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Downtown Concourse and Parkade Safety Concerns

For at least the last few years, MEA has been advocating for more safety and security measures for City employees in all work locations.  There have been some small victories here and there, but in our view the City is generally not doing enough to protect its own employees, whether they work at a small branch library or a downtown high rise.

MEA-represented employees who work at the City Administration Building, City Operations Building, and Civic Center Plaza and who utilize the Parkade have experienced deteriorating conditions for some time now.  As a result MEA has significantly escalated its communication and advocacy with not only City management but also the Mayor and City Council.  MEA had a meeting last week regarding these concerns with the City’s Chief Operating Officer and other senior management, and Police Department and Ace Parking representatives.

In March 2019 the City announced its decision to allow a “temporary” shelter at Golden Hall to house 40 single women and 28 families.  Over the next four and a half years the shelter expanded significantly, and now also includes more than 100 beds for single men despite the City’s promise in 2019 that it would not use Golden Hall as a shelter for single men.

The City needs to do a much better job of taking responsibility for this decision and for the dangerous and unsafe conditions it has created for its own employees in and around the place that the City requires them to report for work.

Here is a summary of the ideas MEA discussed with the City.  We believe the City needs to immediately implement these and any other solutions in an effort to address the challenges that are being experienced by City employees who work in buildings adjacent to the Concourse and Parkade:

  1. Proactive enforcement activity by PD – The City is well aware of the substantial illegal activity going on in the area.  Proactive, regular enforcement efforts by police officers would certainly make a positive difference by consistently removing, or at least displacing, people committing crimes in and around the Concourse and Parkade.  The enforcement efforts should continue for an extended period of time so that the clear message is sent that illegal activity in this area will not be tolerated by law enforcement.
  2. Hold the operator of the shelter at Golden Hall accountable – The City and the Housing Commission should ensure that the shelter operator is being held accountable for the impacts of the operation.  Presumably, the operator agreement includes responsibilities of the provider for safe and sanitary conditions both inside and outside of the facility.  If so, those conditions need to be enforced.  If not, or if they are inadequate, then the City needs to take the responsibility to do what the provider should be doing to better protect City employees and members of public accessing their City government.
  3. More private security – The efforts of the on-site Ace Parking manager and private security guards are definitely helpful and very welcomed.  But much more is needed.  The availability of security officers to walk employees to their car is not sufficient.  More importantly, additional personnel are needed to proactively and regularly walk the Parkade and Concourse area to do everything from removing people loitering and charging their phones in the Parkade to calling PD when crimes are being committed.
  4. Clean and maintain the Concourse, Parkade and surrounding areas – The area is characterized by graffiti, human waste, an absence of landscaping, general disrepair, broken elevators, peeling paint, an old pay phone without a receiver that has been inoperative for over 10 years, two vacant restaurants, etc etc etc.  It appears that the City has literally abandoned the area, and a number of people are understandably interpreting that appearance as an invitation to do whatever they want in the area.  If the City appears to not care about the area, why should anyone else treat it with respect?  The city must reverse this message to the public.
  5. Communicate more effectively with City employees about these issues – The situation continues to deteriorate because of inaction by the City, and the reported traumatic and dangerous incidents for City employees have become more common.   Yet the City sent out an all-employee email a few weeks ago with only three pieces of advice for City employees: 1) employ the buddy system when walking in the area, 2) call for a security escort if you don’t have a buddy, though those can be provided only if someone is available, and 3) call a 10-digit phone number that needs to be programmed into your phone if something goes wrong.  MEA certainly hopes that e-blast did not convey the extent of the City’s concern and planned action on these issues.  Assuming it did not, we recommended to the COO that the City follow up that communication with regular updates about what it is doing or intends to do to keep its employees safe.
  6. Allow remote work opportunities until conditions improve – For those employees in jobs where remote work is possible and practicable without loss of customer interface, they should be given the option to work remotely until conditions improve.

As a result of MEA’s advocacy and communication with the City Council, last week the IBA’s report summarizing Councilmembers’ budget priorities included the fact that seven of nine Councilmembers identified “enhanced security at Parkade and City Concourse” as a top priority.  “Ensuring (that) City employees can access their workplace safely” was the reason for the Councilmembers’ request.

The City must do more.  We implore the City to act with decisiveness and urgency to remedy these unsafe and unacceptable conditions.  We note that this is all happening on the City’s property containing the City’s buildings that house the City’s employees adjacent to the City’s shelter.  This is the City’s responsibility and under the City’s control, and it must take action to protect its employees.

We also reminded the City and will continue to stress that more needs to be done to address the unique safety concerns of employees at all City facilities.  We will continue with this advocacy, and we appreciate the continued feedback from many of you on this issue.  As always, if you have any questions or comments on this or any other issue, don’t hesitate to contact MEA at info@sdmea.org or 619-264-6632.  Thank you and stay safe.