Saturday, September 2, 2000 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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El Centro asks agency to let tent city stay

Seattle Times staff reporter

El Centro de la Raza wants the tent city for the homeless to stay on the community center's property until Jan. 16, despite warnings from Seattle's city government that fines of $75 a day may be imposed.

El Centro officials plan to formally request next week that the tent city - on the organization's Beacon Hill property since mid-July - be allowed to remain. The application fee for the temporary-use permit El Centro seeks costs at least $2,500. Donations and car washes have raised more than $2,000, tent-city organizers say.

The city's Department of Design, Construction and Land Use last week notified the City Attorney's Office that El Centro does not have a permit for an outdoor residential encampment and should be fined. The City Attorney's Office has not decided whether to take the case to Seattle Municipal Court.

Officials with El Centro and the tent city said yesterday that in applying for a temporary-use permit, they hope to stop the clock on any possible fines. They say they asked the 100 residents of the tent city to stay because shelters are short of room and, without the tents, many people would be forced back onto the streets to survive on their own.

"It's morally the right thing to do," said Estela Ortega, director of community services at El Centro. "The city has not given an alternative."

Bob Laird, code-compliance manager at DCLU, said submitting a temporary-use application does not necessarily stop the accumulation of fines. He said allowing an encampment at El Centro is far from a sure thing because an encampment is such an unusual use of property in that area.

The tent city has occupied 13 locations since it was established March 31. At the first three sites, the group did not get advance permission from property owners. It then moved - with permission - to several church parking lots.

Organizers have said they would like to stay in one spot for six months to test how a tent city would operate under the best of circumstances.

Beth Kaiman's phone message number is 206-464-2441. Her e-mail address is

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