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Originally published Saturday, June 29, 2013 at 3:41 PM

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County may ditch requirement that discourages block parties

After Woodinville-area resident Laurie Juedes questioned King County‘s requirement that block party organizers buy liability insurance, officials waived the requirement in her case and are re-examining the policy.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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After organizing a block party in her neighborhood east of Woodinville last summer, Laurie Juedes thought it would be easy to get a permit to host one this year.

But after she filled out all the paperwork, King County informed her there was one more hoop: that she obtain $1 million in liability insurance, intended to keep the county off the hook in case someone at the party gets injured.

The one-day coverage, she learned, would set her back almost $200 — more than she was willing to pay for a gathering of perhaps 30 people.

“Who’s got an extra $200 that they want to donate for insurance to King County? I don’t,” said Juedes.

Unlike King County, Seattle actively promotes Night Out block parties and doesn’t require the purchase of insurance. Last year alone, an estimated 42,000 of Seattle’s 616,000 residents attended 1,366 block parties.

But among some 250,000 residents of unincorporated King County, Juedes has the only active application this year for a “parade permit” to hold a block party. Another application was withdrawn when that applicant learned of the insurance requirement.

Juedes was ready to ditch plans for a party in the street when some good news came: King County said this past week it would waive the insurance requirement for Juedes and would re-examine its policy so it would be easier to hold block parties.

Officials said Juedes should have been required to buy insurance last year, too, but they mistakenly gave her a permit without it.

Department of Executive Services spokesman Cameron Satterfield said that in the future, the county will require applicants to sign “hold-harmless” language but will look for a way to drop the insurance requirement for small parties.

Satterfield said that because block parties fall under the same special-use permit category as parades and fun runs, county officials believed they had to require insurance coverage.

Officials now hope to eliminate that requirement by creating a new permit category for small events such as block parties, he said. In the meantime, applications will be handled on a case-by-case basis.

Building community

Sponsors of National Night Out — observed in most places the first Tuesday in August — say it has grown to involve 37 million people getting together to build community and promote anti-crime block watch programs across the U.S., Canada and American military bases.

The King County Sheriff’s Office supports block parties and often sends deputies to attend them, said spokeswoman Sgt. Cindi West.

Most of those parties may be in cities that contract with the sheriff’s office for police services and which promote neighborhood block-watch efforts.

Hold-harmless agreements are common, but insurance requirements and application fees appear to be less common among suburban cities. Kirkland charges a $25 fee for a permit, according to its website. Bellevue, which does not charge a fee, last year urged residents to hold block parties and offered four free Seattle Mariner tickets to those that incorporated a food drive or other service projects.

“National Night Out is a great way for the neighbors to get to know each other, communicate, network and talk about their neighborhood and safety, and working together to keep that safety,” West said.

Juedes said she helped organize last year’s block party because she was concerned about recent burglaries and wanted to help neighbors get to know each other.

That began to happen at the party, she recalled, as one neighbor would say to another: “Oh, hi. We see you driving in and out, and that’s it. People drive into their garages, and that’s the last we see of each other.”

The neighbors decided to have another get-together this August to continue their community-building.

If the county hadn’t agreed to waive the insurance requirement, Juedes said, she and the neighbor across the street figured they would still have a party, but without the permit that would allow them to close the street. Not closing the street, they worried, would make children more vulnerable to passing traffic.

In revising its policy, Satterfield said, the county wants to “make it less onerous for people to be able to hold these things and create some neighborhood unity.”

Keith Ervin: 206-464-2105 or kervin@seattletimes.com

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