[UPDATE: to be crystal clear, I don’t know anything about juvenile justice in general or this facility specifically, and wouldn’t comment on the overall value of the package. But the point about the new housing units is a big plus of the package, not a minus.]

I found Ariel Wetzel’s Slog guest post about the juvenile jail levy entirely unconvincing, but it did teach me something new:

What you won’t find in the voters’ guide is that King County plans to sell off three of the facility’s 9.5 acres to developers for $16 million so developers can build 425 condos.

Well, the link says “425 residential units,” so they might be apartments. Ms. Wetzel is scandalized that someone, somewhere, might turn a profit on some part of this measure, but this strikes me as a win-win-win.

The taxpayer has part of the cost of the new center offset by the sale. More housing units increases aggregate supply and reduces demand for sprawl. I’m no real estate expert, but housing next door to a juvenile justice center is pretty unlikely to be million-dollar condos, so this housing is likely to be “affordable” depending on your definition of the term.

This is how affordable housing will get done on a scale that benefits more than a few households that win a lottery: increase supply through upzoning and reduce barriers to development on plots that have some sort of drawback for upscale consumers. It’s scalable because it’s revenue positive, both because of the sale itself and from the larger tax base the new building will bring. More, please.

42 Replies to “Juvenile Levy will Bring Density and Affordable Housing”

  1. Nothing that costs $210 million and does so little could ever be a “win-win-win”. There are people who are against putting a very similar amount much money up for a basketball arena and yet think $210 mn to put kids in jail is clever.

    Much, much, less, please.

      1. There’s your problem. Kids being in jail doesn’t make this good value for money.

      2. I will say that as long as you are throwing kids in jail for hundreds of millions of dollars, at least it’s nice they are putting 450 apartments into the mix.

      3. Imagine all the petty crime we could prevent by giving every kid in King County a free bus pass, and all they have to do is behave themselves to keep the pass. It would take several years of that to reach the same cost as this levy.

        Imagine all the car accidents and deaths we could prevent from teenage driving.

        Imagine what the schools could do if they weren’t paying for the cost of these passes out of the school budget.

        Imagine how more sensible it would be to not punish families for living in walking distance from schools by denying them bus passes.

        Imagine a government that had its head screwed on straight.

    1. The existing facility is really shitty, and needs to be bulldozed and replaced.

      And I don’t mean shitty in a metaphorical way. I mean the building’s sewer system is barely functional and has a tendency to leak shit everywhere. It’s not a good place to put youth or adults.

      The new juvie will have dramatically fewer beds than the current facility. I know there’s a good sized segment of people who think we can just shut it down entirely and not replace it, but those people are sticking their heads in the sand. Having no juvie is not an option that is on the table, is not practical, and is not politically viable. If the levy fails, it will not result in a closure of the existing facility – it just means kids will continue to be housed in sub-standard conditions, getting sick and smelling shit all day.

      Also King County’s youth offender diversion program is a shining example for the rest of the country, and manages to keep more convicted juvenile offenders out of jail than just about any other program in the country.

      1. The programme is great, I’m sure. But this levy is just for new buildings and seems like poor value for money at $210 mn.

      2. I don’t think it’s fair to keep such a good, sucessful program in the current, facility, which is well past end-of-life. If price is the concern, then lets get some more bids on it. But I don’t think it’s a stretch to believe that a specialized building of that size, with all the requisite security features, would cost 200+ million. It is a very physically large building with many floors and many rooms, covering roughly the same land footprint as the proposed Sodo arena you compared it to. So the price seems realistic to me.

      3. My point is that you do not need to build a prison for children. Security features, etc. Should not be necessary.

      4. I’m wondering if the shitty facility has anything to do with its great success with juvenile offenders. By building a new facility we are encouraging children to commit crimes because they go to a fancy expensive facility, which the citizens paid for, when they are arrested.

