Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy New Decade!

I suspect that many of you, like me, are not entirely sorry to see the decade end. What with wars, recession, financial market downturns and the collapse of real estate values, the last few years have certainly been challenging. Perhaps there's hope, however, that 2010 represents a new beginning.

For me, one major offset to all of the rotten stuff is the great reward I have experienced in writing this bog, now eight months old. Since I began, I have come to know a lot of great people in the neighborhood that I probably would not have met had I not embarked on this project. It has been a lot of fun researching and writing postings, and I have appreciated the feedback (mostly positive) of the many readers who have taken the time to email me, stop me on the street, or add their comments on the blog. Please keep doing so.

I see that many other neighborhood blogs have ended the year by listing their top stories for 2009, so I have decided to fall into line. Here are the most-read Madison Park Blogger postings for the year:

1. MadArt will accost you
2. Preview of a possible 520 solution
3. Girl injured jumping off diving board
4. When it comes to crime, vigilance is better than the other thing
5. Christmas ships to arrive
6. Madison Park loses out on water taxi
7. Why the police won't come running
8. What next for the notorious Deno's
9. MadArt wows
10. June Real Estate Report

In spite of the fact that the series did not make it to the most-read list, the postings that I enjoyed the most were the three entries Defining Madison Park, in which I spent 6,000 words trying to say what, exactly, is meant by the term "Madison Park." We never did decide!

My least favorite posting was the recent announcement of the death of Scott McKee.

I, for one, am ready to move on. I offer to each of you my best wishes for a great end to 2009 and a happy and successful new year ahead.

See you in the new decade!

Bryan Tagas
Madison Park Blogger

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

A sad end to a really bad year

I am very sorry to report the death of Madison Park Hardware's Scott McKee, who was reportedly struck down this weekend after a brief battle with cancer. Scott's mother, Lola, has been hospitalized, I understand, but her condition is not thought to be life threatening.

Scott has been a neighborhood mainstay and go-to guy for as long as many Madison Parkers can remember. As the sign in the window says, he will be missed. Our hearts go out to Lola and Scott's sister, Cookie, at this sad time.

UPDATE: The Seattle Times carries Scott's obituary in the December 30 edition, available online here. Scott's family suggests donations in his name to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society (530 Dexter Avenue N., Seattle, 98109).

Indispensable reading

This year-end post is one of those occasional digressions, as noted in the masthead above, that I sometimes allow myself. It has nothing directly to do with Madison Park; but it does have to do with my having an educated audience for this blog, one presumably composed of people who also care about the world outside of Madison Park.

I, myself, have always been a bit of a news junkie. And for many years I subscribed to every major national news magazine that existed, as well as four or five daily newspapers. That's in addition, of course, to watching an hour or two of news each evening. In recent years, changes in the way news is delivered, as well as a decrease in the amount of time I have each day to peruse information, have caused me to focus on fewer sources.

Perhaps you have your own list of indispensable news resources. Mine includes the Washington Post online, Talk of the Nation on NPR, the Economist magazine, and the Sunday edition of The New York Times. Several years ago I added to the list an absolutely essential news magazine called The Week.

I am not into the USA Today, short-attention-span style of news delivery; and on the surface, The Week might appear to be that kind of a periodical. For it's certainly the case that the articles are concise, and there's a lot of information summarized. What's particularly special about The Week, however, is that it draws upon literally hundreds of news sources and presents the material in a particularly interesting and informative fashion.

Virtually every subject is covered each week: politics, people, events, health, science, books, movies, music, art, films, television, food, economics, and travel. For each subject, The Week presents the best reviews of and commentary on what's current. One of my favorite features is "Best Properties on the Market," a two-page spread showing some great residences currently for sale across the country. Each issue includes an in-depth "Briefing" or two on a subject of importance (this week's is on how Bethlehem is a city with a lot of problems). There's a puzzle page, political cartoons, quizes...well you get the idea.

