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Monday, August 16, 2010

A jail by any other name is still a "detention facility"

The people who are expressing concern about the proposed new federal immigration detention tank in Portland's troubled SoWhat District are feeling the heat from City Hall and the developer cabal. We caught a nasty comment on this blog from someone working at GBD Architects, which was drawing up the plans for the facility without any scrutiny before the words "detention" and "cell" appeared on this blog and the firestorm began. The plans are still ongoing, but there's a lot more political friction being generated now, and the GBD folks apparently don't like working in sunshine.

The neighborhood association's land use committee is meeting tonight in the shadow of the infernal OHSU aerial tram [rim shot] to talk about the proposed facility. They've reportedly been catching flak from at least one prominent City Council staffer for daring to call the proposed facility a "jail." "It is not a jail!" we all keep being told.

But of course, it is.

Here are some dictionary definitions of "jail":

From Webster's Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary: "A building for the confinement of persons held in lawful custody."

From the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language: "A place for the confinement of persons in lawful detention, especially persons awaiting trial under local jurisdiction."

From Merriam-Webster's Online Dictionary: "A place of confinement for persons held in lawful custody; specifically: such a place under the jurisdiction of a local government (as a county) for the confinement of persons awaiting trial or those convicted of minor crimes — compare prison."

It's clear that the to-be-remodeled building on Macadam can correctly be called a "jail," even though it's going to be run by the federal, rather than a local, government. It's a place where arrested people will be held awaiting their proceedings before a judge. Indeed, there's no better term for it than "jail."

At the very least, the proposed new facility can properly be said to include a "jail." And of course, it's that part of the proposed remodel that is driving its neighbors nuts. The City Hall types and architects can call it whatever they want, but the issue here, plain and simple, is the location of a jail.

From a legal standpoint, the more important point seems to be that the proposed facility will be a "detention facility" within the meaning of the city's planning and zoning code, which defines that term as follows:

33.920.520 Detention Facilities

A. Characteristics. Detention Facilities includes facilities for the judicially required detention or incarceration of people. Inmates and detainees are under 24 hour supervision by peace officers, except when on an approved leave.

B. Accessory Uses. Accessory uses include offices, recreational and health facilities, therapy facilities, maintenance facilities, and hobby and manufacturing activities.

C. Examples. Examples include prisons, jails, probation centers, and juvenile detention homes.

D. Exceptions. Programs that provide care and training or treatment for psychiatric, alcohol, or drug problems, where patients are residents of the program, but where patients are not supervised by peace officers are classified as Group Living. Programs that provide transitional living experience for former offenders, such as halfway houses, where residents are not supervised by peace officers, are also classified as Group Living.

"Detention facilities" aren't allowed, even in commercial zones such as the one on which the proposed facility sits, without "conditional use review," which we're told is a more thorough (and slower) process than the mere "design review" that the promoters of the project are pushing for. (Apparently, the property is owned by the Lindquist Development interests and under lease to the federal immigration authorities.)

Not that the facility couldn't pass muster in a "conditional use" application. It might. But among the criteria for approval is the sticky question of transportation, which is a real sore point in the entire SoWhat District. The proponents have to show that --

The transportation system is capable of supporting the proposed use in addition to the existing uses in the area. Evaluation factors include street capacity, level of service, or other performance measures; access to arterials; connectivity; transit availability; on-street parking impacts; access restrictions; neighborhood impacts; impacts on pedestrian, bicycle, and transit circulation; and safety for all modes...
That will be an interesting bone of contention in this case.

Meanwhile, the big question -- how many inmates the facility would hold -- is becoming slightly less mysterious. We're told by reliable sources that the capacity is to be 100 detainees -- with a projected "average" of 10 to 15 of them present at any given time.

Comments (30)

City Council also tells us that the cell towers going up in front of peoples homes are "Utility Replacement Structures" because cell towers aren't allowed without zoning review.
I hope the "guests" at the "facility" enjoy Portland's vibrant South Waterfront. I guess this is what it takes to get people to stay there.

Nothing says rising home and condo prices like "walking distance from Federal jail facility" in the MLS listing....