        Having a crummy facility can teach children a lesson about how their actions today will have horrible consequences in the future. It also shows that citizens will not tolerate crimes.

        This “shining example” may lead to tax cuts around the country

        Of course, if the building is falling apart, we need a place to put these people. But don’t make it a 5 star hotel with bars…

      5. My point is that you do not need to build a prison for children. Security features, etc. Should not be necessary.

        If that is your thesis, then what do you suggest we do with a teen who gets in gunfights and mugs adults on the bus?

        *Put them in an adult prison? That would be horrible, a person at that stage of mental development needs very specialized handling, and entirely different treatment from an adult offender. Being caged in an adult penitentiary during this stage of development would wipe out any possibility of future improvement.

        *Leave the kid at home with heavy monitoring? IMO this is an extremely bad idea. The current primary caretakers cannot be trusted – getting to this point is a large sign that they are failing. It’s pretty safe to assume they are a large cause of the criminal behaviour, are actively encouraging it, and may actively attempt to subvert any “corrective” process.

        *Remove the kid and put him in foster care? Even assuming we had a gaggle of well-trained foster parents at the ready, all qualified to handle a juvenile offender, it is extremely difficult to pull a child permanently out their parents custody. And I personally think that taking a child away from their parents should stay difficult.

        So that leaves Juvie. You isolate the kid from all their failing/failed social & developmental influences for a year and a half or so. You put them in an environment designed to rehabilitate them and get their development back on track. At a minimum, they will at least attend school while in the facility – when they get out and go back to their parents, they might actually manage to graduate high school.

        It works. And it’s really the only viable option.

      6. Well, I’m not sure I can convince you; Americans seem to love to imprison their countrymen, including children. I wonder how well it actually works, the data suggest maybe it doesn’t work as well as you say.

        I bet there are very few children in the situation that you describe, but maybe you put those guys on a farm. Or out in the wilderness with park ranger. Or maybe you send them to some kind of boot camp for arseholes. I dunno. Why should this kid be with his parents when his parents have raised him to somehow mug people on the bus?

        All of those, any of those, any idea you can think of is better value for money. There’s a non-jail part of this that everyone seems to agree is a great thing. I do, too. Then there’s the ghastly jail bit, which I suspect is the more expensive part. I really hate it because it’s bad value for money. In this case, you would take the difference in price to my farm/bootcamp/arsehole rehabilitation system and you still have enough money to build another Capitol Hill SC. But this is the US, so the instinct is always prison and “justice”.

        I might still vote yes. We’ve clearly failed this kids already, I wouldn’t want to force them to drink brown water, too.

      7. I bet there are very few children in the situation that you describe

        That’s very true, but there are still a handful of kids in that situation, and there likely always will be. That is how we’re getting away with building only 150 beds for the entire county (and if we keep our current diversion programs on track, we’ll only fill half of them).

        Simply locking kids up does not work, I agree with you (and the research) on that point. Simply caging them and releasing them is just a recipe to make a future 3-striker. But if you take advantage of the opportunity, and keep them in a well-run facility with trained councilors and child development experts, you get a much better outcome than you would otherwise see. Some of the council members have said they want to avoid building a fancy “taj mahal” facility, and I firmly disagree with them. Building a bare-bones prison is the worst thing we could do. To be effective, we need an all-singing, all-dancing child rehabilitation center.

        Also, the county doesn’t want to put them out in the wilderness, because they want to keep them a short walk away from all the other facilities in the youth service center – counseling, schooling, etc.

        I think we understand each other and I hope you come to a decision.

      8. Lack Thereof, thank you for explaining that this is for a center that will house, yes, a detention center, courts and needed services for children and families, including dependency cases. It will provide room so that the families and children can have privacy when meeting with their lawyers and other service providers. And, as you said King County through alternatives to sentencing has reduced the number of juveniles in detention. This will ensure that those who are housed there are secure and not exposed to toxic substances. It serves the entire county.
        A second measure on the August ballot — King County’s Prop. 1, the children and family justice levy — builds something new and necessary. The measure will raise about $200 million for a new Juvenile Justice Center. The current courthouse and detention center are 40 years old and, in words of the Municipal League, “a sinkhole.”

