Angry Woodmont residents again demand no drug clinic in their neighborhood
Listen to full, raw audio of the special Sept. 16 Des Moines City Council public hearing here:
by Jack Mayne
There were no pitchforks, but lots of loud and sometimes angry comments from mostly the same Woodmont neighborhood residents as they once more made it quite clear they want nothing to do with a drug and alcohol treatment facility.
The three-hour long, boisterous special Des Moines City Council session on Wednesday night (Sept. 16) included suggestions of possibly replacing Councilmembers as well as firing City Manager Tony Piasecki.
There was not a single soul voicing support for the location that Valley Cities has already purchased on Pacific Highway for the facility during the meeting, which was held in the historic old Des Moines Field House.
It was often loud and boisterous, and with many sets of applause for statements against Valley Cities Counseling and Consultation of Kent’s plans to build a facility with 40 beds, along with an office building, a methadone dispensary clinic and office space.
All Councilmembers except Jeremy Nutting attended.
‘We heard you’
Reps. Tina Orwall and Carol Gregory were called to speak first by Mayor Dave Kaplan. The two had earlier written a letter to the community expressing their disapproval of the Woodmont site picked for Valley Cities’ Recovery Campus
Orwall, of the 33rd District, said at the meeting that she wanted Des Moines residents to know “that we heard you” and would do “everything we can” to move the proposed facility to another location. She and Gregory said they have done a lot of discussing the matter with people in the Legislature and in King Council government.
At the same time, Orwall said there was a “huge need for these types of services in south King county.” First, the facility should be moved, but then sited somewhere in the south county to make “our community safer.”
“We are here to move forward and to do the right thing for our community,” Orwall said.
Rep. Gregory, of the adjacent 30th Legislative District, said the community and the Des Moines Council is facing a difficult problem while the Legislature was trying to provide services for all its people. The state has previously been sued for not having available drug and mental health services.
“We have to site services where they best fit the community … and there are such places in south King County for services like this,” Gregory said. “But a neighborhood and a school are not good neighbors for a facility like this.”
Must get it moved
Gregory said she also wanted to thank the Des Moines mayor and Council because “they were placed in a very, very difficult situation and they were placed in that situation without any involvement of themselves, but all of a sudden it was in their lap.
“We aren’t finished, we haven’t solved it, but we have a lot of support at the level we need to get it sited differently,” Gregory said.
Orwall said later in the lengthy session that the Woodmont residents would be kept informed about the search and negotiations for a new site for the treatment center.
In addition, on Thursday (Sept. 17), Gregory’s seatmate, Rep. Linda Kochmar, sent a letter to the community that added her support for moving the Valley Cities facility (download/read a PDF of that here).
“Some of these services such as the methadone dispensary would be more appropriately located at facilities away from residential neighborhoods,” Kochmar wrote. “The underlying fact is that the siting of this facility was not well thought out and public processes did not adequately service the people. It is essential that we listen and develop a better plan to bring critical mental health and drug treatment services to south King County with state, local and community support.”
Doesn’t have to be here
When questioning from the public began, a woman wondered why someone from Valley Services wasn’t there and Mayor Dave Kaplan told her that they were aware of the session. Unstated was the obvious: why would they stick their heads in this lion’s mouth?
A man asked if there was “any legal reason or ruling that says this facility has to be in the City of Des Moines?”
City Manager Tony Piasecki said, “They don’t have to be here.”
A man who said he just purchased a home in Des Moines in July, but that he would not have if he had known about the potential treatment facility, also spoke.
“I’ve retired after 33 years in the military defending my country and now I feel like I will have to defend my neighborhood,” he said.
Much of the session was a restatement and requisitioning about the treatment facility that seems likely to be sited elsewhere or its “troublesome” aspects removed from this location.
For example, Michelle Johnson asked a series of question about what precautions would be taken for recovering addicts when they walk around the campus or to keep them from leaving the property. She also wanted to know if there would be enough parking places on site for visitors, patients and staff, and if increased traffic on Pacific Highway would cause problems.
Johnson also wondered if homeless facilities would be provided and if that would not draw more homeless to their neighborhood.
She was interrupted after several minutes by Mayor Kaplan to ask if she had any specific questions to ask.
City Manager Piasecki said many of the issues are part of the discussions for a “good neighbor agreement” that the city will engage in with Valley Cities.
