Judge removes ‘Compassion Seattle’ charter amendment from ballot; initiative aimed to curb homelessness crisis

Tents will be pitched on a grassy lot along Dexter Avenue in Seattle in January 2021. The Space Needle and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation can be seen in the background. (GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota)

A state judge removed the “Compassion Seattle” measure from the November vote on Friday and said the proposal to change the way the city deals with its homeless population goes beyond what the initiative process can legally achieve.

King County’s Supreme Court Justice Catherine Shaffer said in a ruling earlier that afternoon that the initiative to amend the city’s statutes was contrary to applicable state law. The judge said that while voters would welcome the city council’s mandates to build more housing and clear tent camps, such specific requirements were not the purpose of the amendments to the statutes.

“You can’t change a city charter to conflict with state law,” Shaffer said. “I like this amendment to the statutes as a voter. But it cannot stand as a judge. “

Proponents of the measure, who said there was no time to appeal, criticized the judge’s reasoning.

“Although we are pleased that Judge Shaffer said she would have voted for Amendment 29 to the Charter if, given that option, we resolutely disagreed with her ruling today, which denies Seattle voters the opportunity to vote on the matter Number one to hear our city, “said a spokesman for supporters of the initiative.

“This ruling means that the public can only change the city’s current approach to homelessness if those responsible in town hall are changed.”

Compassion Seattle, which had already qualified for the November vote, called on the city to provide 2,000 emergency or permanent housing within a year and to ensure that parks, playgrounds and sidewalks remain free of storage when the accommodation and services are not available are available.

The initiative would also require the city to “keep parks, playgrounds, sports fields, public squares and sidewalks and streets free of camps” once the mandatory housing, drug and mental health services are in place. The Los Angeles City Council is constantly pushing for similar rules to be introduced.

The debate over the measure comes at exactly the same time that major employers like Amazon are bringing workers back to their headquarters in Seattle’s business district, which has been hardest hit by the homelessness crisis.

Compassion Seattle had good poll numbers and an approval rating of 65%, according to its supporters.

However, opponents of the measure, including the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington, argued that the measure criminalized homelessness and exceeded the intended scope of constitutional amendments by bypassing the city council and establishing specific policies that should be controlled by the city.

It was the ACLU, along with the Seattle / King County Coalition on Homelessness and the Transit Riders Union, that successfully sued earlier this month for removing the measure from the ballot.

“Judge Shaffer’s ruling affirms established limits to the local initiative process and recognizes the importance of the proper functioning of our democratic systems,” said Breanne Schuster, Washington attorney’s ACLU, in a statement.

“We are pleased that CA 29 is not an obstacle to solutions that address our housing crisis sensibly and that do not punish people for trying to meet their basic life support needs such as shelter, sleep and food.”

Supporters of the initiative urged their supporters to pay attention to which candidates they supported and which not in the upcoming mayor and two city council elections. In the mayor’s race of Seattle, former Council President Bruce Harrell meets current Council President Lorena Gonzalez. In the two council races for the At-Large seats, Nikita Oliver competes against Sara Nelson. The other competition is Teresa Mosqueda versus Kenneth Wilson.

“We urge the public not to give up the fight. We can still make our voices heard in the mayor, city council and city attorney elections, ”said a Compassion Seattle spokesman. “In each race, the difference between candidates is defined by who supports what the Charter Amendment was trying to achieve and who does not.”

Tim Burgess, a former city council president and former interim mayor of Seattle who helped shape the poll, called it a “compassionate, results-oriented plan of action” in a citizens’ talk hosted by GeekWire.

Tim Burgess (bottom left), Rachel Smith (top right), Kieran Snyder (bottom right) and presenter Mike Lewis from GeekWire

But no matter how well-intentioned, critics said the initiative process is the wrong tool for solving the problem.

“We are grateful that this ruling will prevent misleading and illegal use of the powers of local electoral initiatives,” said Katie Wilson of the Transit Riders Union in a statement. “It is important that voters understand exactly what to weigh, and CA 29 makes promises it cannot keep.”

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