Judge rules Critical Areas initiative void
Nov. 6 ballot won't present repeal effort
By Kyle Orten 
Peninsula Daily News
from www.peninsuladailynews.com

Clallam County, WA - 9/19/01 -A citizens initiative to repeal the county Critical Areas Ordinance won't appear on the Nov. 6 general election ballot.

Clallam County Superior Court Pro Tempore Judge William Knebes ruled Tuesday that the initiative is invalid.

"The proposed initiative is void as it is outside the power of the initiative process," Knebes said.

The Critical Areas Ordinance establishes development buffers near streams, wetlands and slide areas in unincorporated Clallam County.

Clallam County Chief Civil Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Chris Melly, who filed the lawsuit on behalf of Clallam County Commissioners last month to pre-empt the repeal from being put on the ballot, said he is happy with the outcome.

"I'm obviously delighted, but I regret it has engendered as much political turmoil as it has," Melly said.


Bob Forde, the property rights activist from Sequim who led the effort to repeal the county law, said he is disappointed by the ruling.

"Obviously, I disagree with how the court looked at it," Forde said. "This is a community issue, not a legal issue."

But the case is not over yet.

Today, Clallam County Superior Court Judge George L. Wood will hear a related but separate show-cause motion filed by John Bennett of Sequim.

Bennett, a Sequim doctor, is asking the court to compel county commissioners to uphold their oaths of office and put the measure on the ballot in accordance with the county charter.

Today's hearing is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. in the Clallam County Courthouse, 223 E. Fourth St., Port Angeles.

But Forde said there is little chance Wood would contradict Knebes' ruling.

'Just a drill'

"It's just a drill after today's proceedings," Forde said Tuesday. "It's probably a moot point."

On that point, Melly agreed.

"The result is preordained," Melly said.

Although Forde said he has little hope the issue will make the Nov. 6 ballot, he and Building Industry Association of Washington attorney Tim Ford are reviewing the case for a possible appeal.

Melly said he's up to the challenge if Forde and Ford pursue the matter, even if it goes to the state Supreme Court.

I've been there a lot," Melly said. "I've helped shape the law."

During the hearing Tuesday, Melly and Forde debated the initiative process and whether the public has the right to repeal a law required under the state Growth Management Act.

Melly argued the initiative process is "not an appropriate mechanism" for repealing the ordinance.

Protect the Peninsula's Future and 1000 Friends of Washington attorney Gerald Steel of Seattle supported Melly's contention.

Home-rule charter

But Forde and Ford disagreed, asserting that the county's home-rule charter allows residents to repeal local laws, even those required under state law.

"People have power at the polls to act," said Forde. "I think the people have a direct right to participate in the consent of government."

Ford continued the argument:

"The board of commissioners has a role that makes initiatives valid," Ford said.

But Steel countered the argument:

" A home-rule charter only gives authority for issues that are not in conflict with general law," Steel said, noting taxes, Growth Management Act requirements and laws governing state employees can only be addressed at the state level.

Knebes agreed and found state law supersedes the county charter.

Because Knebes entered a final judgment in the case Tuesday, Friday's hearing on the matter has been cancelled. 

After the hearing Tuesday, Melly credited Forde for his work on the case.

"Mr. Forde did an excellent job," Melly said. "What he lacked in legal training he made up for in passion." 

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