It was billed as another routine community-City Hall get-together to discuss "environmental impacts and issues" in South Park.
"Corruption," someone yelled. "Crooks," someone else said. "Illegal," another chimed. "You're all in bed together." Whatever the environment outside, it was hostile inside.
Police, asked to stand by after an earlier city-South Park community meeting turned raucous, watched over the Concorde Elementary School cafeteria last week. One speaker even stepped up and pointed out "one of the leading criminals—the man over there in the yellow shirt."
Yellow-shirted Cliff Portman, from the city's Department of Design, Construction, and Land Use (DCLU), tried to grin and bear it. "It's not so bad," he said. "You should have been at the last hearing."
Local residents filed up to a microphone to give their two cents' worth on what should be included in a DCLU environmental impact statement on the proposed expansion of Long Painting Co., the Northwest's largest industrial painting firm. There was no mistaking the majority thought the best statement was No Way.
Under certain conditions, Long Painting may eventually be allowed to expand its extensive painting and sandblast operations in the middle of a residential neighborhood, despite at least 20 years of community complaints about fumes, noise, dust, and glare that some residents say impair their health.
Expansion is unacceptable, said an irate Penni Cocking. "We can't enjoy our life now—the paint fumes are so bad." The South Park resident mentioned Long Painting's history of lapsed or nonexistent city building and fire permits and claimed the company had also illegally torn down houses around its five-acre 10th Avenue South site.
Several challenged the painting contractor's right to be in South Park to begin with. When the company took up residence three decades back, documents presented to DCLU by activist Tim O'Brian indicate, the city may have improperly waived zoning and variance laws. (O'Brian entitled his presentation "Long Painting and the City of Seattle, Partners in Crime?")
Although Long Painting lacked at least 30 building and fire permits in recent years, DCLU's Scott Kemp said the department is satisfied that the operation is legal today, based on an opinion from City Attorney Mark Sidran's office.
Expansion supporter Charlie Cunniff of the Environmental Coalition of South Seattle said the past isn't an issue. He preferred to ask, "What are the environmental impacts of the company now and in the future?" He said air quality and health impacts should be part of an independent study.
He also distributed an open letter to South Park residents, in part arguing that, contrary to a recent Seattle Weekly headline, South Park does not "stink." He invited this writer, the Seattle City Council, "or anyone else to come down to the neighborhood on any given day and smell for themselves."
After seeing the letter, resident Debbie Carlin (who sometimes mows her lawn wearing a hospital surgical mask for protection) said, "Well, I was out in the yard Sunday; it stunk then."