Creek initiative finds foes in developers, Realtors, city
Seattle, WA - Seattle's city attorney yesterday joined Realtors, developers and the Port of Seattle in filing suit to stop a voter initiative intended to restore creeks and salmon populations in the Puget Sound area.
Initiative 80 would require developers to restore creeks as part of major construction projects. In some cases, that could require bringing back to the surface -- "daylighting" -- creeks that have been buried or redirected through drainage pipes.
The initiative also would prevent the city from using pesticides within 200 feet of creeks and would require creek restoration on public property.
The lawsuit, filed in King County Superior Court, aims to keep I-80 off the September ballot, claiming that land-use issues can't be addressed by initiative.
"You wouldn't do zoning by initiative or referendum," said City Attorney Tom Carr. "We have a process for land-use planning,"
The matter must be decided by Aug. 1, before the ballots are printed, Carr said.
Creek supporters called the lawsuit "frivolous and clearly a political attack." They said the lawsuit coincides with the kick-off of their campaign to boost public awareness of the issue.
"Developers are trying to stop us from getting to the ballot because they know voters support the environmental provisions of I-80," said Knoll Lowney, co-chairman of Yes for Seattle.
Lisa Dekker, conservation chairwoman of the Sierra Club in Seattle,
said the initiative had withstood review by environmentalists' attorneys
and the City Council.
Developers who joined the city in the lawsuit said creek restoration should be considered as a regional issue -- not by individual cities each taking a different approach.
They said the initiative will further slow economic recovery in Seattle by hampering their ability to build affordable housing.
The Port of Seattle, the Master Builders Association, and the Seattle-King County Association of Realtors joined the lawsuit.
The builders association has contributed $4,000 to a campaign to fight the initiative. The association represents 3,200 builders, developers and suppliers in King and Snohomish counties.
"If we want to increase the supply of affordable housing in Seattle, we aren't going to be able to do that by putting further restrictions on builders," said Tim Attebery, a lobbyist for the builders.
"Look at the number of economic development groups opposed to this initiative -- everyone who is interested in job creation and bringing us out of the recession," he said. "More impediments to our competitiveness do not make sense."
Realtors are concerned the suit will add to the cost of housing in Seattle, which already runs about $100,000 above the national median, said David Crowell, director of governmental affairs for the Realtors association.
"The burden is on the proponents of I-80 to say how many fish will be saved at what cost," Crowell said. "I don't think they've said that. The public deserves that."
The Port of Seattle has opposed the initiative since it was introduced.
"Our big concern is that it is vague and very broad. If it is implemented as broadly as it is written, it could have some very, very drastic results," said port spokesman Mick Shultz.
He said that according to some interpretations, since the Duwamish River empties into a delta at the end of Elliott Bay, it could all be classified as creek.
Any new construction would trigger a requirement to restore the historical course of the waterway," he said.
"We wouldn't be able to do any capital improvements, buildings would become unusable and the port would be out of business. People would be out of jobs," Shultz said.
That's ridiculous, said Lowney. He said the Duwamish clearly isn't a creek, is already uncovered and is protected by the shoreline master plan.
Soon after Yes for Seattle unveiled its initiative last year, Mayor Greg Nickels offered the City Council his own alternative creek initiative for the ballot.
Nickels claimed I-80 would cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars -- $504 million to more than $21.6 billion, according to one study by the city.
Yes for Seattle members say those numbers are drastically overblown and inflammatory. The group's initiative would cap the cost at $5 per resident annually.
The mayor's proposal encouraged developers to restore creeks as part of their projects but didn't require the work. Nickels said I-80 would lead to lawsuits and actually slow creek improvement efforts.
The council decided against placing the mayor's initiative on the ballot. In the meantime, I-80 supporters gathered enough signatures to secure a spot on the ballot.
"We proposed an alternative measure that we felt achieved many of the same goals of helping creeks, which is very important to this mayor, without the legal problems," said Marianne Bichsel, a spokeswoman for the Mayor's Office.
Council members could not be reached for comment last night.
Since 1999, the city has spent almost $25 million restoring urban creeks and expects to spend as much as $20 million more in the next two years.
Environmentalists generally support the idea of uncovering creeks, but some question whether it's the best use of money.
The Thornton Creek Alliance, for instance, refused to endorse I-80. Money should be targeted at cleansing the filthy concoction that flows off large paved areas, group members said, citing a study last fall suggesting that the dirty runoff is killing salmon in local creeks before they can spawn.
What would help the creeks more, some argue, is detaining water in large pools so the pollution can settle out, and other water cleanup measures.
"It would be really nice to have daylighting, but the important issues are (storm water) detention and water quality," said Cheryl Klinker, second vice president of the Thornton Creek Alliance. "If it came down to money, and there's only so much money to spend, we'd spend it on water quality."
Another alliance member, though, said he would keep trying to convince the organization to back the initiative.
"The initiative should at least come to the ballot and the voters should be given an opportunity to vote on it," Chuck Dolan said.
P-I reporter Kathy Mulady can be reached at 206-448-8029 or email@example.com
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