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Bunker blocked: After Capitol Hill confrontation, mayor backs off North Precinct plan

Maybe it was already his plan. Or maybe it was the last straw. The heated confrontation between Mayor Ed Murray and a Block the Bunker activist at a Capitol Hill fundraiser Tuesday night has turned out to be a preview to what is being called a reset of the $149 million plan to build a new North Precinct police headquarters and a major victory for efforts to reform the Seattle Police Department.

“I inherited the proposal and I made mistake about not stopping that proposal,” Murray said Tuesday night, admitting in front of the crowd gathered for a fundraiser at Sole Repair for the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation fight against the Dakota Access Pipeline that the city did not use its “racial equity toolkit” to evaluate the North Precinct project.

Thursday, the mayor attempted a correction. 

“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,” Murray said in a statement announcing that the project will be put on hold until a “lengthy” Racial Equity Toolkit analysis is completed per a City Council resolution passed last month. “Additionally, the time while the RET process is being completed will be used to review other aspects of the project, including the number of facilities and overall cost,” the statement reads.

Murray says it was the Mike McGinn administration that was originally responsible for the expensive framework for the North Precinct that would combine multiple headquarters into one project.

Though the project involves policing resources north of the Ship Canal and far from her District 3, Kshama Sawant was quick to declare victory for the Block the Bunker cause she has championed and announced a Friday celebration and another rally next week to build on the mayor’s setback. “Today in Seattle, anti-racist and social justice activists scored one of the most important victories nationally since the Black Lives Matter movement began in 2014,” Sawant said in her statement on the situation. “We have stopped Seattle’s political establishment, the Mayor and the majority of the City Council, from wasting $160 million of public funds on further militarizing the police by building an extravagant and unneeded new police station. Those resources should instead be used to build 1,000 units of affordable housing, and in our current housing crisis, City officials should do that with all due haste.”

Sawant’s rally is planned for Washington Hall on Thursday, September 22nd at 6:00PM, “to celebrate this victory” and “to discuss how we can continue building a powerful movement to demilitarize the police and invest in our communities by building affordable housing.”

Council members representing Seattle’s northern districts also weighed in on the decision. “This is a clear example of how community organizing can move mountains,” District 6 rep Mike O’Brien said in a statement. “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.”

District 4 rep Rob Johnson focused on the money. I fully believe that the decision to forego the current $149M design for the new North Precinct is more than prudent,” Johnson said. “As I’ve stated before, $149M is far too large a sum for one building.”

The Murray administration will now need to find away to make the financing work with what is expected to be a long delay for the project:

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.

Even with the social justice review, City Hall isn’t backing off its push for a new precinct facility in North Seattle. “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 mayor’s statement reads.

Capitol Hill’s East Precinct headquarters at 12th and Pine has been periodically upgraded over the years including a $1 million seismic upgrade in the late 90s but lacks some of the proposed features that had been planned at the North project including a public plaza, gym, or firing range. Development of the East Precinct’s 12th Ave surface parking lot was delayed for years as SPD set expensive requirements for any plans to replace the lot. Today, the 12th Ave Arts mixed-use, low income housing development stands where the parking lot once filled the block behind razor wire fences. The precinct’s parking facility — a more modest execution than the department had been holding out for thanks to compromises forged during the McGinn administration — sits below the building.

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5 thoughts on “Bunker blocked: After Capitol Hill confrontation, mayor backs off North Precinct plan

  1. Councilmember Sawant stepped in front of the grassroots coalition to Block the Bunker and seems to be leaving them behind. The coalition’s agenda is wider than 1,000 housing units: They call for no new police officers and no youth jail. The coalition is holding a rally outside City Hall on Monday, Sep. 19 at 4:00 PM.

  2. People that are so anti-police until they need them. Maybe $149M is a bit extravagant – have them modify it, not just block it altogether. Hot airbag Sawant wants to build 1000 homes with the money? More houses = more residents = more need for public safety (Police, Fire, EMS).

    • It was the price tag and the scale that brought the revolt, not an anti-police agenda. At a time when thousands are being priced out of the city, $149M can be put to much better use than a playground for Kathleen O’Toole.