ANALYSIS: State law says Des Moines officials cannot stop drug recovery facility
News Analysis by Jack Mayne
Blaming the Des Moines City Council, mayor or city manager for the placing of the Valley Cities’ Woodmont Recovery Campus on Pacific Highway South is like blaming the Weather Service for the windstorm that doused the lights of thousands of King County homes recently.
Who do we blame?
The Washington State Legislature!
Legislators long ago passed the law that requires the city to approve the siting of mental health and drug care facilities, amongst other “essential” facilities.
Cities can only require such places to take adequate steps to safeguard nearby residents and to pay additional expanses such as police patrols. Valley Cities made that pact with the city.
Can’t be stopped
Des Moines can’t stop it.
King County can’t stop it.
Washington State can’t stop it.
Only the Washington Legislature can stop it BUT…
That would mean a special session to change state law on siting “essential public facilities.” The chances to that are virtually non-existent, especially after the State Supreme Court said charter schools were unconstitutional and cut off public money. Some want the Legislature to fix that.
Des Moines residents have only one other way and it is very expensive, time consuming and chancy at best: for the residents to come up with thousands of dollars of their own money to finance a very good law firm to take the case into King County Superior Court.
Maybe, just maybe a judge would halt things for the years that it would take to move a legal case from Superior Court to the state appellate court, to the state Supreme Court.
The verdict? Anybody’s guess!
But the odds are that the “essential public facilities” law would be upheld and the 24 beds and a 25,340 square foot detoxification facility would be built at 26915 Pacific Highway South despite public objections.
The only other way to stop the facility is if the operators can find an affordable replacement site. We have been told the City of Des Moines is working on that potential – but so far no luck.
Why such a law?
The Legislature says that some “essential public facilities” are “public facilities that are typically difficult to site.”
Simply, no one wants them in their back yard.
The law specifically says such things are inpatient facilities including substance abuse, mental health facilities, group homes, and secure community transition facilities.
That all means there will be a Valley Cities’ Woodmont Recovery Campus in Des Moines, unless one of those steps above can make a change.
Why can’t the city pass ordinances against such things that the people in the neighborhood are afraid of and just don’t want nearby?
Every city in the state must have “a process for identifying and siting essential public facilities.”
“No local comprehensive plan or development regulation may preclude the siting of essential public facilities.”
The state law, which overrides any city ordinance, says that.
The city did obey state law, and it obeyed its own comprehensive plan by hiring a hearing examiner to make certain that safety and mitigation on costs to the city were covered by Valley Cities.
Some people have criticized the city that an out of town hearing examiner was hired. But no smaller city can afford to have a qualified hearing examiner on staff for the very rare cases where such expertise would be needed.
Citizens who don’t like the decision cannot sue, says state law.
“No person may bring a cause of action for civil damages based on the good faith actions of any county or city to provide for the siting of secure community transition facilities…”
Insults won’t help
Again, calling city officials names, and telling them they turned their backs on the citizens of Des Moines is useless activity, because the city did do their job as required by state law.
You may not like the decision, but blame the Washington Legislature, not the Des Moines city staff, mayor or Council.
The only mistake the city officials made was to not inform residents in a timely fashion and then to alert people in a too-small area. Mayor Dave Kaplan has admitted that error and the Council has already ordered a city ordinance be drafted to require every citizen of the city be alerted and informed of any such momentous decision in the future.