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Will McGinn’s plans worsen Belltown’s violence?

Belltown residents call on the city to help keep their neighborhood safe. Credit: Kent Kammerer

Even if Mayor Mike McGinn weren’t preparing a campaign to support the growth of the nightlife sector, Richard Nordstrom of the Belltown Community Council would be worried. The north downtown neighborhood has long seen more than its share of violence, not to mention drunkenness, noise, and rowdiness.

This past weekend (June 18-20) brought an apparent drive-by shooting that sent one man to Harborview Medical Center and led to the arrest of two occupants of a car reported to have fled the scene. Two weeks earlier, another shooting claimed the life of a man outside a bar.

KING5 TV reported that interim Police Chief John Diaz says more police will patrol Belltown, using officers drawn from other areas. As reporter Linda Brill also noted, Belltown has heard such promises before.

The concerns about nightlife, violence, and a growing condo population are longstanding. The second annual Belltown Public Safety Forum, sponsored by Belltown Citizens on Patrol, will be held at 7 p.m. tonight (June 22) in the Seattle Labor Temple, 2800 First Ave.

The Belltown Community Council recently sent a strongly worded letter to McGinn, Seattle City Council members, and City Attorney Peter Holmes outlining their concerns about existing dangers, a delay in hiring 20 new police officers, and McGinn’s plan to revise nightlife regulations to promote a more vibrant atmosphere. Community council President Nordstrom (no relation to the retail family) said he had received good responses from the council’s Tim Burgess and Sally Bagshaw and from Holmes. Holmes also told Crosscut recently that it is important to have neighborhoods’ support for the nightlife changes, which he has been developing with McGinn’s office.

The community council letter, signed by Nordstrom, pointed to existing problems resulting from the combination of alcohol, weapons, and a lack of obvious police presence. Nordstrom went on to say:

There are new components that will add to this explosive mixture. If the mayor goes forward with a 24/7 nightclub/bar environment, if we see a continued expansion and densification of “Nightclub” liquor licenses, and if the Seattle mobile food vendors initiative expands, we will most likely reach a critical point in our neighborhood where violence will continue to expand into the streets throughout the entire night. The community has not been allowed to properly participate in the development of these initiatives.

Nordstrom pointed out the low number of officers for Seattle’s population (one reason that his neighborhood and others were so eager to get the additional officers for a new neighborhood policing system.) “Municipalities with 24/7 serving laws have neighborhood policing plans that are properly staffed and ordinances that are well-written and enforceable to ensure everyone can enjoy the nightlife while feeling safe,” he said. He asked the council and mayor to listen to citizen concerns and create a working discussion group with Belltown.

The mayor has said the nightlife initiative will be unveiled in July. A leaked document given to Crosscut talked about a July 9 “launch announcement” followed by soliciting “public feedback and input on this plan . . . through Sept. 15.” At least on an informal level, the feedback process seems to have gotten a significant head start on the mayor’s timetable.

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