Category Archives: News

New King County Detention Center An Albatross For South Seattle Youth?

by Marcus Harrison Green

Editor’s Note: This is our first installment in a series on the redevelopment of the King County Children and Family Justice Building, and its impact on South Seattle families and youth.

Juvy Center
King County Children and Family Justice Building

The words draped from the streetlamp read: Live,Learn, Work, Play. An extended invitation to all who pass underneath the sign – on 12th Avenue and Alder-  to enjoy the vibrant business and entertainment ward housed within its immediate surroundings.

However, as inhabitants scurry  past to imbibe at their favorite watering hole, or indulge their appetites at the nearest neoteric eatery,  it’s often easy for them to ignore the nondescript structure which rest no more than 20 feet away. Though, if the recent firestorm that has ignited over its future is any indication, the days of its obscurity are quite numbered.

“It’s a pure tragedy! That building will be nothing more than a kids for cash operation.” said Otieno Terry –  a local youth and Y.U.I.R (Youth Undoing Institutional Racism) member- in reference to the King County Children and Family Justice Center Building, which will soon be replaced by a new $210 million dollar facility bearing the same name. The development of which has stoked a tremendous amount of controversy in South Seattle for residents fearful over an extreme hike in youth incarcerations.

The impending construction of the new facility is being financed by a 2012 levy initiative passed by 53% of King County voters,which added an additional property tax of 7 cents per $1,000 of assessed land value to area homeowners over a 9 year time frame.

The existing building houses a juvenile detention center, and also serves as King County’s main facility for juvenile court cases, including those involving abuse, neglect, and child abandonment. The structure has not been renovated since 1972  and – according to the County-  has long been overdue for redevelopment.

“We were in a situation where the drinking water had turned brown. There was mold and mildew in the court houses, and our electrical system did not function properly,so that children who were in the housing units had to be provided extra blankets just in order to keep from freezing at night. Our sole motivation for building this new center is to make conditions better for the county and community.” said Claudia Balducci, Criminal Justice Strategy Section Manager for King County’s Office of Strategy and Budget.

But several area Social Justice groups – led by EPIC (End the Prison Industrial Complex) and AFSC (American Friends and Service Committee)-  have aligned to challenge the County’s assertion, as they view the building of the new facility as an action that will directly exacerbate the problem of disproportional imprisonment rates as it pertains to South Seattle minority youth.

While the overall rate of incarcerated King County juveniles has actually decreased in the past few years, by the County’s own data,  the proportion of youth of color: black, hispanic and asian, has actually risen during the same time period. In King County, minority adolescents are currently twice as likely to be placed in a detention center than their non-minority counterparts, despite making up less than 40% of area’s youth population.

“You can’t legitimately tell me that you’re going to build a new detention facility for almost a quarter of a billion dollars and keep it empty! This is a rift on if you build it, they will come. And where will this children be coming from? It won’t be from Mercer island, Bellevue or Magnolia. It will be from Rainier Beach, from Skyway, from Othello and the CD, as it already is.” said Dustin Washington of the AFSC.

The County, however, while acknowledging the persistent racial disparities in youth incarceration rates, maintains that the new building shouldn’t be viewed as an instrument that will further provoke those discrepancies, “I think there are a lot of misconceptions about the new building. It is going to house updated courtrooms, state of the art meeting spaces, and housing that isn’t at all detention oriented, but  is actually used for children who are victims of domestic abuse and have no other place to go. Yes, the detention center will still be a part of the facility,  but we’re actually reducing the number of beds from 200 in the current center,  to only 154 in the new building. Detention space isn’t like commercial real estate where you can create more on an as needed basis, so we have to make sure that we can still accommodate situations as they present themselves.” Says Balducci.