If you are in a "facility" and cannot leave at the time of your choosing, that sumbitch is a JAIL.

Sounds like Beth got a little edgy when faced with the truth. Thanks Jack, for keeping us posted with this information.

I'm over the exchange with Beth. But the GBD person, trash-talking under a pseudonym? Bad. Real bad.

Absolutely...I should have included "crow".

Awe and I was hoping for a Portland edition of Monopoly.

Jack, your post is right on. There are other factors that CoP's Kara Fioravanti (chief planner for the project) and GBD haven't considered. They have determined that this project is only an addition onto a existing office building for a bank's processing center, thus not requiring a Conditional Use Review, only a Design Review. This is really a stretch.

First, there is the Change of Use factor. Usually when there is a COU, especially to this magnitude of adding more square footage than existing and changing use from office and receiving center for bank documents to a Detention Center (Jail), then a CUR is required.

Secondly, if CoP and GBD wants to classify the offices necessary for the Fed Detention Center as similar or same as present office uses, there is still the factor that those "offices" are subsidiary to the main function of the
proposed use-a Fed Detention Center for hearings. The FDC is dependent on the Jail. Wrong interpretation.

Then, if CoP wants to classify all/parts of facility as "Community Services-Short Term Housing" under Title 33.285, then Table 285-1 and Table 130-1 requires under the CX zoning, a Conditional Use Review.

There is also the necessary reviews for this area for Greenway and Open Space.

Plus, we have the old standby "Design Review" Type III requirement still remaining that GBD is claiming anyone can ONLY talk about the window placement, colors of materials, number of bike racks, etc.; and not the larger issues allowed by the Conditional Use Review:

"Purpose-A review...is necessary due to potential individual or cumulative impacts they may have on surround area or neighborhood."

That quote is really the substance that you have highlighted. This is another good case of Sam's Transparency-huh?

I'm wondering if CoP is trying to minimize all the processes/reviews they have put in the zoning code, that they are so entrenched in having many of us follow to the "T", for an outcome they have predetermined. That wouldn't be fair, would it?

In defense of those insisting on the distinction, the folks being detained would not be facing criminal charges but rather civil deportation proceedings. I think the relevant distinction is not state-federal but criminal-civil (though admittedly, many immigrants facing deportation came to ICE's attention because they were involved with criminal activity). I would find someone being detained for being in the US illegally much less threatening than someone convicted of a crime (especially a violent one).

Still, I think there's nothing wrong with calling the proposed facility a "jail."

You know back in the day (er 70s, the CoP was trying to let developer weasels bypass zoning to put a motel in a residential section of NW PDX. The city got sued by the neighborhood association and it put a stop to it. The question is can anyone afford to pony up court fees here?

What? No stockades? Maybe those could go in the poodle park....

LucsAdvo, the NW motel incident is also like the GooseHollow incident a few years ago. The City and developers tried sneak a carwash facility into a new building on SW Jefferson, a transit-oriented street. What could be more anti transit-oriented than a carwash? But CoP "forgot" the codes. The GooseHollow NA had to pull out the legal challenges to stop it.

Here's the rub. Unless things have changed since I was in the planning business the Feds are exempt from local land use regulations. We had case in the late 70's where the Postal Service relocated out of the Parkrose business district and told the County they weren't subject to local land use regualtions.

A discussion of Federal and State exemption can be found here:

Counsel for illegals who (a) occupy (b) appear (c) are held (d) spend time in this proposed (i) jail (ii) detention center (iii) holding place ...... might get charges thrown out because their client is/was being held in a place not approved to be a legal detention facility.

Because according to GBD Architects, that's not what they're designing and building.

The fix is in. Thus people here illegally and brought in will be eligible to be set free just as they're being processed to be locked up. Or something like that.

Synonyms: bastille, black hole, brig, bullpen, can*, cell, clink, cooler, detention camp, dungeon, house of correction, inside*, jailhouse, joint*, lockup, pen, penal institution, penitentiary, pound, prison, rack, reformatory, slammer, solitary*, stir*, stockade, up the river.

* = informal/non-formal usage

via Thesaurus.com

Not to mention the defacto public process exception in Portland: Mayor Adams is the Law if he gets two commissioners to agree.

lw asked, "What could be more anti transit-oriented than a carwash?".

