Thursday, February 4, 2016

WA Supreme Court strikes down Community Bill of Rights; Envision Spokane not giving up

Posted By on Thu, Feb 4, 2016 at 4:29 PM


The Washington State Supreme Court gave a victory to local business groups after unanimously ruling that Envision Spokane’s sweeping Community Bill of Rights ballot measure was outside of the initiative process and should not go before voters. 
click to enlarge A superior court ruled against Envision in 2013.
  • A superior court ruled against Envision in 2013.


The ruling, issued Feb. 4, stems from the most recent incarnation of the Community Bill of Rights that qualified for the general election in 2013. The initiative would have bestowed legal rights on the Spokane River, granted residents the right to block development in their neighborhoods, given employees new protections in the workplace and would have restricted any corporate rights that conflicted with the measure.

Envision qualified two versions of the Community Bill of Rights in 2009 and 2011, both of which were voted down. In 2013, a coalition of business groups and local government entities sued, arguing that the newest version of the Community Bill of Rights should be kept off the ballot because its scope went beyond the initiative process and they would be harmed if it passed.

A superior court judge agreed, but that decision was reversed by an appellate court last year. 

Although the Supreme Court’s ruling expressed reluctance to strike down an initiative before it reached the ballot, it determined that the business groups and government entities had legal grounds to challenge the measure because they could demonstrate that they would be affected by it.

Specifically, the court determined that the provision granting the Spokane River legal rights could adversely affect Spokane County and Avista, two plaintiffs in the case that use the river. The court also found that homebuilders, also challenging the initiative, could be affected by new zoning requirements included in the initiative.

The ruling stuck down the initiative, determining it was too broad.

“[T]he local initiative power is limited to legislative matters that are within the authority of the city,” reads the ruling. “In this case, we affirm the trial court's ruling that all four provisions of the Envision Initiative were outside the scope of the local initiative power, as they either dealt with non legislative matters or were outside the authority of the city.”

Brad Read, president of Envision’s board, told the Inlander that the ruling reduces the ability of local communities across the state to govern themselves. He also says that Envision isn’t giving up, although he’s not sure what the group will do next.

“It’s a further expansion and consolidation of corporate power that now allows any business interest to challenge each and every citizen initiative to keep them off the ballot,” says Read of the court’s decision. “And that’s a pretty dark harbinger for direct democracy.”

Michael Cathcart, a lobbyist for the Spokane Home Builders Association (a plaintiff in the case), issued a statement to the Inlander praising the ruling and alluding to Envision’s ties to the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, a Pennsylvania-based law firm that has sponsored similar measures in other communities.

“This is a big win for Spokane Citizens,” reads the statement. “Envision Spokane has been rebuked several times by the voters, by local community leaders, and now by unanimous decision of the State Supreme Court. Hopefully the Envision group takes this opportunity to return home to Pennsylvania and to stop threatening our community with illegal and poorly written ballot measures."
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