The Week is such a good magazine that the publishers think that just getting it into your hands will make you a lifelong subscriber. For this reason, they make an offer at the end of each year to each current subscriber: give a friend the gift of a one-year subscription to The Week for free!

In view both of my lack of friends and my desire to spread the word about this great magazine (in which I hold no financial interest), I will therefore give a gift of The Week to the first Madison Park Blog reader who emails me his or her name and address.

Here's to a year of great reading!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry! Merry! Merry!

Best wishes to each of you for a delightful holiday season, whatever you may be celebrating. Here are a few random shots of the Madison Park scene as Christmas approaches.

For those of you who missed the Christmas ships on Saturday, Madison Valley resident Rachel Diaz did a post on her blog in which she included a little video with sound. Not as good as being there, but you'll get the idea.

A very reliable witness reports that the cookies, which were provided by Parkshore, were spectacular, mouthwatering, and clearly the best ever served at a Christmas Ship arrival here in the Park. I'll have to take her word for it, since I made it down to the beach--with nephew in tow--too late for us to get in on that action.
A few spectators, I am told, were a bit put off by the absence of actual Christmas music being sung by the choir while the boats paused at our beach, but I thought the singers (the Rainier Ensemble) did a great job even so.
Here, by the way, is my vote for best Christmas display. My picture does not do it justice, so you'll just have to wander down to 38th (north of Madison) and see for yourself:


Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Is it me?...

… or is there something that’s not quite in the holiday spirit about those bright orange sandwich boards that recently cropped up around the neighborhood advertising fish? Sometime last week they suddenly appeared at various street corners along E. Madison and on certain residential side streets, covered with protective plastic and weighted down with concrete blocks. What’s the story?

“I’m just a fisherman trying to make a living,” says the perpetrator. “These signs are tremendously effective for a very low cost.” That’s why they’re there.

There are fewer signs around Madison Park today, however, than there were a week ago. That’s because of complaints. According to the fisherman, who reports that he places these signs in selected neighborhoods all over the City, the only neighborhood that he’s ever received a complaint from is ours. He used to live in Madison Park, he says, and wonders why it is only in our community that people have gotten torqued. We’re just naturally curmudgeonly down here, I guess.

He promises that the signs are temporary and will be removed within the week. If anyone has a complaint about a specific sign, he will get that sign down sooner, he says.

Maybe there’s really nothing wrong (other than the illegality) with putting up a few signs here and there to advertise your wares in the Park. But when it comes to this kind of thing there's clearly more than one school of thought. There are your “live and let-live” Madison Parkers; and then there are your “standards are standards” Madison Parkers. This all reminds me of a story someone told me about a yard sale she had in the neighborhood a few years ago. As the sale was underway, one of her neighbors came by and delivered a gentle admonishment: “Really, my dear, this kind of thing is just not done in this neighborhood.”

Well, of course it is. That and orange fish-for-sale signs.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

November Real Estate Report

Madison Park goes posh

At mid-December there were exactly two houses for sale in Madison Park listed at under $1 million. And with the median price of condos having risen to $600,000, affordable is definitely not a good characterization of the current real estate scene here in the Park.

It isn’t that there aren’t still a lot of Madison Park houses that are worth less than $1 million. It’s just that the market has absorbed almost all homes that had been for sale in that price range. Meanwhile, many of the higher-priced residences are still awaiting buyers. “Maybe we’re just out of the relatively inexpensive houses,” says Dave Hale, Managing Broker for Windermere Real Estate in Madison Park. “I think our office’s average listing price is now somewhere in the $2 million range.”

What we had in the early part of 2008 was a market with very little movement. Now what we apparently have is a market where houses at the lower end are being snapped up fairly quickly, but the upper market has yet to fully recover. The average number of days on the market for under $1 million houses during the last three months was 79, while the average for the over $1 million houses was 145, based on listing information from the Northwest Multiple Listing Service (MLS).

