Fighting crime alley by alley

OLYMPIA - Downtown business leaders and the city have joined forces to clean and light another alley, reducing both grime and crime, they say.

The Olympia Downtown Association pledged $4,000 to light the alley behind Community Youth Services, between the 700 blocks of Fourth and State avenues. And the city’s probation work crew cleaned up the alley last month. Jeff Trinin, a board member of the downtown association, said crew members hauled out the overgrown blackberry bushes and weeds.

“It’s made it a lot safer for the clients and the workers at CYS,” he said.

It’s another step in a city initiative to turn alleys into destinations – clean, well-lit spaces with lights and murals. Last year, workers spruced a block of alleys between Fourth and State avenues and Jefferson and Cherry streets. Another project focused on the area between Fourth and Fifth avenues and Washington and Franklin streets.

Another participant in the process is the Parking and Business Improvement Area, or PBIA, a city-designated downtown district that assesses fees from businesses for downtown beautification.

“It was a collaborative effort between the PBIA and the Olympia Downtown Association to make downtown streets and alleys more safe and clean,” he said.

Drug use and tagging – or marking with graffiti – are some of the illegal activities that have taken place in the city’s alleys.

The first step in cleaning up alleys, downtown code-enforcement officer Ruthie Snyder has said, is the cleaning itself. Dirty alleys encourage rodent infestation, standing water and impediments to emergency vehicles.

The city’s goal is to reduce the number of trash bins, leading to businesses sharing larger trash bins. Meanwhile, the probation crew pulls weeds, wields a steam cleaner and picks up trash.

The lights that are installed are “dark sky” lights that are shielded and point down so they don’t create light pollution that muddies the sky with a yellow glow at night.

Making the program work is a partnership. The Olympia Downtown Association pledged $4,000 for the lights but ended up paying less, said Erica Cooper, the chairwoman of the association’s design committee.

The city’s long-term goal is turning the alleys into a work of art. Eventually, murals would be added to the backs of buildings. That cuts down on graffiti, Snyder has said.

“It really has snowballed into a positive effect,” Cooper said.

Matt Batcheldor: 360-704-6869