Judge removes ‘Compassion Seattle’ charter amendment from ballot; initiative aimed to curb homelessness crisis

Tents are pitched in a grassy lot along Dexter Avenue in Seattle in January 2021. The Space Needle and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation are seen in the background. (GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota)

A state judge removed the “Compassion Seattle” measure from the November ballot on Friday, saying the proposal to change the way the city deals with its homeless population exceeds what the initiative process can legally do.

King County Superior Court Judge Catherine Shaffer said in an afternoon ruling that the initiative to amend the city’s charter conflicts with existing state law. The judge explained that while voters might appreciate the mandates on the City Council to build more housing and clear tent encampments, such specific requirements are not what the charter amendments are for.

“You can’t amend a city charter to conflict with state law,” Shaffer said. “I like this charter amendment as a voter. But as a judge, it cannot stand.”

Already qualified for the November ballot, “Compassion Seattle” sought to require the city to provide 2,000 units of emergency or permanent housing within a year and require the city to ensure parks, playgrounds and sidewalks remain clear of encampments if the housing and services are in place.

The measure, according to its supporters, has been polling well and pushing 70% approval.

But opponents of the measure, among them the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington, argued that the measure criminalized homelessness and that it exceeded the intended scope of charter amendments by bypassing the City Council, setting specific policy that should be controlled by the city.

It was the ACLU, along with Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness and the Transit Riders Union, who successfully sued earlier this month to strip the measure from the ballot.

Judge Shaffer’s decision can be appealed.

Developing story, more to come…

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Civic Aclu Compassion seattle Judge catherine shaffer