        Read more: http://www.seattlepi.com/local/connelly/article/We-need-libraries-but-city-doesnt-get-it-3741839.php#ixzz224AKmI42
        “A second measure on the August ballot — King County’s Prop. 1, the children and family justice levy — builds something new and necessary. The measure will raise about $200 million for a new Juvenile Justice Center. The current courthouse and detention center are 40 years old and, in words of the Municipal League, “a sinkhole.”
        “Primary Ballot Measure Endorsements
        The King County Children & Family Services Center Capital Levy –
        King County Proposition 1: The Board was convinced that the current King County juvenile detention center is dilapidated and needs to be replaced. Cost of alternatives, security, consolidation of services and the separation of dangerous offenders from others were factors considered. While it was argued that there were other County buildings that could be used there was no evidence that they could meet the needs of the project.

        The LWV has strong positions that support this project, including, supporting measures to develop and provide family, child and youth development programs to prevent delinquency, crime and/ or recidivism; as well as recognizing the importance of housing dependent children separately from delinquent youths and adults. The levy was considered a reasonable means of funding this project.”

      9. This building is only for north king county, there’s another in south king.

      10. Why can’t we maintain the existing buildings? If they are only 40 years old, why are they in such bad condition? If the juvenile department can’t be responsible for reasonable preventative maintainence and remodeling, why should taxpayers trust them with a new $200m building complex? And don’t try to tell me that remodeling these buildings will cost more than $200m; I won’t believe you.

        We voted this down once before, let’s vote it down again. Maybe the powers that be will get the message, live within their means, and remodel the dang thing. (Disclaimer: I have never been in these buildings. I will believe you that they are aweful.)

        The only redeeming component of this project is sale of a portion of the land for residential construction. Maybe if they were selling off 6 acres and extending the street grid, while fitting the new facilities on 3 acres, I could be swayed to support the project.

      11. ChadN, you ask why can’t we maintain the building instead. The answer is a question: When in hell has city hall ever maintained anything other than their own salaries and pensions?

  2. Alternatively you could just skip the jail, and give the juvees apartments in the same building as the residents which would go a long way to holding rent prices down.

    1. Could we at least get some ground level retail out of the deal?
      1. Pawn shop for fencing stolen items
      2. Drug exchange
      3. Show room for stolen cars parked in the lot
      4. Satellite Precinct to cut down on cop car emissions

  3. It’s much more than just a jail. In fact it is about REDUCING the number of jail cells to make more room for diversion programs, for community outreach space, all the things that are needed to keep troubled youth OUT of jail but are getting harder and harder to do b/c the current facilities are failing.

    1. The best way to spend $210mn to keep lids out of jail is to build a new jail? That can’t be correct.

      1. Sigh. It’s a shame so many lids have been put into jail. I didn’t know they were worth spending $210 million

      2. Why do you think it’s a “small” part?

        There are three buildings:
        1) A detention facility (aka jail)
        2) A court
        3) A social service building.

        Of those buildings, the detention facility is the largest one. Where have you seen a cost break down that shows the jail is a “small” part?

        I wish it were a small part, $210 million for a jail for children is kind of ridiculous.

      3. I can’t find any detailed information. They are planning on building two buildings:


        How large are the proposed buildings?
        Based on preliminary planning efforts, the juvenile courthouse will be approximately 138,000 square feet and have ten courtrooms. The detention center will be approximately 97,000 square feet and have 154 dorms.

        $210 million for two smallish buildings? That’s madness!

  4. 1. At least it isn’t a sales tax.

    2. It reduces capacity to lock kids up. I suspect most of the beds are for short-term detention, not post-sentencing lock-up.

