City Hall

City Attorney Sues Anti-Tunnel Campaign, Doesn't Believe Tunnel Agreements Are Subject to Referendum

By Erica C. Barnett March 29, 2011

Declaring himself neutral on the question of what option should replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct, city attorney Pete Holmes announced today that he is suing the anti-tunnel campaign, the pro-tunnel campaign, and the state department of transportation in King County Superior Court on the grounds that three tunnel agreements between the city and state on tunnel construction is not subject to referendum.  Holmes added that he believes the tunnel agreements are "more likely administrative than legislative," meaning that they aren't subject to referendum because they constitute mere administrative actions to implement a policy that the city council has already adopted.

"On balance," Holmes writes, "I believe Ordinance 123542 [the ordinance adopting the tunnel agreements] is more likely administrative than legislative. ... Administrative acts are not subject to the local referendum power."

Drew Paxton, spokesman for Protect Seattle Now and one of the people named in the lawsuit, says "what is surprising [about Holmes' lawsuit] is what prompted the city attorney to sue the people of Seattle who just want to have their voices heard." Paxton says the group is talking to attorneys and will have more information about their legal strategy and response later today.

Holmes continues:
Either the ordinance is administrative or within a sphere of authority delegated by the State to our governing body, the referendum can’t go forward, and the agreements are in effect, or the ordinance is legislative and not within a sphere delegated to our governing body, the referendum should go on the ballot, and the agreements can’t go into effect until after a vote. I think the former is more likely, and a declaratory judgment now will spare the expense of a campaign overturned post-election. If the court disagrees, I’ll support putting the referendum on the ballot as long as King County Elections confirms there are enough valid signatures.

Supporters of the anti-tunnel campaign say the three agreements, which give the state official sanction from the city to do tunnel work in city rights-of-way, can be overturned by referendum because they constituted an ordinance.

Holmes says the reason he didn't intervene in the referendum earlier is because he wanted to give the anti-tunnel campaign, Protect Seattle Now, time to collect signatures.
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