The squire park community council held their quarterly meeting on Saturday, featuring City Councilmember Tim Burgess and Judith Kilgore from the huge Yesler Terrace development project.
Councilmember Burgess spent most of his time discussing issues with crime, since he heads up the council’s Public Safety Committee, which oversees fire, police, prosecutors, and human services:
Jail – Currently Seattle contracts with the county to confine all of its misdemeanants, at a cost of around $300 per day per offender. But the county has informed the city that they won’t be able to do that past 2012 due to a forecasted shortage of space for felons, which is their primary responsibility. That could mean that the city would have no place to lock up people for DWI, domestic violence, and petty theft. And while the city has been studying building a new jail facility for those offenders, new data has come up that indicates the county’s projections are way too high, and that there will be room for misdemeanants for quite a while longer than 2012. Burgess & Councilmember Conlin are preparing to send a letter to the county asking them to redo their projections, which will likely take a couple of months to complete.
Alternatives to Jail – The city is preparing to launch a pilot project in Capitol Hill & Belltown to deal with low-level drug offenders and hopefully keep some of them out of jail. It’s called the High Point Project, named after a town in North Carolina that has used it with success. Juveniles and early offenders who are arrested on drug charges will meet with with a community panel that will talk with them and present two options: the normal drug charges and jail time, or an alternative program of treatment and counseling. Goal is that non-police community involvement will help steer people the right way.
Other diversion programs: Have reduced misdemeanor jail bookings by 40% in the last 10 years, thanks to programs such as Community Court, Drug Court, etc that provide alternative programs to help people clean up vs. sit behind bars.
Youth Violence Initiative – The city has identified almost 800 kids who meet the criteria for involvement in the new program to reduce the violence among the city’s youth, based on things like truancy, involvement in or victims of violent crime, and other run-ins with the law. Outreach workers will soon be out on the streets, working with them to get help where necessary and generally get involved with more positive activities off of the street.
City Budget: The mayor has requested all departments except fire, police, and human services to come up with cuts of 3% for this year. Public Safety departments were asked for 1.5% cuts. 2009 is tough due to lower tax receipts, but 2010 is looking much worse.
Crime Prevention Coordinator: I asked Burgess about Mike Yasutake’s layoff, and he said that while he thinks all precincts should have their own Crime Prevention Coordinator, nothing is certain at this point about bringing back the funding for that position in the East Precinct. With other budget issues, is may come down to front-line officers vs. the prevention coordinators.
Schools: Councilmembers Clark, Conlin, and Burgess met with several school district leaders last week to figure out how they can do a better job of working together between the city and the school district. But he cautioned us to not “take that to mean that [the city] is taking [the schools] over”. Parents at the meeting expressed their frustration that the school district’s elected leaders were so unresponsive to their concerns about school closures, and expressed a hope that local governance could be simplified and make the schools more open and accountable. The Squire Park Community Council also voted unanimously to endorse a federal discrimination petition regarding the closure of TT Minor.
Yesler Terrace: Judith Kilgore form the Seattle Housing Authority is heading up the massive redevelopment of Yesler Terrace. Basically, the existing facilities are falling apart, and they’ve recently had to close down two units due to a collapsed sewer line. So they’re hoping to fund a huge reconstruction of the public housing by partnering with public & private developers to greatly increase the density of the 30-acre property. Their preliminary plans call for 4000 total residential units, 1.3 million square feet of office space, significant new retail, and 5-8 acres of new parks. All 561 existing low-income units would be rebuilt, and about 1400 new workforce-housing units would be added for people between 30% and 80% of the local median income. The time line is long, between 10-15 years, and nothing will start until at least 2012.
The next Squire Park meeting will be in July and will feature a free BBQ.