Judge strikes Compassion Seattle homeless amendment from Seattle ballot

Aug 27, 2021, 5:11 AM | Updated: Aug 28, 2021, 8:13 am
homeless, homelessness plan...
(KIRO Radio, Aaron Granillo)
(KIRO Radio, Aaron Granillo)

A King County judge has struck Compassion Seattle’s proposed charter amendment from the November ballot.

ACLU asks judge to invalidate ‘Compassion Seattle’ initiative

King County Superior Court Judge Catherine Shaffer said Friday that she and other voters might like what the measure’s proponents are trying to do, but it exceeds what can be accomplished through a local charter amendment.

Shaffer said it would conflict with state law and usurp the Seattle City Council’s power.

Compassion Seattle, which is made up of several business groups and some homeless advocacy groups that say they have a better plan, wanted voters to finally get a say.

But the ACLU, the Seattle King County Coalition on Homelessness, and the Transit Riders Union – which previously tried but failed to block Charter Amendment 29 by challenging the ballot title – argue this is nothing more than an effort to step up homeless encampment sweeps. In their latest legal challenge, they point to three main issues as reasons to keep CA29 from the ballot, but as SCC Insight’s Kevin Schofield first reported, the arguments are weak.

The first argument is that it violates state law recently updated by the Legislature requiring a statewide comprehensive response to homelessness, claiming lawmakers gave exclusive legislative authority to map out the city’s homeless response plan – but nowhere in that law does it specifically grant that exclusivity.

Second, they argue it interferes with the interlocal agreement the city has with the county for the Regional Homeless Authority and its decision making power. But that argument is questionable, as the charter amendment specifically makes allowances and expresses support for the city-county agreement – which incidentally does not grant sole authority to the RHA on homeless investments or decisions.

Finally, they argue the charter amendment is beyond the scope of the initiative process because it changes zoning laws, pointing to a clause in the initiative that would require the waiver of certain zoning regulations to expedite affordable housing projects.

Large donations to ‘Compassion Seattle’ dwarf all other races

There is also room for Compassion Seattle to fight back against that argument because it’s debatable where that clause is considered a zoning law or simply city policy. But even it loses there, the initiative accounts for the possibility with language saying zoning laws should be changed to the full extent state law allows – that basically means that particular section is negated if it’s not allowed, but the rest of the initiative can live on.

The groups did raise other issues that could get more traction with a judge, initially signaling their intent to fight the lawsuit shortly after it was announced.

Last week we learned that the same small group of activists who challenged Charter Amendment 29’s ballot title have filed a lawsuit in King County Superior Court, attempting to block the people’s right to vote on how to address Seattle’s homelessness crisis.

Their cynical and desperate claims are meant to confuse the public and increase the costs to our campaign to address Seattle’s homelessness crisis through a humane, effective and accountable plan. Our opponents’ efforts are designed to maintain the status quo, which will mean more tents in Seattle parks and more suffering in our community.

Enough is enough.

We intend to respond aggressively to this baseless litigation and are committed to making sure voters get to vote on Charter Amendment 29 in November.

Reaction to the ruling

Compassion Seattle released the following statement after Judge Shaffer’s ruling:

“While we are gratified that Judge Shaffer said that she would have voted for Charter Amendment 29 if given that option, we strongly disagree with her ruling today denying Seattle voters the opportunity to have their voices heard on the number one issue facing our city. This ruling means the only way the public can change the city’s current approach to homelessness is to change who is in charge at city hall. An appeal of the judge’s ruling would not happen in time for the election. However, we urge the public not to give up the fight. We can still make our voices heard in the elections for Mayor, City Council, and City Attorney. In each race, the difference between the candidates is defined by who supports what the Charter Amendment was attempting to accomplish and who does not.”

“We’re grateful this ruling will prevent a misleading and illegal use of local ballot initiative powers,” Katie Wilson of the Transit Riders Union said in a news release. “It’s important that voters fully understand what they are being asked to weigh in on, and CA 29 makes promises it can’t keep.”

“Judge Shaffer’s ruling affirms well-established limits to the local initiative process and recognizes the importance of the proper functioning of our democratic systems,” Breanne Schuster, ACLU of Washington staff attorney, said in a news release. “We are pleased that CA 29 will not stand as an impediment to solutions that meaningfully address our housing crisis and do not punish people for trying to meet their basic life-sustaining needs like shelter, sleep, and food.”

“Every person in Seattle is concerned about homelessness. Today’s ruling ensures all of us can focus on real solutions to help people get home and address homelessness in a coordinated, inclusive, and effective way,” Alison Eisinger, executive director of the Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness, said in a news release. “We need and deserve community-wide solutions that address the systemic causes of homelessness: solutions that work for people now and that last.”

Follow Hanna Scott on Twitter or email her here

MyNorthwest and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Judge strikes Compassion Seattle homeless amendment from Seattle ballot