From a Political Junkie: Jail Meeting

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Mon, Jan 31, 2011, 11:06 am  //  Riley Sweeney

Lately, I have been very concerned about the jail they are planning to build in Whatcom County. It's going to sit on an area three times the size of the mall, cost over $150 million and have so many beds we would have to double, then triple our incarceration rate to fill it. In short, Pete Kremen has proposed something that is too big and too expensive for our community. Please, I urge everyone to attend the public meeting about this and voice their concerns to Pete Kremen. The meeting is this Thursday, Feb. 3rd at 6 p.m. in the County Courthouse. To find more information about what size jail would be the right size for our community, go to: www.rightsizejail.com. See you all there!

Related Links:

-> Right Size Jail for Whatcom County
-> Agenda for meeting - Thursday, Feb 3, 6 pm at Courthouse

John Servais  //  Mon, Jan 31, 2011, 11:44 am

There is also a meeting tonight - Monday, Jan 31 - at the Re Store on Meridian at 7 pm.  See the Right Size Jail website for more info. 

Watching this story, two issues are being ignored or are not being reported on.  One is that this mega jail is being pushed by Pete Kremen while he tries to pin it on Bill Elfo, our Sheriff.  Second is the question:  is there a plan to contract this jail out to a private prison management company once it is built with our tax dollars.  In other words, is this whole scenario a rip off of Whatcom County taxpayers by Pete Kremen.

Hopefully our Tea Party folks will get into this and closely question Kremen.  Hopefully our County Council will demand up front answers.  It only takes one council member to ask questions.  To this point, our Bellingham Herald has barely reported on this issue and has not informed us.  The Cascadia Weekly has given it better coverage.  But it seems it is up to citizens to learn what is happening and get it posted to their own blogs or here.  If elsewhere, I’ll link from the right side column.  Lets get going folks.  We cannot depend on the professional media.


David Camp  //  Mon, Jan 31, 2011, 5:20 pm

I just checked the County website and the public meeting regarding the proposed prison is not mentioned anywhere - not on the meeting calendar, no agenda, nothing.

I called in and asked about it because I want to submit a written comment - but am waiting to get information on how to do this. I will report when I know.

It does seem odd that a public meeting to discuss a proposed expenditure of $150 million, with operating costs which will be in the range of $50 million per year, by a County already in such financial straits that employees have 13 compulsory unpaid furlough days, is not front and center. Is management hoping that no one will notice? Or that citizen objections are minimized?

This proposal stinks of empire-building on the backs of the taxpayers of the county and in aid of the prison-industrial complex. Who benefits from this obscene waste of money?

Certainly not the poor schmucks who have to pay for it.


John Servais  //  Mon, Jan 31, 2011, 9:07 pm

Agenda has been posted on the County site.  A link to it is above, at the end of Riley’s post.  So, was it posted in response to David Camp asking them why there was not announcement?


Ryan M. Ferris  //  Mon, Jan 31, 2011, 10:17 pm

It is difficult to project for the needs of the future.  I would like to know where the $150M is coming from. Here are some links I found useful:

+ Link
This is OFM population projection for Washington State to 2030. The chart on page 12 I find the most critical: “Annual Change in Population Ages 65 and Over”. According to the projection, we are essentially going to double our population above the age 65 in the next 20 years. By 2030, 1.7M of the projected 8.3M living in WA state will be over the age 65. (Many of us reading this now hope to be part of that group in 20 years.) About 1/5 of WA will over the age of 65 in 2030. The chart on Page 8 shows annual %  increase in population steadily decreasing. Native born rates drop off considerably and much of the increase in population will be born from migration, if the projections are correct.

+ Link
Whatcom County Crime Statistics for the last 20 years. Felony jail sentences went on a tear from 2000 - 2006. They have started to drop off some in the last few years..

+ Link
This site allows the user to create all manner of historically interesting crime graphs by selecting Whatcom County and respective law enforcement agencies.

It is tough to project more than 10 years ahead in this economy and geopolitical climate.


g.h.kirsch  //  Tue, Feb 01, 2011, 7:28 am

I was informed, by an inside source, to watch where Kremen & Co site the jail, because it is an integral part of the plan for growth in the county.

That being said, consider that wherever it goes outside of the city or an Urban Growth Area, substantial water service will be extended to it.  Imagine all the subsequent hook-ups.

And don’t forget, the Club for Growth already got Bellingham to illegally install pipes clear up the Guide Meridian for ?????

This boondoggle is the kind of mistake that will pay off for years to come for some lucky folks.


Todd Granger  //  Tue, Feb 01, 2011, 9:02 am

And Kirsh,

“Imagine all the subsequent hookups.”

Go get Pete, we need another Drunk tank!

“Last Bridge to Nowhere…how it really started.”
ISBN 978-1-59433-086-5
Author, the former Alaska Prison Director; J. Frank Prewitt

Chapter One,
“Prisons are a dirty business. A lot of people who live there aren’t very nice. Some of the people who work there aren’t very nice either, and they cost a lot of money to run, money most people would rather spend on health, energy, education, and potholes. Unions can be dirty business. And some of the people who run them aren’t very nice, particularly when they control the monolopy and someone threatens to break into the game. But when government unions and venture capatilists comptet to run prisons, let just say the line between the good guys and the bad guys can get, well, a bit fuzzy, and thats how it all started…


Todd Granger  //  Tue, Feb 01, 2011, 9:48 am

The Jail Meetings?

“...well, a bit fuzzy, and that’s how it all started.”

“...jumped off the Tallahassee bridge.”

