In its two-months-so-far fight against two proposed city-jail sites in southeast West Seattle, the Highland Park Action Committee has seen some of the same city reps more than once, particularly Doug Carey, the main person on the hot seat at the contentious South Park forum June 26th (WSB coverage here). But tonight, the city sent in a different team to represent its side of the jail-site story: Fleets and Facilities deputy director Mary Pearson (photo left) and Office of Policy and Management senior policy adviser Catherine Cornwall. They took questions for about 40 minutes, after opening remarks. Toplines ahead:
They addressed questions that have come up before and are likely to come up again — such as, why a low-rise jail requiring a bigger site, instead of a high-rise jail with more flexibility in building-site choices? Cornwall said that as the city considered two jail models – the downtown high-rise King County Jail and the low-rise county Regional Justice Center in Kent – and noted that the RJC is considered a model jail, so the city went with that model. (A study due out soon is examining whether the city made the right move there.)
She and Pearson both reiterated that there’s no way around the need to build a new jail; the city believes more than 1,000 additional beds will be needed over the next 20 years for the extra jail population expected as Seattle grows. They acknowledged the recent announcement that Seattle is hoping to work with eastside cities on some kind of regional solution and the fact that could ultimately broaden the search for sites.
Meeting attendees’ questions centered on concerns about lower property values and diminished qualify of life, if a jail comes to southeast West Seattle. Pearson countered that the city began with the premise that jails do not have a negative effect on communities, and cited the federal study that HPAC leaders already have taken issue with, because it focused on towns and cities they contend do not have comparable circumstances.
The mood of the meeting was somewhat calmer than the emotional June forum, but the concern has not diminished. Several audience members expressed suspicion that the upcoming study results would be tweaked by the city to support what they believe it wants to do: build a low-rise 7-acre jail in a Seattle neighborhood. (In addition to the two West Seattle sites, the city’s “final four” list of potential locations also includes sites in Interbay and on Aurora.)
Cornwall sought to reassure those concerns by describing the ongoing site search as a learning process, saying, “We’re all learning,” and promising the city might revisit some of its assumptions as public meetings continue and study results become available. Pearson said the city would be interested in hearing neighborhood ideas about operational specifics of a potential jail — such as, what time of day would it be best to release inmates, and where.
Both say they will be at the next city jail-sites forum this Saturday morning, 9 am-noon at South Seattle Community College‘s Brockey Center. Meantime, the city continues accepting comments through its website with jail-planning info, seattle.gov/municipaljail (most recent addition: documents regarding comments at the July 12th public forum in North Seattle). And HPAC continues updating its jail-info page here, including a link to an online petition.
ALSO DISCUSSED AT TONIGHT’S HIGHLAND PARK ACTION COMMITTEE MEETING: Unrelated to the ongoing jail-sites fight, the Highland Park Improvement Committee — a separate group that operates the 12th/Holden facility where HPAC usually meets (and other events take place) — plans a Giant Group Rummage Sale and Barbecue on August 10th — sale starts at 10 am, barbecue at 1 pm. (You’re welcome to inquire about renting a table at the sale – call Kay at 206-762-2266.) And Les Treall, a Highland Park-area PCO with the 34th District Democrats, says they’ll be out this weekend for door-to-door get-out-the-vote work — the primary election is only four weeks away (34dems.org also mentions they’ll be registering voters at the Alki Art Fair this weekend too).