A new jail in North Seattle? Residents say no

Last updated July 12, 2008 4:46 p.m. PT

By BRAD WONG
P-I REPORTER

The message from North Seattle residents Saturday about a jail on Aurora Avenue North was loud and clear: No inmates here, please.

About 175 people gathered at North Seattle Community College to tell city leaders that a proposed 7-acre facility to hold misdemeanor inmates is better suited elsewhere.

Among residents’ worries: Homes and schools are nearby, released inmates might stay in the area and the site is far from the city’s downtown municipal court.

“I think an ideal spot would be an industrial area, like Sodo,” resident Will Murray, 46, said, referring to the South Seattle warehouse area.

City leaders are under pressure to act because the King County Jail will run out of nearly all of its misdemeanor inmate space by the end of 2012, city senior policy analyst Catherine Cornwall said, though county officials have said recently that new projections suggest there is some wiggle room in that figure.

And although the County Council recently directed County Executive Ron Sims to renegotiate the contract with Seattle and the other cities to house misdemeanor offenders in the county lockup, the current contract expires at the end of 2012.

“We’re losing 100 percent of our jail beds. That’s what’s driving this,” Cornwall said. ” … Somebody has to build a jail.”

Misdemeanor inmates include those arrested on suspicion of drunk driving, domestic violence, committing property crimes under $500 and criminal trespassing, she said.

While the number of misdemeanor inmates in Seattle has dropped by 38 percent since 1996, the city still needs space. The law requires that certain people, such as domestic violence offenders and repeat drunk drivers, be locked up after arrested, Cornwall said.

In North Seattle, the city has identified Puetz Golf, a driving range at 11762 Aurora Ave. N., as one possible site for the jail. The other locations are in Interbay and Southwest Seattle.

None of the sites are on residential land, officials said.

Seattle might work with Eastside cities and others in northern King County to build a jail.

If Seattle works with other cities, the jail would have about 640 beds. Alone, the city needs a 445-bed facility to meet its needs through 2026.

Shoreline and larger Eastside cities, such as Bellevue, Redmond and Kirkland, are likely to come up with proposals about a jail site within their boundaries, Cornwall said.

And city councils must approve plans before anything is built. Cornwall will give a briefing on the latest plans Tuesday to the council’s committee on Public Safety at City Hall.

Other challenges include finding money to pay for the construction and making sure a jail can be ready by late 2012.

Because it takes about two and a half years to build one, construction should ideally start in the summer of 2010, Cornwall said.

Seattle city leaders would like to identify a jail site by the second quarter of 2009.

“We’re just starting this process,” she said.

Cities in southern King County are expected to come up with a plan to build their own municipal jail.

At Saturday’s meeting, residents sat at tables, brainstormed and presented ideas during an open discussion period.

Some said a high-rise jail closer to downtown would be a better option than a low-rise “sprawling” one. City officials believe a high-rise facility would be more expensive.

One man argued the jail should be built on existing city property — so money will not be spent to buy private land. The crowd applauded.

One woman criticized King County leaders for “shirking” their responsibility, saying that expanding county jails in downtown Seattle and Kent could be a solution.

Seattle resident Amy Hall, 35, held her 11-month-old son in her arms.

Pinned to the back of his shirt was a sign that said: “No Jail.”

“We’re concerned given that we’re a young family,” she said. “Our main concern is the release of inmates, that they might stay behind.”

Murray questioned whether a new jail so far north in the city would consume the time of patrol officers, who transport those arrested.

He also acknowledged that building a jail would involve many back-and-forth meetings, especially if suburban cities participate in the process.

“I don’t like process,” he said. “But I want to be part of it.”

TO LEARN MORE:

Community meetings about a Seattle municipal jail will be held on:

  • Saturday, July 26 at 9 a.m. at the Brockey Conference Center, South Seattle Community College, 6000 16th Ave. S.W.Focus: West Marginal Way and Myers Way sites.
  • Wednesday, July 30 at 6 p.m. at the Seattle Center Exhibition Hall, 225 Mercer St.Focus: Interbay site.JAIL SITES UNDER CONSIDERATION:
  • 11762 Aurora Ave. N.
  • 1600 W. Armory Way.
  • Highland Park Way Southwest and West Marginal Way.
  • 9501 Myers Way S.INFORMATION ONLINE:Visit http://seattle.gov/municipaljail
  • P-I reporter Brad Wong can be reached at 206-448-8137 or bradwong@seattlepi.com.

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