Sadly, King County still needs juvenile-detention beds: Don’t scrap new youth jail

Regardless of Seattle’s efforts to turn back the clock on the new King County Children and Family Justice Center, it is an unfortunate necessity, writes Jonathan Martin.

Mike O’Brien wants to build a time machine.

Back in 2014, the Seattle City Council member sponsored legislation for King County to build a new youth courthouse and detention center. He voted for it. Now that the detention center is a fireball in Seattle progressive politics, O’Brien is trying to turn back the clock, and retroactively change his own law.

Think about that for a minute. Land-use law is bone dry — unless politicians can change it after the fact. Suddenly, land use gets as chaotic as a wave pool on a hot day.

O’Brien says he’s just fixing a drafting error in his original ordinance which unintentionally blocked appeals by the #NoYouthJail protesters. But he’s also retroactively issuing a mea culpa and appeasing an aggressive youth movement with deep support in the black community.

O’Brien set up his time-machine ordinance in a council committee hearing Tuesday evening at Seattle University. He got the expected result. A big standing-room-only crowd opened with chants and ended by voting, symbolically, to send O’Brien’s ordinance to Monday’s full City Council meeting.

“I want to apologize for my vote a few years ago,” O’Brien told the crowd. Citing racial disproportionality in the justice system, he said, “I and my family have benefitted from that system, and that’s not right.”

Not surprisingly, King County thinks it’s a lousy idea to encourage more appeals on the already-delayed — and voter-approved — project. In a letter to O’Brien, King County called the retroactive provision “unprecedented.” Land-use attorney Rich Hill, who represents the project’s contractor, agreed. “I’ve been doing this close to 40 years, and I don’t think I’ve seen that,” he said.

You can practically see the tension between the city and county on the new $210 million Children and Families Justice Center. Seattle approved a master-use permit in December. Construction is underway. Yet Seattle Mayor Ed Murray urged county Executive Dow Constantine to take “a second look.” And the city has slow-walked permits, adding inflation costs of $500,000 a month in this red-hot construction market.

Here are the basics of the project: The old juvenile courthouse in Seattle’s Central District has failing heating and plumbing, and a Soviet-era ambience. Voters in 2012 said yes to a property-tax levy to replace it, adding three courtrooms. Good riddance.

The controversial part is the attached new youth detention center, aka jail. The existing 212 beds will be replaced with a 112-bed facility that includes a yoga room. “Therapeutic” was used a lot in its design, because, after all, it was designed in Seattle.

But members of the Ending the Prison Industrial Complex (EPIC) protest movement say…

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