Mercer Island’s Permit for Tent City: Not All Sausage is Good Sausage

Update: Yesterday (July 28th) the Mercer Island Reporter reported that the restraining order against Tent City had been denied.

I’ve been writing about Tent City and trying to put on this blog relevant information, like posting the website on all the fliers up around town, or a video of images from a former encampment.

But some of our neighbors have been much more involved than I. They’ve been to the City Council planning meetings and researched past encampments. They’re saying it’s the process as much as the concept of Tent City that riles them: that the Temporary Use Permit (TUP) was drafted in private and doesn’t include necessary safeguards.

Whatever your thoughts on Tent City, we’ve got to decide issues like this openly. Like any public act- building a highway, for example- people need to have a say early enough to influence the outcome.

So I’m going to turn over this blog to one of those neighbors. This was written by Tara Johnson, apparently to the City Council. The chart below is hers also.

Click for pdf

Please see the below examples. There are many more requirements that are discussed in the spreadsheet that I provided to you last night [MI blogger: at the City Council Meeting on July 7; see the minutes] but here are a few I would like to touch on:

Zoning Code Supports Permit- In all of the other Cities they have specific code or ordinances that support a Temporary Use Agreement for an encampment. We clearly know that Mercer Island does NOT have anything in our municipal code to support this agreement. Why is this critical? Our Municipal code protects our City and our Residents. If we don’t follow the rules there our financial and criminal implications. What happens if Tent City doesn’t follow the agreement? Nothing. That brings me to the next point…

Penalties for Violating the Code or Agreement-

  • Bellevue- Misdemeanor and civil violation LUC 20.40.460.
  • Issaquah- Misdemeanor-$5K Fine and up to 1 Year in prison IMC5.14.090. Kirkland- Civil Infraction- KZC 170.40.
  • Mercer Island- 14 days notice so they can correct their mistakes? No Financial or Criminal implications?

Liability Insurance-

  • Bellevue required liability Insurance between St. Luke and SHARE/WHEEL- 20.30U121.A.2,
  • Bothell required it under the director’s Discretion Municipal Code 12.06.160 (B)(3)(f2),
  • Issaquah required it under their special event permit condition #7 5.14.050(8)&(10).
  • Mercer Island-No requirement. Our agreement has a “hold harmless clause” for the City however, you left the Church and the neighbors hung out to dry. How thoughtful.

Security log or local police involvement-

  • Bellevue- Pastor Kidd (St. Luke’s) required to keep overnight resident log per the permit LUC 20.30U.121.A.1#5.
  • Bothell-Applicant shall keep log of all individuals who stay overnight-Transitory Accommodations.
  • Redmond- All background checks for new residents of TC shall be processed by Redmond Police-St. Jude’s Permit 12.21.2006 approval conditions #8.
  • Woodinville-Warrant checks shall include a record that lists the case identification number and time of a call-Ordinance 417 21.08.030B.
  • Mercer Island-Nothing.

Specific Health and Safety Requirements-

  • Yes, Mercer Island does mention in their Temporary Use Agreement that Tent City needs to allow for inspections by King County Health Department but I am talking about SPECIFICS.
  • Bellevue- Sewage and Waste Water Disposal, Hand washing and bathing requirements, specific disease prevention, refuse requirement and toilet requirements- 20.30U124.A.11.A-J.
  • Bothell- Showers or other bathing facilities shall be provided where warranted based on duration of operation of the transitory accommodation. Drinking water and solid waste requirements. An adequate supply of portable water shall be available on-site at all times. Adequate toilet facilities shall be provided on-site. Trash requirements- Trans. Accommodation Health and Safety Criteria iv & v.,
  • Issaquah- garbage/recycling should be stored 30ft. from Tent City or Canopy SPE07-000322 Public Works Operating Conditions k. Kirkland- No animals shall be permitted in encampment except service animals- KZC Section 127.25.2 #10. Redmond- Dumpsters are to be emptied twice a week and portable toilets 3 times a week RCDG 20F.40.170-040-Decision Criteria C.
  • Woodinville- Specific health requirements-ordinance 417 21.08.030B Development conditions h & i.
  • Mercer Island- No Specific Requirements.

