Seattle voters will have a chance to vote on one aspect of the downtown tunnel — City Council plans to give notice to proceed. Another initiative challenging the tunnel has been tossed out, rightly so.
SEATTLEITES will have an opportunity to vote this summer on a referendum that purports to determine public sentiment on the downtown tunnel. But a second measure challenging use of city rights of way for the project has been tossed into a trash barrel where it rightly belongs.
This is not a case of a judge ruling up or down on a tunnel, or surface-transit gridlock, or any other plan. King County Superior Court Judge Joan DuBuque issued a clear, clean ruling that Initiative 101, which sought to block the state from using city streets and property for the project, cannot be decided by voters.
DuBuque said the city derives power from the state and this kind of decision is specifically reserved for the local legislative authority — namely, the council and mayor. The judge ruled Initiative 101 ineligible for a public vote because it attempts to undo state ability to build a state highway.
Seattle Referendum 1, on the Aug. 16 ballot, asks voters about the manner in which the City Council is proceeding on the tunnel. That vote is expected to be close and either side will claim the final results do not mean much, unless, of course, the vote goes its way.
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And there will be some truth to that because if the referendum fails, the City Council, currently 8-1 in favor of the tunnel, will have to adopt an ordinance to move the project along.
Seattle Citizens Against the Tunnel sought a second mechanism for voter input, I-101, with the hope of ginning up support for a rebuilt elevated roadway.
City Attorney Pete Holmes challenged I-101 because he thought the initiative was not referable to the ballot.
“This is a clear ruling that spares both sides the agony of a November ballot campaign,” said Holmes, adding that even if the city wanted voter input, the matter could not be decided by the electorate.
Anti-tunnel activist Elizabeth Campbell, proponent of I-101, and initiative guru Tim Eyman were not happy about a judge ruling in advance of a public vote. Seattle Times reporter Lynn Thompson wrote that Campbell confronted state transportation officials in the courtroom and accused them of “killing democracy.” Eyman called to say there is never any harm in having a public vote on any initiative, ever, which is a little much.
Holmes disagreed and said there are occasions where courts intervene before a proposal goes to the ballot
I-101 had numerous problems not addressed, such as multiple subjects and a preferred solution of an elevated roadway with no money or plan behind it.
Seattle gets a vote, albeit a limited one on council process. At some point, voters should tire of the endless haggling and move ahead with a solution. The most irresponsible approach of all is leaving a dangerous roadway vulnerable to the next earthquake.