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Youth jail opponents will have a chance to appeal master-use permit after all

A City Council ordinance will allow for a second appeal

The existing facility at 12th and Alder.
Via City of Seattle

Opponents of a new King County youth detention center and courthouse—often known as just the youth jail—are getting another chance to appeal the project, thanks to a Seattle City Council decision on Tuesday.

The project, which was approved by voters in 2012, would replace the current facility in the Central Area. The master-use permit for the project was approved this past December.

The group Ending the Prison Industrial Complex (EPIC), along with other organizations, after being told they could appeal the permit, tried to do just that. Despite what they were told, hearing examiner Sue Tanner dismissed the case, saying she didn’t have jurisdiction—the project was Type I, the decision said, but her office only has jurisdiction over Type II.

The ordinance passed by Council today in a 5-2 vote would clarify that the project is Type II.

The October 2014 City Council ordinance authorizing construction, said Councilor Mike O’Brien on Tuesday, called the issue a “legislative drafting error” and noted that the new ordinance is a “correction.”

The ordinance will apply retroactively, meaning activists can once again appeal the permit. An amendment proposed by Councilor Sally Bagshaw would have kept the ordinance from applying to the project.

Bagshaw echoed the concerns of many proponents of the new facility: The existing building is “not a place where we want children to be,” she said while introducing her amendment. “It’s not a place we want, frankly, judges to have to work, and what we need are spaces and new buildings that can connect clients with supportive services.”

The amendment ultimately failed, with only Bagshaw and Councilor Tim Burgess voting in favor—the same City Councilors that voted against the ordinance itself moving forward.

While the new project would have fewer beds than the existing facility, it would still be a youth detention center, with 112 beds.

On average in 2016, King County’s existing facility used 51 of those beds on any given day. Youth detained in the facility are disproportionately black: 50 percent of youth detained in the facility in 2016 were black compared to 13 percent of the county’s population overall.

In 2015, the City Council—including Bagshaw—unanimously passed an ordinance supporting a vision of zero youth detention in Seattle.

The site of the new facility is already being prepared for construction. If construction continues, the facility is scheduled to open by 2020.