City bending over backward for SoWhat immigration jail
As regular readers here know, the powers that be are proposing to build an immigration holding tank and detainee processing facility in Portland's SoWhat District -- a facility where people will be deported for not jumping through the hoops to enter the country legally. But the people pushing that project sure seem to be having a hard time accepting the fact that they have to jump through hoops themselves. They're bending the city's land use rules to the breaking point and beyond, rather than allowing their plan to receive the full public review that the law requires. And the municipal bureaucracy, apparently with the vocal support of a certain city commissioner's office, is going right along with them.
The neighbors who are concerned about the siting of the facility in SoWhat have been asking questions about the city's process to date, and the information they've been able to wrest from planning officials is troubling, to say the least. First off, the project has been in the works since last spring, or perhaps even earlier, although the first anyone outside the inner circle got even an inkling of it was in July, and the first anyone actually shone a spotlight on the jail aspect of the deal was in August. By May 10, city permit specialist Kara Fioravanti had already reviewed an application for the new facility and made an "initial determination" that the facility resulting from the planned renovation and expansion of an existing bank office building would indeed be a "detention facility," triggering a high level of scrutiny under city land use rules.
We've been through that question on this blog at some length, here. Of course it's going to be a "detention facility." There will be people in handcuffs, in federal custody, behind bars, being guarded by sworn federal officers -- and at least some of the guards will be armed. Up to 100 prisoners -- there's really no better name for them -- will be trucked to the facility and kept in locked rooms, under guard, up to 12 hours, while they await hearings before an administrative law judge. There will be not one but two fences around the detention area.
But of course, when there's money to be made by a developer, all common sense is thrown to the winds, and the endless hemming and hawing begins. The architects who are pushing the project hired a lawyer who made an impassioned plea that the immigration detainees really aren't in "judicially required" detention because a deportation proceeding is a civil, not a criminal, matter. "[A]ny detention that occurs in the facility in question," he write, "involves neither a judge nor court."
It's a cute argument, but in the end it seems pretty lame. The federal statute in question specifically states that the detainees are under "arrest," subject to bail and parole. The person they are appearing before in the facility is specifically called an "immigration judge." The place is going to be a "detention facility" -- the developer and architect types need to get over it.
It's interesting that the lawyer sent a copy of his letter to Patrick Prendergast, a prominent local developer. So far, the landlord of the building -- 4310 Building, LLC -- has been identified as being connected with the Lindquist Development firm. How Prendergast gets involved in the deal has not yet been a subject of public discussion.
Anyway, a month and a half after the lawyer sent out the letter, the city's Fioravanti reversed herself and ruled that the proposed jail isn't going to be a "detention facility" after all -- just an "office." So characterized, the project would be immune from any meaningful challenge by the neighbors. If it's just an "office," the facility is allowed as of right, and all the locals can complain about is stuff like the color of the paint on the barbed wire. No discussion about traffic. No discussion about neighborhood character. No discussion about safety.
Perhaps sensing the extreme weakness of the lawyer's theory, the folks pushing the project have some other suggestions about how the jail really isn't a "detention facility." One is that the office part of the building is going to be so much larger than the part with the cells in it, that the jail use is secondary, or subservient, to the greater office use. In other words, if you put a jail in a big enough office building, it isn't a jail any more.
You would think that by now, someone on the City Council would quietly step in and stop the foolishness. But quite the opposite, apparently -- word from the SoWhat neighbors is that Commissioner Randy Leonard's chief of staff, Ty Kovatch, has sternly lectured at least one of them about the facts that the jail really won't be a "detention facility," and anyone who says otherwise is lying.
Sure. When Fireman Randy uses a word, it means just what he chooses it to mean, neither more nor less.
In any event, we now arrive at that moment that we reach so often in Portland land use matters. Will the neighbors lawyer up and put a stop to this? Or will the unholy alliance of the developer dudes, their BFFs in City Hall, and the sweethearts at federal immigration, get away with mocking the law? We'll know soon -- these guys will have the jackhammers going at the absolute earliest opportunity. All along on this one, they've been hoping to get to "You may be right, but it's too late now!" Don't think they've given up on that goal, even though, much to their frustration, somebody's noticed what they're up to.