Voters approved a levy for a new juvenile justice center in 2012, but the city must now issue the necessary permits for its construction.
Voters approved a levy for a new juvenile justice center in 2012, but the city must now issue the permit necessary for its construction. Jessica Fu

UPDATE 10:15 AM: The City of Seattle's Department of Construction and Inspections (SDCI) has released its decision, determining that there is no environmental reason to deny the permit for the new juvenile justice center.

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SDCI spokesperson Bryan Stevens said his department "cannot review the merits or ideals behind a particular proposal. Instead, our limited role is to review King County’s proposal and related technical documents and determine if the identified environmental impacts have been mitigated appropriately. Environmental impacts are narrowly defined and limited to items such as such as traffic, parking, and construction noise."

Opponents now have until January 5 to appeal the decision. If they're unsuccessful, the department will then issue the permit allowing construction on the new jail to begin.

ORIGINAL POST:

As the clock ticks toward the City of Seattle's expected approval of permits for a controversial new youth jail today, Seattle rapper and fascist haircut normalizer Macklemore has joined the fray.

In a statement to the South Seattle Emerald last night, Macklemore/Ben Haggerty offered his support for the movement against the jail saying, "Seattle has an amazing opportunity to be a leader in finding different approaches to incarceration and beginning to dismantle the school-to-prison pipeline." He's encouraging his followers to sign a petition against the project.

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray, meanwhile is showing no signs of intervening to stop the project, as activists have demanded.

The new juvenile justice center, which was approved by voters in 2012, has faced renewed opposition in recent weeks as the city's Department of Construction and Inspections prepares to announce whether it will approve King County's application for the permits necessary to begin construction. (The project is county-funded but will be built within the city, so it needs a city permit.) That decision is expected today. If the department approves the permit application—and all signs indicate it will—opponents will then have two weeks to appeal that decision. If they fail, the city will issue the permit, clearing the way for construction to begin on the new facility in the Central District.

Supporters say the new building is necessary because of dilapidated conditions at the old one; opponents cite racial disparities in incarceration say the money should go toward education and social service programs instead of a new jail. Although King County officials have reduced the number of beds planned for the new jail, activists argue local governments should be doing more to achieve zero youth detention altogether. (The City of Seattle has a stated goal of jailing no kids.)

In a statement last night, Mayor Ed Murray indicated that he has no plans to try to step in and stop the Department of Construction and Inspections from issuing the permits.

"The City of Seattle issues nearly 800 master use permits annually," Murray said. "Those permits are issued by the Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections (SDCI) according to technical criteria having to do solely with land use and environmental issues."

Murray also made a comparison between this project and another recent controversial permitting decision. Last year, after the Port of Seattle decided to allow a local shipping company to host Shell's Arctic drilling equipment at the port's Terminal 5 last year, the city council and mayor—who opposed allowing Shell in Seattle—asked the Department of Planning and Development to review the land use permit for the terminal. Eventually they lost.

The argument they made then was a technical one, questioning whether storing Arctic drilling equipment fit the description for what a cargo terminal like T5 is supposed to do. But it was also a long-shot political move, a way for local politicians to say they were doing everything they could to stop Shell. If Murray opposed the youth jail now in the the same way he opposed Arctic drilling then, he could try the same strategy. But he has given no indication that he does.

In a statement, Murray said last year's Terminal 5 decision stops his office from intervening in any permit decisions based on "policy considerations" rather than "technical design facts."

"I recognize that significant racial disparities exist in our city and the ultimately our goal is to keep all young people from entering the criminal justice system and I will continue to direct city resources to ending these disparities in foundational areas such as education, employment, and criminal justice," Murray said in the statement, offering a list of efforts from his office to address racial disparities,

I've reached out to the activists who oppose the jail and protested against the project outside Murray's house this week. I'll update this post if I hear back.

UPDATE 2:15 PM: In a statement, activists who oppose the project condemned the decision and the mayor's statement, which they described as "attempting to disavow responsibility, claiming that he had no control over the actions of his own agency."

"Mayor Murray had the power stop this racist jail-building project in its tracks," said Rose Harriot, a member of Block the Bunker, in a statement. (The mayor's office disputes this, as explained above.) "His refusal to do so translates into support of the project, and no amount of citing his commitment to ending racial disparities can hide that fact."

Challenging the mayor's comparison to the Shell decision, Seattle University associate law professor Dean Spade called this "a totally different situation."

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"Unlike in that case, there is no existing permit and the code does not support the master use permit," Spade said. "The mayor could have chosen to be on the right side or the wrong side, and he chose the wrong side. While the city cannot ignore the code, the code here supported denial."

Seattle City Council member Mike O'Brien weighed in today, too, saying the county should to "go back to the drawing board."

"Mounting evidence reinforces what communities of color have been telling us for years," O'Brien said. "Jailing youth perpetuates a vicious cycle of violence, makes detainees more likely to re-offend, and disproportionately impacts people of color, particularly black youth."

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