by Jack Mayne
Because many Des Moines residents have concerns, King County Councilmember Dave Upthegrove said he would oppose spending any county money to build the controversial Valley Cities treatment center.
Even so, he says he personally supports such facilities and believes they are necessary.
Upthegrove also noted that the county government has only the power over its own funds for the project, but no authority over city decisions on siting the treatment facility.
His letter to constituents was sent Tuesday (Sept. 8) and he said it was based on earlier resident’s email and telephone calls “expressing your concern about Valley City Counseling’s plans to locate a substance abuse and mental health treatment facility in the Woodmont neighborhood of Des Moines.”
Quality of life
Upthegrove said he is opposing county funds for the project because he lives in Des Moines and values “the quality of life in our community.”
But he reiterated the county government has no control over what the city officials of Des Moines do in this matter. In effect, the project can go forward if Valley Cities can come up with replacement funds.
“I have been briefed on the project, have visited the site, and have done my best to listen to diverse opinions in the community,” Upthegrove told residents. “I also have carefully examined what role, if any, King County government plays in this decision making process.
“King County has no authority over land use and permitting decisions within the City of Des Moines,” wrote Upthegrove. “It is my understanding that the City of Des Moines is being diligent in their review of the proposal, to the extent allowed by law and conditions of the permit.”
‘Power of the purse’
Upthegrove said the county has power only over “some capital funding” that it has contributed to the project proposed by the non-profit private treatment operation.
“It has become clear to me that a large number of people in the community I represent do not feel safe with the operation of a methadone clinic as part of this treatment facility.”
The councilmember is the chair of the King County Council Health, Housing and Human Services Committee, and member of the Budget Committee.
“I have decided to oppose any King County funding moving forward for this project until the site plan is amended to remove plans for the methadone clinic on this site.
“Another suitable site in South King County should be found. Today (Sept. 8), I notified Valley Cities Counseling and the relevant King County agencies of my decision. This should give the community leverage to help get the site plan amended as they negotiate a good neighbor agreement with the provider as part of the City permitting process.
Upthegrove said he was not speaking for the entire County Council.
Upthegrove said he was expressing “a statement of my opinion and intentions as one member of the King County Council and doesn’t reflect any action or decision on the part of county government as a whole,” he said in a separate email comment to The Waterland Blog.
“I wanted to make sure this was clear,” Upthegrove’s email said, “because I saw an email where it was characterized as King County having made some kind of decision, and that was untrue.”
Would enhance safety
Upthegrove said he thinks such a facility actually would enhance the Des Moines community.
“Now that I have taken this action, it is important to me to share some of my personal feelings,” Upthegrove wrote to constituents.
“While I recognize that many people do not feel safe with a methadone clinic in our neighborhood – and I respect the right for people to feel safe in their community – I personally believe this facility (including the methadone clinic) actually would improve safety and quality of life in our community. Social science data I have reviewed does not show an increase in crime around methadone clinics.”
He wrote “people in our community who are struggling with addiction or mental illness should not have to travel to Seattle to receive treatment. We have a huge need for opiate treatment in South King County.”
Have to go to Seattle
“Currently, about 500 people per day travel from South King County to Seattle for treatment,” Upthegrove wrote. “Imagine how many people in our community who are addicted to heroin or other opiates are not seeking treatment because of this geographic and transportation barrier.
“Without local treatment options, this population is more likely to engage in undesirable activities in Des Moines.
“Without treatment, more families will remain torn apart and more people will die. These are mothers and daughters, sons and fathers, friends and neighbors. Addiction and mental illness don’t discriminate based on class or race. Most families I know have been impacted by addiction or mental illness.”
Upthegrove said he looks forward to the time when mental illness and addiction “are not stigmatized, and we as a community embrace rather than fear treatment and support services in our own community.”
In a comment Tuesday night (Sept. 8) on the Waterland Blog, resident Susan White thanked the County Councilmember for his action:
“I want to thank King County Councilmember Dave Upthegrove who has agreed to oppose county funding for this project until the methadone clinic is removed,” White wrote. “I just received a letter from him and just had a brief conversation with him to thank him for his leadership and understanding on what this means to all of us. I think as a community we can take a deep breath at least for right now and thank you Dave Upthegrove!!!”