As this editorial page noted previously, Seattle and Bellevue are neighbors that seemingly inhabit different universes.

From optimism (or lack thereof) to confidence in their respective elected leadership, Seattle and Bellevue couldn’t be more different. Latest case in point: municipal drug laws.

The public health crisis is clear. As Times reporter Sara Jean Green noted, with four months left in 2023, fatalities so far this year from illicit fentanyl across King County stood Thursday at 704, according to data from Public Health – Seattle & King County. That’s just eight shy of 2022’s total of 712 fentanyl-involved overdose deaths.

On June 26, the Bellevue City Council unanimously adopted the so-called Blake Fix passed by the Legislature in special session, which made drug use and possession a gross misdemeanor but steered defendants to treatment. Jail was a last resort for those who continued to use without getting help.

“It just makes common sense. The state has new criminal codes and we obviously need to enforce these laws. So why wait? There’s no reason to wait,” said Bellevue Councilmember Conrad Lee during the meeting.

In their deliberations, council members highlighted that Bellevue has a suite of diversion tactics and treatment programs available as an alternative to booking those who need help.


“This whole idea only works for me if treatment is truly available for people,” said Mayor Lynne Robinson.

The Bellevue Chamber of Commerce was quick to note the difference with Seattle’s experience. It sent out an announcement on June 28 drawing a contrast to Seattle.

“Treatment must be the priority, but the past few years of experimentation are clear: A hands-off approach to drug use is killing people at an unprecedented rate,” said Joe Fain, president of the Bellevue Chamber, in a statement. “Bellevue once again showed that a diverse group of city leaders can come together to help those in need while protecting public safety.”

Two months later, Seattle is still waiting for a path forward.

An ordinance adopting state drug laws and treatment came before the Seattle City Council on June 6. Sponsored by Councilmembers Sara Nelson, Alex Pedersen and Seattle City Attorney Ann Davison, it failed 5-4.

Councilmember Andrew Lewis, who changed his mind during heated public testimony, was the decisive vote against the measure, putting the city in a political and law enforcement limbo, from which it has not emerged.


The Seattle City Council’s Public Safety & Human Services Committee is set to discuss a revamped version of the drug bill Sept. 12. The soonest the full City Council could vote on the legislation is Sept. 19 — with the bill not becoming effective until October 20.

That would be five months after the Legislature passed the Blake Fix on May 16.

Unlike every other jurisdiction that adopted the state legislation, Seattle’s version drafted by Mayor Bruce Harrell contains carve-outs and caveats, such as requiring police to determine whether persons openly using drugs in public present a threat to others or are simply destroying their own lives.

In the case of a user who does not pose a threat of harm to others, the officer is directed to “make a reasonable attempt” to talk to the person or coordinate some kind of alternative to arrest. Given ongoing police staffing shortages and the inability of several precincts to respond to the most pressing emergency calls in a timely manner, it is unclear how much time cops will spend offering treatment services.

Expect council members to draft and fight over a slew of amendments.

All this while Bellevue and other cities in King County have quietly adopted the appropriate fixes and are going about making treatment the centerpiece of their drug enforcement strategies, just as state legislators intended.


The Kent City Council unanimously passed a drug use ordinance on June 20 to synchronize its municipal code with state law. The ordinance stated: “The Kent City Council intends that incarceration be utilized as a sanction only when an individual fails to comply with their recommended treatment program or other conditions imposed by the court.”

In Renton, the city council passed an ordinance complying with state law on May 22. The measure reads in part: “Regardless of the availability of formal diversion programs, police officers, prosecutors, and judges are encouraged to exercise discretion to offer leniency in sentencing and/or diversion … for those who successfully complete available addiction treatment or other services …”

Bellevue, Kent and Renton are the three largest cities in King County after Seattle. Their quick action on implementing drug legislation makes Seattle’s fumbling the exception. That may mean Seattle is technically “exceptional,” but that word has a positive connotation, and nothing about this belabored process makes the city look good.

“The Seattle Way” used to mean endless discussions before reaching a decision. Now it characterizes political paralysis in the face of a clear public health emergency. As Bellevue and other cities fully understand, it is best a path not followed.