Greatest Splits

The Seattle City Council produced some big-deal legislation in 2001: selling South Lake Union property to Paul Allen; redeveloping Rainier Vista's low-income housing project into a mixed-use development; upping utility rates to fend off California's electricity deregulation fiasco; raising building heights to increase density; and most importantly, approving $603 million in general-fund spending.

However, nothing thrills Five to Four more than a 5-4 vote--a hotly divided council.

Records at the city clerk's office show few instances where the 2001 council was actually torn that way. There were several 6-3 standoffs, though: the losing vote by the Nick Licata/Judy Nicastro/Peter Steinbrueck People's Liberation Front to halt Sound Transit, and the losing ploy by the Jim Compton/Jan Drago/Richard McIver Counterrevolutionary Squad to undermine Nicastro's renters' rights package.

For a tasty 5-4 showdown, there are just two 2001 ordinances. First, there was a budget scrap over nixing two municipal court judges. Opponents of the move, like Steinbrueck, say the cut threatened the city's "sensitive approach" to cases, like using mental health courts. It passed anyway.

A more significant split vote (not to mention piece of legislation) passed 5-4 on November 19, when the council amended the city's special-events permitting process. The legislation was a direct response to February 27's Mardi Gras riots.

The murder of Kristopher Kime amped political pressure on the city to the level of "JUST DO SOMETHING!" What the council did initially (passing an ordinance out of a divided committee on September 19) was craft a wildly flawed piece of legislation that outraged the ACLU, the music community, and council members Licata and Steinbrueck. The lefty pair voted against the special events ordinance that day, while Compton, Drago, and Margaret Pageler voted for it. Critics like club promoter Dave Meinert said the ordinance's vague language gave the city broad discretion over permitting. (If the city felt like discriminating against certain types of events--like, oh, say, a hiphop show or an N30 rally--they were free to do so.)

However, by the time the ordinance came to full council, important changes had been made (like defining something as a "special event" only if 500 people--as opposed to the original 50--participate). For that reason, Steinbrueck changed his vote and the ordinance passed: Compton, Drago, McIver, Pageler, and Steinbrueck voted "yea" vs. civil-rights stalwarts Conlin, Licata, Nicastro, and Wills' "nay."

The ACLU likes the new version better, but still thinks the definition of a "special event" is overly broad and vague. They're waiting to see how it's enforced.

In short, time will tell if 2001's hottest 5-4 vote ultimately lands the city in court, where a judge will have to decide.