Members of the coalition against the facility say that the reduced number of beds in the detention center is still too many. “Depending on estimates, the average number of children in the detention center on any given night ranges between 54 -70 kids. They’re not even using half of the bed space as it is. No one is saying that they shouldn’t re-model the prison to improve its conditions, but $210 million for a completely new facility? Especially in our current climate where at every level of government, from federal, to our own state and county legislatures, are crying broke. They can’t afford adequate health care, housing or education for everyone in our state, county or city, yet we can afford a youth prison? This money has to be flowing to someone, somewhere.” Said James Williams, a coalition representative.

It’s a question that several area youth have also been asking, including Khalel Lee, an organizer with Y.U.I.R. “You know the importance of priorities by where money is placed. Instead of more money being put into education, they’re put into prisons. Why not take half of the money allocated for the prison and put it into our schools. We need better equipment. We need books that don’t fall apart when you turn the pages. We also need after school programs, and work programs for teenagers. We need things that are more preventive rather than punitive.”

For their part,  the County doesn’t feel that the preventive and punitive can’t go hand in hand. “This doesn’t have to be an either or situation. We agree wholeheartedly that we need to focus more energy, and give more support to preventive measures, but it’s also a reality that there are circumstances where detention is needed.” said Balducci.

She also rejected the notion that construction on the new building would function as a money grab. “Are their going to be contractors who get paid? Yes, of course, someone has to do the work. But,  thankfully we don’t have private prisons in Washington State that are run strictly to turn a profit.”

The issue recently came to its boiling point at a recent community forum held at the 2100 building on 24th Avenue South and hosted by EPIC- Which was attended by Balducci, along with a representative from King County Executive Director Dow Constantine’s Office. Over 200 South Seattle residents showed up to hear arguments for and against the center’s redevelopment, and to see whether any common ground could emerge between the two factions. Unfortunately, neither side appeared to leave contented.

“What continued to be brought up throughout the meeting was, fix broken systems, and not broken people, but I simply don’t see why we can’t do both? We do need to fix the system, I’m not disputing that, as it isn’t perfect. We can’t have a kid who lives in Rainier Beach, and is given a summons to a court out in Federal Way, and yet he has no transportation to get there so he ends up missing it. He then has a warrant issued for his arrest, and then he’s locked up in detention.” Said Balducci. “Are we where we want to be yet? No, but we can get there.”

Voices of the coalition against the prison contend that the county representatives at the meeting offered nothing but a flimsy wall of words in their defense of the facilities construction. “Ms. Balducci seemed like a nice woman, and at least she did get up and speak, which is more than I can say for the representative from Dow Constantine’s office. However, she’s the mayor of Bellevue. Why in the world is she even tasked with speaking to us? If the County had been earnest about getting actual community buy-in about  this project they would have had meetings like this before they sought to build the prison, not after. For such a large allocation of money, you would think that we’d have more serious discussions about it as an entire community, not just with so-called stakeholders that seem cherry picked by the county.” said Washington

One attendant at the meeting echoed the sentiment, “I speak to people and they literally thought that the levy was for parks or something. The lack of education about this issue is astounding, especially as dry as the money spigots appear to be in our area. The detention center needed to be renovated 15 years ago, so why are we fast tracking things now, with very limited discussion with the people, and the families who will directly be affected by this? Why didn’t they speak to a broad group of youth who had been incarcerated and who live in this area? I don’t want my son or daughter, preyed upon and locked up, so they can act as a return of investment on a youth prison.” Said Martin Friedman.
As more groups rally against the building of the facility, while the County simultaneously proceeds with their construction plans, one thing seems certain in all of the resultant murkiness, the discord over this issue remains quite far from over.

Mayor and Newly Confirmed Police Chief Visiting South Seattle

by Staff Writer ed-murray

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray, and newly confirmed Seattle Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole, will both be visiting the New Holly Gathering Center – located at 7054 32nd Avenue South- on Thursday, June 26th at 6:00pm to film the latest installment of Ask The Mayor.

Mayor Murray will be taking questions directly from those in attendance, as well as discussing a host of issues ranging from his proposal to stave off cuts to metro bus service, universal preschool , gun violence, neighborhood crime, and progress on police reform.