Nevertheless, sales were surprisingly brisk last month in the upper market. Of seven houses sold during November in Madison Park (Broadmoor and Washington Park included), five changed hands at over $1 million. Here are the statistics (which include two houses not listed by MLS but recorded as sold by the King County Assessor’s Office):


Average Sales Price: $1,433,000
Median Sales Price: $1,295,000
Average Sq. Ft.: 2,952
Average Cost per Sq. Ft: $485
Average Days on Market for Listed Homes: 267
Average Discount from Original List Price: 16%

(Note that the discount average is skewed by the famous example, which I discussed in an earlier posting, of the Washington Park home which sold for a 52% discount from its initial asking price. Without that outlier, the average discount accepted by house sellers in November was just 7%.)

[Pictured above is the least expensive house on the market as of December 15, a three-bedroom 1927 stucco home located at 2324 41st Avenue E. Priced at $649,000, it is a listing of Michael Roland of Skyline Properties.]

There were also three condo sales in Madison Park during November:


Average Sales Price: $593,667
Median Sales Price: $585,000
Average Sq. Ft.: 1,410
Average Cost per Sq. Ft.: $440
Average Days on Market: 223
Average Discount from Original list Price: 6.5%

With ten total residential real estate sales during the month, November continued the trend of increasing market activity that began earlier in the fall. December, though mid-month, also showed surprising strength, with six sales recorded in the first two weeks. In addition, there were nine houses listed as pending sale or contingent. There were, however, only three new house listings and one new condo listing during the holiday season.

The impact of all these sales and the relative lack of new listings means that we enter 2010 with a pretty low level of inventory. Currently, there are only 70 active listings in Madison Park, which is a 10% decline from the October level and a 40% decline from the 116 listings that agents were working with at the beginning of the summer. We end the year with a seven-month absorption rate (10 sales to 70 listings).

So it’s both a rather limited market and an expensive one:

As Windermere’s Dave Hale notes, however, this is all just part of a long-term trend. “For the average person, it’s getting very tough to find a home here,” he says. So-called ‘starter’ homes which once may have cost $800,000 in the Park have declined to something like $650,000, he notes, but there aren’t very many of them available. And with declining inventory and renewed buyer interest, we may even be returning to price appreciation in 2010. “It’s been a tough year,” Hale admits, “but we start fresh in January. So we’ll just have to see what the New Year brings.”

Thanks to Wendy Skerritt of Windermere Realty for her help in providing some of the market data utilized in this report. Additional listing information was obtained from Redfin.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Christmas ships reminder

Don't forget that the Christmas Ships will be arriving on our shores at about 4:55 this Saturday afternoon. Weather permitting, there will be a bonfire, hot chocolate, goodies--and of course, caroling. The ships are scheduled to depart precisely at 5:15 for a return trip to Kirkland, so if you're very late you'll miss the show. The choir on the lead Argosy ship for this year's trip to Madison Park is the Rainier Ensemble.

Officially, I am told that it is actually the Christmas Ship (not Ships), a term which Argosy Cruises has now trademarked. The other ships that follow along in the wake of the "Christmas Ship" (aka The Spirit of Seattle) are officially designated as parade boats, follow boats, or jazz boats. Who knew? The tradition of lighted boats parading on the Lake in December has supposedly been around for 60 years or so (predating Argosy Cruises for sure), so I am sticking with the term Christmas Ships.

At least we haven't gotten so politically correct as to be calling it the Holiday Ship (yet).

[Photo courtesy of the Seattle Municipal Archives]

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The politics of the Park: variations on a liberal theme

When asked, I always describe the political leanings of Madison Park as decidedly liberal—just like the rest of the City. I think it’s fairly well known that every neighborhood in Seattle went for Obama in the last presidential election, including (by overwhelming vote) Madison Park. In the eight years I’ve lived here I can only remember seeing a Republican yard sign a couple of times (“McGavick for Senator”); and that guy up the hill who displayed a “Bush/Cheney” bumper sticker on his Range Rover during the 2004 campaign seemed to me to be decidedly out of step with his Washington Park neighbors.

