Jackson Place group challenges legality of planned DESC facility

Representatives from SPD, the city, the county and the DESC at a November public forum

Jackson Place residents can either fight the opening of a semi-experimental crisis solutions facility in their neighborhood by trying to block building codes, or they can work with the project to make sure their interests are represented. These are the two options available to concerned residents, Councilmember Tim Burgess told the roomful of people who attended a public meting about the proposed Crisis Solutions Center at 16th Ave S and S Lane St in November. A group of those residents have chosen to fight.

“It was really mind boggling that that statement was even made,” said Kristin Wall of Burgess’ statement. Wall is a member of the Jackson Place Alliance for Equity (JPAE), a group that opposes the facility and has hired a lawyer to challenge the facility’s legal status under its current land use code. “As residents and community members, we have every right to be asking questions about this facility that is going into our neighborhood.”

But Bill Hobson, Director of the Downtown Emergency Services Center (DESC), the organization selected to operate the new facility, said the organization has been responsive to residents.

“I don’t think the DESC is trying to dodge anything,” he said. They held the November public meeting and are holding another forum from 6:30 – 8 p.m. Monday, January 31 at the Giddens School, 620 20th Ave S. At the meeting, they will announce the creation of a committee that will invite community members — including members of the JPAE, the Jackson Park Community Council and other area organizations — to help create a formal Good Neighbor Agreement.


A Crisis Solutions Center

The proposed facility is unlike any other facility in King County. It is meant to serve as a psychiatric alternative for non-violent offenders who would otherwise end up in jail or the ER.

“A lot of people are being taken to the ER or jail by default because a more appropriate resource is not available,” said Bill Hobson, Director of the DESC and a Jackson Place resident. For many people, the ER and jail do not help them with their problems and can often make them worse. The new center is intended to be a “more therapeutic place for them to be in,” he said. Councilmember Sally Bagshaw, who formerly worked for the King County Prosecutor, called a facility like this “The Third Way” at the November meeting. Aside from providing more appropriate care for people in the midst of a crisis, it should save the city and county lots of money that is currently spent holding people in jail or the ER. The center has broad political support from the City Council, the mayor, the city prosecutor and King County prosecutor.

People will be referred to the center by first responders, either police or medical responders. Some of the clients will have been arrested before their referral, but their stay at the facility will be voluntary and people will be free to leave at will, said Hobson. Anyone who is violent or has a history of violence will be ineligible for admission to the center. Anyone who leaves will be escorted by DESC staff, and transportation will be provided to get them to their next destination. People cannot refer themselves to the facility, so there should be no walk-ins.

“Our goal is to be as low key and as much of a non-event as possible,” said Hobson of the effect the center will have on the neighborhood.


Jail or Hospital?

The bulk of the JPAE’s legal argument centers around whether the facility should be classified as a hospital or an incarceration facility. DESC maintains that stays at the facility are voluntary, but Peter Eglick, lawyer for the JPAE, claims that receiving patients through police arrest powers makes the facility more like an incarceration or work release facility than a hospital. These uses would not be permitted on a commercially zoned site, and changing the use would require a public review process.

Alan Justad with the Department of Planning and Development (DPD) said they are working on the JPAE’s Request for Interpretation, a public document that explains how the department made their decision to designate the center as a hospital instead of a jail. The review is also looking at one part of the facility — a building zoned L1 residential — that the facility is only using as an exit. It is unclear whether using the exit as part of the center would require a zone change, which requires a public review process. That document should be ready in a week or two, he said.

“We do feel that we are correct in seeing this facility as most like the hospital definition we have in our land use code, and not like a jail,” said Justad. Eglick said he is skeptical of how voluntary the facility will be.

“The idea is that the police are going to get people in custody to sign this form instead of just taking them to the jail,” he said. King County’s Request for Proposal (RFP), which DESC won, says the facility will have the power to hold people brought in with misdemeanor charges to up to 48 hours on a “Police Hold.” However, Hobson denies that the facility will hold people, and the plan to use police hold does not appear in the DESC’s response to the RFP.

“We are not using police hold,” he said. “We will try to convince the person to not leave first, but if the person wants to leave, we will try to convinve them to let us drive them to their next destination.

“In the rare instances where they refuse to stay and refuse our assistance,” he said, “two staff will follow the person while they’re in the neighborhood.”


If not Jackson Place, then where?

