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Seattle, not Peasley, for state's sex offenders?

By ERICA HALL

Staff writer

The state Department of Social and Health Services’ decision to add a fourth and final site to the list of potential sex offender housing locations pleased many south King County residents and officials, but left Seattle officials disappointed.

The latest addition is an industrial site in Seattle near the Spokane Street Viaduct between First and Second Avenues South. The 18,487-square-foot, two-story remodeled warehouse is surrounded by industrial and warehouse facilities, according to DSHS.

DSHS will host two public meetings in Seattle, but dates, times and locations haven’t been scheduled.

Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels said he is “deeply disappointed with the state’s decision to dump violent sexual predators in our city.”

“The presence of sexual offenders in any community poses serious public safety concerns,” he said. “The state will need to prove to me and to the citizens of Seattle that the public is safe and protected from harm.”

The industrial site in Seattle joins three other sites the state Department of Social and Health Services will consider, including Peasley Canyon near Federal Way, Orillia Road near Seatac and Grouse Ridge Road near North Bend.

Though DSHS Secretary Dennis Braddock won’t make a final decision until September, DSHS had to pay a non-refundable $50,000 deposit to hold the warehouse in Seattle.

If Braddock does choose the Seattle site, the deposit will be paid toward either a purchase price of about $1.7 million or toward rent if DSHS decides to lease. The monthly cost to lease has been set at $12,450 for the first five years.

Yvonne Ward, the Auburn attorney representing Concerned Citizens of Auburn and Federal Way, was cautiously optimistic after the announcement.

“Anything that decreases our chances of being selected is very good,” she said. “We (Peasley Canyon) clearly were the worst of three (proposed sites). Now, we’re the worst of four.”

State Rep. Skip Priest (R-Federal Way), whose 30th District constituency includes the Peasley Canyon area, congratulated DSHS for selecting the Seattle site. He said the agency “is responding correctly to the Legislature’s message that we don’t want (the sex offender housing) in a residential area.”

Still, he warned against giving up the fight against the facility just yet.

“None of us who’ve worked on this issue is declaring victory,” he said. “Peasley Canyon isn’t off the list yet, though it should be.”

Several members of the Metropolitan King County Council lauded the addition of the Spokane Street warehouse to the list of potential sites. Councilmen Pete von Reichbauer, who represents the Peasley Canyon area and Federal Way, said he would like to see the state drop Peasley from the list entirely.

“Peasley Canyon is close to family homes but far from public services,” he said. “It should be immediately dropped from consideration so that the residents can remove this Damoclean Sword from over their heads and their homes.”

Federal Way Mayor Jeanne Burbidge said the addition of the Spokane Street site “is an indication that DSHS is recognizing a site such as Peasley Canyon is not appropriate because of the neighborhood, the families and 32 young children in the immediate vicinity.”

Still, Seattle City Council members feel the facility doesn’t belong in their community, either.

“As pleased as they are in south King County (that the Seattle site was added), we are exactly as displeased,” said Councilman Richard McIver, who is chairman of Seattle’s housing, human services and community development committee.

McIver said city officials in Seattle recognize “the need to share the weight,” but said there already is a significant population of sex offenders living in the area.

And, he said, creating such a facility to Seattle would drain the social service dollars needed for other things.

The transitional facility, a secure home for civilly committed, Level 3 sex offenders, is expected to house six to 12 men who serve their sentences, undergo extensive treatment at the Special Commitment Center on McNeil Island and become eligible for transition back to society.

While there is such a facility on McNeil outside the confines of the Secure Community Center, a federal judge ordered the state to find off-island accommodations for civilly committed men still in treatment. About $7 million in sanctions are awaiting DSHS if it doesn’t comply.

Ward said Concerned Citizens of Auburn and Federal Way will continue gathering information, just in case Peasley Canyon is picked and the group must file a lawsuit.

Citizens can only challenge a DSHS decision in court based on information they presented before the decision was made. Once DSHS picks, legal teams won’t be able to go back and try to find evidence the site is inappropriate.

The ongoing work has it benefits. “The more we prepare, the less likely we are to get picked,” Ward said.

Still, McIver, the Seattle City councilman, said officials there are just as opposed to the facility as everyone else. “I don’t think this is the time to do this to Seattle,” he said.

Staff writer Erica Hall: 925-5565, ehall@fedwaymirror.com

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