West Seattle jail-site fight: “Scoping meeting” at SSCC

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We mentioned on Tuesday morning that five notable meetings were happening in West Seattle last night. Between your two co-publishers and three of the very good reporters we are able to tap on an as-assigned basis, we covered them all, including the second West Seattle meeting held as part of the regional jail-site-selection process, with one WS site (Google Street View above) now remaining in the running. Many of the same people who spoke at the first one last June (WSB coverage here) were at this one too, as was David Whelan, reporting for WSB – here’s his story:

By David Whelan
Reporting for West Seattle Blog

The mood at Tuesday evening’s Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) “scoping” meeting for the proposed West Seattle jail site was one of pent-up frustration.

The purpose of the public hearing at the Brockey Conference Center at South Seattle Community College was for agencies, organizations and the public to comment on the scope of the regional jail site proposed for Highland Park Way and West Marginal Way (map).

“Scoping” refers to the practice of identifying any significant adverse environmental impacts that might result from building the facility. Under SEPA (the State Environmental Policy Act), any project is required to give communities and citizens the opportunity to provide input into the Environmental Impact Statement.

While the crowd of 20-25 neighbors for the most part held to the general ground rules – attendees were asked at the outset to focus on what topics should be studied as part of the EIS and not on stating an opinion for or against the proposal – it was clear that many Highland Park residents have grown weary of the lengthy decision making process.

Since July, the North/East Cities (NEC) planning group (composed of officials from 23 cities in King County, including Seattle, Bellevue, and Shoreline) has been in the process of narrowing down a list of preferred sites for a new regional misdemeanor-offender jail. As announced last month, the West Marginal/Highland Park Way site is one of six locations remaining on the list, which expanded when other King County cities nominated possible sites.

Tuesday was an opportunity for Highland Park residents — and anyone else interested in the West Seattle site — not only to add their two cents on elements of the EIS, but also to state their opinions on the jail process as a whole.

Among the 15 speakers who came to the microphone to speak, however, it was clear that many had done their homework on the environmental elements authorized as part of the SEPA process. In fact, Dorsol Plants, outgoing chair of the Highland Park Action Committee (which has led the fight against West Seattle jail sites), said HPAC members had compiled a list of talking points relevant to the environmental categories.

“This was a more formal process,” Plants said. Previous community forums held in December had such large crowds that city officials reportedly had trouble recording all the comments. According to Plants, the more structured format of the scoping process ensures that all opinions get heard – and documented.

“Here, with a court reporter present, it gave us a chance to keep more of our comments on the record,” he said.

A large portion of the comments focused on the nearby West Duwamish Greenbelt. Several attendees expressed concern that the wildlife there was not always constrained to the greenbelt proper. “I saw a heron standing at a bus stop the other day” said one member, referring to the need to analyze the habitat and migration patterns of the greenbelt dwellers.

HPAC Vice Chair Rory Denovan noted that the distance between the proposed jail site and the downtown municipal courts would have an adverse impact due to the amount of auto travel required. Denovan commented that both the air quality and salmon habitat would be compromised by the increased fuel consumption.

Resident Becca Fong added that surface and groundwater impacts would need to be investigated as well. With the site at the bottom of a large hill, she was concerned about runoff into the Duwamish River – already, she noted, a Superfund site.

Highland Park Elementary teacher Laura Drake gave an impassioned statement on the need to consider the proximity of that school to the prison site. “Highland Park Elementary is less than one mile from the site,” she said. “That needs to be considered.”

Perhaps the most animated speaker was Pacific Plumbing owner Ed Sherman, whose business is located just across West Marginal Way from the site. Whether he was turning the mic to address the crowd directly or burning a dollar bill to demonstrate his thoughts on the effectiveness of a new jail in Highland Park, Sherman got the room’s attention.

He also brought up a laundry list of questions relating to the cost of the extra transport and employees he says will be required if there are separate jails in downtown and West Seattle. He then added that the decline of property values relating to a jail needed to be considered.

“There goes the nest egg for retirement or for the children,” he said. Later, he added that while inmates were being “rewarded” with a second jail, “business and home owners are getting punished.”

During his turn at the mic, HPAC chair Plants raised the point that Highland Park did not have the means to offer transition resources to released inmates. Citing a study that many recently released inmates are dependent on these agencies to control their behavior, he flatly stated that “we are dooming them to a life of failure.”

Other issues raised on Tuesday included the impact on transit resources, noise pollution, the effect of any possible South Park Bridge construction, and the need to preserve recreational activities and public art in the West Duwamish Greenbelt.

When the official EIS comments ended, audience members were free to add any additional comments outside of the recorded session. The most direct came from Drake, who asked when some type of resolution could be expected.

“When does it end?” she asked. “When does a decision get made? Over and over we go to these meetings and there’s nothing.”

City policy analysts emphasized that the cities involved were following a very specific process to comply with the state SEPA process. She added that the concerns expressed by Highland Park residences were shared by the other communities.

