Nickelsville encampment in Seattle.Featured image is attributed to David Lee under a Creative Commons 2.0 license.

‘Compassion Seattle’ Charter Amendment Won’t Appear On November Ballot

by Erica C. Barnett

(This article originally appeared on PubliCola and has been reprinted under an agreement.)


The Washington State Court of Appeals denied the Compassion Seattle campaign’s appeal of a lower-court ruling striking down their proposed Seattle charter amendment on homelessness this morning, and the measure will not appear on the November ballot.

In its ruling, the appeals court did not give any specific reason for denying the campaign’s appeal, which it filed on Tuesday after strongly suggesting it would not do so following last week’s King County Superior Court ruling. Knoll Lowney, an attorney for a coalition of groups opposing the measure, told PubliCola this week that he expected to prevail, in part because Compassion Seattle “appealed without coming up with any appellate arguments.” Instead, the campaign’s appeal relied on the same arguments it made in its initial response to the lawsuit against the initiative.

Compassion Seattle said in a statement that the appeals court ruling “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. 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.”

As we reported this morning, mayoral candidate Bruce Harrell has said that if he’s elected, he will implement all the major policies the charter amendment would have mandated. Those include mandating that the City of Seattle spend 12% of its budget on homelessness, requiring the City to fund 2,000 new “permanent or emergency housing” (realistically, shelter) units in one year, and keeping streets, sidewalks, parks, and other public spaces “open and clear of encampments.”

So what does this ruling mean for the mayoral campaign going forward? Compassion Seattle — and its founder, former council member Tim Burgess, whose “People for Seattle” PAC bombarded voters with negative ads targeting council candidates and incumbents in 2017 — clearly hoped that the charter amendment would frame the entire election.

Now that it’s dead, Harrell will have to push for its provisions in isolation and hope that voters don’t realize that the Seattle City Council, not the mayor, funds projects through the annual budget process. (Honestly, not the worst assumption.) His opponent, current council president Lorena González, will no longer have to respond to the question “Why don’t you support Compassion Seattle?” at every turn but will also need to present an alternative to Harrell’s spend-then-sweep plan that does more than respond to the charter amendment’s proposed spending mandates.

The Compassion Seattle campaign cost more than a million dollars, funded mostly by dozens of large donations from a who’s-who of downtown real estate interests, as well as consultant Tim Ceis, who helped draft the measure. Burgess gave just over $1,000 to the campaign.


Editors’ Note: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the decision came from the “U.S Court of Appeals in Washington State” (federal level). The article was revised on 09/05/2021 to correctly state that the decision came from the “Washington State Court of Appeals” (state level).


Erica C. Barnett is a feminist, an urbanist, and an obsessive observer of politics, transportation, and the quotidian inner workings of City Hall.

📸 Featured image is attributed to David Lee and used under a Creative Commons 2.0 license

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