For the last six years I have dedicated my time to serving on the City of Lynnwood’s boards and commissions in attempts to build a safe, welcoming and vibrant city. During this time, I have come to understand and appreciate the city’s protocol of outreach for projects, such as sending out emails, creating surveys and hosting round tables. So when I found out about the plans for the Community Justice Center only a year ago, I was surprised to learn that the community had not been consulted on the creation of the Community Justice Center – none of the outreach practices were implemented for this project.
In addition to the lack of citizen engagement, the presentation of the construction bids also broke protocol. In most circumstances, three contract bids are presented to council for comparison, whereas for this contract only one of six submitted bids were presented. The explanation provided was that the other bids were too high to consider, so imagine my surprise when I learned that the initial base bid from Lydig was a little less than the chosen FORMA bid of $54,895,295. Out of the six received bids, there was a third bid just slightly over FORMA’s quote, hence my concern and confusion as to why these other options were never presented to the council.
This upcoming Monday, council is not just set to award a bid for $56,380,704.52 to FORMA, along with providing blanket approval for change orders up to 10% of the contract amount, essentially a blank check of an additional $5.6 million. This current community justice center plan without the behavioral health center is currently advertised as costing the city $69 million. With the city total cap of incurring $119 million debt without voter approval, the current bid will be close to maxing out this debt cap leaving the city not having the ability to approve necessary projects without voter approval.
But the dollars allocated to the Community Justice Center aren’t even the most concerning numbers of the project. The main focus of this building is to increase the number of jail beds in Lynnwood, with the intent to rent these beds out to other cities to increase revenue. Increasing incarceration under the same supervision that was unable to prevent the death of Tirhas Tesfatsion in a jail with less than half the capacity. However, over the past year, less than 10 beds have been used because of COVID safety precautions. The likelihood of filling up the proposed 100 jail beds in the next few years is highly unlikely as we continue to live with COVID.
This brings me to the title of my piece – what will the Community Justice Center actually cost us? So far community engagement has been neglected, transparency in the selection process sacrificed, and ethics called into question. Despite growing community concern about the project, the city is rushing to approve the current bid, as it is set to expire soon. Given the concern expressed from our community, I would like to think that the city would at least address the possibility of letting the current bid expire so the project could incorporate feedback from Friday night’s task force town hall about the incorporation of the behavioral health center — a town hall that did not allow Tirhas’ family to speak freely about the loss of their beloved family member whose death was recently ruled as suicide.
We are at a key moment for our city; with a new social justice coordinator and engaged residents from the task force, there is an opportunity for a real center that is focused on equitable justice and community education to be designed. I implore the city council to vote no to the current Community Justice Center bid, and hear the message from your constituents that are outside of the police community of asking you go back to the drawing board to create a financially responsible, community engaged, and community-enriching project.
– By Elizabeth Lunsford