Council tells objectors ‘we do care’ while city works to move/mitigate drug clinic
by Jack Mayne
Des Moines City Council members had their first opportunity Thursday night to speak out publicly on the potential of the Valley Cities’ Woodmont Recovery Campus on Pacific Highway South, along with citizens expressing anger, angst and demands to ban the facility from Des Moines continued at the City Council meeting Thursday.
There were 16 often angry citizens who spoke at the (Sept. 10) meeting.
Mayor Kaplan said there have been many meetings with political leaders to brainstorm options, with some “interesting” ones which the city is pursuing as well as continuing to explore alternative sites.
“Whatever we do will have to be done with the blessing of Valley Cities” because they own the property and they have the permits, Kaplan said.
“We are going to leverage everything that we can to see if we can get it moved, and if not, reduce the scope of the services that would create the greatest impact are not sited at that facility.”
But the public has not heard much from the members of the Council. Each of the five members who attended the meeting spoke to the packed Council chambers. Councilmembers Jeremy Nutting and Matt Pina were not present.
Musser: ‘We do care’
Melissa Musser startled some by saying her father was a meth addict who died in jail “so I understand firsthand the fear of living in a neighborhood with those people showing up at any time.
“It breaks my heart when anyone here would think anyone on this Council, anyone on this dais, had a political agenda or would accept kickbacks or that we want this type of facility in our neighborhood when it impacts our kids.
“I am offended and my heart is broken when people say that,” Musser said.
She said the first she knew of the treatment facility was a single line in a December city manager’s report that said Woodmont Recovery campus applications and requests were submitted.
“That’s it,” she said, and did not understand the potential consequences, and did not until an article in the July issue of the Federal Way Mirror.
That was “the first time I had a true understanding of what this project really was. So I get it – blindsided is correct.”
‘We’re not the enemy’
Musser also said she doesn’t want a non-profit facility on one of the biggest commercial properties left in the city.
“We are losing revenue, revenue that could be used to hire more cops,” she said to applause from the audience.
“You are preaching to the choir,” she told the crowd, “but please don’t stop coming here because … you guys have guts to come in here and do this.
“So thank you for caring so passionately for coming in, but please know we are not the enemy.”
If they need 250 people a day coming to their door – “which is frightening to me – then it needs to be someplace else.”
Councilmember Victor Pennington said has lived in Des Moines, worked for the South King Fire and Rescue and its predecessor for over 40 years.
“I have worked the streets.”
He said Thursday night that he was not in favor of the location for the Valley Cities facility, but there was “a huge need” for such facilities in south King County.
‘Get that thing moved’
“People are dying … but I am concerned about the location,” Pennington said. “I will work to get that thing moved.”
But in reality, he said, “if it doesn’t work to get it moved, then we have to work together to mitigate the circumstances,” adding that the path the city is going “doesn’t set well with me.” The city should control what it can to make things better for “our kids and grand kids.”
He said his first information about the project was “a small scope” that would go on the Rose’s Hiway Inn property but later he was unhappy to find the size of the proposed facility.
“For those of you who felt blindsided, I did too,” Pennington said. “We need to work together as a community or we may as well pack it up and figure out where to go. It is not going to be easy and a lot of emotions are going to be really high, including my own. We can work through this, but we have to do it together. We are not going to get the resolution that we all want, but we have to make it safe.”
Pennington also asked if the “good neighbor agreement” that is to be negotiated between the city and Valley Services is binding – can the city enforce its provisions?
He was told by the city attorney that the agreement “is absolutely legally binding … and we can set the conditions” and if Valley Services violated any of its provisions, its business license can be revoked “and they would have to shut down.”
‘Everyone up here cares’
Councilmember Bob Sheckler said he supports people with “legitimate complaints” that asks the Council for help, but some people come and threaten the Council members.
“Don’t ever imply that anyone that sits up here now, or will ever, doesn’t care,” Sheckler said. “You don’t have to have children going to an elementary school to care. You don’t have to live in a particular neighborhood to care. Everyone that sits up here cares a great deal about this issue.”
Sheckler said “if I had a magic wand right now, I would wave it and get rid of it once and for all.”
It is not the facility, but the location, he said, “and this location truly sucks.”
“If I had known, and wasn’t blindsided (by Valley Services) that they were going to put in a methadone clinic in that location, I would have raised hell from day one.”
Sheckler said he believes Valley Services “did a good job keeping key information away” from members of the Council. He said he knew it “was perceived that property values would go down and crime rates would go up.
He said he would do whatever possible, “to get that location changed,” adding later that because it was an “essential public facility,” the best approach might be extracting mitigation from Valley Services.
“Because they are an essential public facility, it does not mean they can’t be held accountable for what they do while they are here,” Sheckler said.
“Number one, get it relocated; number two, mitigate the hell out of it.”
New Councilmember Luisa Bangs said she was “miffed at accusations that sometimes are made,” and knows there needs to be a public forum where questions can be asked and answered.
“We do have a care, we do understand and absolutely hear what you are saying,” Bangs said. “We can’t give you all the answers immediately that you want.”
No mention of methadone clinic
Mayor Dave Kaplan said Valley Services CEO Ken Taylor said they wanted to build a treatment campus last November, “but they did not mention anything about a methadone clinic.”
He first heard about in February when a citizen sent him an email asking about it, “and I didn’t know anything about it.”
The reason is that the project fit all the zoning requirements so it did not have to come before the Des Moines City Council.
“It was a permitted use,” the mayor said.
“I am not happy about it anymore than anyone else. Anyone who thinks I wanted this thing is crazy. Anyone who thinks I control staff is crazy. We have a fulltime city manager who runs the city,” Kaplan said. “I don’t run the city on a day-to-day basis – anybody who is under that impression, sorry you are wrong.”
Kaplan said there would be a Good Neighbor Agreement Committee with citizens involved and that there should be another community meeting where questions could be asked and answered.
No 120-day moratorium
Earlier Councilmember Pennington asked the assistant city attorney if the city can do as some citizens has asked – have a 120 day moratorium on the project – and he was told that wasn’t possible.
City Manager Tony Piasecki said it would take an extraordinary situation to re-open the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) decision made on Feb. 2 in the case, but said he was asking staff to “take a good hard look at the law” and see if there is a way and also potentially reopening design permits and building permits matters.
The city has legal requirements in reviewing and making decisions for permits in the rehabilitation facility. The first deadline is next Thursday (Sept. 17) with a 15-day comment period required. The city has already mailed a notice to every Des Moines household that “written comments concerning the proposed design” can be sent to City Hall until the end of the workday on Oct. 2. The city has to make whatever design changes that are needed within the next 14 days followed by a 14-day appeal period.
Appeals don’t go to the city, but to the outside contracted hearing examiner. Any appeals from those decisions must be at King County Superior Court.