers harvests gallons of honey each year to be used in cooking, eating, and for gifts. He even notes the stings tend to make his joints feel better, referencing Apitherapy, or the medical use of honeybee products.

While the upfront cost to start beekeeping is high, maintaining the hives is low cost, and if you aren’t afraid of bees, fairly easy. Rogers checks on his hives every two weeks, and harvests two times a year. Seattle law on beekeeping requires you to register with the State Department of Agriculture and limits the number of hives to 4 on an average lot. Also, the city requires a solid fence if the hives are too close to the edge of your property.

For more information, The Puget Sound Beekeepers Association, which Rogers is a member of, meets monthly to discuss beekeeping and other bee related topics. 

Mayoral Hopeful Tours Central District Businesses

Type in James Donaldson into any search engine, and you’ll probably come across a young basketball player for the Seattle Supersonics with an Afro about as big as the ball he’s holding. Now, with a little less hair, and a lot more experience, Donaldson is challenging incumbent mayor Greg Nickels for the chance to run Seattle. On Monday of this week, Donaldson visited the Central District to meet business owners and discuss their concerns.

As a former owner of a health and physical therapy business at 22nd & Jackson, Donaldson said he is very familiar with the area and the struggles of small businesses in the city. His main suggestions for easing their burdens are to reduce business taxes and help speed up the permitting process. “I don’t think there needs to be a penalty for business to grow. We need to have incentives for business to grow,” he said, referring to head and square footage taxes the city levies on businesses. Donaldson wants to get rid of the taxes to ease the stress on small businesses that he says are most effected by them.  

Mary Wesely, owner of Flowers Just 4U since 1984 and a supporter of Donaldson, is looking to him to tighten up the streets around the Central District. One of her major concerns are the large groups of young people that hang out on the streets near her business. She’d like to see a stronger police presence, including police patrolling on foot, and for the city to provide more options to keep kids involved in positive activities. “You’ve got to let the kids know that there’s other places they can go, other than hanging out on a street corner. It looks bad, it gives them a label, and they may be good innocent kids, but we don’t know.”

Donaldson addressed these concerns when asked about crime in the Central District and elsewhere around the city, calling for a larger police force and change in focus to have more walking, biking, and horseback-riding officers in neighborhoods. “We need to make sure that we get more police officers involved in our community than has been done in the last several years,”  he said. Donaldson would fund additional police resources by seeking other efficiencies and looking for ways to reduce the more expensive levels of management in the city bureaucracy. “There are over 13,000 city employees now. Around 800 of them make over one hundred thousand dollars per year. How much duplication and replication and triplication is going on?”

On the topic of development, Donaldson stressed the need to insure that the city can continue to grow and accommodate new residents. “We can’t keep on getting by with the way things have been,” Donaldson said. “We want to keep neighborhood charm and historical aspects, but we need to build for our growth.”

Editor’s note: This story was written by our awesome Neighborlogs news intern Lucas Anderson, based on audio recordings of an interview conducted by Scott

Note to other candidates: let us know when you’ll be in the neighborhood and we’ll be there to cover it