Opponents of the youth jail that King County plans to build in Seattle say they’ve been rolled — by first being told they could appeal to the hearing examiner and then having the city and county argue the case shouldn’t be there.
Opponents of the new youth jail and courthouse that King County plans to build in Seattle say they’ve been misled.
So the opponents did just that.
But lawyers for the city and county then asked Hearing Examiner Sue Tanner to toss out the case, arguing the permit decision couldn’t be appealed, after all.
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Tanner agreed Wednesday, dismissing the case. She acknowledged that the city, in a standard notice, had initially called the permit decision appealable.
A city spokesman, shortly after the decision in December,had told The Seattle Times the same thing.
But Liza Anderson, the assistant city attorney on the case, on Thursday described the initial notice as “stock language.” She rejected the idea that it was unfair for the city to switch positions later on, saying the case was a complex one.
Tanner said she based her ruling on her own reading of city law.
Knoll Lowney, a lawyer for the opponents, called the outcome outrageous. He represents the group Ending the Prison Industrial Complex — Seattle, which took the lead on the appeal.
Dozens of other organizations and individuals signed on, including the NAACP-Seattle King County, the Tenants Union of Washington State and leaders from several churches.
“(The) decision, if left in place, will silence the voices of people of color on this project and breed cynicism about the good faith of our local government officials,” Lowney said. “However, the fight to stop this misguided, racist and unaffordable project will continue.”
Mayor Ed Murray and County Executive Dow Constantine “cannot publicly say that they are concerned about how this jail will affect youth of color, while actively seeking to deny them their day in court,” Lowney said.
He said the opponents may try to get Tanner’s ruling overturned in court.
County voters in 2012 approved a $210 million property-tax levy to pay for the new juvenile-justice complex. But opponents object to the project and youth detention in general.
Murray recently asked county officials to “take a second look” at the design of the new youth jail, joining City Councilmembers Bruce Harrell, Mike O’Brien, Lisa Herbold and Kshama Sawant and Metropolitan King County Councilmember Rod Dembowski in voicing concerns about the project.
King County Superior Court Presiding Judge Laura Inveen and Chief Juvenile Judge J. Wesley Saint Clair responded to Murray by defending the project.
State law requires the county to maintain a juvenile-detention center, and proponents of the project say the new facility will be an improvement over the existing one.
Backers say the bulk of the project’s price tag is related to the new courthouse.
The county has dramatically reduced the number of youth it detains in recent decades and the new facility will have far fewer beds, proponents point out. They say detention is needed for youth who are a danger to the community.
Anthony Wright, King County Facilities Management Division director, said officials are pleased with Tanner’s ruling.
“The new facility will provide a respectful and supportive environment to link youth and families — court involved or not — with services and nonprofit organizations in their own communities,” Wright said.
Black youth are still much more likely to be detained than their white counterparts, and research shows detention doesn’t help youth, opponents say.
They argue the money for the project would be better spent on community-based alternatives to incarceration.
The appeal has kept the county from starting work on the project.
“This decision just came in yesterday, so we’re still evaluating what our construction timeline is going to be for this year,” county spokeswoman Alexa Vaughn said.