The event is free, however registration is strongly suggested. (Register at: http://www.seattlechannel.org/AskTheMayor/)

The Emerald will have full coverage of the event following the taping.

 

Community Coming Together To Stop Youth Jail

by Staff WriterYouth Jail

Local social justice groups will be hosting a community meeting later tonight to inform south Seattle residents about the counties plan to build a new, supersized $210 million Juvenile Detention Center, and how it will impact the area’s youth. The event will feature free food,  a chance to meet with community organizers working on the issue, and a debate between elected officials about what is needed to fix the current Juvenile Justice System. Event organizers hope that the meeting will shift the community’s focus from “fixing broken youth” to “fixing broken education and criminal justice systems.”

“The story the County tells is that the current youth jail is old and needs repairs.  So they want to build a new one, but make the new one twice as big.  The current facility isn’t even at capacity.  That logic just doesn’t add up.” Says local area youth Khalil Butler, who will be speaking at the event. “When a school in my neighborhood needed remodeling, they moved the students to another location and made the needed repairs.  Then the kids were returned to a repaired school that was same size as when they left.  If construction of the New Youth Jail moves forward as planned, seems like a lot of money will be wasted.”

The No New Youth Jail Campaign: Community Night will take place in the 2100 building, located at 2100 24th Avenue South.  Doors will open at 6:00pm and the program will start at 6:30pm.  Over 200 people are expected to attend.

Mt. Baker Rezone Passes Committee Vote

Mt. Baker Rezone
Potential site of rezone in Mt. Baker area

by Young Han

News Brief: On Tuesday, the City Council’s Planning, Land Use, and Sustainability (PLUS) Committee passed the bill to rezone the area around the Mount Baker Light Rail Station. On a 4-1 vote, with Bruce Harrell dissenting, the Committee moved the legislation to the full Council for a vote on Monday, June 23rd.

Echoing concerns from some area residents that the legislation has moved too quickly, Harrell proposed two amendments. The first amendment would have tabled the bill indefinitely for further study. This amendment failed when no additional Councilmembers came forward in support. The second amendment substituted a height limit of 85 feet (instead of the original 125) on the parcel currently occupied by Lowe’s Home Improvement. It too failed on a voice vote.

In last ditch effort to derail the legislation before going to the full City Council, opponents of the Mount Baker rezone came out in full force. They wore t-shirts saying “NO REZONE” and “Jobs NOT Apts”. As in previous meetings, they contended that they had not been fully included in the process, and that a rezone would fail due to slack demand for market-rate development while causing land values to escalate, threatening small businesses.

A final amendment by Councilwoman Sally Clark, one that sought to assuage fears that a 125 foot residential apartment complex may be built on the Lowe’s site, also failed without additional support. Clark’s amendment sought to explicitly limit the proportion of development on the site for residential development, if a structure nearing the height limit was, in fact, built.

Editorial: The PLUS Committee made the right decision to move the legislation for consideration by the full City Council. While opponents of the bill organized an impressive number of people to speak against the bill on Tuesday, they continued to provide an unclear sense of what they wanted with respect to the legislation itself, as well as a lack of realistic alternatives to bring about the one thing they all agreed they wanted: jobs.

In the course of three Committee meetings, opponents of the Mount Baker rezone have, at different points, said they want the legislation tabled so that it could go back to the community for reconsideration and that the rezone should not occur at all. They have also concurrently claimed that a rezone will fail to attract new development and that a rezone will result in gentrification. The opponents of the legislation give the impression that they are talking out of both sides of their mouths or throwing in every objection but the kitchen sink to stop the legislation.

On the issue of jobs, there is also more smoke than light. Opponents of the rezone have focused on the mere possibility that a developer could construct a 125 foot residential complex as a fatal flaw and a reason to reduce the height limit on the Lowe’s site, as proposed in Councilman Harrell’s amendment. They contend that the Seattle Mixed Use designation would result in residential units crowding out the possibility of commercial uses and therefore living-wage jobs. It has been pointed out multiple times, however, that the only structure rising to 125 feet that would make sense from a developer’s perspective would be commercial or mixed commercial/residential. Less flexibility in height restrictions would then only serve to limit the kind of potential commercial development that could occur. The “solution” to this problem would be counterproductive.

