Lynnwood residents were invited Friday night to provide feedback on the proposed Community Recovery Center aimed at offering emergency behavioral health services.
In response to public criticisms, the Lynnwood City Council voted last month to delay construction on the $69 million Community Justice Center project, which includes redeveloping and expanding the city’s police department, jail and municipal courts. Mayor Nicola Smith then assembled a task force — which included State Rep. Lauren Davis, Police Chief Jim Nelson and several others — to explore ways to offer more behavioral health services to those in need.
At its Sept. 7 work session, the council was briefed on a proposal to reallocate some of the 120 beds initially designated for the new jail to a separate multilevel facility located on the site. During the Sept. 10 online forum, Lynnwood residents were asked to provide their thoughts on the new plan.
There is no final cost for the recovery center at this time. During the council work session, Davis explained the recovery center could receive funding from the state and Snohomish County Executive Dave Somers has said he plans to include $3 million for the facility in his 2022 budget.
During the forum, former Lynnwood City Councilmember Ted Hikel said he supported plans to redevelop the police department, which has undergone multiple space study needs that determined that the department, jail and municipal court have outgrown their current facility. Hikel added that the city needs to conduct a financial analysis to learn how fewer jail beds — which the city intends to contract out to other law enforcement agencies to help pay for the justice center — will impact the city’s debt repayment for the project.
At its Sept. 13 business meeting, the council is set to adopt a resolution committing to build the recovery center. However, Hikel said adopting a resolution isn’t enough.
“Resolutions are nice words, but they are usually ineffective,” he said.
Jennifer McLaughlin, a member of the city’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Commission, praised the plan but said she was also concerned about the city’s commitment to building both the Community Justice Center and the recovery center. McLaughlin also stressed the need for more mental health services.
“Most people are struggling with mental health and there is not enough care,” she said.
McLaughlin also suggested taking the entire plan for the Community Justice Center back to the drawing board to incorporate more behavioral health services into the project. She added that though lawmakers are supportive of behavioral health facilities there is not currently a commitment to funding the recovery center in Lynnwood.
“I urge you to push (the) city council to do better by recreating a plan for the (Community Justice Center) that incorporates the recovery center, which is a good plan for Lynnwood,” she said.
Speakers also included relatives of Tirhas Tesfatsion, a Black woman who died in the jail in July. The Snohomish County Medical Examiner’s Office ruled her death was by suicide. During the forum, Tesfatsion’s niece, Denait, said it was counterproductive to put a mental health facility near a jail.
However, at the council’s Sept. 7 work session, Rep. Davis explained that officials often have a difficult time finding a site for treatment facilities, because many are reluctant to have one near their home or business. The situation in Lynnwood is unique since the project was already intending to provide similar services by partnering with the neighboring Community Health Center, she added.
Denait was then cut off by the forum moderator for accusing Lynnwood police of being corrupt. At the start of the meeting, attendees were warned that comments were to remain civil and focus on the recovery center or they would not be allowed to speak.
Davis closed the forum by saying there would be future discussions about the recovery center.
“This is the beginning and not the end of our community conversations about this project,” she said.
The city council is scheduled to adopt a resolution at its Sept. 13 business meeting committing to building the recovery center.
–By Cody Sexton