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Group against sex offender housing sues DSHS

By ERICA JAHN

Staff writer

As a citizens’ battle heads to court, local government officials are asking state Department of Social and Health Services Secretary Dennis Braddock to remove two south King County areas from further consideration as potential sites for a transitional housing facility for sex predators and to look instead at industrial land and a rural location near North Bend.

Fifteen state senators and representatives signed a letter to Braddock Feb. 4 requesting his agency consider land adjacent to the Fire Training Center located off Interstate 90 in North Bend instead of a site on Orillia Road in Seatac or in Peasley Canyon near Federal Way.

“We’re working with (King County Executive Ron) Sims, Braddock and the governor to find a location other than residential,” said Sen. Tracey Eide (D-Federal Way), who co-signed the letter.

She sponsored legislation this year to include home schools with public and private schools on the list of protected locations near which the facilities can’t be built. Her bill, SB 6115, was heard in the Senate Children, Family Services and Corrections Committee Feb. 5, but the chairwoman, Sen. Pam Roach (R-Auburn), has yet to schedule a vote to move it out of committee.

Bills that don’t make it out of committee by March 5 die.

King County Council members Pete von Reichbauer, who represents Federal Way, and Julia Patterson, who represents Seatac, sent a similar letter to Braddock asking for more investigation into the North Bend site.

DSHS officials have been assessing the fire training site as well as a dozen industrial locations, spokesman Steve Williams said, and they’re planning to conduct a close inspection of it and several industrial sites across the county on Wednesday.

Still, he cautioned the fire training site might not prove suitable because of several serious concerns, including “very spotty” cell phone service and a nearby church camp.

The land falls in the district of Sen. Dino Rossi (R-Sammamish), chairman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, and he’s “dead-set against it,” Williams said. “There are powerful political forces here.”

In addition, the fire training center is located in the woods, which means federal judges might not like the location for the same reason they don’t like McNeil Island: it’s too isolated and doesn’t provide adequate opportunities for transition into communities.

The balance of sufficient access to services and community integration for residents of the transitional housing facilities and protection of the public in the neighborhoods where the housing might be located is not unfamiliar to state officials.

After the U.S. District Court judges last year ordered the state to find less-restrictive housing off McNeil Island, where construction workers are just finishing up a 24-bed transitional facility, the state attorney general filed an appeal.

State attorneys pleaded the state’s case in the Ninth District Court of Appeals last Monday, arguing there isn’t sufficient evidence to show residents in transitional housing on McNeil Island would be restricted from services.

Still, assistant attorney general Lucy Isaki, who has been closely working on the appeal, said questions from one of the judges “were not particularly encouraging.”

Isaki said the judge questioned whether McNeil Island provided sufficient opportunity for the residents to transition into communities, whether the island was too penal an environment and whether it was too remote.

“That doesn’t encourage me a lot,” Isaki said. “At least from one of the judges there were questions that expressed concern with the location.”

Still, another of the three judges acknowledged the facility is on an island, but added lots of people in Washington live on islands.

The panel will file an opinion in one to three months, Isaki said.

As the appellate court judges prepare their decision, members of a community activist group called Concerned Citizens of Auburn and Federal Way will await a hearing on their lawsuit filed in King County Superior Court against DSHS on Feb. 6.

Concerned Citizens, represented by Auburn civil rights attorney Yvonne Ward, is asking the court to interpret the law protecting public and private schools from sex offender facilities to include home schools.

“We believe there’s an authority to say a home school is a private school,” she said.

If that doesn’t work, Concerned Citizens will challenge the constitutionality of the law, which protects public and private schools, but not home schools. Ward told DSHS representatives at a public hearing Jan. 23 the state can’t discriminate against home schoolers by protecting everyone but them.

A hearing for the case has been scheduled for April 4.

Williams said DSHS staff are aware of the suit, but said the agency doesn’t believe it has merit. The state attorney generals office, which will represent DSHS, hasn’t assigned the case yet.

Eide, who drafted the home school legislation in the Senate, emphasized the urgency to find a suitable location for the men who are eligible for housing sooner than later.

“It’s important to find a site for these sex predators,” she said. “If we do not, we have to let them loose. And we won’t know where they are.”

Staff writer Erica Jahn: 925-5565, ejahn@fedwaymirror.com

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