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Lawsuit targets Seattle homelessness measure

August 11, 2021 GMT

SEATTLE (AP) — The American Civil Liberties Union of Washington is trying to keep a proposed Seattle charter amendment that would change how the city handles homelessness off the November ballot.

In a lawsuit filed Wednesday in King County Superior Court, the ACLU, Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness and the Transit Riders Union said the “Compassion Seattle” measure, officially known as Charter Amendment 29, is beyond the scope of local initiative power and violates state law on how local governments can address homelessness.

The measure, which recently qualified for the ballot, directs the city to provide 2,000 units of emergency or permanent housing within a year and requires the city to ensure that parks, playgrounds, sidewalks and other public spaces remain clear of encampments.

The pro-amendment campaign called the lawsuit “another blatant tactic to preserve and protect the status quo”

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“This group has dictated City of Seattle policy on homelessness for the last decade, with no accountability, all while the crisis has only gotten worse,” Compassion Seattle said in a written statement.

According to the lawsuit, state law gives local legislative bodies — city and county councils — the exclusive authority to develop plans targeting homelessness. Further, it says, the amendment would undermine the city’s binding agreement with King County creating a regional homelessness authority and would unlawfully waive land-use regulations to speed the development of emergency and permanent housing.

“State law provides multiple avenues for constituents to influence homelessness policies and practices, but the initiative process at the city level is not one of them,” ACLU attorney Breanne Schuster said in a news release.

Proposed Charter Amendment 29 has received mixed feedback. Seattle’s mayoral candidates were almost evenly split on it in this month’s primary; of the top-two vote-getters who advanced to the general election, former City Council member Bruce Harrel supports it, saying the city must act with more urgency on the issue, while City Council President Lorena González opposes it, calling it an unfunded mandate that could lead to cuts in vital services.

Some homeless nonprofit leaders and advocates have spoken in favor of it, but others have started a campaign called House Our Neighbors to encourage voters to oppose it.