Compassion Seattle initiative to remain off the November ballot, judge rules

Tents line a street in downtown Seattle. (GeekWire Photo / John Cook)

The Compassion Seattle electoral initiative, which aimed to revise the city’s policy towards its homeless population, will not be eligible for election in the city’s November elections, a judge on the Washington State Court of Appeals ruled Friday.

Earlier this week, supporters of the Compassion Seattle campaign appealed the August 27 ruling removing the proposed amendment to the city charter from the ballot. King County Supreme Court Justice Catherine Shaffer ruled that the measure went a step beyond state law regulating constitutional amendments and initiatives by providing for certain expenditures for homeless services such as housing – powers that remain with elected officials have to.

“Today’s rejection of our 911 call means Seattle voters will have to change those in charge if they want a change in the city’s failed approach to dealing with the homeless crisis,” a Compassion Seattle spokesman said Friday.

“While we are deeply disappointed, we will continue to provide evidence that the approach of our amendment can make a necessary and tangible difference to those living exposed in our parks and other public spaces.”

Compassion Seattle would have asked the city to improve services, build 2,000 homes, and then remove warehouses from public spaces such as parks and sidewalks. Last Friday, King County Superior Court Judge Catherine Shaffer said the initiative stepped outside state law when it enacted the city’s budget mandates through the charter’s intuitive process.

Just two months ago, Compassion Seattle supporters announced that the initiative had easily qualified for the vote. According to its proponents, the measure was well received in the polls and achieved an approval rate of almost 65%. However, critics like the ACLU claimed that it was effective in criminalizing homelessness because it required the city to provide free camps of parks and sidewalks (after housing and services were available).

Washington ACLU senior attorney John Midgley said the appeals court’s decision upheld how election measures should and should not be used.

“Today’s decision puts Judge Shaffer’s order to remove CA 29 from the election in effect, affirms the legal boundaries of the local initiative process, and ensures the proper functioning of our democratic systems,” said Midgley. “This ruling paves the way for inclusive, coordinated and effective regional solutions for homelessness.”

In the end, neither support nor opposition decided the merits of Compassion Seattle, but rather the obscure laws that govern how cities spend their money. Judge Shaffer ruled that this type of voting would not allow voters to determine the city’s budgetary policy.

Compassion Seattle supporters said they are shifting their focus to the Seattle elections and top-of-the-ticket races by only supporting candidates who supported the measure, including former Council President Bruce Harrell on the current Council President Lorena Gonzalez for the mayor’s office; Ann Davison of Nicole Thomas-Kennedy as City Attorney; Kenneth Wilson via Teresa Mosqueda for position 8 on the council and Sara Nelson via Nikkita Oliver for position 9.

“We will hold candidates accountable for their position in this crisis and their plans to deal with this crisis, and we will urge voters to elect new leaders who will move Seattle forward and not uphold the status quo,” the spokesman said.

“We cannot afford further inaction and the city’s continued failed approach to this emergency. Seattle voters, you have the power to make a difference this November who you vote for as mayor, city attorney, and city council. ”

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