Video surveillance cameras at Seawall Park received a resounding “no” from attendees at a recent community discussion at Langley City Hall.
About 20 people gathered in the council chambers on Wednesday night to discuss ways of derailing illicit behavior at Seawall Park without closing the park at night. While video surveillance was rebuked, a number of solutions were proposed and discussed, including motion-sensor lighting, building a fence or adding more vegetation along the toe of the bluff, increasing patrols by police and eradicating trails that lead to the underside of buildings where people have trespassed.
The solutions aim to not only avoid closure of the park at night, but also to improve public safety, increase security for private properties and improve access. Mayor Tim Callison led the meeting by gathering the pros and cons for each of the proposed ideas. City Councilwomen Rene Neff and Dominique Emerson also attended the meeting and contributed ideas.
Seawall Park has been at the center of public discourse since September, when Police Chief David Marks recommended the city council adopt park hours. The recommendation followed the discovery of 40 heroin syringes at the park over a two-week period. The city council heeded his advice and other resident testimony claiming drug usage at the park had become a safety hazard, by approving a policy that would close the park from 12-6 a.m. The council later tabled the closure in the wake of public outcry over the decision, but instructed Callison to hold a community meeting to find ways to address drug usage and homelessness occurring at the park.
Attendees said that video surveillance could violate the privacy of those who change from street clothes to swimsuits at the park. Neff and Emerson agreed that video surveillance isn’t necessary, though Emerson added security cameras are used nearby at the Langley Marina. Emerson said a case would have to be made for her to consider using them.
“I don’t feel like we need it yet,” Emerson said.
Motion sensor lighting was not readily accepted by attendees either, who questioned whether the lights would become intrusive to activities such as looking at the night sky. Others thought the lighting would be easy to access and relatively cheap.
Fred Lundahl, owner of Music for the Eyes on Second Street, said he will install lighting under the Dog House porch in an area where he has found three heroin syringes this year and where Langley Police Officer Mason Shoudy found another one in a routine sweep in November. The lighting will be somewhat of a test run to assess its effectiveness, he said.
Neff was in favor of lighting and other solutions, such as removing access to the underside of buildings by destroying trails up the bluff.
“I think all of those things might be good deterrents and help up with those kinds of issues,” Neff said.
Fencing could either be installed by private property owners or the city. If the city installs them, the fence could outline the boundaries of the park, Emerson said.
Sharon Emerson, a member of the Seawall Park Ad Hoc Committee tasked with improving safety and accessibility of the park, said that in addition to increased foot patrols, the fence could thwart access to drug users.
“It would be a very effective solution,” Sharon Emerson said.
Others felt fencing installed by the city could shrink the size of the park, make it less appealing, require maintenance and take responsibility off the shoulders of private property owners.
“If the property owners control the fencing, then I assume they would take responsibility for what’s happening on their side of the fence,” Langley resident Carl Magnusson said.
“It becomes more clear that that’s their responsibility,” he said.
Fencing installed by private property owners could also have a negative effect in terms of aesthetics, Callison said, which could lead to the park being “chopped up” by property owners’ boundaries.
Marks remains an advocate for the closure of the park, but supported all of the proposed solutions at the meeting.
“The only thing I don’t support is doing nothing,” the chief said. “I still think the park should be closed at night, but the rest of it I’m totally in favor of.”