Councilman Marty Campbell introduced the last minute addition to the council agenda at the end of Tuesday’s afternoon study session. It was presented as an emergency ordinance, and under that designation it could come to a vote the same day.
Campbell said he did that because there is no council meeting next week, and he’ll be absent the following week. Councilman Joe Lonergan moved to remove the emergency aspect of the ordinance so that it would be revisited for a vote at a later council meeting, but that amendment failed.
The ordinance creates an interim regulation that will last six months and targets any future expansion at the Northwest Detention Center, a privately-owned and operated federal immigration detention center that opened in 2004 on the Tideflats. It was expanded in 2008, and is currently permitted to accommodate up to 1,575 detainees.
The ordinance reads, in part, “recent changes in the national political climate have contributed to uncertainty as to the need for, and potential expansion of correctional facilities in communities such as Tacoma … the federal Department of Homeland Security is on record stating its desire to increase and secure additional detention facilities.”
GEO Group, which operates the detention center, has not announced plans to expand the facility, and city staff said they aren’t aware of any such plans. Planning staff reported Tuesday that there are no requests for new or expanded correctional facilities from the public or private sector, acting city attorney Bill Fosbre said.
But some critics have expressed concern that it will have to expand in the wake of President Donald Trump’s sweeping plan to aggressively deport those in the country illegally.
In recent weeks, Mayor Marilyn Strickland and members of the City Council have repeatedly expressed their disapproval with having the federal detention center in Tacoma’s backyard. The group has reaffirmed its commitment to being a welcoming city for immigrants and refugees, but has not adopted a sanctuary city status – in part, the mayor says, because of the detention center’s presence.
The ordinance passed Tuesday put in place interim regulations for public and private correctional facilities, which will be in effect for six months, or until the city’s zoning regulations for those types of uses get permanently updated.
GIVEN THE FACT THAT THESE ARE UNPREDICTABLE TIMES, I THINK IT MAKES SENSE FOR US TO HAVE THINGS IN PLACE THAT ALLOW US TO CONTROL OUR DESTINY AND NOT HAVE OUR DESTINY DONE TO US.
Tacoma Mayor Marilyn Strickland
Under the ordinance, private correctional facilities are prohibited across all zoning districts, and public or private correctional facilities are not allowed in the city’s multifamily and light industrial zoning districts. Public correctional facilities also face a new hurdle by having to get conditional use permits to locate in any district where they’re allowed.
The ordinance applies to new facilities and the expansion of current facilities while the rule is in place, Fosbre said. Current uses would be grandfathered.
“This is a conversation about land use, this is a conversation about land that is scarce,” Strickland said at the council’s study session. “It’s an opportunity for us to very thoughtfully plan what happens in our city, and I think it applies in actually many places around the city, not just one in particular.
“And I think given the fact that these are unpredictable times, I think it makes sense for us to have things in place that allow us to control our destiny done to us.”