Eglick said the original site for the facility was in Tukwila. “Tukwila didn’t want it, so they did some legal maneuvers to try to block it,” he said. He said the original site was better and cheaper, and the legal barriers have been overturned.

“We hope they take advantage of that.” If not, the JPAE is “in this for the long-haul,” he said. But Hobson said Tukwila is an inappropriate location, and was only selected originally because of geographic boundaries in the county’s first RFP that were later removed as the project changed.

“The City of Seattle was unlikely to use the facility if it were located in Tukwila,” said Hobson, because SPD and Medic One personnel may not have the time and resources to make the trip. The Jackson Place location is ideal, he said, because it has good access to Swedish and Harborview hospitals and is centrally located between the SPD precincts and both I-5 and I-90. Of the 7-8 properties they looked at in the area, the one on Lane Street was the best fit, he said. 

Hobson is confident the center will be created regardless of legal action.

“I think [legal action] is unfortunate because it would delay the project, but I don’t think it would stop it,” said Hobson.

0 thoughts on “Jackson Place group challenges legality of planned DESC facility

  1. … Really? A whole two staff members will follow the person while they walk down my street? What will they do – tweet about what that person is doing?

    If this center goes in, you can bet your buttons that as a single female, I won’t be walking to school from my home any longer. What a way to further disconnect our neighborhood from downtown, the hill, etc. UNHAPPY!!!!!!!!

  2. Going to be fun pointing out to visitors of my neighborhood the psychotics being escorted around the block by orderlies. Will they be wearing straight jackets?

    Put this place somewhere by the raildroad tracks or industrial area downtown, not where people live and where kids play.

  3. “Hobson denies that the facility will hold people, and the plan to use police hold does not appear in the DESC’s response to the RFP.
    “We are not using police hold,” he said. “We will try to convince the person to not leave first, but if the person wants to leave, we will try to convinve them to let us drive them to their next destination.”


    According to the Mental Illness and Drug Dependency (MIDD) Strategy Crisis Diversion Facility (CDF) Final Status Report June 25, 2009, it states that “individuals who are delivered to the facility by police may be held up to 48 hours on a Police Hold.” http://www.kingcounty.gov/healthservices/MHSA/MIDDPlan/MIDDC

    “Some of the clients will have been arrested before their referral, but their stay at the facility will be voluntary and people will be free to leave at will, said Hobson.”


    According to the MIDD CDF Final Status Report June 25, 2009, a form called Agreement to Divert Crisis Diversion Facility for Evaluation & Services, will be used by the arresting officer in order to divert the suspect to the Crisis Diversion Facility. The document states:

    “I (suspect’s name) understand that Officer (arresting officer’s name) has made a probable cause determination that I have committed the of ( ). I understand that Officer (arresting officer’s name) intends to take me to the King County Jail and book me for investigation of the crime above. I understand that I could be held for up to 48 hours on this investigation before I appear in Court to heard on this matter.

    I also understand that Officer (arresting officer’s name) has the discretion to divert this matter to the King County Crisis Diversion Facility for a period of up to 48 hours based on Officer (arresting officer’s name) belief that I suffer from some form of mental illness and/or chemical dependency.

    By signing this document I am agreeing to be diverted by Officer (arresting officer’s name) to the Crisis Diversion Facility so that I can be evaluated for metal illness and/or chemical dependency and receive services rather than be booked into jail. I understand that I can remain at the Crisis Diversion Facility for up to 48 hours and that I choose not to engage in the services offered at the Facility I can be taken by the police to jail on the charge for which I was arrested.”

    Someone please tell me how holding an individual for a period of up to 48 hours is the same as their stay at the facility will be voluntary and people will be free to leave at will?

  4. Of course ther are going to lie to you, they want to dump it anywhere they think has the least resistance. A good neighbors agreement is worthless. Unless you have a lawyer on retainer to enforce it it is a social placebo to get in the door. Once there in you can not get them out without a long expensive legal battle. No good neighbors agreement, no appropriate place for them in a family neighborhood, and no we are not dumb enough to believe their lies.

  5. They also said that the ratio is four staff for each inmate. That is a jail. If the imates require four each they are dangerous. Liar liar, pants on fire.

  6. Eyes,

    I did not include this in the story, but Seattle Times got the 4-to-1 ratio backwards. It will be four clients per one staff.

