Following three months of deliberation, on January 9 King County Superior Court Judge Susan Craighead summarily dismissed a petition brought forth by a group of Jackson Place residents to block the construction of a mental health facility in their neighborhood.
The neighbors had raised various complaints, claiming that the facility violated land-use regulations in a residential neighborhood, including a compliant that it was essentially a prison. But Craighead wrote, "I cannot find that [the city's] application of the law was erroneous."
"While it is true that the police will be called if a resident diverted from the jail leaves, this is not supervision akin to... persons being released from prison," Judge Craighead found.
"The King County Jail is now the state's second-largest mental hospital," wrote Craighead in her eight-page brief (.pdf), highlighting the need for this type of service. "Some two-thirds of the seriously mentally ill inmates in the jail were detained for misdemeanors and nonviolent offenses... the costs—both in dollars and human misery—of a system that does not adequately treat people with mental illness are enormous."
Congrats to the Downtown Emergency Services Center (DESC), which has won yet another battle with NIMBYs intent upon blocking the great work they do. "Today I will formally ask the County for permission to proceed with construction, asap," writes Bill Hobson, Executive Director of the DESC and a Jackson Place resident, in an email today.
The quick back story: Last spring, the City of Seattle issued a building permit to the DESC to operate a Crisis Solutions Center in a former warehouse in the Jackson Place neighborhood—essentially, a 16-bed, around-the-clock mental health hospital where police and medical responders could bring people suffering from mental illness or drug-related problems for treatment, instead of booking them in jail. The crisis center was roundly supported by county and city officials. However, a group of Jackson Place residents, calling themselves the Jackson Place Alliance for Equity, flipped their shit and filed a petition to block the crisis center from their neighborhood, citing three specific complaints:
1) That the crisis center would function more like a prison or "work release facility" than a hospital—which is how the city chose to designate it for zoning purposes—because it diverts individuals from jail. (City zoning regulations wouldn't allow for a jail to be built in the neighborhood).
While Craighead admitted that there were similarities between work release and the crisis center, she found that the city's definition of "hospital... is supported by substantial evidence. [The term 'hospital'] does not require a broad range of medical services be provided, and it says nothing about how patients get to the institution or whether they can leave... Ultimately, the residents of the Center are there to receive psychiatric and substance abuse treatment on a 24-hour basis."
2) JPAE also challenged the city's approval to wall off 15 feet of the proposed crisis center. The details are super wonky, but basically, the proposed building straddles both residential and commercial zones. Hospitals are permitted outright in commercial zones but not in residential. So, the city agreed to allow the DESC to wall off the residential section of the building for use as an emergency exit.
However, Judge Craighead noted that the "'wall off' idea is novel and unprecedented. But it is a practical solution... Nothing in the [zoning] code prohibits such an arrangement."
3) Finally, the JPAE said the whole project was subject to an environmental review (though the city found that it was not). This is a time-wasting tactic beloved by NIMBYs.
Judge Craighead found that they were full of shit on that front, too (in kinder terms, of course). Now the only question is, will the JPAE appeal Judge Craighead's decision in Appellate Court or whether they'll gracefully swallow their loss and roll out the ol' neighborhood welcome mat?