Community efforts lead to public safety funding—Donnie Chin legacy shines spotlight on decades-long struggle

Travis Quezon December 8, 2016 0

Donnie Chin (right) dedicated his life to protecting the Chinatown International District. Community efforts since his murder have put pressure on the city to act on public safety concerns. • Photo by Dean Wong

Fifteen months ago, the community’s reaction to the murder of International District Emergency Center director Donnie Chin, who spent his life protecting in the Chinatown International District (CID), lit a beacon for the city on the neighborhood’s decades-long public safety concerns.

That beacon was fueled by an initial effort in September 2015 by community members—including nonprofits, businesses, and property owners in the neighborhood—who put together a public safety packet of 34 letters voicing public safety concerns. They cited a lack of police presence, the need for better emergency response, and problems with drugs and general safety late at night. Ten copies of the packet of letters were delivered to Mayor Ed Murray and each Seattle City Council member. In response to the packet, the mayor assembled the CID Public Safety Task Force in early 2016 to offer suggestions on how the city can improve public safety. Recommendations by the task force, including a city-funded public safety coordinator in the neighborhood, led to the mayor’s CID Public Safety Action plan in July 2016.

That same month, the results of a public safety survey conducted by the Seattle Chinatown International District Preservation and Development Authority (SCIDpda) and InterIm CDA shed light on a potentially big problem with crime data on the neighborhood. The Seattle Police Department’s strategies were being guided by data that said the biggest rise in crime in the CID was car prowls. The survey, however, found that crimes such as drug dealing, guns being fired in the neighborhood, and violent crimes often go unreported because a majority of CID residents don’t call 911 due to language barriers and an expectation that there would be no follow through by police.

The efforts by the community since Chin’s death to get the city to take action on the neighborhood’s public safety concerns has led to the funding of several key initiatives. The funding comes to the CID as as part of the 2017-2018 biennium budget passed on November 21 by the Seattle City Council.

CID public safety coordinator expected to be on the job by next year

The CID Public Safety Task Force recommended in its report to the mayor that the city fund a full-time community-based public safety coordinator. In November, the city council added to the budget $75,000 in 2017 and $75,000 in 2018 to fund a public safety coordinator position at a community organization. The public safety coordinator will act as a community liaison with the city and serve as co-chair of the CID Steering Committee formed in response to the CID Public Safety Task Force recommendations.

Seattle City Councilmember Lorena González, who represents the city at large, led the effort in the council to secure funding for the public safety coordinator position. González said the funding of position and other public safety measures is the result of grassroots efforts from within the community.

“With the loss of Donnie Chin, that left a big gap,” González said. “He effectively was [filling the role of a public safety coordinator] in the CID. He was effectively acting as a public safety leader. And, I think that this is our commitment in the city to fund, to actually put our dollars and invest them in this way, so we are able to support the neighborhood by helping them identify who should be in this position and what the work will be.”

González said the public safety coordinator position is the only position that exists in any neighborhood in Seattle.

“This is a new idea,” González said. “This is a new position and it’s the first time we are funding a position like this. And, that’s because the community asked us to do it. … I think this is a new and innovative approach to trying help the city figure out how do we best meet the public safety needs of the community. So I hope it will be successful so we can look to duplicating in other neighborhoods that have similar public safety needs.”

Councilmember Lorena González

González described the public safety coordinator as a “one-stop shop” for people in the community to talk to about the concerns they are seeing, in terms of livability or public safety in the neighborhood. The coordinator would be able to connect community members with  appropriate services and advocate on their behalf.

“[The public safety coordinator] will understand who it is they need to contact at the city to be able to address [neighborhood] concerns and to be able to address those concerns quickly,” González said. “And, I think, when you’re talking about immigrant communities and refugee communities, that’s an important function for the community to have, to have one person they are comfortable with, that they can talk to, that they trust knows the system and how to access the system, which is very confusing and hard to access.”

The public safety coordinator position will be housed under a community organization that is yet to be determined. González said the coordinator will start the job sometime next year, with the organization being identified and the money being released in the first quarter of 2017.

“I think the fact that we are going to provide funding for a community-based organization to house this position is really important because to make sure this person is really accessible and in the community,” González said. “We need to make sure they are at an organization that is trusted by the community already and is already a place the community goes to get help. So there’s plenty of those types of organizations in the CID, so it will be a matter of identifying which one has the capacity to take on the public saftey coordinator.”

Public safety survey gets city support

Funding for a CID public safety survey was also secured by González and City Council President Bruce Harrell, who represents District 2, which includes the CID, Sodo, Beacon Hill, Rainier Valley, Columbia City, and Seward Park. Conducting an annual community public safety survey was a recommendation of the June 2016 CID Public Safety Task Force report.

The city’s biennium budget provides $20,000 in 2017 and $20,000 in 2018 for a local community-based organization to partner with an academic institution to perform culturally competent public safety surveys in the CID, including Little Saigon. Public safety surveys in the CID done in the past by nonprofits SCIDpda and InterIm CDA served as a model for these newly funded surveys. SCIDpda and InterIm CDA worked with criminal justice students from Seattle University on the survey that was presented to the city council earlier this year without the help of city funding.

