The Lynnwood City Council Tuesday night reviewed plans to incorporate a multilevel community recovery center into the controversial Community Justice Center project.
Last month, the council voted to postpone approval of funding to construct the Community Justice Center — a $69 million redevelopment of the city’s police department, jail and municipal courts. During its Sept. 7 work session, the council met with task force members assigned to find how to incorporate more medical, behavioral health and substance abuse treatment services into the project.
The decision to delay funding approval followed protests sparked by the death of a local woman, Tirhas Tesfatsion, who died in the city’s jail. Her death was ruled a suicide by the Snohmoish County Medical Examiner’s Office.
In response, Lynnwood Mayor Nicola Smith formed a task force that included Lynnwood Police Chief Jim Nelson, 32nd District State Rep. Lauren Davis and Councilmember Shannon Sessions, as well as medical professionals, partners from Snohomish County, financial and contracting professionals, building architects and community representatives.
“Our job was to see if there was a way to incorporate some much needed community behavioral health capacity…without altering the facility footprint or really significantly changing the layout,” Davis told the council during Tuesday’s meeting.
Initially, plans for the project proposed expanding the jail — which currently has 46 beds — to include 120 total beds. With more jail beds, the city anticipated saving money by no longer contracting out to other agencies to house inmates while also generating revenue from taking in inmates from jurisdictions.
Now, the task force is suggesting reducing the number of jail beds to 84 and using the rest for treatment beds. The recovery center would include two levels located over a portion of the jail north of the proposed police department. As a separate complex, the recovery center would have its own entrance and the group proposed adding 40 more parking stalls in a multi-level parking area. The ground floor portion of the jail would also be reconfigured for medical and behavioral health services.
With the Community Justice Center, the city aimed to reduce recidivism by partnering with the neighboring Community Health Center (CHC) of Snohomish County to treat underlying behavioral health and substance abuse issues.
Davis said the city could receive funding through the state Department of Commerce’s Behavioral Health Facilities (BHF) Program. The most likely option, Davis said, would be for the city to receive a direct allocation of funds from the state’s capital budget.
Since 2018, Washington state has invested $281 million in capital funding for community behavioral health facilities that allow those undergoing treatment to receive it near their home and families.
“It’s this notion that people don’t recover in treatment, they recover in community and we need to make sure that people can actually have a place that’s close to home where they can seek substance abuse disorder services, crisis services (and) psychiatric services,” Davis said Tuesday night.
Davis said they often have a difficult time finding a site for treatment facilities, because many are reluctant to have one near their home or business. However, she added that the situation in Lynnwood is unique since the project was already intending to provide similar services by partnering with the CHC.
The new facility does not have an estimated cost at this time and the council will receive that number during a future presentation. The council is set to vote on the construction contract for the Community Justice Center at its Sept. 13 business meeting. Further action on the recovery center will be scheduled for a later date.
The city is hosting a community presentation this Friday, Sept. 10, specifically for Lynnwood residents to give feedback on the recovery center.
In other business, the council continued its discussion regarding Lynnwood’s portion of the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds and how to address the city’s immediate needs.
Lynnwood received $10.9 million in federal funds to help the city in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. With plans to fully reopen city services by this fall, city staff asked the council to authorize $1.488 million to fill city positions that would return city service to pre-pandemic levels, upgrade the equipment used to record and stream council meetings, and purchase police-worn body cameras.
Before adjourning for summer recess, the council voted to approve just $732,000 of the full amount to fill some vacant staff positions and purchase the body cameras. During the Sept. 7 meeting, staff again asked the council to approve upgrades to the city’s 15-year-old audio/visual equipment.
During the discussion, Information Technology Director Will Cena said the department is seeking $100,000 that will be used to replace wiring and install new equipment and two monitors in the council chambers. The funds would also cover the cost of hiring a consultant to help identify how best to offer a hybrid in-person/remote option for council meetings.
Since making the switch to meeting online, the city has made some upgrades to the equipment used to stream meetings. However, the new equipment the city purchased is not compatible with other streaming services and the city has experienced technical difficulties recording large crowds, like the group of demonstrators who overtook the council’s July 26 business meeting to demand accountability for Tesfatsion’s death in the Lynnwood Jail.
Also during the meeting, the council met the following city board and commission applicants:
-Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Commission candidate Jeanna Kim
-Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Commission candidate Simreet Dhaliwhal.
-Parks and Recreation Board Applicant Presley Morrissey