BULLETIN: No new jail; county to extend contract; site search ends

FIRST REPORT, 9:13 AM: As mentioned last night, a “significant development in the regional jail-planning process” is promised this morning. It’s been two years since Seattle announced it needed new jail space, and started looking at sites that currently include one in West Seattle (West Marginal/Highland Park Way) as part of what’s become a regional effort. We’re at King County’s Chinook Building downtown, expecting to see a group any moment that we’re told will include County Executive Dow Constantine and Mayor Mike McGinn. As soon as the “development” is announced, we’ll add it here.

9:20 AM ANNOUNCEMENT: The headline on the news release reads, “Proposal to extend jail contract clears way for cities to consider shelving plans.” Jail contract may be extended thru 2020, Constantine announces. Mayor Mike McGinn says that means an end to the jail-siting process. “This is good news, Seattle,” the mayor said, after Executive Constantine announced the proposal to extend the agreement. “Today as a region we will work together to do this.” Shoreline’s mayor has also spoken; that city was under consideration as a jail site. Details of the proposal, from a news release handed out here: King County is offering the cities 150 jail beds through 2020. In addition, they are proposing creation of “a regional jail planning and management group.” Negotiation of this proposed agreement will start next year. Councilmember Nick Licata says “We have pulled the plug on the jail-siting process – and I can almost hear the cheers.” (As we read further into the news release, however, it warns that if there is an indication for new capacity after 2020, the jail-planning process may have to resume as soon as 2013.)

9:34 AM: They’re taking questions now. We asked Constantine, what do you tell the people of Highland Park (and elsewhere) who went through two years of anguish – not to mention the time and money spent by the governments – was it all for naught? We have his entire answer on video and will add it later, but bottom line, he said, he wished it hadn’t played out that way, but it did, and it’s time to move on. (added 9:57 am, here’s his entire answer on video)

Regarding the possibility of needing new space in the future, he notably mentioned the possibility of adding on to the regional county jail complex in Kent. He also said that part of this regional jail process would involve figuring out who has space where so that it could be used more efficiently – including the new jail that is being built by the south end SCORE group. Constantine also said that a future process would be conducted more “rationally” – saying this one seemed to have been “sudden” (regarding the 2008 disclosure that more space was needed and planning for a new site would commence immediately).

10:35 AM UPDATE: We talked with two key behind-the-scenes people after the room cleared, and will include their perspective in a followup story – what’s next, and what’s to keep this all from revving up again in a few years? Meantime, the county has published the full news release about today’s announcement on its website – you can read it here.

18 Replies to "BULLETIN: No new jail; county to extend contract; site search ends"

  • sam May 13, 2010 (9:28 am)

    that IS good news

  • Mookie May 13, 2010 (9:45 am)

    Yay. So it goes. For now. Meanwhile, the Dutch government is getting ready to close eight prisons because they don’t have enough criminals to fill them. Officials attribute the shortage of prisoners to a declining crime rate. Gee, wonder what that’s about?

  • Andrew May 13, 2010 (9:55 am)

    Yes, let’s spend that money on early education and job training and job creation that allows people to thrive in the marketplace, so that they understand there are other options than crime.

  • d May 13, 2010 (9:56 am)

    Seriously good news!

    Since the announcement of this yesterday, I was somewhat convinced and concerned that another residential area (Shoreline) was going to have to deal with a misdemeanor facility. So glad I was so wrong!

    The agencies and government teams have arrived at the beginning of doing the right thing – truly for the greater good. Voters should recognize this. Cooperative coalitions which develop programs and facilities in a context of regional planning is where it’s at – where it should have been all along! But, it is better late than never. Truly.

    Deliberate, strategic, thoughtful, cost-effective and meaningful planning is oh-so-much smarter than slap dash crisis whiplash.

    Highland Park, and so West Seattle, can finally exhale.

  • Linh Thai May 13, 2010 (10:33 am)

    It was the right decision to make. Neighborhoods of Highland Park and West Seattle are safe for the time being. Let’s not let our guards down.

  • margaritaville May 13, 2010 (11:25 am)

    How much did this site search cost the taxpayers?

  • CB May 13, 2010 (1:34 pm)

    Now the NIMBY’S can start impeding other public works projects.

