Followup: “No new jail,” say county and city – so what’s next?

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announcement by King County Executive Dow Constantine (here’s our as-it-happened report – and here’s our previously unpublished clip of the start of the announcement):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.

6 Replies to "Followup: "No new jail," say county and city - so what's next?"

  • CB May 14, 2010 (6:22 am)

    So that’s what NIMBY’s look like. I guess they can get back to more important endeavors like preventing publics works projects, road improvements, sewer treatment, etc. These people seem to live in a world where shared responsibility and sacrifice are not values. Shameful.

    • WSB May 14, 2010 (6:55 am)

      I’ll say it because I don’t know that the HP’ers will. I’ve covered thousands of NIMBYs in my day(s and nights) but this wasn’t that type of campaign, where you just present information on “why this shouldn’t be in my backyard” with little research to back it up. These folks spent a lot of time studying, researching, presenting information that now, two years later, the project ex-proponents are coming around to. Since according to the information provided yesterday, the bottom line is that a new jail is not needed for at least a decade, which is what research uncovered by HPAC and others fairly early in the process indicated, the argument could be made that they and others have saved taxpayers a large part of its $180 million potential price tag (figure from last night’s Times story) which perhaps could go to the “public works projects, road improvements, sewer treatment, etc.” that *do* seem to be needed – TR

  • Justin May 14, 2010 (8:41 am)

    Exactly my thoughts, CB.

  • Lemers May 14, 2010 (12:10 pm)

    Thanks HPAC. You did a great job moving the issue forward instead of pushing around the problem (to another backyard). For those who are calling vilifying the actions of groups like HPAC:

    Be sure to step to the front of the line (in 10 years) offering your neighborhood as a great place to install a jail. We can talk about sacrifice and shared responsibility then.

  • Marcee Stone May 14, 2010 (3:35 pm)

    Congratulations Dan, Blair and the irrepressible Dina! You’ve done a lot for HP. I’m proud to know you.

  • DM May 14, 2010 (4:35 pm)

    From the beginning, the folks in Highland Park were aware that a jail in their backyard was problematic.
    They also knew that a Jail in Shoreline, or Bellevue or unincorporated King County would be a bad idea because of a few simple facts.
    If a new jail was truly needed, it should be built downtown where the infrastructure already exists.
    Courts, cops, rapid transit, shelters, mental and medical facilities are all downtown.
    The only reason to consider putting it out in the neighborhoods was to save money on construction (low-rise vs high-rise).
    HPAC is also closely involved with the design of the reservoir project at Westcrest Park, the spray park at HP Playfield, fighting for crosswalks at dangerous corners,neighborhood cleanup projects, forest stewardship among other community projects.
    The only thing I see as “Shameful” is CB’s lack of knowledge.
    But sadly, the world is full of people like him .

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