But there may be some nuances to the politics of the Park, while not really surprising, that I--for one--was just not aware of. What got me curious was a posting earlier this week on Slog, the blog of Seattle’s alternative newspaper, The Stranger. In it, Dominic Holden reproduces a map by Northwest Passage Consulting showing the voting by precinct for the recent housing levy (Seattle Proposition 1). Holden takes Broadmoor to task for being—well, I’ll let him speak for himself:

“That big red patch on the right of Seattle (under the Montlake cut) surrounded by blue and green areas—that's Broadmoor, a gated neighborhood near Madison Park. Broadmoor also resoundingly supported Republican Susan Hutchison. In fact, Broadmoor, which is packed with multi-million dollar homes but opposes a levy to house poor people, was the only precinct in Seattle to support Hutchison.”

On the map, red and orange colored precincts voted against the levy and all of the other precincts voted in favor (deep blue being the strongest supporters, yellow being the least strong). As you can see, Broadmoor was not alone in Madison Park in opposing the levy. One precinct in the heart of the Park (SEA 43-2058) also opposed it, but less strongly than did Broadmoor’s precinct (SEA 43-1992). Almost all of the rest of Madison Park and all of Washington Park strongly supported the levy (55% or more).

This got me curious to see if there have been other important variations in the recent pattern of voting within the Park. But there don’t appear to be. There are nine and half precincts in Madison Park (one precinct is actually a Madison Valley precinct, SEA 43-2020, which takes in the area surrounding Arboretum Court to the north and south of E. Madison Street). In general, it appears that all of our precincts vote alike, though with differing levels of intensity.
For example, in the recent Seattle mayor’s race, Madison Park went solidly for Mallahan. Here’s how that looks on a map created by John Wyble of WinPower (as reported by Publicola):
The deepest blue precincts are those that were strongest for Mallahan and the deepest red precincts were the strongest for McGinn. Here, Madison Park was out of step with the rest of the City and was most out of step with some areas very close to us geographically (the University of Washington and Capitol Hill). We were, however, in line with the politics of those across the water in Laurelhust.

So, while our politics may not be in tune with the rest of the town at all times, we do seem to be generally in harmony with each other (and, for that matter, with Denny-Blaine). Even Broadmoor, whose support for Susan Hutchison as County Executive was a recent outlier, has reversed course when it comes to national elections. The gated enclave threw its support to Bush in 2004 (by 315 votes to Kerry’s 230), but by 2008 the tide had turned. While the eight other exclusively Madison Park precincts gave Obama support ranging from 61% to 75%, Broadmoor also came through with a Democratic vote: Obama with 301 votes (53%) to McCain’s 263. Perhaps signaling the death knell of Republicanism in this old town? Probably not.

Monday, December 14, 2009

When it comes to crime, vigilance is better than the other thing (getting ripped off)

We reported earlier this month that crime is up significantly in Madison Park this year and that the uptick may not be consistent with the seasonal trend lines of past years. Some believe that the crime surge is the direct result of the economic downturn, which has forced people to take desperate measures. One law enforcement officer, however, speculates that the increase in crime may to some extent simply be related to the timing this year of prisoners being released from jail.

But whatever the underlying cause, it is clear that we have a crime problem in our community that needs to be addressed. I asked two Seattle Police Department (SPD) officers, to give me some tips to help readers of this blog effectively deal with the new higher-crime reality. Here’s the upshot:
Secure your property

In the first nine months of this year there have been 124 burglaries and attempted burglaries on our police beat. Of these, 69 were classified as “unlawful entry” as opposed to “forced entry.” In other words, 56% of all burglaries occurred where people failed to properly secure their property and the perpetrator(s) walked in through an open or unlocked door or entered via an open or unsecured window.

Locking and properly securing entry points is the first step in stopping burglaries, says SPD crime prevention officer Benjamin Kinlow. He points to a recent burglary example from another neighborhood where all the doors and windows of a house were secured on the first floor but there was an open window on the second floor and a ladder lying in the yard. There’s no reason to give burglars an open invitation, Kinlow notes, because they’re likely to take you up on it.


