News

'This is our neighborhood'

By ERICA JAHN

Staff writer

ThereŽ’s a sign on a light post near Lakeland Elementary School that advertises a childcare and preschool called ABCs and 123s. Underneath the phone number, the sign reads Ž“DSHS Licensed.Ž”

The state Department of Social and Health Services is at the heart of a community panic after the agency announced last week that Peasley Canyon is a potential site for housing sexual predators who have served their time in prison and are ready for Ž“less restrictiveŽ” housing.

Angry and concerned south King County residents filled Lakeland ElementaryŽ’s gym last Saturday afternoon ŽÑŽÊwith standing-room only and several people listening outside ŽÑŽÊto tell the state that Peasley Canyon is a bad site for transitional housing for sex offenders.

The community forum, hosted by King County Councilman Pete von Reichbauer, provided an opportunity for local residents to bring to light issues the state might have overlooked in selecting Peasley Canyon as one of three possible sites.

Von Reichbauer said his office would collect citizen comment from the community forum and from letters and e-mail and forward it to the state for consideration.

In addition, he and County Council members Julia Patterson and Kathy Lambert sent a letter Dec. 11 to County Executive Ron Sims, asking his office to examine the feasibility of putting the facility in one of the countyŽ’s industrial areas or in the former Cedar Hills Addiction and Treatment Center.

Wade Staiger found out the property in Peasley Canyon across from his home was one of the sites on Dec. 4, when he saw television news trucks pull in to do a live broadcast.

Within 48 hours, he and other Auburn residents pulled together a committee and called it Concerned Citizens for Auburn (CCA). They found an attorney and so far have raised thousands of dollars to fight the state.

CCA is focusing on ensuring the state understands that Peasley Canyon is an inappropriate site, even by its own criteria, according to committee members.

Ž“If it does get picked, weŽ’ve got a legal team together to fight it every step of the way,Ž” Staiger said.

Yvonne Ward, an Auburn attorney in CCAŽ’s legal arsenal, said she has spent some time in her career representing crime victims, specifically sex crime victims, and trying civil rights cases.

Ž“I sue the government a lot,Ž” she said, adding sheŽ’s sued DSHS specifically several times.

She said the legal team will challenge the constitutionality of the law, which allows the state to override local ordinances. And even if the law does prove constitutional, attorneys will show the Peasley Canyon site is still inappropriate, she said.

While the law requires sex offenders to be kept in less restrictive housing, that doesnŽ’t mean the facilities must be built in neighborhoods, she said.

Ž“They donŽ’t have to build this facility. If they tell you that, itŽ’s untrue,Ž” she said.

The state announced earlier this month three potential sites for transitional housing facilities for sex offenders who have served their time and received treatment on McNeil Island and are ready for less restrictive alternatives to the Special Commitment Center.

The sites include:

Ž¥ 4.8 acres of vacant land at 1801 344th Ave. NE. in Carnation, estimated to cost $187,990.

Ž¥ 5.4 acres of vacant land in the 5300 block of 336th Street in Peasley Canyon between Federal Way and Auburn, estimated to cost $199,950.

Ž¥ 1.2 acres with a house at 4515 S. 200th St. at Orillia Road between SeaTac and Kent, estimated to cost $975,000.

King County was picked as the first jurisdiction for transitional housing because it has sent the highest number of sex offenders into the special commitment center at McNeil Island. Of the 172 residents in the center, 58 are from King County.

Shawn Evans said she lives nine doors down from the Peasley Canyon site tapped for the sex offender housing. SheŽ’s lived there with her husband and two daughters for 15 years. She said there are about 20 homes within the 600-foot buffer zone DSHS requires around the facility. ItŽ’s a large, wooded, residential area, with homeschools, elementary schools and daycares, churches, parks and lakes. Kids play in the woods.

Ž“None of us are immune from the high risk this facility presents to the community,Ž” she said. Ž“If we let DSHS build this facility, these students, friends and families will never feel safe again. This is my neighborhood. This is all our neighborhood.Ž”

The site is located off Peasley Canyon Road, up another road called the Peasley Canyon Cut-off. A dirt road opens up halfway up the hill on the left and leads along winding S curves up to an open field. The one-lane roads are more like dirt trails, Staiger said.

Mike Hastings said 500 feet of his property borders the and proposed for the facility. He had questions about police response time, a serious criteria for DSHS in locating the facilities, considering the condition of the road leading to the site.

Sgt. Kevin Fagerstrom, spokesman for the King County SheriffŽ’s Office, which patrols the area, said response time for priority one calls is 11.18 minutes, and response times for immediate peril calls is 7.88 minutes.

Hastings said the potholes in the dirt road are significant.

Ž“YouŽ’d see it, but thereŽ’s only one street lamp in the wooded development,Ž” he said. Ž“Driving fast would destroy a car.Ž”

Besides, police would have a hard time responding in the trees surrounding the property.

Ž“If an individual were to escape from this facility and turn left, heŽ’d have woods to stay in all the way to Sumner,Ž” he said. Ž“I canŽ’t think of a worse place to put this facility.Ž”

Jody Staiger, who said most people in the Lakeland gym would recognize her from the local 7-11 store, added something she thought the state should know about.

Ž“This area is notorious for power outages due to the high overhead of trees,Ž” she said. Ž“We as residents have no security or lights during these outages in which one of these people would have the opportunity to escape.Ž”

Wade Staiger said cell phone service ŽÑŽÊone of the security measures for the facility ŽÑŽÊalso is spotty in Peasley Canyon.

Lisa Ziccarelli lives kitty-corner from the site, in a house in which she homeschools her children. She has play equipment in the yard.

Ž“One of the things we enjoy about our house is the quiet neighborhood and large yard,Ž” she said. Ž“If this facility were placed across the street, I would no longer feel safe letting my kids play in my own yard.

Ž“The state should be looking at a site thatŽ’s safe, rather than sacrificing a neighborhood on the alter of political expediency,Ž” she said to cheers and clapping.

Rick Zenner said he lives in the Ž“danger zone,Ž” within the 600-foot buffer. He noted that two sets of human remains have been found, also within 600 feet of the site, during the past year.

He said he received disconcerting advice from police when he asked what he could do for protection.

Ž“Train your family, because if this site is picked, thatŽ’s the only option youŽ’ve got,Ž” Zenner said.

Staff writer Erica Jahn can be reached at 925-5565 and ejahn@fedwaymirror.com

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