Kent City Council committee to consider safe injection site permanent ban

A Kent City Council committee will consider recommending to the full seven-member council a permanent ban against safe injection sites.

The council’s Economic and Community Development Committee will meet at 5 p.m. Monday, Nov. 13, to vote on the ban. The city’s Land Use and Planning Board voted 6-0 on Oct. 23 to recommend to the council a permanent ban.

Safe injection sites are locations where people would be supervised while using heroin or other drugs. A task force, appointed by King County Executive Dow Constantine and then-Seattle Mayor Ed Murray, recommended earlier this year the creation of two safe-injection sites – one in Seattle and one at another county site. With 219 heroin and opioid related deaths in 2016 in the county, Constantine and others want to take steps to address the problem.

The council voted 6-1 in August to approve a six-month ban. Councilman Dennis Higgins had the only no vote. Members of the Economic committee are Bill Boyce, Jim Berrios and Tina Budell. The full council is scheduled to consider the permanent ban on Nov. 21.

Meanwhile, Bellevue, Renton, Auburn and Federal Way are among the cities that have banned safe injection sites. Opponents of the sites gathered enough signatures to get Initiative 27 on the February ballot to vote whether to ban the sites, aka as Community Health Engagement Locations.

But King County Superior Court Judge Veronica Alicea-Galván ruled last month that the measure should not be on the February ballot because allowing voters to decide on banning the sites would infringe on the power of the King County Board of Health. The group behind I-27 plans to appeal the decision.

The King County Council voted in October to send an alternative to I-27 to the ballot if the measure is placed on the ballot, giving voters a choice to approve up to two safe injection sites in hot spots of concentrated substance use and related overdoses. The county council also approved only to allow the sites whose city leaders want them.

The city’s Land Use and Planning Board heard from three people on each side of the issue before its unanimous vote. City staff recommended the permanent ban, but gave the board an option to allow them as a conditional use in commercial manufacturing zones.

Several board members said although they support the ban on safe injection sites, the city needs to look for other ways to help people who are drug addicts through prevention programs or other alternatives.

“We have to follow up with assistance and ways to help people addicted to opiates,” said board member Randall Smith.

Mark Cooke, a policy advocate at ACLU of Washington and who served on the opioid addiction task force last year for the county, told the board before its vote that he preferred letting the ban end or to allow the sites in the commercial manufacturing zone.

“The goals are to reduce overdose death and the spread of disease and act as a bridge to recovery and treatment … and to improve public safety. … People are using Starbucks bathrooms and other areas,” Cooke said.

Cooke told the board he appreciated the chance to talk about the issue.

“I want to thank the city of Kent for taking a deep dive in this issue, we have seen several other jurisdictions make knee jerk reactions without digging in to the complexity of this issue and taking a look at a challenging set of problems this region faces,” he said.

Dave Mitchell, chief operation officer for Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission and a Kent resident, told the board he opposed the safe injection sites. Mitchell said the risks are too great; Kent lacks enough police officers to help oversee a site; the costs are too high; and hundreds of drug users mostly from outside the city would come to Kent to use the site.

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