If you can afford to have an electronic security system in your house it can be a crime preventer if set up properly. “Having an alarm system with the alarm sounding inside the house is only a benefit for the alarm company,” according to Kinlow. It has minimal utility as a crime preventer, as we previously reported on this blog. “What I personally recommend to citizens is that they put their alarm high on the outside of the house,” says Kinlow, who believes that “99.99%” of criminals will stop and make a quick exit if they believe neighbors are being notified that a crime may be taking place. Most burglaries occur during daytime, he says, so when an alarm sounds, neighbors can look out and possibly see what’s happening.

Kinlow recommends alarm systems that can be deactivated from outside the house or that shut off automatically after several minutes. He also advises that all doors and windows be wired so that a burglar will have to make a noise when entering, either by triggering the alarm or breaking glass. Burglars prefer to make their moves silently, says Kinlow, so forcing them to make a noise not only provides an alert but also can be an actual deterrence. The goal is not to be an easy mark.
Surveillance cameras

Officer Tim Greeley, who works the police beat that includes Madison Park, says it’s very useful for homeowners to have some kind of crime deterrent on their property. He’s big on security systems, even with an in-the-house alarm. “Do you want the perpetrator to leave the house?” he asks, rhetorically. “Have something that will encourage that.”

Greeley believes that surveillance equipment can also be particularly useful in stopping crime. He notes that some systems are now very affordable and can be installed fairly easily. He commented that he bought one for his own home and has experienced no break-ins. Potential burglars, who are often juveniles, are likely to steer clear of a residence that is posted. So if you do install any kind of security system, Greeley says, make sure the fact is known: “This property is under video surveillance.”

Trompe d l'oeil

That’s French for “fool the eye.” When it comes to protecting your property while you’re away from the premises, you not only want to fool the eyes of potential burglars, but perhaps their ears as well. This means making it appear that the house is occupied even if it’s not. Use timers to turn on and off lights, both inside and outside your house, and do the same with a TV or radio so that the house is not quiet. Make sure that newspapers and mail do not accumulate, and keep the grass mowed.

Get the neighbors involved

Both Greeley and Kinlow stress that having neighbors participate in helping secure your property is important. Keep them informed of when you will be gone and ask for their assistance in watching the premises and reporting suspicious activities. Greely suggests that if you don’t have an extra car of your own to leave behind while you’re away, request that a neighbor parks their car in your driveway or in front of your house so it looks like someone is home.

Kinlow adds that if you’re going to be away from the house for an extended period you can make a “Request to Watch” to the Seattle Police, which will result in additional police patrols by your house while you are gone. The non-emergency number to be used for such requests is 206-625-5011.

Be vigilant

The bottom line, both officers agree, is for property owners not to be complacent about the possibility of becoming crime victims. “It can happen to anyone,” says Greeley. “The important thing” adds Kinlow, “is to make it difficult.” The more you do to protect your property, the harder you make it for the potential burglar, the less likely you are to be victimized. “Recognize that we live in a society and in a city where crime can occur,” says Greeley. “That fact has to be on our radar—or we’re vulnerable.”
[Officer Kinlow, SPD Crime Prevention Coordinator, may be contacted at (206) 684-7724 or by email:]
Photo of break-in courtesy of Tim Samoff, on Flickr.

Friday, December 11, 2009

‘Bad Actor’ returns

He’s definitely back in the vicinity. The Department of Corrections (DOC) confirmed this week that Michael J. Sheehan, a convicted sexual deviant with a long history of activity in Madison Park, is out of jail and living on 23rd and E. Columbia, just a couple miles down the road. As was reported by the Madison Park Times this month, Sheehan got out of jail in October; but he was almost immediately re-arrested on a parole violation because he removed his GPS tracking unit (I am told this is called a “strap violation.”)

