Ninety seconds.

That's all the time King County Superior Court Judge Steven Gonzalez needed to decide the Monorail Recall initiative was illegal last Friday, after less than an hour of oral arguments from Seattle Monorail Project attorney Paul Lawrence and Monorail Recall lawyer Bruce Babbitt. With little comment, Gonzalez granted summary judgment against supporters of the recall initiative--a decision that usually requires days or weeks of deliberation.

The ruling, which even Babbitt acknowledged was surprisingly speedy, prompted jubilant cries from the small crowd of monorail supporters who assembled outside Gonzalez's ninth-floor courtroom after the judge made his announcement. Many appeared stunned by the swiftness of Gonzalez's decision. "Finally! We won one on the first round!" an ecstatic Peter Sherwin, who was prepared to start a new pro-monorail campaign, bellowed. Meanwhile, recall supporters, including Babbitt, campaign treasurer Liv Finne, initiative author Glenn Amster, and monorail opponent Henry Aronson (whose "watchdog" group, OnTrack, is allegedly separate from the recall campaign), closed ranks inside the courtroom to discuss their upcoming appeal.

The recall campaign heads into appeals court with a major handicap: The judge's order threw out the initiative on every count raised by SMP attorneys, and prohibited the initiative from going "on any ballot in any election."

"I think it's an extra hurdle for the recall folks," City Council Member Nick Licata, a monorail backer, said Monday. "Despite what they say, I don't think the appeals court is going to reverse this decision."

From monorail supporters' perspective, the ruling was exactly the comeuppance the mendacious recall campaign deserved. Monorail foes, after all, blew through more than $80,000 hiring out-of-town firms to gather signatures for the "grassroots" recall campaign--a number that will only balloon in upcoming weeks, as recall backers report the legal fees they spent defending the overturned measure. Most of the funding for the ill-fated initiative was provided by Martin Selig, a Second Avenue property owner whose opposition to the monorail has cost him more than $175,000. Selig (also an OnTrack member) gave more than just cash to the recall campaign: He also donated free parking, office space, and the use of his own employees, who made copies and gathered signatures for the campaign.

The paid signature gatherers became notorious for using false statements to convince voters to sign recall petitions, including claims that the monorail is over budget (not true); that the line has been cut from 14 miles to 4 (it's 13.6); and that the recall initiative would only change the monorail route, rather than undoing the project. That last claim, which recall attorney Babbitt raised again in court, is particularly disingenuous; the initiative would explicitly ban the monorail on all city-owned sidewalks and streets, making it all but impossible to build a monorail anywhere in Seattle. "I cannot in any way find that this is not an attempt to revote a project approved by the people of Seattle," Gonzalez told Babbitt bluntly. "It elevates form over substance to say that this only affects the route."

The debate over the effect of the initiative wasn't the only time Gonzalez saw the need to steer Babbitt back on point. The anti-monorail attorney made repeated attempts to turn the hearing into a political debate, claiming, absurdly, that the monorail would "do inalterable violence to the ambiance of Seattle"; that Seattle voters did not know what they were getting when they approved the monorail two years ago; and that the monorail's beams and columns would "block the sunlight through Second Avenue, a sensitive area."

"I agree that this city doesn't get the same amount of sunlight as others, and this will further reduce the amount of sunlight," Gonzalez responded wryly. "However, that is not the issue we're addressing today.... Let's get to the law."

The law, according to Gonzalez, was clear: By attempting an "end run" around the process created to dissolve the initiative, and by attempting to dictate land-use decisions governed by the state Growth Management Act (GMA), the initiative violated both the state law that created the monorail agency and the GMA. State law says that in order to dissolve the SMP by initiative, a group must collect more than 50,000 signatures; in addition, the city attorney must make a finding of "significant financial difficulty." By attempting to kill the monorail through the less-stringent city initiative process, Monorail Recall had failed to meet either requirement.

As for the second allegation: Gonzalez found that by threatening to shut down a major transportation project, the initiative would violate the GMA, which is set up to protect such "essential public facilities." And he ruled that the initiative was an attempt to dictate land-use decisions that are the exclusive province of the city council--something the GMA also prohibits. ["Shortcut to Disaster," by Josh Feit, July 29.]

The ruling came as a relief to monorail supporters, whose dispositions before the hearing ranged from cautiously hopeful to wildly pessimistic. "Thank God we don't have to put together another campaign!" Sherwin said after the decision. As he and fellow monorail supporters were well aware, victory in November was far from assured. In 2002, the monorail won by just over 800 votes, and public support has plummeted in the wake of revenue shortfalls, public-relations gaffes, and the well-funded recall campaign.

That campaign, though badly crippled, isn't dead: On Monday, dozens of sign-brandishing supporters turned out to mount one final push to convince the council to put the recall measure on the ballot, despite the fact that it had been ruled illegal. Only their standard-bearer, City Council Member Richard Conlin, took the bait. "The clearest thing for us to do is to simply carry out our obligation and pass it on to the ballot" in lieu of a court decision, Conlin said to 20 seconds of thunderous applause from the anti-monorail diehards, identifiable by the "Re-Vote Now" stickers on their collars. His colleagues, however, were less than impressed; in response to Conlin's contention that too many questions about the monorail remain unanswered, Jean Godden had this to say: "I think we need a lot of questions answered--including, what about the $850,000 it would cost to put this on the ballot?" Conlin lost the vote, 8-1. On Monday, September 13, the court of appeals will reconvene to consider Monorail Recall's appeal, which it filed moments after the court adjourned on Friday.

barnett@thestranger.com

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