If bringing jobs to Rainier Valley is desired end, a rezone at 125 feet makes more sense than the alternatives that have been proposed. The process, one which began in 2009, has gone on long enough. Developers need a solid framework upon which they can predictably draw up plans and stakeholders throughout Southeast Seattle have long deserved a better urban environment than the one that currently exists. The PLUS Committee incisively recognized these facts amidst the panoply of arguments and made the right decision to move forward.

Young Han is a Columbia City resident interested in economic history and the economics of technological change as well as an advocate for cooperative development, and expanding economic democracy

Hillman City’s Business District: A Rose Grows From Concrete

by Robin Boland Hillman City

The flourishing Hillman City business district reminds one of a tenacious wild flower, sprouting up between the cracks in the sidewalk. The energy of the neighborhood and its local entrepreneurs is in stark contrast to the derelict buildings and deserted businesses one might have previously rushed past on their way to the well-established Columbia City business district scant blocks away. The hope of this fledgling strip of independent entrepreneurs is that you will forgo your familiar, fast paced visit to Starbucks and instead take a few moments to chat up your neighbors at the Tin Umbrella or sample the seasonal menu at the Union Bar while testing your trivia knowledge (note that a yoga class at Rocket Crossfit may be in order afterwards). It may take a few moments longer to get your coffee but as you leave you’ll feel like you just left a friend’s living room and yes, their baby is indeed eating Cheerios off the floor.

The newest additions to the growing business community in this neighborhood include a home furnishing store & a soon to open rotisserie chicken restaurant with outdoor seating. These join, among other neighbors, a thrift store, a halal pizza café, a martial arts academy and a local brewery. Nestled amongst these locally grown endeavors is a gem of an idea, the Hillman City Collaboratory (http://hillmancitycollaboratory.org/).

The Collaboratory, self-described as an “Incubator for Social Change” offers shared office space, mixing chamber (a large, multi-purpose area), learning kitchen, community garden and drop in center. Drop in hours are Monday through Friday from 10-2 while partners have access anytime. The idea is that dreamers and doers have a place to go, echoing the vibrant spirit of the neighborhood. The community building HCC has become a pick up location for a local CSA (http://www.farmigo.com/join/growingwashington/summer2014), offered organic gardening classes, hosted fundraisers and are possible future partners with Families of Color Seattle (http://focseattle.com/). FOC Seattle hopes to partner with the HCC to open a Cultural Cornerstone Café in the fall, hosting multilingual family events for the community. The Hillman City Collaboratory seems to represent the very earnest spirit of regrowth throughout the neighborhood, bringing light back to what had been in shadows.

Robin Boland is a contributing columnist, South Seattle Enthusiast, and is often referred to as “little bird” by friends of hers with heights over 5 ft 7

Editor’s Note: The article was heavily influenced by the following poem

The Rose That Grew From Concrete

Did you hear about the rose that grew
from a crack in the concrete?
Proving nature’s law is wrong it
learned to walk without having feet.
Funny it seems, but by keeping its dreams,
it learned to breathe fresh air.
Long live the rose that grew from concrete
when no one else ever cared.

Tupac Shakur

Seattle Police Seeking Assistance In Othello Homicide Case

originally appeared in SPD Blotter

After arresting a 46-year-old man in last week’s “shopping cart” homicide in the Othello Park neighborhood, detectives are now seeking more information about the victim of this terrible crime.

Police believe the victim in this case, Daryl M. Ford, was homeless and detectives are asking for help identifying where Mr. Ford may have frequented or camped in the Seattle area.

If you have any information which could aid in the prosecution of this case, please call the homicide tip line at (206) 233-5000.

Dept of Licensing photo of Mr. Ford