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City reviews Tent City, plans new ordinance

The City of Mercer Island is beginning to design a "postmortem" review process of Tent City 4's three month stay on Mercer Island last year. The United Methodist Church on First Hill hosted the roving homeless camp, organized by SHARE/WHEEL, from Aug. 3 to early November. The City Council approved of hosting tent city last June; creating a Temporary Use Agreement to permit the church-property encampment.

At the time, the city promised the citizens of Mercer Island that it would conduct a postmortem review of how things went with Tent City 4 nine months after the camp departed. Last week, City Manager Rich Conrad announced that the city was ready to begin designing this public process. The first step will be discussing with the City Council how to conduct the Tent City 4 review, he said.

"We will allow the sharing of information on behalf of those directly involved with the Tent City experience and, of course, the neighbors and rest of the Island citizenry. With the Council's direction, staff will go off and devise a public process that would accomplish that," Conrad said.

In addition, the council may discuss introducing a permanent city ordinance that would allow Island organizations to host Tent City — and similar encampments — in the future. There is currently no city ordinance in place that determines the parameters of hosting a Tent City or other camps on the Island; only the June 2008 Temporary Use Agreement with SHARE/WHEEL and the United Methodist Church.

“I have a sense from the Council that [they] might like to consider reviewing a draft ordinance and ultimately adopting an ordinance that would govern these kinds of encampments in the future,” he said. “If that is the direction, what I would urge the Council to consider is start with a template for a potential ordinance with one that was recently adopted by the city of Redmond.”

Citizens are encouraged to provide input on how to conduct the Tent City 4 postmortem process, Mayor Jim Pearman said. Realistically, he added, the review will not be ready to implement until “mid-summer.”

When it does begin, City Attorney Katie Knight, Development Services Director Steve Lancaster, Fire Chief Chris Tubbs and Police Chief Ed Holmes will be in charge of overseeing the postmortem.

Conrad emphasized that Island citizens — in particular, the residents of First Hill — will have a chance share their Tent City 4 experiences and opinions.

On April 24, the city won a Summary Judgement Motion brought against it by a group of Island residents called Mercer Island Citizens for a Fair Process.

The plaintiff argued that Islanders’ constitutional due process rights had been violated by the city when it approved the temporary use agreement for Tent City 4, since it failed to notify the public in advance.

The King County Superior Court judge found that Island citizens’ due process rights were not violated, as the city published information about Tent City 4 coming to Mercer Island and provided ample notice over its decision to create a temporary use agreement. The case was dismissed.

According to the Mercer Island police, there were a total of nine arrests during Tent City 4’s stay on Mercer Island. Five of these were for outstanding warrants, in which none of the crimes were committed on Mercer Island, two arrests were for traffic violations, one for a domestic violence incident between a couple staying in the camp and one for violating a no-contact order.

Yet a few First Hill residents claim otherwise, arguing that one Tent City resident scammed them out of money after promising to do landscaping work.

The man, posing under the name David Garcia, was paid up-front and never completed the work, according to a resident’s complaint. The issue was brought to the attention of Mercer Island Police Detective Pete Erickson last fall.

According to a Nov. 4, 2008 e-mail between Erickson and a victim of Garcia’s, the possibility of taking legal action against Garcia, whose real last name was found to be Cortez, is slim as “the element of the crime of fraud [criminal intent] is lacking.”

It was documented that, shortly after Cortez sealed his landscaping deals, he was ejected from Tent City for breaking its Code of Conduct and incarcerated in the Seattle Criminal Facility for drug-related activities.

The case will most likely be further examined during this summer’s postmortem process.

For more information on the Tent City 4 review, contact City Mayor Jim Pearman at jim.pearman@mercergov.org.

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