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Sawant to police: Welcome to the world of public buildings

Seattle City Council member Kshama Sawant celebrated the decision to put the new North Seattle precinct project on hold. (Josh Kerns/ KIRO Radio)
LISTEN: GUEST: Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant celebrates blocking the North Precinct “bunker”

Seattle police should get used to their North Seattle precinct. That was the message council member Kshama Sawant had for them after Mayor Ed Murray shelved the proposed $149 million project Thursday.

Sawant visited the precinct last week. She says the building is not “decrepit or crumbling.”

“It’s not the most pristine [building], but this is a public department,” Sawant said on the Jason and Burns Show. “If you want to talk about the building not being in the most ship-shape conditions, then welcome to the world of public housing and public schools …”

Related: Sawant is adversarial with police and it will come back to haunt Seattle

The precinct in question became controversial among some of the Seattle community who have taken to calling the proposed building at 10049 College Way North a “bunker.” It has been associated with the issue of police militarization and issues of tense race-relations with officers

A new precinct has been on the drawing boards since the late ’90s. The mayor and police officials say the existing building is overcrowded and badly outdated. Officers are forced to share desks and computers, storage rooms have been converted to offices and locker rooms. A total of 254 cops work in the building that was designed for 100 less.

With no space for personal vehicles, officers are forced to park on neighboring streets in the tree-lined, residential area.

The new Seattle police precinct, which had estimated costs of up to $160 million at one point, would include community meeting spaces and an open design that increases transparency and fosters a culture that embodies a model of “21st century policing.” It would also include an indoor firing range and a gym — so does the current precinct.

Doug Carey, assistant director of the city’s Financial and Administrative Services Department, insisted the building was badly overcrowded.

“The area that’s served by the north precinct has 40 percent of the population in the city of Seattle. South of the Ship Canal are four precincts that are served out of four different stations,” Carey said.

City officials will explore establishing an expert review panel that would oversee project costs.

Sawant says that before the city invests in a new precinct, it needs to invest in affordable housing. That means more places for people to live where they don’t need to spend more than 30 percent of their income on rent.

“I don’t see a necessity to build a new building at all,” she added.

Council member Lorena Gonzalez says the cost of the proposed precinct was a key factor in stopping the project for now.

“Mayor Murray and I, and council members Tim Burgess and Debora Juarez, have come together to determine we need to hit pause on the north precinct project proposal,” Gonzalez said. “We all continue to have concerns about the cost.”

But what about the $1.4 million the city spent on its failing bike-share program? KIRO Radio’s Jason Rantz wonders. Though the price tag is nowhere near as high, Rantz points out that the city council was willing to spend a good amount on that “luxury.” Why not pump some money into the police department?

Sawant, who agrees the bike-share program has had some difficulties, says she doesn’t consider it a luxury, “given the dangers of climate change and the fact that people need healthy alternatives in terms of transportation.” She reiterates: Housing needs are more pressing.

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