  7. As much as i support this on paper, i have real concerns about how “low-key” this will be in reality. I know that the work that DESC does is vital, but I also think they are “part of the problem” (along with UGM and the Frye Hotel) in Pioneer Square. I know cities are loud, and that’s part of why i live in the neighborhood, but I’m tired of the obnoxious behavior that is tolerated in the area southeast of the courthouse, and don’t know why all of these social services have to be concentrated in south Seattle in general, and Pioneer Square in particular. It made sense forty years ago, when downtown had a high concentration of SRO’s, particulalry in that area, but since then the problem has dispersed all over the city, and particulalry in the first ring suburbs.

    If this truly is a low-key place, and needs to be close to Harborview and Swedish, why not locate it on First Hill? Build it on part of Yesler Terrace, which is scheduled to be demolished anyway. And, while we’re at it, move most of the social services to places like White Center, Kent, Upper Aurora, etc, so they can be convenient to the places where the poverty is these days,

  8. Thanks for the follow up, Tom. Glad we got to hear about the meeting being held on Monday! I hope there’s another update on what happens there.

  9. So you want it in Yesler Terrace? Golly, thanks. I live here. So do many families with children, but of course we can’t afford to hire lawyers — I do agree with other posters that South – and East – of downtown neighborhoods have been given much more than our fair share of King County’s treatment related housing, half-way houses and social service providers.

    When the Yesler Terrace Community Council opposed the expansion of Pioneer Cooperative Work Release (I think they wanted 160 units on site? It was a long time ago, 15 years maybe?) we found that slightly less than half of publicly funded treatment housing/work release beds in the State of Washington were within a mile of Broadway and Yesler — don’t know if that’s still the case — I do know that there are more nearby now than there were then, but maybe the rest of the City, County and State have added even more.

    I hope so. Our neighborhoods — and Yesler Terrace is a neighborhood, with real people living here –gave at the office. Enough.

  10. Yesler’s being demolished and reseveloped/yuppified. Perfect time to do something that is basically across the street from Harborview, since they said easy access to Harborview or Swedish is a must (otherwise, I’d say downtown Kent beckons…) Since it will essentially be a brand new neighborhood once the construction is over, with what will amount to a new population, it won’t be that much of a disruption.

  11. I’m pretty sure this wouldn’t mesh with the Seattle Housing Authority’s grand vision of the New Urban Neighborhood/City-on-the-Hill—

    This is one of those needed facilities that nobody wants built near where they live. Give it to somebody else!. But First Hill already has their share of nobody-wants-it uses. The methadone clinic that serves clients from as far away as Snohomish County. Lots of subsidized housing. Two large work release places. Housing for juvenile offenders with no home to go to. Clinics that serve the poor. . Two large shelters for the homeless. I’m not understanding why, since you folks are saying your neighborhoods (Jackson Place, Pioneer Square) have more than their fair share of nobody-wants-it, (and they do) you would suggest locating more of it in a neighborhood that is also housing far more than their share of facilities that serve not the neighborhood, but the region.

    And no, we shouldn’t build it in White Center or Skyway, either. Medina, maybe? or closer to home, Magnolia, Admiral, or Laurelhurst, which is really close to University Hospital —

  12. Wouldn’t part of the fun come from tweaking the nose of the yesler terrace redevelopment? :-)

    Seriously – and again – i suggested Yesler Terrace based exclusively on the proximity to Harborview and because it would be the best worst choice (since the neighborhood is being demolished and reconstructed)

    And yes, while it’s nice to imagine this facility in Magnolia, etc (although if Mary Gates were still alive, she might actually advocate for something like this in Laurelhurst) let’s focus on the possible (which precludes my suggestion of demolishing Husky Stadium in favor of the huskies playing at Qwest Field and building this facility on that site.)

    It needs to be somewhere near the two big hospitals (or the UW hospital) without messing with estabished, and already overburdened neighborhoods. So where?

  13. Xina
    Don’t be silly, moving it north of the ship canal? It is not the appropriate place for it! You are used to all these kinds of facilities down there. Do not worry about our life style up here, you need to keep busy going to anti- crime forums and hearings. What would you know about a good brew pub or Thai resturant. Just keep busy doing what you always have been doing.

  14. We had our “open forum discussion” which was a total joke on Monday night with DESC. Check it out and read the comments below it…


    We should get together and help each other fight the injustice of where they place these. Look at the salaries in the comments thread under the WSBlog article and the list of where their Board of Directors live–all places where DESC would never put a facility like this.

    Good luck with your fight for social justice. Hope we can join forces and insist they put these in Laurelhurst and Mercer Island where their Board members reside.