One of the givens of the political season now gearing up is the speed with which candidates awkwardly try to please everybody. Witness incumbent Mayor Paul Schell's reaction to Seattle Initiative 63 ("Water for salmon--not for sprawl"), which is now gathering signatures to get on the fall ballot. The mayor has co-opted the less radical elements of the initiative, working with the city council to quickly get a milder version of I-63 on the books--heading off the more progressive measure before it gains steam. (The effort has collected about 10,000 signatures, with four weeks to go. The activists need about 25,000.)

I-63 mandates water conservation by retrofitting plumbing in low-income housing units. These efforts will be paid for by making the top 10 percent of heavy "water hogs"--mostly people watering big yards--pay a high rate for that extra water. If this language sounds familiar, it's because the city passed just such a "water hog" rate on Monday, June 11. I-63 advocate Knoll Lowney says the legislation kicked into gear only after the mayor's office saw the text of his group's initiative. When asked if Schell had culled any language from I-63, his office unapologetically referred us to the Yes for Seattle (the organization sponsoring I-63) website.

Lowney is an environmental lawyer who, along with Pam Johnson, head of the water advocacy group People for Puget Sound, co-chairs Yes for Seattle. Johnson says all the provisions of I-63 would easily pass a vote of the council and be signed by the mayor, "except one." The unacceptable provision for Schell (and the key element that ties conservation to sprawl and salmon) is I-63's restrictions over the water saved through conservation. I-63 would prevent the city from selling that water to real estate developers. Instead, I-63 would reserve the water for several salmon-friendly uses: placing it in the state's water trust program, making it available to bolster the flow in low streams; loaning it out to recovery programs in other water districts; and simply leaving it in the city-owned Cedar River Watershed. "That's why we filed the initiative," Lowney says. He adds that Seattleites willing to conserve water in order to help salmon don't have that option now (nor will the city's recent ploy change this fact). Currently, the city still sells its extra water to the suburbs, allowing developers to increase sprawl and further degrade fish habitat.

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Schell spokesperson Sharon Bennett says the mayor "supports conservation in principle," but has concerns about "serving purveyors outside Seattle [and is] not in favor of a divisive approach toward suburban communities."

Meanwhile, Lowney and Johnson claim that the mayor's office is already preparing a legal strategy against I-63. This doesn't scare Yes for Seattle. The group plans to be a virtual initiative factory, legislating directly from the streets. "It's democracy," says Lowney. "And they hate it," he adds, referring to the city's trepidation.