A parent-group called Keep Kids Safe has filed a lawsuit in the Snohomish County Superior Court against the city of Kirkland and King County for the lack of public transparency in the proposed homeless shelter planned for La Quinta Inn & Suites in Kirkland.
The lawsuit is about King County and the City of Kirkland “violating their own rules and processes and hiding things from citizens,” said Mark Lamb, attorney for Keep Kids Safe.
“State law is clear: ‘The people…do not give their public servants the right to decide what is good for the people to know and what is not good for them to know.’ Yet by their own admission, this is precisely what both King County and the City of Kirkland did,” Lamb said.
At a March 3 Kirkland city council meeting, it was announced that La Quinta Inn would serve as a permanent supportive housing location on the Eastside, however the lawsuit states that King County is required to hold a public meeting after getting the property under contract, and prior to the purchase of the property.
“We are aware of the lawsuit and will be reviewing it,” said Katherine Rogers, deputy communications director for King County.
The lawsuit noted that no public meeting was held prior to the decision to proceed. The lawsuit also alleges violations of the Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA), which requires all meetings of governing bodies of public agencies, including cities, counties, and special purpose districts, to be open to the public.
On April 1 the Kirkland city manager issued a statement, which included how the city has not yet been served.
“The City is now reviewing the complaint and therefore has no comments on the allegations at this time,” read the statement. “The City of Kirkland is confident that all state and local laws have been followed in connection with the proposed permanent supportive housing project at the La Quinta Inn site.”
Kirkland’s statement also noted that the terms of purchasing the La Quinta Inn site were negotiated by King County and a third-party property owner, and that additional public outreach will take place in May to ensure that community concerns are addressed regarding future agreements.
“I can say that I have reviewed the public record, and even before we have conducted discovery, it’s quite clear that King County did not follow the law,” said Lamb, the Keep Kids Safe attorney. “It didn’t follow state law with the Open Public Meetings Act, and it didn’t follow their own ordinances that were set up to manage this process.”
When the resolution supporting La Quinta Inn as permanent homeless housing was approved on March 1, Councilmember Toby Nixon expressed his concerns.
“I continue to be deeply disturbed by the process King County has followed on this project. I have been opposed from the start to the secrecy surrounding it. Good things, things we are proud of, do not require secrecy,” Nixon said.
After the county had a purchase and sale agreement in place and confidentiality was no longer required, the councilmember said the county “continued to strong-arm the city into keeping the proposal secret.”
“The key to public trust is transparency, and the county has absolutely destroyed public trust here,” Nixon said.
Lamb, who previously served as the mayor of Bothell, shares a similar stance to Nixon’s March 1 remarks.
“I believe as someone who used to serve in government, that the best decisions come when you have meaningful engagement between elected officials and the people that they represent,” said Lamb. “In this case, it is totally clear that not only was there no meaningful engagement, there was no engagement at all prior to King County deciding on the La Quinta location, and Kirkland at tacitly ratifying the decision.”
Not only does Keep Kids Safe take issues with the lack of public transparency from the city of Kirkland and King County, but they also see issues with the location of the property.
According to the Keep Kids Safe website, La Quinta Inn sits near three schools and one daycare: Eastside Preparatory School; Chestnut Montessori School; Yarrow Bay KinderCare; and Cedar Crest Academy.
Furthermore, Keep Kids Safe claims that individuals are not required to undergo a standard background check, or to be in alcohol or drug treatment programs while staying at the homeless shelter.
Keep Kids Safe also states that no other homeless facility in King County is within the immediate vicinity of any school, and that similar facilities around the county and neighboring cities have seen a significant increase in localized crime and calls for emergency services. According to Keep Kids Safe, King County and the city of Kirkland are lacking plans in place to protect children.
“We are absolutely supportive of finding solutions for the homeless crisis but feel the risks of locating so close to all of these schools and a daycare need to be carefully considered in an open public process by both King County and the City of Kirkland prior to approval,” said Susie Kupferman, a concerned parent. “That did not happen.”
According to Keep Kids Safe, over 3,500 parents, teachers, residents, and stakeholders have signed a petition in opposition to homeless shelter plans for La Quinta Inn.
With the lawsuit, Keep Kids Safe hopes to achieve meaningful and genuine public process for the residents of Kirkland, where the outcome of a homeless shelter has not been predetermined in secret, according to Lamb.