Opponents of a new King County juvenile detention facility may not feel like it, but they won a significant victory at the Seattle City Council Planning, Land Use and Sustainability Committee meeting Tuesday.
Before they expressed passionate concerns that minority youth are disproportionately locked up, the council’s procedural go-ahead for the new $210 million King County Children and Family Justice Center seemed a mere formality.
But by raising strong objections, the coalition of juvenile incarceration foes earned a commitment from the council Tuesday to study the racial impact of the new center’s construction.
That came even after a Seattle Times editorial called on the committee to approve the needed land use alteration. The committee provided its nod – with one abstention – but also agreed to schedule the full council vote for Oct. 13. Granting two weeks instead of the standard one week before the vote will provide the council time to gain firmer assurances from the county that racial impact concerns are incorporated into the new center’s design.
Should community concerns not be addressed in that time, opponents of the new center will be tempted to blame the council. In truth they can only blame their neighbors. Some 55 percent of county voters and more than 65 percent of Seattle voters approved the project two years ago.
Meanwhile, county officials are privately confident that the measure will pass the full council. They have made a compelling case for the new center, while showing an awareness of the racial disproportion issue and demonstrating a laudable track record in reducing the disparity.
And Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention Director Claudia Balducci seemed agreeable to the committee’s conditions Tuesday after the vote.
But in order to allay what committee Chairman Mike O’Brien described as a loss of trust in the community for its elected officials, King County will need to aggressively address legitimate concerns community members have raised.