“Obviously, there’s no community out there saying ‘please put a jail here,’” she said.

Five additional jail sites – in Interbay, Shoreline, Bellevue, Unincorporated King County and downtown Seattle – are also under consideration for the regional jail site.

Many in attendance seemed to feel that downtown would ultimately end up as the proposed choice, with Plants referring to a “chess match” between King County and the City of Seattle over the county-owned land downtown.

Plants, who has announced his candidacy for City Council, noted that he would have time to run his entire campaign before the decision-making process ended.

“At this rate, if elected, I’d be joining the Council in time to work on the jail issue,” he said.

He also noted that since the start of the jail-planning process, few elected officials have attended public meetings on the subject.

“Unfortunately, that’s why you saw some of the frustration tonight,” he said. “It’s because we’re devoting time and resources to defending the community that should be invested in building the community.”

WHAT’S NEXT: The comment period for the scoping process extends through January 30th. Written comments can be submitted through the jail-project Web site at www.necmunicipaljail.org or via e-mail at MunicipalJailSEPA@Seattle.gov. The EIS will be drafted and resubmitted for public comment near the end of 2009, with the final draft being submitted in January of 2010. A preferred site will be identified sometime in 2010.

12 Replies to "West Seattle jail-site fight: "Scoping meeting" at SSCC"

  • Kat January 14, 2009 (9:18 am)

    THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU!!! To the dedicated community members who have remained vigilant over these many, many, many months. Our community continues to owe you a debt of gratitude. My plans to attend were interrupted by illness, my apologies. Keep up the amazing work. As you know, now is not the time to grow complacent…

  • julie January 14, 2009 (11:18 am)

    I didn’t read any comments about lighting. Typically jails and prisons have a high level of lighting at night which could modify flight behavior of birds and other local wildlife. It is also an eyesore and can interupt sleep cycles for neighboring properties.

  • d January 14, 2009 (12:08 pm)

    Please consider submitting your comments to the email address provided above at the end of the article.

    Lighting was in fact on the list of impacts to be delineated at the scoping, but I could not attend.

    The list I received had over 50 items to be delineated and entered on “record”. I am confident that the hard-working, dedicated, members of HPAC’s Environmental Group did so.

    However, anyone who has any experience in these EIS Scoping processes or who cares to help preserve this ecosystem affiliated with the Duwamish should take a minute to submit an online comment. This proposed jail site is kitty-corner (a matter of 50 feet, or so) from the largest greenbelt in the city of Seattle.

    There is a much more appropriate proposed site downtown adjacent to the existing King County Courthouse, which is where common sense dictates it belongs. There are human service providers already downtown for the released misdemeanant population. No such services exist in the W. Marginal site area. The residents of this area assure all that those types of businesses are NOT the type of economic development conducive to positive growth for a residential neighborhood within the city of Seattle. Moreover, a jail within 3/4 of a mile from an ethnically diverse elementary school or a heavily-used Pee Wee Little League field would again defy common sense and ethics.

    Thank you to HPAC for persevering. Gratefully….

  • Meghan January 14, 2009 (12:42 pm)

    Even though it’s not something ideal to add to our downtown, that probably really does make the most sense for a new jail. It would be the most efficient use of resources and downtown is where most courts and necessary related services already are. Actually, this could provide the city with an opportunity not only to please the citizens who don’t want a jail in their neighborhood; they could likely compel the county to design an interesting, architecturally significant building. Without many of the normal market dictates of design that are necessary for offices, hotels, publice buiding, etc. (e.g. large windows), they could probably achieve a really interesting landmark building. They could wrap an entire building in mesh, for example. And some of the most striking building materials today (e.g. aluminum, metal mesh, zinc, etc) are often less expensive than what is used in more standard buildings. What a great compromise that could be!

  • CB January 14, 2009 (1:35 pm)

    I am amazed with all of the recent local crime, the NIMBYS have not come to their senses and got behind a new jail. These people may be the most selfish members of society.

  • DM January 14, 2009 (5:23 pm)

    Have you been to a community meeting or a public forum or a Scoping meeting?
    What gives you the ridiculous idea that the placement of a jail will effect the crime rate.
    Many of us suppot a downtown site.
    The downtown site is not only directly across the street from the King County Jail, easily accessible by tunnel or catwalk, but downtown is where all of the infrastructure is.
    The courts, the social services, the bail bondsman, the homeless shelters.
    The current amount of local crime is completely unaffected by any jail issues. There is no shortage of beds expected until at least 2012. Plenty of time to site and build the new jail downtown.
    If you want to lower crime let’s get more police officers on the job, not more jails in the neighborhoods.
    Honestly, you should learn a few facts before you make disgraceful comments about your neighbors.

  • Dorsol January 14, 2009 (6:15 pm)


    You really should take a look at several studies on jails in Urban Environments done by the Journal of Urban Health. Despite what you have come to believe the truth is that placing a jail in an Urban area has been shown to increase the crime rate in the area. I would be more than happy to sit down and discuss this with you if you would mind mentioning any sources you have to back your claims.