The specific health and safety requirements that other Cities have included in their permits and ordinances are designed to prevent the spread of disease. They are designed to protect the homeless and the neighbors.

Stated Process for People Evicted or Turned away from Tent City-

  • Bellevue, Bothell, Kirkland and Woodinville all have written processes in their agreements or ordinances.
  • Mercer Island has nothing. Issaquah also does not have a stated process and at the Council meeting last night you were able hear of the crimes that were committed when individuals with lengthy criminal records were turned loose into the neighborhoods. What makes you think that Tent City will follow their policy for escorting people to the bus? They obviously didn’t in Issaquah or Kirkland.

Based on the police reports we have gathered (another 24 police reports were picked up from Redmond yesterday) unless a City has a stated policy in their permit or ordinance and repercussions for not following the stated policy, Tent City does not follow their own rules. I urge you to look at the binders we provided to you last night with the police reports and criminal records of the suspects. The crimes are shocking and the criminal records are frightening. Our Temporary Use Agreement has major holes and does nothing to protect the neighbors that elected YOU to look after our best interests.

I spoke with Chief Holmes last night and he acknowledged that the crime statistics the Kirkland Police Chief provided him were not correct. He at least will acknowledge a mistake was made. You have put our Police department in a difficult position. You are setting them up to fail. Our City is much smaller than Bellevue, Bothell, Issaquah, Kirkland, Redmond and Woodinville. We don’t have the police force that these other Cities have. At the very LEAST you could have approved a Temporary Use Agreement that made the job of Chief Holmes and his staff a little easier. You could have given your community Due Process and allowed us to help construct an ordinance that protects the best interests of the Mercer Island residents, our Churches, and the homeless people living in Tent City.

The saddest part about the way you and the other Councilmen have handled this process is that NO one has benefited from your actions. The Churches and neighbors are divided and the homeless have lost out. The homeless in Tent City are pawns for SHARE’s political agenda. At least other Cities have recognized this and fought this organization. When Tent City did come to their City they tried to offer protection for the homeless through their health and fire regulations and provide safety and accountability to the neighbors with their liability and police requirements. Drafting an ordinance after the fact is pointless. Let’s be pro-active and amend the Temporary Use Agreement before a tragedy happens in our City.

Thank you,

Tara Johnson

Not all sausage is good sausage..


8 responses to “Mercer Island’s Permit for Tent City: Not All Sausage is Good Sausage

  1. The good news is progress is being made nationwide on real solutions.

    “The number of chronically homeless people living in the nation’s streets and shelters has dropped by about 30 percent — to 123,833 from 175,914 — between 2005 and 2007”

  2. Hey…nice blog here.

    Thought I’d let folks know about an organization I support and sit on the board. It’s FareStart….

    FareStart works with homeless men/women who go through an intensive 16-week training program designed to help them turn their lives around by learning the job/life skills necessary to work in the food service business. Approximately 90% get jobs within 90 days of graduation…. more info at

  3. Tent City 4 has nothing to do with solving the homeless problem or even offering a temporary solution for those who need a place to overnight. It is about Share/Wheel showcasing the poor in the more wealthy communities on the eastside of Lake Washington and Mercer Island. It is a stunt and the people who are “housed” in tents are pawns. Meanwhile those in nice houses see a rise in crime and associated risk because of this stunt. Sad really… The City council was either naive or stupid to allow this to happen without meaningful stipulated conditions — such as what other cities did. If you really want to help the poor — don’t be part of the food provision for Tent City 4 but tell your elected officials to provide incentives and job training for those who should move out of tents and into permanent housing.

  4. Pingback: Tent City Sets Up « Surrounded By Water: A Mercer Island Blog

  5. Wow. Only seven arrests in the first three weeks or tc4 on Mercer Island. Should we feel good about this? One of the residents who was arrested was denied bail. Of 51 legal declarations given at the request for a temp restraining order, it appears that about twenty percent have committed crimes since moving into tent city.

  6. Pingback: Tent City Leaves Town « Surrounded By Water: A Mercer Island Blog

  7. Hi! I was surfing and found your blog post… nice! I love your blog. 🙂 Cheers! Sandra. R.

  8. Pingback: City Council Considers New Rules for Tent City « Surrounded By Water: A Mercer Island Blog

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