González said the city’s funding will institutionalize the annual survey by “supporting it with city dollars to make sure those community organizations can continue to do that public safety survey work with an academic institution.” She said she hopes the funding will allow future surveys to cast a wider net in terms of the number of people they are serving and answer key questions that arose out of the 2016 survey.

“Why is it that people who live and work in the CID neighborhood see crime and not report it? What is it about this neighborhood and the people who live and work there that results in a very low reporting of crime? So, we try to figure out how we get to that question so we as a city can respond with policy that will deal with those barriers,” González said.

The Danny Woo Community Garden was created in 1975 by community activists and volunteers in an effort led by InterIm CDA. • Courtesy Photo

Danny Woo Garden receives funding for park improvements and an education center

González also led efforts at the City Council to support The Danny Woo International District Community Garden. InterIm CDA will receive $100,000 in 2017 and $200,000 in 2018 for capital improvements at Danny Woo Garden, including an education building.

González said that the council’s decision to fund the improvements was due in large part to the CID Public Safety Task Force’s recommendation to take care of Danny Woo Garden, one of the only green and open spaces in the neighborhood.

“When you take good care of open and green spaces like [Danny Woo Garden] that is part of the built environment and when you  invest in the built environment then you increase the livability of a neighborhood,” González said. “When you activate a space, more people come out, more people are engaging in positive behavior and we want to make investments that encourage positive behavior so those spaces are not taken over by negative behavior. So, I see this as this investment as not just a strategy of how do we preserve a cultural icon in the CID, it’s also a part of thinking creatively about how we improve public safety through park improvements like this.”

“[Danny Woo Garden] has been primarily built through hundred thousand plus hours of volunteer labor,” said InterIm CDA executive director Pradeepta Upadhyay. “Due to the age of the garden, much of the garden’s infrastructure has dilapidated and has been or needs to be replaced.”

InterIm CDA’s request to the city council targeted several capital improvement projects including improving pathways, building a staircase, creating better lighting, and rebuilding two retaining walls. Upadhyay also described other needed improvements to make the garden more inviting such as new garden plots, a new entrance point and gateway that would extend into Main Street, multi-lingual interpretive signage, and new native drought tolerant beds.

“The relocation of the entrance point, a new gateway, the building, and security cameras are all efforts in improving the aesthetics and functions of the garden. However, we are also trying to create more security for the garden,” Upadhyay said. “Currently, the garden has many challenges due to its location and the existence of several entry points and hiding spaces. We feel that creating a single entry point off of South Main Street, a facility overlooking this entrance point, and security cameras will discourage people from drinking or using drugs in this southern part of the garden, where we see these type of activities currently occur. The garden currently faces some of the largest public safety problems in the community and we are hoping our planned physical improvements will ameliorate this problem.”

InterIm CDA will use the $300,000 from the City Council to complete the capital improvement projects and is seeking additional funding to support a sustainable educational building at the Danny Woo Garden.

“This building will be a facility that will enable our garden staff to teach our seed-to-plate classes not just during our summer months but throughout the year,” Upadhyay said. “The building will also create different educational programming opportunities related to gardening, food justice, and sustainability. We will also use the facility to host meetings for our gardeners who have plots in the garden.”

Equitable Development Initiative projects, garbage pickup in CID also funded

Council President Harrell led efforts to authorize funding for projects intended to increase access to opportunities and mitigate further displacement in the CID, Central District, and South Seattle. The passage of C.B. 118864, authorizes $6.5 million for the following Equitable Development Initiative projects:

  • Rainier Beach Food Innovation District—A strategy to bring in high quality jobs coupled with education and training so that those who are now closed out can fully participate in the region’s economic growth.
  • Multicultural Community Center—The goal is to provide a stable future for cultural anchors, providing support, reinforcement and cultural preservation for the immigrants and refugee communities in the area.
  • South East Economic Opportunity Center—The goal is to provide an education, training, and services hub.
  • William Grose Center for Cultural Innovation—A hub for entrepreneurial resources to support cultural preservation and innovation in the creative economy and provide pathways to the creative industries for those who are excluded
  • Little Saigon Landmark Project—A gathering place for the regional Vietnamese community in Little Saigon business district.

Harrell also led efforts in the city council to add $192,000 in funding for more frequent garbage pickup and street cleaning in the CID. Sanitation service west of I-5 is currently funded through an annual $70,000 CID Business Improvement Area (BIA) contract. The area in the CID east of I-5 is currently not part of the BIA contract and does not receive public sanitation services. An additional $72,000 for the cleaning west of I-5 and $120,000 for east of the I-5 would provide two extra cleaning days, plus pressure washing one block face a week for one year.

“The budget investments we are adding for the Chinatown-International District continues our work to ensure a vibrant, safe, and thriving neighborhood,” Harrell said. “Action speaks louder than words—the safety of residents, patrons, and the well-being of businesses in the Chinatown-International District is a priority for the city.”

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