Councilmember Mike O’Brien said activists deserved another chance to try to stop King County from building a new detention center. Councilmembers Sally Bagshaw and Tim Burgess expressed concerns about derailing or delaying a project many years in the making.
The Seattle City Council passed an ordinance Tuesday that could give opponents of a new King County youth jail another chance to stop the project.
At issue is the city construction department’s decision in December to approve a master-use permit for new jail and a youth courthouse in the Central Area.
The group Ending the Prison Industrial Complex appealed the decision to the city’s hearing examiner, joined by dozens of other organizations, including the NAACP-Seattle King County and the Tenants Union of Washington State.
But hearing examiner Sue Tanner dismissed the case in March, saying she lacked jurisdiction to handle the appeal.
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Tuesday’s ordinance, sponsored by Councilmember Mike O’Brien, spells out in law that the permit decision can indeed be appealed.
The ordinance will apply retroactively, which may allow the activists to bring their case back before Tanner. They also have a legal challenge pending in King County Superior Court.
Councilmembers Sally Bagshaw and Tim Burgess expressed concerns about derailing or delaying a project many years in the making, and King County’s prosecuting attorney, Dan Satterberg, spoke against the ordinance.
But O’Brien said the activists deserve to have their appeal heard and described the ordinance as correcting an error.
When the council passed a bill in 2014 allowing the city to waive certain development standards in approving the county’s permit, council members intended for it to be possible to appeal, but there was a technical mistake, O’Brien said.
A Bagshaw amendment that would have stopped O’Brien’s ordinance from applying retroactively failed 5-2. The ordinance itself passed 5-2. In each case, Bagshaw and Burgess were on the losing side. M. Lorena González and Debora Juarez weren’t present.
The ordinance is part of a long-running battle between the county and project foes.
County voters in 2012 approved a $210 million levy to pay for a replacement for the existing juvenile-justice complex at 12th Avenue and East Alder Street.
State law requires the county to maintain a youth-detention center, and supporters of the new center note it will have fewer jail beds and more amenities than the existing center.
“The new facility will provide a respectful and supportive environment to link youth and families … with services and nonprofit organizations in their own communities,” county spokeswoman Alexa Vaughn said in a statement.
Opponents claim the 2012 ballot language was unclear and say the county should be spending taxpayer money on community alternatives to incarceration rather than on a new jail.
“What we really need to do is invest in our youth,” activist E. Rose Harriot told the council Tuesday.
The county has reduced juvenile detention by more than 70 percent since the 1990s, thanks in part to reforms. But black youth are still much more likely to be jailed.
Construction preparation has begun at the Central Area site where the new juvenile-justice complex is planned, Vaughn said.
In January, Mayor Ed Murray asked county leaders to “take a second look” at the project’s design. Murray is no longer running for re-election. The mayor will sign O’Brien’s ordinance, a spokesman said.