According to Scott Harris, who supervises the DOC’s Sexual Assault Unit for King County, Sheenan will be under DOC supervision through 9/7/2013, assuming that he does not commit any other parole violations during the period. Additional violations would result in lengthened supervision.

Right now, Harris says, Sheehan is required to report in to his community corrections officer (CCO) on a daily basis, is not allowed to use drugs or alcohol, and may not leave King County without permission. In addition to being subject to random drug testing, Sheehan will be given polygraph tests on a regular basis (at least every three months), according to Harris. Although sexual-offender parolees can be ordered into sexual deviancy treatment programs, it is not known whether Sheehan has had this requirement imposed upon him.

Based on his history of recidivism, it appears that he certainly could use some form of treatment. He clearly fits the classic definition of a “bad actor.” Since his last incarceration, he has apparently been reclassified from a “Level II” risk to a “Level III.” (King County shows him as a “Level II” on its website, but the DOC assures me that he is a “Level III” for purposes of their supervision.)

Here’s what the Washington State Sexual Offender Information Center says about those listed as a “Level III” risk: “These offenders pose a potential high risk to the community and are a threat to re-offend if provided the opportunity. Most have prior sex crime convictions as well as other criminal convictions. Their lifestyles and choices place them in this classification. Some have predatory characteristics and may seek out victims. They may have refused or failed to complete approved treatment programs.”

So that’s part of the story. Sheehan is out and living not that far away. What is perhaps more surprising, however, is the fact that he is living one block from Nova High School, three blocks from Garfield High School, and four blocks from a private school.

And he’s not alone. Several other registered sex offenders live in the same neighborhood. Fortunately, there are none living within the confines of Madison Park, although there are 16 living within two miles of us.

There are no known restrictions on Sheehan’s movements so long as he doesn’t leave the county. He has been known in the past to allegedly engage in peeping-tom activities here, to stalk victims, and to illegally enter premises for sexual purposes. The picture above is a recent one released by the King County Sheriff’s office. So take note.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Bert’s does its bit for a greener holiday season

Although Bert’s has been recycling its own cooking oil and animal-fat waste for many years, the store this month decided to go a step further in its support of a “sustainable environment” in Madison Park. And if you’ve wandered around the back of the store recently, you may have seen the evidence of this new effort: a big green oil drum next to the loading dock labeled “General Biodiesel – Waste Cooking Oil Only – No Motor Oil.”

Madison Parkers are invited to come on down and dispose of their own used cooking oil and grease in the barrel, says store manager Keith Coddington: “We’re hoping it will be a help to the people in the neighborhood.”

The idea of placing a grease-recycling station in the Park was the brainchild of self-described “green fanatic“ (and General Biodiesel employee) Hoby Douglass. Bert’s, which has plenty of experience with the process, immediately agreed to provide the space. Coddington, who suspects that it will take awhile for the idea to catch on, says Bert’s is committed to environmentally correct solutions such as this one. Bert’s own recycling, he notes, has been in place “forever.”

General Biodiesel is a three-year-old biodiesel fuel manufacturer, based here in Seattle, that uses waste oils as the principal component in its fuel creation process. In theory, at least, biodiesel is cleaner burning than petroleum-based diesel; and when made from waste oils (as opposed to corn or other agricultural crops), it certainly is a lot greener.

The oil drum is expected to be in place at Bert's through early January.

[Bert’s is located at 1801 41st Avenue E. Photo of oil drum by Hoby Douglass.]

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Madison Park Blogger passes a milestone

When I began this blog seven and a half months ago, I planned to be a blogger in Madison Park, writing about whatever I decided to write about. (My first post on this blog, in fact, was about sluicing!)

But I quickly became a blogger about Madison Park, and I moved away from doing the kinds of postings I might have done if this wasn’t such a “serious endeavor” (and if my audience wasn’t made up of a lot of people I’d prefer not to offend). One of the ideas I gave up on was a regular posting called “Culled from the Internet.” My plan was to scour the web for interesting images and post them occasionally, confronting my readers with my humor and sense of the absurd. Of course that kind of thing would be totally inappropriate for a blog of this sort.

