With Compassion Seattle initiative off the ballot, attention turns to other municipal races

Friday a King County Superior Court judge ruled that a Seattle ballot initiative aimed at addressing the city’s homelessness crisis could not go forward. The Seattle Times reported,

A judge has ruled that Charter Amendment 29, known as “Compassion Seattle,” won’t go before Seattle voters in November. The measure’s potential effect on the city was still being debated, but it could have dramatically changed the way the city addresses homelessness if it had passed.

But its spirit could still influence the Nov. 2 election, in which persistent visible homelessness, and its pandemic-related growth in places like downtown Seattle, will likely be key issues.

King County Superior Court Judge Catherine Shaffer said that she actually liked the ballot initiative and would have voted for it if it were on the ballot — but her decision was about whether it goes beyond the power given to cities by state law.

On its website, Compassion Seattle writes,

While we are gratified that Judge Shaffer said that she would have voted for Charter Amendment 29 if given that option, we strongly disagree with her ruling today denying Seattle voters the opportunity to have their voices heard on the number one issue facing our city. This ruling means the only way the public can change the city’s current approach to homelessness is to change who is in charge at city hall. An appeal of the judge’s ruling would not happen in time for the election. However, we urge the public not to give up the fight. We can still make our voices heard in the elections for Mayor, City Council, and City Attorney. In each race, the difference between the candidates is defined by who supports what the Charter Amendment was attempting to accomplish and who does not.

More on what that effort might look like from The Seattle Times editorial board,

Seattle’s homelessness response is an expensive failure, by any measure. And while the Compassion Seattle amendment won’t appear on the ballot, the candidates who supported it can enact its policies once in office. That means upending the city’s current patchwork response and treating a crisis like a crisis, as mayoral candidate Bruce Harrell has consistently called for.

Judge Shaffer’s ruling robbed the voters of an opportunity to create a specific mandate, but it also clarified Seattle’s broader need for good leadership. Ballot initiatives cannot fully substitute for consistent, thoughtful governance. Because Seattle’s top officials have faltered for so long, Compassion Seattle is still needed.

The amendment’s text won’t appear on the ballot, but its principles will. Harrell, city attorney candidate Ann Davison and council candidate Sara Nelson recognize this dire need. They deserve voters’ support to help set the city right after so much movement the wrong way.

David Brewster, writing at Post Alley, asks if the defeat in court might be “a fortunate setback for Compassion Seattle?” Possibly, we suppose, but read his commentary and draw your own conclusions. Here’s a snippet.

It’s a political test for modern Seattle whether the win-win solution of Compassion Seattle can make it over the finish line, hold the coalition for change together, and overcome the skepticism of the Left to something that is partly crafted by the business community. A more hierarchical and trusting city used to be able to solve such complex problems (Sound Transit, minimum wage, Waterfront Park). That was before polarization and demonization took hold, here as in other cities.

At least enactment of parts of the Compassion Seattle formula could come from those elected to do such things and be subject to correction and amendment over time. In all, Judge Shaffer may have strained for her legal reasoning but paradoxically helped enact the very measures she as a private citizen said she would have voted for.

Additional coverage at Geek Wire.