LOCAL NEWS

ACLU asks judge to invalidate ‘Compassion Seattle’ proposed homelessness initiative

Aug 11, 2021, 12:21 PM | Updated: Aug 12, 2021, 5:30 am
homelessness, ballot initiative, ACLU lawsuit...
Homeless tent in Seattle. (J. Warne)
(J. Warne)

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) announced Wednesday that it has filed a lawsuit against a proposed city charter amendment seeking to overhaul Seattle’s homelessness response.

ACLU: ‘Compassion Seattle is neither compassionate nor effective’

The proposed initiative is being put forth by a group known as Compassion Seattle, staffed by SoDo Business Improvement Area Executive Director Erin Goodman, former City Council President Tim Burgess, and former King County Executive Ron Sims, among others.

It would mandate an additional 2,000 shelter beds or permanent housing units within a one-year period by waiving building permit fees, treating housing permit applications as “first-in-line” for expedited treatment, and refunding to the payee the city’s portion of the sales tax paid for these facilities. It also places a requirement on the city “to ensure that parks, playgrounds, sports fields, public spaces and sidewalks and streets remain open and clear of encampments.”

The initiative qualified for the November general election ballot in late July, with the ACLU now asking a judge to invalidate it entirely, and halt it from appearing on any future ballots.

The lawsuit — filed in King County Superior Court on Wednesday — claims that Compassion Seattle’s charter amendment “goes beyond the scope” of what’s permitted in voter initiatives in Washington.

“CA-29 ignores well-established limits to the local initiative process,” ACLU of Washington Staff Attorney Breanne Schuster said in a news release. “State law provides multiple avenues for constituents to influence homelessness policies and practices, but the initiative process at the city level is not one of them. CA-29 violates both our state’s local initiative laws and the proper function of our democratic systems.”

Alliance hopes to force Seattle to take action on homelessness

Responding to the lawsuit Wednesday afternoon, Compassion Seattle labeled it “yet another blatant tactic to preserve and protect the status quo by the same small group of activists who unsuccessfully appealed the Charter Amendment 29 ballot title.”

“This group has dictated City of Seattle policy on homelessness for the last decade, with no accountability, all while the crisis has only gotten worse, with chronic homelessness rising at an annual growth rate of 42% in Seattle/King County since 2017. Enough is enough,” it continued. “Our opponents would prefer we maintain this status quo, continue ineffective policy and ultimately do nothing to address voters’ number one issue, one that is costing taxpayers more today than ever before.”

A recent poll published by the Northwest Progressive Institute found that 61% of the 617 Seattle voters surveyed supported the charter amendment. Another 23% were opposed, while 16% remained unsure.

The proposal has also come under heavy criticism from groups pointing out how it does not identify a source for funding the 2,000 proposed shelter spaces, nor will that number be enough to house the city’s estimated 4,000 people currently experiencing homelessness. Opponents have also argued that it will not ultimately allow for the creation of permanent shelter space given the limited timeline.

Supporters have cast it as a necessary means to “require the city to take specific, measurable actions” to address Seattle’s homelessness crisis.

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ACLU asks judge to invalidate ‘Compassion Seattle’ proposed homelessness initiative