+ Link


David Stalheim  //  Tue, Feb 01, 2011, 9:10 pm

Having watched this unfold before I became an “outside man”, there are certainly several very troubling aspects about this project. 

First, the decision to look at just two sites on the north end of the Bellingham UGA was done with absolutely no public process.  Having seen the list of maybe 10 sites considered, the County Exec’s office, consultant and sheriff dropped all the sites.  Some were valid reasons, but at no time did the public have an opportunity to either understand the issue or weigh in.  Now, the Rural Avenue property owners are stuck with a big fat pig in their back yard.

Second, while this is in Bellingham’s UGA, water and sewer can be extended from Ferndale, and there have been conversations in that regard.  This happens to be the area close to Slater Road where Ferndale is rezoning all the land for “Big Box Retail.”  They also want to expand the UGA to the NE corner of the interchange, a proposal being challenged by myself and others before the Growth Management Hearings Board.  So, this whole area that appears “rural” now, will become a very active hub of retail and jail facilities, all facilitated by the deals from Ferndale to extend utilities.  (Bellingham has expressed opposition to this site and want the jail downtown, and I suspect won’t extend utilities for something they don’t support.)

Third, I haven’t followed the detail finances on this issue, but I am quite sure that getting this monstrous jail facility will happen only with a vote of the public to approve raising property or sales taxes to pay for the facility.  My general understanding is that the sales tax increase approved by voters in the past has either been spent, or is only a drop in the bucket towards what is needed to build this facility.

Finally, why is this the first time that a facility that has been in the planning stages for four years been brought to the public for their input?  This isn’t the sheriff that has controlled the public process, but the Executive’s Office.  I have heard from the sheriff’s office and seen the facility needs for the current jail—and something needs to be done.  It is unfortunate that the public hasn’t been brought along with that conversation but kept in the dark.  Even this evening meeting (not a hearing) is scripted, with just an hour for “questions and answers”.  It should be a circus.  Can’t wait to see it.


David Camp  //  Wed, Feb 02, 2011, 10:10 am

John - not sure if I should take credit for the Exec’s office posting an agenda for his public “We tell, and you can ask questions little people” meeting, but at least now it exists, and I understand the proceedings will be recorded, which was not the original plan.

I’m flabbergasted that this gigantic white elephant is so far along and the County Exec is marching forward with land acquisition plans for a project based on an utterly flawed draft EIS (for which we poor taxpayers paid $1.8 million already!).

The County’s jail fund doesn’t even have sufficient funds to pay for basic maintenance on the existing jail and yet Mr. Kremen apparently thinks we can afford to run a new jail which will cost three times as much to run as the existing jail, on top of the $150 million of debt he plans to load up on the backs of the County’s taxpayers for the next 50 years to pay for the capital cost. I suppose the planned increase in capacity could be used to house the newly bankrupted taxpayers who lost their houses to unaffordable taxes (my taxes went up 40% last year already - it looks like Mr. Kremen plans on increasing them at the same rate forever to pay for his grandiose vision of a high-tech prison wonderland paved over top of 73 acres of farmland).

This plan was conceived at the top of the bubble - Now the County;s largest local bank went bust, every businessperson I know is struggling or already done, yet Mr. Kremen will not abandon his bubble jail plan. If he were in business, rather than in government, he’d either be bankrupt or changing his tune. But apparently he thinks he has an unlimitede ability to raise taxes to pay for white elephants.

I beg to differ. And I bet most County taxpayers, once they learn of this massive boondoggle will not be happy either.

What’s required is a creative approach which taps into the collective intelligence of Whatcom County people, who in my experience are generally hard-working, sensible, practical people who understand that, yes, the existing jail is overcrowded and new or expanded and modernized facilities are required - just not a new facility which will bankrupt the County.


Todd Granger  //  Thu, Feb 03, 2011, 7:23 am

Why not bankrupt the county David, all one needs is another team of leaders like Pete, and Dewey “cheat em” Desler.
Lessons from an executive branch…

+ Link


Todd Granger  //  Thu, Feb 03, 2011, 7:37 am


Mary Dickinson  //  Fri, Feb 04, 2011, 11:26 am

I am totally supportive of a new jail before the County gets sued; the old one is falling apart due to neglect in my opinion.  I also voted for the Jail-Yes Tax, and would do it again.  However, the jail site currently chosen is unsuitable.  I would be hard-pressed to find any developer or any private person who would be allowed to develop that site to even modest residential development, let alone a huge public facility complex.  Let’s see:  the property has two wetlands, at least Typed-2, possibly higher under the County’s own CAO code, and an eagle tree, not to mention other wildlife nearby.  It is out of character with the rural neighborhood, which floods periodically (my family has had ties there since the last century, although we have never lived there, nor have we ever owned property there, so no one can accuse me of NIMBYism in that regard).  Yes, lower portions of the Rural Avenue neighborhood has flooded in the past, and let’s not even get into what happened when the dikes broke several times over the last 100 years. This portion might not have actually flooded, but all the roads around it have.  The roads to get to the site, once you leave Slater, are narrow two-laned roads, and the soil in portions of the neighborhood has always been crumbly. I cannot fathom how the County is going to build a huge jail complex, accommodate busses of prisoners, and the continual traffic of support people, families, attorneys, etc. that will be traveling to and from the new jail every day if they build it there.  The environmental mitigation alone would cost a fortune, not to mention all of the wetland mitigation, and all of the state DOE requirements.  Why doesn’t the County choose a more suitable location?  Maybe this site can be easily serviced by Ferndale’s utilities, but that is about all it has going for it.  Why doesn’t the County look at property on the other side of Slater? At least it is dry there, and there aren’t the same environmental mitigation issues.


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