Following a public hearing, Seattle City Councilmembers Mike O'Brien and Kshama Sawant passed the ordinance on to the full council.
Following a public hearing, Seattle City Councilmembers Mike O'Brien and Kshama Sawant passed the ordinance on to the full council.

Before casting a vote for the only item on Tuesday night’s special Sustainability and Transportation Committee meeting agenda, Seattle City Councilmember Mike O’Brien apologized to the very large audience. He apologized for them having to be there, “fighting the system.”

“I want to apologize for my role in sustaining it,” O’Brien said of the current system, “especially with my vote a few years ago.”

Back in October 2014, O’Brien was one of the councilmembers that voted on an ordinance that paved the way for King County’s $210 million Children and Family Justice Center to be constructed.

Ordinance 124610 defined youth service centers in the land use code; gave the Seattle Department of Construction and Inspection the ability to waive or modify structure width and setback development standards for the project as a Type II land decision; and made it so the already existing youth services center could be redeveloped. In this case, the CFJC will replace the entire facility currently at 1211 E. Alder St.

The ordinance also removed the city council from the decision-making process on the project from then on.

As O’Brien explained the ordinance, before a packed room at Seattle University’s Student Center on Tuesday, May 16, its effective date was delayed to April 2015, so King County would do more analysis, including of issues of racial and social justice.

What was left out of the ordinance, O’Brien said, was language making such Type II waiver and modification decisions made by SDCI appealable to the Hearing Examiner.

So, when Ending the Prison Industrial Complex (EPIC) and other community organizations appealed SDCI’s approval of a master use permit for the Children and Family Justice Center on Jan. 4, it was essentially for nothing.

The Hearing Examiner rejected the appeal on March 1, citing a lack of jurisdiction over Type II decisions, including imposing State Environmental Protection Act (SEPA) conditions.

Council Bill 118963 would amend the current ordinance to make such an appeal possible, and the provision would be retroactive to April 2015, when the ordinance first took effect. It’s something a judge would consider, O’Brien said near the start of the May 16 meeting, prior to a public hearing.

Since the Hearing Examiner first rejected EPIC’s appeal, the group filed a motion for reconsideration, which was denied on March 28, then filed a Land Use Petition Act petition and complaint in King County Superior Court with its coalition members on April 14.

Columbia Legal Services staff attorney Nick Straley, who is representing the appellants, told O’Brien and District 3 Seattle Councilmember Kshama Sawant — the only two councilmembers at Tuesday’s meeting — that it is rare the council has the chance to rectify such an oversight, and stop the “abomination” that is the Children and Family Justice Center.

“Why we are here is the city has made a series of mistakes,” Straley said, the first being to greenlight the project.

O’Brien says he would take back his October 2014 vote, if he could. Councilmember Kshama Sawant was the only councilmember that didn’t vote for the original youth services center ordinance.

Sawant said she would support the council bill, only because it would allow EPIC and other #NoNewYouthJail coalition members to appeal the master use permit decision. Her goal remains to block the CFJC from ever being built.

“I heard that the King County executive was not very happy about this meeting,” Sawant said, prior to the vote.

County Administrative Officer Caroline Whalen sent O’Brien a letter on Tuesday, just prior to the meeting, expressing the county’s concerns about the ordinance amendment. A copy was provided to the Capitol Hill Times by Sawant’s office, and can be read in its entirety below this article.

“While King County recognizes and respects the City Council’s inherent authority to promulgate amendments to the Seattle Municipal Code,” part of the letter states, “the legislation’s potential impacts on vested rights and long-established state policy regarding the finality of land use decisions raises

serious concerns.”

Whalen acknowledges the Superior Court appeal is ongoing, and the CFJC site is currently under construction.

“Any interference with the County’s ability to proceed with construction of the CFJC, based on the passage of Council Bill 118963 alone,” Whalen’s letter reads, “would be unprecedented given the City’s past recognition of and adherence to state vesting laws.”

She states the county is required by state law to operate a juvenile detention facility and, if the CFJC project is delayed, will continue using the current, aging facility. The oldest parts of the King County Youth Services Center date back to 1952.

Whalen adds that “unnecessary project delays risk additional project cost at taxpayer expense,” which could be substantial now that construction is starting.

O’Brien made a motion Tuesday night to suspend the rules regarding a committee voting on a measure immediately after a public hearing. Sawant, the only other councilmember there, seconded the motion, as did many in the crowd, also saying, “aye.”

“If the system were just,” O’Brien said, “we wouldn’t all have to be here tonight.”

Council Bill 118963 will go to the full council for a decision during its next meeting at 2 p.m. Monday, May 22.

Should the bill pass, Straley told the Capitol Hill Times, requesting the Superior Court judge send the pending appeal back to the Hearing Examiner during a June 2 court hearing is a possibility.



2017-05-16 Council Bill 118963 Comment by branax2000 on Scribd