A charter amendment to force the city’s hand on homelessness spending might appear on November’s ballot after all.
The “Compassion Seattle” campaign, which is trying to pass a city charter amendment to require the city to build 2,000 shelter units but then potentially give the next mayor grounds to ramp up homeless encampment removals, has asked the Washington Court of Appeals to allow Seattle residents to vote on the initiative while its legality is decided.
The amendment was struck from the ballot on Friday by King County Superior Court Judge Catherine Shaffer, who said it mandated city action that would have superseded what should be state and regional decisions.
The Compassion Seattle campaign, which is funded by business alliances and real estate companies, originally said it wasn’t going to appeal soon after the decision last Friday because they didn’t have time before King County elections begins designing ballots to mail out September 9.
But on Tuesday, the campaign said they’d changed their minds and filed an emergency motion with the Washington Court of Appeals, asking the court to decide by Friday. The court indicated it will hear the case.
“The judge’s decision caused an outpouring of support over the weekend from supporters who want us to press on with an appeal,” the campaign said in a statement. “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.”
King County Elections plans to begin mailing out ballots on Sept. 9, and is in the process of laying out 400 different types of ballots for different King County districts and translating them into four languages other than English.
“The reality is we really needed it on Monday — at this point we’re just looking at how much overtime we need,” said Kendall Hodson, a spokesperson for King County Elections. “As with any court decision we will do our best to comply with what the court orders us to do.”
The appellate court’s decision will turn not on the merits of the ballot initiative, but whether it’s an overreach of petitioners’ power to influence homelessness policies. State code lays out guidelines for influencing homelessness policy and a local initiative is not among them, Shaffer said in her ruling. The lawsuit also argued the initiative contradicts the recent creation of the King County Regional Homelessness Authority, which Seattle’s mayor, its city council, the county executive and the county council agreed to make the driver of homelessness policy in the region.
The initiative has been boosted by downtown businesses and has split the nonprofit homeless provider community, with leaders of some organizations praising it and others joining a campaign against it. While the heads of United Way and Seattle’s largest downtown shelter have lent their voices in support — though they stopped short of endorsement — the Seattle-King County Homelessness Coalition joined the ACLU of Washington and advocacy group the Transit Riders’ Union to take Compassion Seattle to court, resulting in last week’s decision. It divided mayoral candidates in the primary election this month: Among the two winners who will go on to the November general election, former City Council President Bruce Harrell supports it and current City Council President M. Lorena González opposes it.
Harrell released a statement Monday, before the announcement of appeal, saying that he thinks the Seattle City Council should adopt the framework of the measure.
If it does get on the ballot, it could pass. A poll by the Northwest Progressive Institute said that 61% of Seattle voters would vote “yes” on the charter amendment.
“If this isn’t on the ballot or this isn’t put in place, I think we can expect more of the same in Seattle,” said Jon Scholes, head of the Downtown Seattle Association, one of the architects of the measure.