Locking Out Homeless? Seattle Man Wants More Information From City

Jan 15, 2014

One Seattle man says he’s on a quest to expose why the Seattle Center blocked off use of power outlets in public spaces, and he is arguing his case before the Washington state Appeals Court today.

In September of 2012, Howard Gale noticed Seattle Center staff putting covers and padlocks on all of the electrical outlets, not long after the center had been remodeled and the outlets had been installed. 

He started asking questions, and didn't get satisfactory answers.

“They told me they didn’t know; they had to get back to me. It took months,” he said.

Eventually, Gale filed a public records request. He says it confirmed what he suspected — that blocking outlets had something to do with the large number of homeless people hanging out at the tables.

“The concern, as it turned out, and I do have documents that verify this, was to try to move the homeless, to provide a disincentive,” he said.

Gale says homeless people would often use the outlets to charge cellphones they’d been given or, in some cases, plug in old laptops. Through his public records request, Gale received hundreds of documents. One uncovered Seattle Center email mentioned “managing the resident transient population.”  

Still, Gale sued the city because he believes there are dozens of records the city has yet to turn over regarding the outlets. He says for him, there remain unanswered questions.

“I still don’t understand why a city agency would go to such extreme expense and risk embarrassment for something as boneheaded as denying the homeless electricity,” he said.

For its part, the city says it has turned over all relevant documents in the case. A Superior Court judge ruled that while the city was not initially in compliance, it is now. But Gale appealed, and now the state Appeals Court is hearing his case.

The city attorney's office, which is defending the Seattle Center, said it would not comment prior to the Appeals Court hearing.

For Gale, who isn’t new to filing public records requests, ultimately the goal is to keep city government accountable. He says the Seattle Center, as a city park, should be open to everyone, and the decisions Seattle makes about it should be public as well.