Local community groups and their attorneys have asked a Seattle hearing examiner to reconsider her decision dismissing the appeal of a finding by the Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections (SDCI). The dismissal would allow King County to move forward with construction of a controversial youth detention facility.
The dismissal, served on March 1, was done on a narrow, technical point of city code. It looked at whether issues advanced by opponents of the facility, including issues with the environmental review and waivers that allow the building to be bulkier than otherwise allowed under Seattle’s zoning rules, could be appealed to the Office of the Hearing Examiner at all.
They could not, Hearing Examiner Sue Tanner decided.
The decision meant that she didn’t have to rule on other community concerns, such as the impact of confinement on children, the disproportionate number of Black and Brown children behind bars and the impacts on livability in the Central District.
Organizers hoped for a different outcome, but weren’t surprised that yet another official channel to stop the project had failed, said Senait Brown, an organizer with Ending the Prison Industrial Complex (EPIC), a Black-led community organization that has partnered with Youth Undoing Institutional Racism (YUIR) to fight against the facility.
“I think as organizers, we didn’t have a lot of faith in something like the Hearing Examiner’s Office being able to evaluate its own city’s actions,” Brown said.
The activists’ legal team, including private law firm Smith & Lowney and, more recently, Columbia Legal Services, have already filed a motion to reconsider the decision. They will continue to explore legal avenues to stopping the facility, because they believe that the hearing examiner erred in her decision, said Nick Straley, a staff attorney with Columbia Legal Services.
“Everyone assumed from the language in the ordinance it was appealable, the city assumed it was appealable, the SDCI says it’s appealable, and yet before the hearing examiner, the city’s attorney decides to take the opposite opinion,” Straley said.
As the legal case continues, the community will continue to advance its other strategies to block the youth jail emphasizing community-based, community-led anti-racist solutions to the problem of youth incarceration, Brown said.
“This was their opportunity, not necessarily ours,” Brown said.
EPIC and YUIR have been fighting the youth jail since King County voters passed a measure to fund a new Children and Family Justice Center on the August 2012 ballot. The center would replace the courts, offices and detention facility currently located at 12th Avenue and E. Alder Street with new facilities, including a detention facility with half the number of beds as the current building.
Proponents of the project note that the buildings are old and in disrepair, and that the new center will provide extra space for restorative justice programs that prevent or replace incarceration. Opponents say that they don’t want to pay to replace the detention center, which county documents record as being in decent shape and had only 27 children in December.