  • Kayleigh May 13, 2010 (1:51 pm)

    “Proposal to extend jail contract clears way for cities to consider shelving plans”. I had to read that like 5 times for it to make sense. Who writes this stuff? (I know not you, WSB.)

    • WSB May 13, 2010 (3:08 pm)

      Kayleigh – I am sorry for including that in the original report – I had a bit of a logistical dilemma – the news release was handed to reporters literally 30 seconds before the speaking began. I typed with my left hand, verbatim from the news release (for which that was the headline) and held the camera with my right hand. Need to buy a tabletop tripod, which would have solved the whole thing. And sometimes we bring two people to events so one can shoot and one can type, but that wasn’t possible this morning.

  • Aim May 13, 2010 (2:17 pm)

    “We asked Constantine, what do you tell the people of Highland Park (and elsewhere) who went through two years of anguish – not to mention the time and money spent by the governments – was it all for naught? We have his entire answer on video and will add it later, but bottom line, he said, he wished it hadn’t played out that way, but it did, and it’s time to move on. ”

    How about a simple, “I’m sorry.” I think it would really go a LONG way with communities if the officials would just say “I’m sorry” once in awhile when things go sideways. Those two small words have a whole lot of impact.

    That said, I’m very glad there will not be a new jail in WS/HP.

  • BlairJ May 13, 2010 (3:11 pm)

    The news reports are peppered with words like “postponed”, “suspended” and “delayed”, leading me to believe that us folks in the neighborhoods that were being considered for jail sites need to continue to pay attention to this process.

    • WSB May 13, 2010 (3:26 pm)

      I talked to Catherine Cornwall and Katherine Schubert-Knapp about that issue right afterward. Certainly no one would be wise to let down their guard. But they pointed to something I also noted in this initial report (have some elements in queue for a followup later) – the fact that the county had never before been willing to put a Kent expansion on the table, plus two years now of data showing populations going down. I asked if, should the process wind up restarting in 2013, they would be able to reuse some of the work already done – they said pretty much, no, it would have to start from scratch. – TR
      PS – Where I have written, the mayor said the siting process is over, etc., – that *is exactly what he said*. I should probably just drop everything else and plug in some more of the video.

  • Kayleigh May 13, 2010 (3:26 pm)

    I know it’s not your writing, WSB. You are great writers. Even before I became a copyeditor, government-speak drove me nuts. “Shelving plans” sounds like something you’d find at Ikea. :)

  • d May 13, 2010 (4:14 pm)

    Margaritaville –

    This is from The Weekly’s blog article by V. Colman:

    “According to Catherine Cornwall, lead analyst for the jail project, a total of $3.4 million has been spent, with $2.7 million of that coming directly from Seattle.”

    • WSB May 13, 2010 (4:35 pm)

      I have another clarification from Katherine S-K — The “proposed” etc. language is because all of the various legislative bodies have to sign off on this – King County Council, Seattle City Council, other councils in the North/East Cities partnership that had been launched. But that is considered to be a technicality – they insist this really is over.

  • d May 13, 2010 (4:41 pm)

    Thanks TR –

    I personally have faith that we, as a community, can stand down on this issue. I believe The Dow and McGinn’s words – that this is gonna’ go regional baby! :)

    It will take some of us awhile to adjust to it, that’s all. So the continued clarification is important.

  • WSB May 13, 2010 (4:52 pm)

    Here’s the McGinn clip (I didn’t want to hold the video till I could write the full followup so I will add two more URLs too) in which he says “we will suspend … END …”

  • dk May 13, 2010 (7:12 pm)

    Don’t believe what Cornwall is telling you, King County offered to expand either Downtown or in Kent, it was Seattle who would not commit to leasing those beds if they were built.

    Additionally, just before NEC launched, the King County Council sent the NEC electeds a letter nearly begging them to reconsider the plan to build a new jail.

    This is what happened: for the facility to pencil out at 445 beds, they required 85% occupancy. With the declining occupancy, the facility could not pay for itself. Furthermore, since SCORE was coming online and offering beds cheaper than the NEC proposed facility, there was no sound fiscal basis to continue.

    The money for the environmental impact studies, that came from the sale of property in the Overlake area in Bellevue to Childrens Hospital, the county gave it to all 39 municipalities for a new jail, but the South King County cities wanted their own facility and moved ahead faster. They have a jail, NEC has nothing. $3.4 million that went to the consultants in largely no bid contracts.

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