But we made a little history overnight, so I am deviating from the norm with this posting, the illustrations for which have nothing to do with anything. They were ripped from other websites and are used without attribution (because I really don’t remember from where I got them!). And the reason for celebration?

At exactly 4:41 this morning, Madison Park Blogger received its 10,000th visit since inception. Someone in Tokyo, Japan used the Google image-search function to find this site and then spent nine minutes and 29 seconds looking at our September postings. Now 10,000 visits might not be a big deal for a major, established neighborhood blog like Ballard’s, but I’m viewing it as a vote of confidence. And I’ll take my readers from wherever I can get them (somebody in Belgium reads this site every week!). So thanks, reader in Japan!

And thanks also to my Madison Park fans for your support and encouragement. Please keep those comments and story ideas coming. Onward and upward!

Monday, December 7, 2009

Crime is on the rise: what are we going to do about it?

For those paying attention there’s been plenty of anecdotal evidence over the past few months that crime is escalating in our community. Car prowlings and burglaries seem to be commonplace, and some surprisingly brazen break-ins of homes and businesses have also been reported. If we’re feeling vulnerable, there’s a good reason. Crime really is up in the neighborhood, and recent crime statistics confirm the trend.

What this amounts to is a 20% uptick so far this year in major crimes reported in our Seattle Police beat (known as Charlie 3). While this is certainly worrisome, it is almost nothing in comparison to the 84% increase in burglaries reported for the same period:

There has also been a 50% rise in car thefts between the first and third quarters of the year:

Although property crimes apparently tend to increase during better weather (windows left open, etc.), it seems that the trend this year is much more dramatic than would be the simple result of seasonality. Unfortunately we can’t know for sure, since the Seattle Police decided to jettison their historic method of reporting neighborhood crime. Through 2008, crime statistics for the Madison Park neighborhood (Census Tract 63) were broken out from the City numbers and reported. Now, the department only releases crime data for the larger Charlie 3 beat, which also includes Montlake and Madison Valley. Looking just at Madison Park for 2008, however, there clearly was not a bump in burglaries between the summer and fall quarters, as is happening on our beat this year:

For the City as a whole, major crimes are up 8% year over year; while burglaries are up only 3% and vehicle thefts are actually down 15%.

So we’ve got a problem. But what’s to be done?

At the request of Madison Park Community Council member Alice Lanczos, the Seattle Police’s crime prevention coordinator for our area, Benjamin Kinlow, spoke at the Council’s regular meeting last month. What he told those assembled is that the best way to prevent crime is for the community to become vigilant and organized. One of the most important things, he said, is for people to have timely information on what’s happening in their area. He reported that he tries to alert neighbors to burglaries by leafleting homes with a “Burglary Alert” when a break-in has occurred near their house:

He admitted, however, that he has been running behind in getting these Alerts out. He told me that as of today he is current on Alerts for burglaries occurring through November 19, about two weeks ago. One of the reasons it is difficult for him to be get caught up is that he is the only crime prevention officer covering a huge swath of the City. The East Precinct’s crime prevention position was eliminated in a budget cut in 2007; and Kinlow, who is based in the Southwest Precinct, has only had responsibility for covering the East Precinct since May.

So while we do have some Seattle Police assistance with our crime prevention efforts, Madison Park is somewhat on its own when it comes to stopping the escalation in crime. As noted in a previous posting, Madison Park has not had enough crime to warrant regular patrols. This may be changing.

Block Watches

Kinlow recommends block watches as one of the best ways to tackle the problem. He noted, for example, that View Ridge has a very sophisticated program where there’s a volunteer “trustee” for each two blocks of the community. This volunteer receives reports from anyone in the two-block coverage area who experiences a crime, and this information is then communicated to all of the other neighbors in the coverage area. It is also passed on to the other “trustees” throughout the neighborhood, who can then inform their own neighbors.

