Seattle City Council members are considering a way to block citizens from filing a referendum to put a controversial tunnel measure up to a public vote (I report on the referendum here). By inserting a provision into the contract with the state (allowing the state to begin digging under downtown) that declares the tunnel ordinance an "emergency," voters couldn't put the ordinance on the ballot.

Sources who work for the city say that the provision is being considered this week, and a source who works with the city council says that details of any plan, if it is in the works, are confidential due to attorney-client privilege. When asked pointedly, City Council Member Sally Bagshaw said this afternoon, "There are conversations, and you know that there are all kinds of ideas. I don't think anything is firm yet." Bagshaw agreed to divulge more later this week.

"It seems logical that they would consider the voters having a say on the tunnel an emergency," says a wry Brady Montz, chair of the local Sierra Club affiliate and a proponent of a possible referendum.

Whether or not it's even possible to declare a tunnel—which won't even have a completed environmental impact statement until early next year—an "emergency" this summer remains unclear. Here's what the city charter says about emergency provisions:

When an emergency exists in which it is necessary for the immediate preservation of the public peace, health or safety, that an ordinance shall become effective without delay, such emergency and necessity, and the facts creating the same, shall be stated in one section of the bill, and it shall not become an ordinance unless on its final passage by the City Council at least three-fourths (3/4) of all the members vote in its favor (the vote being taken by yeas and nays, and the names of those voting for and against being entered in the journal), and it shall have been approved by the Mayor, whereupon it shall be of full force and effect.

A tunnel may not meet that high bar, and the mayor is unlikely to approve an emergency clause, as the city charter requires. But some are reportedly trying to claim that the council overriding a mayor's veto render McGinn's approval unnecessary. (Any lawyers in the house?)

But the specter of declaring it an emergency irritates those behind a possible referendum drive. Real Change director Tim Harris, one of the players in a possible referendum, says, "I think to preemptively thwart the will of the people is an anti-democratic maneuver."