Tonight, the Highland Park Action Committee toasted the end of their intense two-year fight against a potential jail in West Seattle – that’s current HPAC chair Dan Mullins at left, with former chair Blair Johnson and photographer/webmaster/sign designer Dina Johnson, celebrating at Triangle Tavern. We had asked Mullins earlier for his thoughts on this morning’s announcement by King County Executive Dow Constantine (here’s our as-it-happened report – and here’s our previously unpublished clip of the start of the announcement):
Mullins’ reaction afterward: “As difficult as it has been fighting the prospect of a huge jail being built it our neighborhood, some good has come out of it. Our little neighborhood has become much more organized, people have a stronger sense of community and a better understanding of how our government works. And City Hall now knows who we are and where we are and that we are vocal.” (His e-mail to the Highland Park list was a little more exuberant, with the subject line NO NEW JAIL/GOOD JOB, EVERYBODY!)
So now what? There was some concern in the comment section following this morning’s story, regarding the language of the official announcements – suspended, proposed, etc. Toward the start of this short clip from this morning’s announcement, the mayor was a little more definite in the term he chose:
We spoke later with Katherine Schubert-Knapp and Catherine Cornwall, both of whom worked on the city of Seattle’s part of the jail project. The official announcement warned that if future projections suggest more capacity will be needed, jail planning could have to restart as soon as 2013. Could any of the work done this time around be reused, we asked? Answer: Basically, no. But they both stressed that the proposed regional cooperation brings the process to a whole new stage – if the need can truly be handled between a combination of county beds, plus beds from other facilities such as the south end jail that’s opening next year, and alternative sentencing. Regarding the “proposed” languaging, Schubert-Knapp notes that since so many governmental entities have been involved in this, the respective councils have to sign off on the plan – King County Council, Seattle City Council, etc. – but that’s not expected to be any kind of speed bump. Seattle Councilmember Nick Licata, who headed the council’s Public Safety Committee during much of the site-search process, also seemed vehement that it’s over:
A variety of documents are now linked to the North/East Cities Municipal Jail website, which also carries a stern notice that it will not be updated from this point forward. We asked Cornwall and Schubert-Knapp if any particular study or report had triggered today’s announcement; they say the county’s decision to offer a longer contract extension, coupled with a second year of data showing lower jail population, comprised the game-changer. And of course, the city and county both have new elected leadership, in McGinn and Constantine, this year; Constantine had declared in June that if he were elected, the jail project “will not happen”; McGinn also had voiced, during his campaign, opposition to the idea of a new jail.
But long before the campaigning, the Highland Park Action Committee was in action, with research as well as passion. If you missed our stories from the period in 2008 when Seattle was considering its own new jail, with two of the four proposed sites in West Seattle, this report (with video) from a June 2008 meeting tells virtually the whole story of how things were going in the heart of the fight. Even then, as we wrote, projections were showing jail populations dropping. And now, watching those populations is paramount, warns the summary document released today:
While this proposed approach creates additional time to plan for our region’s future jail needs, it is not a long-term solution for our region’s jail capacity needs. The county and cities will need to regularly track the region’s jail population trends and use of jail capacity and be prepared to resume planning for new capacity by 2013 or even sooner if trends indicate the need for additional capacity before 2020.