City of Seattle Dismisses Appeal by Over 60 Community Groups on Youth Jail Permitting Decision

Friday, March 3, 2017

In another example of systemic racism, Seattle and King County continue to ignore 
communities of color in order to ram through the new youth jail.

Today, 60+ organizations and faith leaders asked the Seattle Hearing Examiner to reconsider her decisions to throw out their permit appeal relating to the County's proposed new youth jail. On Wednesday, at the request of King County and the City of Seattle, the City of Seattle’s Hearing Examiner dismissed the appeal of over 60 grassroots organizations --- mostly representing communities of color. These 60+ organizations and faith leaders were using the illegality of the City's land use permit to fight the County's proposed new youth jail, continuing a five-year battle to stop the jail. This $210 million dollar project is already $15 million over budget before breaking ground. It is designed to massively increase the jailing of Black and Brown kids, holding over 150 children at a time, about five times the current jail population.  Through their successful motion to dismiss, the City and the County seek to silence community voices opposed to the youth jail. 

Though Mayor Ed Murray and King County Executive Dow Constantine have both recently and publicly asked that the youth jail proposal be reevaluated, their lawyers argued to shut down all further appeals to allow jail construction to begin immediately. Knoll Lowney, one of the attorneys fighting the County and City noted: “This is a clear example of institutional racism. The City permit explicitly told people to appeal to the Hearing Examiner.  But as soon as people of color appealed and were poised to win, Seattle and King County argued that the groups lost their appeal rights -- likely forever -- because they followed the City's appeal instructions. It's outrageous."

Lowney noted: “Seattle prides itself on being a sanctuary city. Part of being a sanctuary city is protecting our youth, but we continue to lock up children of color and are choosing to build a new youth jail that will stand for 50 years.  Dow Constantine's claim that he can build 150 new jail cells and leave them empty is just naive. Given the Trump administration's goals, this could end up a jail for kids who smoke or a waypoint for deportation of immigrant children.” 

City and County’s action flies in the face of the City Council’s ordinance 124610, enacted in 2014, which authorized the waivers of zoning codes for the youth jail on the condition that affected communities would be allowed to appeal those waiver decisions.

There is no question of the City Council’s intent to allow appeals. The ordinance said that the waiver would be a "Type II decision," which means that it is appealable to the City’s Hearing Examiner. All of the documents describing the ordinance to the City Council stated that the decision would be "appealable to the Hearing Examiner." Dozens of other documents throughout this process from the County and the City stated that the decision would be appealable to the Examiner. 

Most importantly, the permit decision itself said it was an “appealable decision.” MUP Decision, p. 17.  The notice of decision also correctly informed the public that the decision was appealable to the Hearing Examiner.

Relying upon the clear language of the ordinance and the City’s own representations, appeals to the Examiner were filed by over sixty community organizations mostly representing communities of color, including Ending the Prison Industrial Complex (EPIC)Youth Undoing Institutional Racism (YUIR), the NAACP of Seattle-King CountyOneAmericaReal Change and numerous other grassroots organizations. 

In an attempt to stop the resistance to the youth jail, the County and City submitted a motion arguing that communities of color should forever lose their rights to appeal because they followed the City Council and permit's appeal instructions.  They argued that the City Council's intent and the permit's explicit appeal instructions were irrelevant. These actions directly contradict Dow Constantine and Ed Murray’s recent statements calling for the youth jail project to be reassessed and the effort to build an accountable relationship with impacted communities. 

The Examiner deferred to the arguments of the local governments. In response to the decision, attorney Nick Straley with Columbia Legal Services said, “The City and County’s efforts to silence the voices of people of color on this project will likely breed cynicism about the good faith of our local governments. However, the fight to stop this misguided and unaffordable project will continue. Mayor Murray and Executive Constantine cannot publicly say that they are concerned about how this youth jail will affect youth of color, while actively seeking to deny them their day in court. We will be consulting with the affected communities so that they may take appropriate steps in the near future in their on-going effort to stop the youth jail. It starts today by asking for reconsideration”

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