Compassion Seattle initiative to stay off the November poll, decide guidelines

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

The Compassion Seattle ballot initiative, which aimed to overhaul city policies toward its homeless population, will remain off the ballot for the city’s November election, a Washington state’s Court of Appeals judge ruled Friday.

Earlier this week, the backers of the Compassion Seattle campaign had appealed the Aug. 27 ruling removing the proposed city charter amendment from the ballot. King County Superior Court Judge Catherine Shaffer ruled that the measure was a step beyond state law governing charter amendments and initiative because it mandated specific spending on homeless services such as shelters — powers that must remain with elected officials.

“Today’s rejection of our emergency appeal motion means that Seattle voters must change who is in charge if they want a change to the city’s failed approach to addressing the homelessness crisis,” a spokesman for Compassion Seattle said Friday.

“While we are deeply disappointed, we will continue to share evidence that our amendment’s approach can make a necessary and noticeable difference for those living unsheltered in our parks and other public spaces.”

Compassion Seattle would have required the city to improve services, build 2,000 units of shelter, and then remove encampments from public spaces such as parks and sidewalks. Last Friday, King County Superior Court Judge Catherine Shaffer said the initiative stepped outside of state law when it made city budget mandates through the charter intuitive process. 

Just two months ago, Compassion Seattle backers announced that the initiative had easily qualified for the ballot. According to its supporters, the measure had been polling well and pushing near to 65% approval. But critics such the ACLU asserted that because it required the city the clear encampments from parks and sidewalks (after housing and services were in place), it effectively criminalized homelessness. 

John Midgley, senior staff attorney at the Washington ACLU, said the appellate court decision affirms how ballot measures should and shouldn’t be used.

“Today’s decision leaves in place Judge Shaffer’s order to remove CA 29 from the ballot, affirming the legal limits of the local initiative process and ensuring the proper functioning of our democratic systems,” Midgley said. “This ruling now clears the way to pursue inclusive, coordinated, and effective regional solutions to homelessness.”

In the end, neither support nor opposition decided on Compassion Seattle’s merits but instead the obscure laws that govern how cities spend their money. Judge Shaffer ruled that voters cannot set any city budgetary policy through this type of ballot measure.

Compassion Seattle backers said they are turning their focus to the election and the Seattle’s top-of the-ticket races by backing only candidates that supported the measure including former council president Bruce Harrell over current council president Lorena Gonzalez for mayor; Ann Davison over Nicole Thomas-Kennedy for city attorney; Kenneth Wilson over Teresa Mosqueda for council Position 8 and Sara Nelson over Nikkita Oliver for Position 9.

“We will hold candidates accountable for their position on this crisis and their plans to address it, and urge voters to elect new leaders who will move Seattle forward and not perpetuate the status quo,” the spokesperson 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 in who you elect as Mayor, as City Attorney, and to the City Council.”

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