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Car park management

Pierce County executive vetoes law that would expand ‘safe parking’ areas for homeless people

TACOMA — Pierce County Executive Bruce Dammeier issued his second veto of the week Friday, rejecting a bill that would have allowed homeless people to park their cars overnight in lots across the county.

Republican Dammeier raised concerns about the legislative process that ended with the law passing in a 4-3 partisan vote by the county board, with the approval of the Democratic majority.

“Secure temporary parking – if done the right way – is an attractive option for some homeless people,” Dammeier said in a letter to council announcing his veto.

Council Chairman Derek Young, a Democrat, responded to Dammeier with his own letter, saying the public wants a quick response to homelessness issues and the council has delivered.

“This legislation provided an interim solution that we could continue to refine while the Department of Planning and Public Works develops permanent regulations for final review and action by Council,” Young’s letter said.

State law allows churches and religious institutions to open their parking lots to homeless people who own a vehicle so those people have a safe place to sleep in their car. Four religious organizations have opened about 30 spaces for so-called “secure parking” in Pierce County.

The bill passed by the county council on April 19 would have extended this secure parking to government offices, schools, parks, daycares, libraries, community centers, doctors’ offices and commercial properties.

Dammeier told the county council in his veto letter that the legislation as passed would impact public trust.

He pointed out that council used temporary bylaws, which bypass a legislative process, to pass the bill. The law would have put rules in place for six months while staff work on permanent bylaws to present to council.

Council spokesman Brynn Grimley said the bill had been heard by the Community Development Committee with public comments and the Department of Social Services was also involved in the process.

“It was not a fast-track process like an emergency bill,” she told the News Tribune. “There was a normal process of public comment and review as far as a county council process would go.”

Dammeier said in his letter that secure parking is allowed at religious organizations, and the veto doesn’t change that.

Young said council staff said that was potentially the case. There is no county law that meets state requirements, and therefore any safe parking in unincorporated Pierce County is illegal. Young also said he wanted more than the “minimum standard” set by the state legislature.

“We know that we cannot relocate people as quickly as necessary. This legislation has helped resolve this issue, and I am disappointed that the executive branch chose to veto it,” Young’s letter reads.

One of the bill’s sponsors, board member Ryan Mello (D-Tacoma), told the News Tribune he was disappointed with Dammeier’s decision. He said 31% of homeless people have a car, according to the county’s 2020 point-in-time count.

Pierce County prioritized affordable housing and homelessness in its 2022-23 budget, allocating $253 million — the most the county has ever spent on homelessness. The county also approved a comprehensive plan to end homelessness that focuses on expanding shelter space and case management. The plan also mentions the importance of safe places where people can park.

Friday’s veto was Dammeier’s fifth in six years in office. He and the county council are also in the midst of a dispute over who has the power to decide which flags fly at the County-City Building in downtown Tacoma.

Young said he plans to introduce a flag policy veto at Tuesday’s council meeting next week, but has yet to discuss with other council members whether to propose a right of veto on the issue of safe parking.

“I haven’t had a chance to go through the timeline of this, but I think we will have one at some point,” he told The News Tribune.

Dammeier could not immediately be reached for further comment on Friday.

John Smith

The author John Smith