    Be Safe,
    Dorsol Plants
    Candidate for Seattle City Council 2009

  • Kat January 14, 2009 (6:40 pm)

    Couldn’t have said it better myself! Hear, Hear!! Thank you DM and Dorsol!!!

  • WSB January 14, 2009 (6:51 pm)

    Someone pointed out a link problem in the story – I’m fixing but in case anyone is interested in the geekery of it, all web addresses should work whether you use the www. prefix or not. It seems the jail website does NOT work without the www. Strange but true. Going in to add it here, in the meantime, direct link

  • Zoom Out Time: Big Picture January 15, 2009 (12:50 pm)

    Yeah, well, there are those who would say that it could be selfish or unrealistic or any number of other adjectives to expect a misdemeanant jail to be sited close to WS simply because of convenience for our beloved SW Precinct. WS is forever thankful for and appreciative of our cops. Perhaps more than we can ever really show them.

    Again, this jail is ONLY for misdemeanor crimes and if folks don’t know what those types of crimes are – they probably will want to educate themselves at http://www.necmunicipaljail.org).

    Ultimately, after the 1 year EIS review process is completed, and with those recommendations have been given due consideration, the jail facility will ultimately be located as pragmatically as is possible. It’s location will facilitate the safe housing and prompt adjudication and access upon release to human service providers.

    For those who are unaware or have forgotten or have miscomprehended in spite of the exemplary coverage by WSB, this jail will be for the misdemeanants of 22 OTHER CITIES, plus ALL OF THE OTHER NEIGHBORHOODS BEYOND WEST SEATTLE. Yes, that’s right. I said 22 other cities in King County will be using this facility.

    This need regarding the misdemeanant population of King County is not, and never has been, just about the needs of West Seattle, let alone Highland Park or any other neighborhood within King County. This has been a BIG process for the greatest good which has involved Big political posturing for negotiations of jail leases between Seattle and the County at the get go. Part of that process, or any process, are neighborhood groups representing their POV’s and activists filling remaining gaps. It is fully anticipated and expected. It is our democratic political process. How have YOU participated?

    The political process continued successfully. And, a Regional Strategy, while not exactly inevitable, congealed as a pragmatic default resolution to be studied. This outcome was likely accelerated because of the joint and expeditious political action by Dow Constantine and Sharon Nelson at the behest of their “nimby” constituencies of the 8th District.

    Though the scope of the original Ordinance from the County has been reduced, the NEC group found common ground and that, dear neighbors, is no small accomplishment for an intergovernmental regional project – jail siting or viaduct options are immediate evidence.

    So, remember, if nothing else, that there are 22 other cities through out the County who will be using this facility and not just West Seattle.

    Thanks for reading. Phew!

  • westseattlered January 29, 2009 (10:21 am)

    if you took the money needed to build a new jail and used it to save the seattle schools, we wouldn’t need a new jail.
    how come at a time when we are cutting social service funding we have money for a new jail? we are ensuring that we will have a population to fill the jail when we take away funding for education, mentally ill, housing, health and job training. we abandon communities only to swoop in and contain them.
    it is proven so much more cost effective in the long run to provide services than to lock them up. we shouldn’t be talking about where to locate the jail, we should be talking about ways to keep from having to build one altogether.
    at the least, i am glad there are people so committed to evaluating the harmful environmental impacts of the jail to help postpone construction. and please check out the new seattle initiative 100 that would require studies and a public vote before building a new jail.

  • DowntownorOutofTown February 1, 2009 (12:21 am)

    It is my belief that Initiative 100 is a completely flawed, sophomoric strategy conceived by very short-sided inexperienced citizens. They are basing the initiative on the assumption that a small reduction of inmates this past year, and one year only, has provided the educated and critical citizens of Seattle sufficient evidence to sign the Initiative which calls for no jail at all.

    It is ludicrous that any legitimate, experienced social justice or social services group would suggest that one year is enough of a basis to establish the kind of trend they are crossing their fingers and toes for. That’s a little too soft science in this town.

    The problem, kiddos, is that this horse has been out of the barn for 20 years. The need for additional jail space is because of regional growth and, now, crisis management. The County was reprimanded a few years for unsafely housing inmates and the city has been sending misdemeanants to Yakima’s jail every day for years. Many folks don’t know that there are as many misdemeanants as there really are because they are removed from the city of Seattle every day and transported to the Yakima Jail. That’s the dirty little secret that’s been swept under the rug so that most of Seattleites are not even aware, Initiative 100 supporters.

    There has to be, in addition to school funding, a downtown jail space near the existing social services. Also, new social services will be set up in the southern part of the County by the SEC (South cities group) to address the high numbers of misdemeanants out of the Kent and south area.

    It is rather naive to think that no jail is needed. The only people who might sign Initiative 100 are going to be the very uninformed or those who will be misled by the uninformed Initiative 100 supporters.



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