End the Prison Industrial Complex challenged the city of Seattle’s decision to issue a master-use permit to King County for construction of the new Children and Family Justice Center. The state Court of Appeals has ruled in the county’s favor.
The state Court of Appeals on Tuesday dealt another blow to a local not-for-profit organization trying to stop construction of King County’s new Children and Family Justice Center to replace the aging Youth Services Center in Seattle’s Central District.
End the Prison Industrial Complex — known as EPIC — appealed a King County Superior Court ruling that it was too late in filing its challenge to the issuance of the project’s master-use permit, surpassing the 21-day limit for appeals to be filed. The Court of Appeals on Tuesday affirmed the superior court’s ruling.
“King County is pleased with today’s Court of Appeals decision regarding the Children and Family Justice Center. Construction continues on the replacement for the decrepit, obsolete Youth Services Center, and we are on schedule for opening the new facility in 2019,” Cameron Satterfield, a spokesman for the county’s department of executive services, said in an email Tuesday.
But Knoll Lowney, EPIC’s lead attorney, said EPIC and dozens of other activist groups relied on the city of Seattle’s instructions when they initially appealed the issuance of the master-use permit to the city’s hearing examiner.
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King County is considered the property owner of the new justice center while Seattle is the permitting authority because the project is within city limits.
With Tuesday’s ruling, EPIC is now on the hook to pay the county’s legal fees from the case, likely in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, according to the ruling and Lowney. But Lowney said the county will have a hard time collecting because EPIC doesn’t have any assets.
“From a lawyer’s standpoint, it’s one of the worst decisions I’ve ever seen, and it validates the lack of trust communities of color have in our justice system,” he said of Tuesday’s ruling.
Lowney said he expects his client will likely appeal to the state Supreme Court, which will be deciding another case involving EPIC and King County in coming months.
EPIC and a host of community activist groups have lobbied against construction of the new youth justice center because of the disproportionate detention of young people of color and because they believe the $200 million center is unnecessary.
So far this year, protesters with the No New Youth Jail campaign have blocked busy downtown intersections, formed human barricades at the construction site and forced county Executive Dow Constantine to cancel his state of the county address. This past month, several protesters were arrested after chaining themselves together at 14th Avenue and East Remington Court in an attempt to prevent laborers from continuing work on the new center.
In 2012, King County voters approved a levy to pay for the new justice center. EPIC and other groups later sued, arguing the county failed to provide voters with enough information about the magnitude of the tax increase and how long it would last.
This past year, the Court of Appeals ruled in EPIC’s favor, saying the county has been improperly calculating property taxes to fund the new courthouse and youth-detention facility. The county appealed to the state Supreme Court, which is expected to hear oral arguments on the levy issue in the next six months.
The challenge to the county’s master-use permit is the subject of Tuesday’s ruling.
After the levy passed, the county went forward with an environmental review and requested modifications to setback and building-width conditions, according to the ruling.
In December 2016, the Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections (SDCI) issued a notice saying it had approved the county’s permit request and indicated that appeals to the permit decision had to be received by the city’s hearing examiner by Jan. 5, 2017.
EPIC filed its administrative appeal with the hearing examiner before that deadline, based on the city’s instructions, Lowney said.
But the hearing examiner didn’t have the authority to resolve EPIC’s administrative appeal challenging the city’s decision to issue a master-use permit to the county. Under city code, a permit for a juvenile-detention center was initially listed as a Type I decision not subject to appeal to the hearing examiner but was later categorized as a Type II decision, which is generally subject to appeal. But the detention center wasn’t explicitly added to the list of Type II land uses that could be appealed to the hearing examiner, the ruling says.
In March 2017, the hearing examiner dismissed EPIC’s appeal and later that month, denied EPIC’s request for reconsideration.
A month later, EPIC filed a petition in King County Superior Court under the Land Use Protection Act (LUPA), well after the 21-day deadline for superior court review of a land-use decision, the ruling says.
The superior court ruled that EPIC’s petition was untimely and so dismissed it. The appellate court agreed, ruling EPIC should have filed its land-use petition in superior court within 21 days of the city’s December notice.
Then in June, the City Council enacted an ordinance to include a youth-service center to the list of Type II decisions that are appealable to the hearing examiner — and the council made the ordinance retroactive to April 1, 2015, according to the ruling.
But by then, King County’s rights in its master-use permit had been vested for six months, allowing the county to proceed with the project under the city’s land-use code provisions in effect as of January 2017. The provisions precluded the hearing examiner from resolving administrative appeals that challenged decisions by the Department of Construction and Inspections, the appellate court ruled.
Lowney said his clients were hamstrung either way: EPIC followed the city’s appeal instructions, only to be told the hearing examiner didn’t have authority to hear their appeal — but if they had instead filed a land-use petition in superior court to meet the 21-day deadline, the petition would have been tossed out for failing to follow the city’s appeal instructions, he said.