Piasecki did say that homeless assistance, such as shower facilities, appear not to be part of the potential activities on the facility property, but with the nature of the detoxification of patients, that needs to be further discussed with the developer.
‘Will the kids be OK?’
Johnson also suggested that if the facility is built, it should be financially responsible for two additional police officers for the area since she said it has been indicated that current officers not enough if the area becomes problem prone.
With a tear in her voice, Johnson wanted to know how children would be gotten safely to school if the treatment center is opened.
“Will the kids be okay,” adding that problems from the facility could “haunt them for the rest of their lives.”
“You know there are going to be drugs there and there will be drug dealers to sell drugs to the recovering addicts,” she said.
The operator of the rehabilitation center “if it remains in the area,” Piasecki said, will be required to adhere to an agreement still being developed. Part of the agreement, he said, would require the facility to reimburse for costs created by the facility and its patients.
Stay in Des Moines?
Kaplan was asked if the facility were moved, would it still be in Des Moines?
“Based on the conversations I have had with our elected officials at the state level and conversations I have had with others, they are trying to identify a place somewhere in south King County. Potentially it could be within Des Moines but it will be in an appropriate place.”
The city does not know more details of that potential move, he said.
A man asked about whether the discussions on the design of the treatment center could be held in abeyance until a decision is made on the location; the city manager said the law specified that decisions be made according to a set time line.
“This design on this site must be done by Oct. 2,” Piasecki said, and then there is an appeal period.
Then comes the building permits and only for a single building – an evaluation and treatment center – which will be considered first.
A person said that if the “Good Neighbor Agreement” is influenced by the City Council and the citizens of Woodmont it would be very much against Valley Cities and their plans. Piasecki said it would be an agreement that would reflect community concerns.
“Without that agreement, Valley Cities cannot operate,” he said.
Council in the dark
The Councilmembers said once again they were blindsided and didn’t know until recently what Valley Cities was planning.
Councilmember Melissa Musser said she has been busy on the phone and Internet discussing the situation, and mentioned that the city manager was preparing a more aggressive plan to advise Councilmembers when potentially difficult developments were brought to the city since the Council unanimously has said members were unaware that such a facility as a drug treatment operation was in the offing.
Councilmember Luisa Bangs said she is also discussing the problem with residents and expects a better system of keeping members advised of potentially controversial developments, which would head off such problems in the future.
Then Mayor ProTem Matt Pina told the audience he was recommending an attorney experienced in such critical siting problems be hired by the city to lead negotiations of the “Good Neighbor Agreement” because he was not skilled enough in this type of negotiations.
“If I am going to go into a fight, I want to have my team lined up,” and his suggestion drew audience applause.
A citizen said that Councilmembers should have alerted the people sooner, “I can’t forgive you for that.” He added that the Valley Services people were not upfront with their plans, and that “the methadone matter did not come into the picture until April.”
City manager to blame?
John Castronover said he had a pointed question for City Manager Piasecki.
“My question to you is, was our City Council members conveniently left in the dark with withheld information on what was going on because some of your staff would think they would disagree with this and shoot this down?
Then Castronover said he has obtained emails that said Kent and Federal Way police chiefs had informed him about the potential facility and that Des Moines Chief George Delgado “had reservations” about the treatment center and wondered why Piasecki totally disregarded his concerns.
Piasecki said he started mentioning the facility in his comments to Council starting October 2014 and mentioned it was a drug and alcohol treatment facility when that became known.
“But I will say, hindsight is 20-20, my communication should have been much more detailed, should have been much more often,” and that is what is taking place now with new procedures for advising Council weekly of potential problems. This will be with phone calls and memos and posts on the city website.
Piasecki said he would “take full responsibility for not properly telling the Council.”
He said he thought the chief’s email about the potential problems of the facility would be part of the record that the hearing examiner would consider.
Ask for resignation?
Later in the meeting a resident asked if any Council member would want to ask Piasecki to resign because he did not notify the Council fully on the substance of the proposed facility.
He was told the matter could not be discussed in a pubic meeting. The Council would have to discuss that matter in an executive session after all information had been gathered.
Pena said the primary issue was getting the facility moved or increasing mitigation if it is to remain and that responsibility could be assessed later.
Here are more photos from the event, as taken by Scott Schaefer (click images to see larger versions/slideshow):