Morning Fizz

In Nod to Black Lives Matter, Controversial North Precinct Police Station Taken Off Table in New Budget

Mayor and North Seattle council member Juarez still committed to new station, but agree to further scrutiny.

By Josh Feit September 16, 2016

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After an angry protest rocked last month’s city council vote for a resolution that merely put a yellow light on plans for a new $150 million north precinct police station—protesters wanted a full stop and accused the council of supporting a racist police expansion project—the mayor and several of the council members who originally voted for the resolution announced last night that they are pausing on the station for a full review of the plan.

The August 15 resolution passed 7-1 with only council member Mike O’Brien taking the side of the “Block the Bunker” activists to vote no; steadfast Black Lives Matter ally, council member Kshama Sawant, was absent for the vote.

The council member who represents the north district, Debora Juarez in District Five, voted for the August resolution and—in a scene reminiscent of a 2016 college campus—was shouted down by Black Lives Matter activists as Juarez, who prides herself on her Native American roots, played the unfamiliar role of the out-of-touch, white Baby Boom liberal professor.

Yesterday afternoon, Juarez, joined by council members Lorena Gonzalez and bona fide white Baby Boomer Tim Burgess (who had also been jeered in the 7-1 August 15 vote), announced, along with mayor Ed Murray, a more formal pause on the project to “review it.” The original council resolution had okayed the project with the giant footnote that the $149 million price tag was unacceptable and added the prerequisite that the plans undergo a formal racial justice analysis.

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A rendering of the proposed building, courtesy City of Seattle 

The new announcement, cheered by Block the Bunker Activists as “one of the most important victories nationally since the Black Lives Matter movement began,” is different from the council resolution (that the same activists derided) only in that the racial analysis and budget scrutiny will not be done, as originally contemplated, in time for this year’s budget cycle and debate. That change gives the city more time to truly scrutinize the design budget and assess racial justice concerns, stalling the station for another year.

A press release from the city said:

The City still strongly believes there is a need for a new police facility in North Seattle and remains committed to replacing the current building. The original funding plan for the project included a mix of cash financing and almost $100 million in bonds. Given that the project will not move forward next year, the 2017 budget will not seek authority for this borrowing. However, approximately $15 million of the originally identified resources will be set aside in the budget to help address future project costs.

Juarez and Murray are still all-in on the need for the new precinct.

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“The current North Precinct police station is an inadequate facility which needs to be replaced,” Juarez said in a statement, adding that the station “provides public safety services for the nearly 300,000 Seattleites who live north of the ship canal plus all those who attend school, visit hospitals, and work in the area.”

Murray himself (leading with his tiresome habit of blaming his predecessor, Mike McGinn) said: "The building proposed by my predecessor would address a growing need to replace the North Precinct, but clearly the public continues to have concerns about the estimated costs. It is clear we need to reconsider the plan as proposed and ensure we are meeting the needs of the community with what we build. If this project inhibits our ability to continue strengthening the relationship between our community and our police, then we would revisit it.”

He added: “I remain committed to replacing the aging precinct in North.”

Sawant’s celebratory statement—“anti-racist and social justice activists scored one of the most important victories nationally since the Black Lives Matter movement began in 2014… The Mayor and majority of Council has been forced to retreat from their previous insistence on building the most expensive precinct in the country because of the sustained and intense public opposition”—simultaneously cautioned that the project has only been stopped "for the time being" and  the mayor is “is still firmly committed to building a new North Precinct Police Station.” Her statement called for a movement to “truly end this project” and use the money to build affordable housing.

O’Brien, the lone no vote on the original resolution, which again, had ultimately a-okayed the precinct for this year’s budget cycle, issued a victory statement as well. Rather than squaring off with the mayor and his council colleagues, though, (Sawant's statement reminded her base that council member Lorena Gonzalez had sponsored the initial resolution, which Sawant called "pro-bunker,") O'Brien "applauded" Murray and the rest of the council. Ultimately, though, he gave the major credit to Black Lives Matter and the activists.

This is a clear example of how community organizing can move mountains. It took the collective action of Seattle activists and members of the Black Lives Matter movement to bring the North Precinct to the forefront of civic consciousness. I applaud Mayor Murray and my colleagues for taking the necessary pause to reflect on whether this is the best use of our dollars, and responding to one of the most profound and important national movements happening in this country.

We have heard loud and clear from community that this project’s scope and scale was the wrong direction for the City to work toward. Moving forward, it will be essential to me that all communities that come in contact with the North Precinct, including those most adversely impacted by police use of force, are involved in the initial stages of the design process, and participate in a Racial Equity Toolkit on the project from the beginning. Serving the needs of these communities will help enhance public safety for all.

I have asked O’Brien if he supports Sawant’s call to cancel the precinct altogether and spend the money on affordable housing instead.

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