Opinion

Editorial: The Village Green needs our focused attention

The Vashon Park District and the King County Sheriff’s Office need to take seriously mounting concerns over what appears to be illicit activity taking place at the Village Green.

By urban standards, the problems are insignificant. But on Vashon, an Island with enormous pride and deep interest in the health and safety of our youth, it seems a travesty that the literal and figurative heart of our small town has become an apparent hotbed of drug activity.

Consider what The Beachcomber saw just last week: A reporter went into the new public restroom at the Village Green mid-day on Friday and found no needles in the sharps container, a drop-off spot for spent needles. Later that night, another reporter stepped in to take a look and counted 14 needles — this, in the span of seven hours. A homemade pipe, blackened by burning, was also found in the garbage can.

Several Islanders have told The Beachcomber on various occasions that they believe methamphetamine use is on the rise on Vashon. Meth, a highly addictive drug and toxic chemical, is often injected intravenously. So is heroin. Those are certainly possible explanations for all those needles.

We recognize that the situation at the Village Green is the kind of issue public officials and law enforcement agencies have grappled with for years — and for which there are no easy answers. If the park district and the sheriff’s office were to crack down, the problem wouldn’t go away; it would go elsewhere — and very likely somewhere without a sharps container that provides safe disposal for tainted needles.

At the same time, communities have also learned the enormous power of stepping up and reclaiming their public places. There are countless stories about communities — from New York City to Tacoma’s Hilltop — that harnessed their public pride and civic determination to successfully reshape their shared destiny.

Vashon is hardly one of these crime-ridden neighborhoods. And yet, we now have a situation where, as one Islander recounted, a teen calls her father before she walks home at night from Bob’s Bakery, where she works, to her home behind the park — a mere two blocks. Or where a home adjacent to the park is proving hard to sell, in part because of its proximity to the park. This is not the Island community we’ve worked to create.

What should happen at the Village Green, for starters, is simple enforcement of the rules. Repeatedly, those who hang out there do so with their dogs, even though dogs are not allowed in the Village Green. It’s also against the rules to be in the park after dusk, another rule that seems seldom enforced.

Other simple measures could help, such as the installation of motion-activated lighting or keeping the bathroom locked except for on high-use days, such as Saturday’s Farmers Market.

We don’t want our town to become a police state where every loiterer is viewed as a drug addict and those who have nowhere to go are chased back into the woods. Indeed, this paper has routinely supported those organizations that do much to make this Island a compassionate place for those less fortunate.

At the same time, people should feel safe walking through town in the evening. Let’s reclaim the Village Green.

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