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April 14, 2009 4:13 PM

Jail opponents may prevail even without signatures

Posted by Emily Heffter

The Initiative 100 campaign against a new municipal jail is struggling to get enough signatures for the November ballot, but the Seattle City Council has quietly begun discussions with King County to postpone jail plans anyway.

Organizers of the I-100 campaign say they have collected about 3,000 of the 17,000 signatures they need by May 1. They've been collecting signatures for about a month.

Volunteer coordinator Rachel Shierling, who works for Real Change, a newspaper distributed by the homeless, says she is sure the campaign will be able to get enough signatures for the November ballot. Some of the vendors who distribute the paper are also collecting signatures.

"It's light-the-match time for the ground game," she said.

King County has said it won't have enough space for cities' misdemeanor offenders after 2012, so Seattle and several other north and East side cities are seeking a site for a 680-bed jail.

Opponents of the jail argue the city and county should instead work on programs to incarcerate fewer people.

Behind the scenes in Seattle City Hall, there has been some discussion that Seattle and the other cities can put off or even scrap plans for a new jail without a citizen initiative. Councilman Nick Licata wrote in his newsletter last week that new data from King County indicate jail populations won't grow as much as the county initially projected.

Deputy Mayor Tim Ceis said the mayor's office is negotiating with King County to extend the city's use of the county jail past 2012. He has questions about the way the county estimated its future jail population.

"We have been talking to them about their methods and about their projections, whether or not ... it might mean a slower time frame," he said. But he thinks it's unrealistic to predict the city won't need to build a jail at all.

City Councilman Tim Burgess said the new King County projections are encouraging because they indicate the city can put off building a jail "without sacrificing public safety."

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Andrew Garber
Covers politics and state government from Olympia.

Jennifer Sullivan
Covers the state Legislature from Olympia.

Chantal Anderson
Covers the state Legislature from Olympia.

Emily Heffter
Writes about the city of Seattle and local politics.

Mike Lindblom
Covers transportation.

Jim Brunner
Writes about money and power from Seattle.