By Erica C. Barnett
Defying expectations, Compassion Seattle has appealed last week’s King County Superior Court ruling that their proposed ballot initiative, Charter Amendment 29, was beyond the scope of the initiative process. The state Court of Appeals is expected to hear the case on Friday. If the appeals court decided to stay the lower court’s ruling, the measure could still make it onto the November ballot, although it would cause a certain amount of chaos at King County Elections, which is currently putting ballots together in multiple languages for more than 400 unique jurisdictions.
Last week, Judge Catherine Shaffer ruled that the charter amendment, which would require the city to fund 2,000 shelter beds or housing units next year using existing resources, violated state law giving local governments, not local voters, the authority to write budgets and adopt policies on land use and homelessness. To remove this authority from local jurisdictions, Shaffer said, would require a vote by the people of the entire state.”You can’t amend a city charter to conflict with state law,” Shaffer said, because “that would be local folks seeking to overturn the will of the state population as expressed through our state representatives in legislation. And that’s not how it works.”
Attorney Knoll Lowney said he’s not surprised that Compassion Seattle “felt the desire to appeal, but I’m surprised that they appealed without coming up with any appellate arguments.”
Compassion Seattle, the campaign for the charter amendment, said last week that they didn’t believe the appeals court could resolve an appeal in time for the measure to appear on the November ballot. (Charter amendments can only be on the ballot during local general elections, which come once every two years). In a statement Tuesday, the campaign said that Judge Shaffer’s ruling “caused an outpouring of support over the weekend from supporters who want us to press on with an appeal. We decided that we must take this action to represent the interests of tens of thousands of voters who signed petitions to put this amendment on the ballot.”
Compassion Seattle has raised more than a million dollars, almost all of it from large real estate developers and commercial property owners in downtown Seattle.
Knoll Lowney, the attorney for the ACLU of Washington, Transit Riders Union, and the Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness, who sued to stop the measure, said he’s not surprised that Compassion Seattle “felt the desire to appeal, but I’m surprised that they appealed without coming up with any appellate arguments.” In their emergency motion requesting a stay, Compassion Seattle’s attorneys reiterate many of the same arguments they made in the original case— the same arguments Judge Shaffer rejected. “The appellate court is not going to resurrect this measure—I don’t see that happening,” Lowney said.
“We decided that we must take this action to represent the interests of tens of thousands of voters who signed petitions to put this amendment on the ballot.”—Compassion Seattle statement
If the appeals court does allow the charter amendment to move forward, King County Elections will have to scramble. Elections spokeswoman Kendall LeVan Hodson says the elections office is already building ballots in four languages for more than 430 sub-jurisdictions within King County, and any delay or late addition to local ballots makes it harder to hit two September deadlines to print ballots and mail them to service members overseas.
“Obviously, will comply with whatever the court directs us to do,” she said, but it might take some doing; for example, the elections office could create two different potential ballots, one with Charter Amendment 29 and one without, for all its jurisdictions within Seattle. “We’ll make something work” if it comes to that, she said.