How about a BIG BOX strip mall where $100 million tax dollars paid for all of the infrastrucutre for what was intended to be a ped/bike/transit oriented mini-city at Cascade Station-IKEA-BEST BUY.

Or Beaverton's tallest building a 7 story parking garage at the no longer transit oriented Round.

Or the MAX Green Line that Metro now says can't spur any transit oriented stuff because it is the wrong place.

etc etc etc

You got it wrong, Jack. In the euro-spirit of Neo-Stumptown-babble, it's a gaol -- and the double-bonus is that a lot of those MLS2PDX nuts will think it's part of the Paulson soccer complex. A Win!-Win!-Win!

Mayor Adams is the Law if he gets two commissioners to agree.

The majority of a legislative body elected by the people voting to pursue a course of action: The height of tyranny indeed!

Anon, you're right. The King of England and England's legislative body were called out for tyranny indeed by our founding Fathers.

the Feds are exempt from local land use regulations

The feds don't own the building.

the folks being detained would not be facing criminal charges but rather civil deportation proceedings. I think the relevant distinction is not state-federal but criminal-civil

No such distinctions appear in the city code. If it's "judicially required detention," it's a "detention facility," no matter whether it's "civil" or "criminal."

anon & lw:

You have defined the root cause of the problem: vesting both legislative and executive power in the Portland City Council created Absolute Power. Even more so when the City Attorney/City Auditor are just rubber stamps.

There are several possible solutions to this structural deficit, they include:

Electing Commissioners by district

2) Empowering a City Manager with executive authority

3) Revising the City Charter (a la "VOE") to create "Voter Owned" legal fund that citizens may access to challenger their elected official's unlawful ordinances in the Courts.

4) Replace our do nothing D.A. with somebody who will investigate local corruption and violation of City Charter and the O.R.S.

Mister Tee, I could be wrong, but I think Anon was jesting, tongue in cheek. But I wasn't. I was just throwing it back. I agree with your suggestions except for 3). We don't need another "department" managing a Voter Owned Legal Fund. How do you keep that from getting politicalized?

Sadly, I believe that Anon was quite sincere. Also don't forget that we lack an effective judicial branch of municipal government: there is no balance of power, there is only a Strong Mayor and his minions.

As for Voted Owned legal expenses, if we can provide $145,000 in campaign funds to any citizen that garners $5,000 in donations; why not give $l45,000 to any citizen who meets the same criteria (1,000 sigs with $5- donations) to defend our ordinances and charter? We just need three commissioners to approve it, and it's the LAW!!!

Jennifer , I second the motion !
Voter Owned Legal $$ can level the playing field. Of course we would not need this if we had a DA.

I was indeed being cheeky with my tyranny comment. I found Mister Tee's comments hyperbolic, though I'm not a huge fan of the city commission system of government.

To lw,

Unlike colonial Americans, Portlanders have universal suffrage. You can object to various decisions made by the elected leaders of the City, but unlike King George and Parliament circa 1770, they were indeed elected by a majority of adult citizens who chose to vote.

Hey Anon - Let me know when I can elect the morons that run the Port of Portland and other plum appointed positions that cost me $$. Home rule is not universal in Oregon yet.

Cheeky Anon, there's not much difference between King George's era and Portland's political scene. When you have only 30% of the registered voters-not the entire citizenship, voting on a few issues or electable positions, representative government is lacking.

Then when you add LucsAdvo's point about all the appointed Commissions, etc. like PoP and PDC, and the Boards and Committees, we are further diluted.

On top of that, how many times do we get to vote on substantive, costly issues like urban renewal, water and sewer projects, transportation, bridges, light rail and trolleys, sport facilities?

All this sort of explains why there is citizen participation apathy, but much ire.


You're still missing the most fundamental point: There is universal suffrage in Portland, and something like 3% of men were eligible to vote in George III's time (colonists not among them). Only 30% of Portlanders may choose to exercise their right to vote in local matters, but that's hardly tyranny--it's laziness.

Your analogy was hyperbolic and inapt.

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