    3. It increases density in the city. If they are pricey condos, that’s a few more mansions on the foothills averted. The whole “gentrification” argument is a subtle way of avoiding saying we don’t want *those* people moving in, but is in fact what they are saying. It’s ugly, even if clothed in less ugly terminology.

    I’m not saying this proposal is good on balance. I’m just saying it is a whole lot better than paying more sales tax to fund patrols focused on protecting single-family properties and harassing pedestrians for looking poor. (Yes, I have been harassed by police for using public sidewalks in the wrong neighborhood.)

    Community service is better than detention. Ending racial profiling of kids so they aren’t arrested disproportionately in the first place is far better. (And even Richard Sanders realizes there is racial disparity in policing methods.)

    I recall one of the (few) highlights of GWB Sr’s administration when he called for police across the country, during the State of the Union Address, to “end racial profiling”. And now, a lot of that has been reversed… by the pen of a Democratic president and a split Congress, and previously by a Democratic Congress.

    1. I’m just saying it is a whole lot better than paying more sales tax to fund patrols focused on protecting single-family properties and harassing pedestrians for looking poor.

      LOL that’s happened to me too.
      “what are you doing here”
      “where’s your car”

      1. Maybe we need a $210 specialty facility for jaywalkers and people caught walking in well-to-do neighborhoods (such as most of Seattle).

        Thought I think deferral programs are better for people like us, and may win the county an award.

      2. Brent, I think the best thing is probably confinement in a dump like the existing building. Makes you not want to return. I voted against the new building for a bunch of reasons, one of which is that I don’t think a palace is the answer.

  5. “More housing units increases aggregate supply and reduces demand for sprawl.”

    To reduce demand for sprawl, you have to convince the people that live in suburbia (families with pets, yards, 3 cars, 4 bedrooms etc) to live in the city. Building studios and 1 bedroom condos aren’t going to solve this.

    1. Nope. Just stop artificially lowering the price of SFHs by ceasing the blocking of the Homeowner’s Bill of Rights (actually just a proposed state statute that gets held up by leadership every year).

    2. Building studios and 1 bedroom condos aren’t going to solve this.

      You’re damn right, we need to be building 2-4 bedroom condos and tall townhouses. Give homeseekers a viable, price competitive option to swap the backyard for a nearby city park, but keep the square footage. But so far there seems to be plenty of demand for the smaller units developers are building. People are paying double or more to get 1500 sqft downtown instead of out in Black Diamond.

  6. THis whole thing about the new juvie hall has got to be one of the oddest, most Seattleish debate I’ve ever heard.

    It the proposal looks like the best of a bad situation ( kids that have gotten into trouble bad enough to be put in jail ) I agree with Martin.

    1. I’d buy that if SPD weren’t arresting juvenile jaywalkers. The thing about gulags is the problem that build it, and they will fill it, even if they have to find more victimless crimes to enforce more harshly.

  7. Good services for children and family (domestic) law are some of the most important and most ignored pieces of our society. As some ask why would two buildings cost so much, remember there is a complex need for security for both the detention, court rooms, and service providers. Remember that really some of the most emotional and dangerous situations may play out in these areas of the justice system. In the current building the juveniles are potentially exposed to a toxic building, there is no room for private consulting for families or juveniles with lawyers or service providers. Judges often have to commute between two sites to do their jobs. This is a very reasonable plan.

  8. Thanks to the Seattle Transit Blog for supporting the jail levy. I hadn’t decided on that one, but your support caused me to oppose it.

  9. This plan is much better than their last attempt. I specifically rejected the last one because they planned only a court and jail project with LOTS OF PARKING and no sale of the property. Not a fan of sales taxes, but it was the planning aspect that led me to vote “no” and recommend the same to friends. This time, I’m endorsing the ballot measure because of the project improvements. A much better plan for the neighbourhood and taxpayer.

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