There are some informal block watches in Madison Park (the one in my area of the Park includes neighbors in a three or four block area). But when the subject came up at a Council meeting last summer, we learned that there has been no effort to date to formally coordinate a network of block watchers or to set up block watches in areas where they don’t already exist. There was actually resistance by some to a formalized block watch, although everyone agreed that the sharing of information about crime was needed.


Another way to share crime reports is through a community website or blog. Kinlow points to the West Seattle Blog’s “Crime Watch” page as a template for this kind of effort. Unfortunately, Madison Park does not currently have an established website or blog with sufficient coverage to make this idea workable. While the West Seattle Blog has been around for years and has readership in the thousands, this blog is new and is unknown to most members of the Madison Park community. At this point Madison Park Blogger can function as a resource, but it is clearly inadequate to the purpose of notifying the community about crime in the area. Any new website established to communicate this information would have the same limitations as this site. The principal problem is figuring out how to get people to tune in.

I am open to helping with a block watch/crime communication program if there are others who are interested in starting such a movement. I invite your suggestions and comments (just click on the “Comments” tag at the end of this posting, or email me at the address in the right-hand column).

Later this week, in Part II of this report, we will take a look at some practical suggestions by the Seattle Police for stopping burglars before they get the chance to rip you off. Be informed.

[Photo by foxymcslick on Flickr.]

Friday, December 4, 2009

Is stalker behind bars or on the streets?

Many of us at this end of the Park well remember a scary stalking incident of several summers ago involving convicted sex offender Michael Sheehan. The current issue of the Madison Park Times carries a story about Sheehan's most recent incarceration, which resulted from his violating the terms of his parole after he was released from jail in October.

The MPT went to press before Sheehan's expected release date of November 30, so I thought I'd check up and find out if the guy is on the streets or not. According to the paper, Sheehan was planning to live on the 800 block of 23rd Avenue (near Garfield Playfield), which by my calculations is only a bit more than two miles from here. Close enough to walk.

So is he out? Well, if they know, no one at the State Department of Corrections was willing to say when I called over the last two days. However, the DOC's website, which supposedly lists all "incarcerated offenders" in the State, does not have Sheehan in its database. A national sex-offender database shows Sheehan's current address as Kitsap County prision, information which is clearly out of date. His last known address, apparently, is actually King County Jail.

Sheehan's re-arrest occurred only one week after he was let out of jail the last time! And although he was given a 60-day sentence for this parole violation, says the MPT, he was expected to get off early for "good behavior" while back in the slammer. Not the kind of guy who can be expected to exercise the same "good behavior" once out on the streets, apparently. So take note.

I am told that I will be getting confirmation of Sheehan's whereabouts on Monday, directly from the Community Corrections Supervisor for King County. When that happens, I'll report it here.

[Photo courtesy of the Kitsap County Sheriff]

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Arboretum holiday event is back this week!

The Arboretum Foundation's annual Gifts & Greens Galore holiday sale returns this month after a one-year hiatus. Fresh-cut wreaths, swags and garlands are the main attraction for this festive event, but an expanded selection of gifts is also promised this year, along with gift wrapping, seasonal refreshments, live music, and "more!"
The sale begins this Friday, December 4, from 2 p.m. until 8 p.m. at the Graham Visitors Center and continues on Saturday, December 5, from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m. (Be aware of this traffic advisory relative to the day's Husky football game).
As noted previously on this blog, 2009 marks the 75th anniversary of the Washington Park Arboretum, a partnership between the City of Seattle and the University of Washington. In commemoration of this milestone, the Foundation, the City and the UW will jointly host a reception on Friday evening at the Graham Visitors Center beginning at 6 p.m. The reception, I am told, will feature a "signature cocktail": a hot toddy made with Arboretum honey.
Come one, come all. Parking and admission is free!

My neighbors, Jenefer and Dave Hutchins, remind me that this is a particularly approrpiate time of year to explore the Arboretum's colorful Winter Garden--and to prove their point they provided me with these lovely pictures.