For the second time this month, the Seattle City Council may be trying to prevent a referendum on the deep-bore tunnel, according to sources at City Hall. It remains unclear what device they could use to block a public vote, but details of the tunnel agreements are currently being crafted with the city attorney's office and are expected to be released at a meeting on Monday.
"We have been asked for legal advice from the council that addresses broad questions about contracts for the Alaskan Way Viaduct," says City Attorney Pete Holmes, asked about an legal mechanism to approve the tunnel contract but block a public vote. "There are some legal issues there that we are looking at that I cannot get into right now because it is legal advice. I can't disclose what strategies they may be thinking about."
Holmes, who will address the council on Monday afternoon, says he is "working on it this weekend."
More after the jump.
At issue is a set of three agreements the council must approve with the state, giving it permission to begin the project. Normally, these contracts would be approved as ordinances by the council, which can then be put before voters in a referendum if people gather enough signatures to qualify for the ballot. The council majority has so far refused to include a provision making the contract contingent on the state legislature amending a law that says Seattle-area property owners must pay cost overruns on the tunnel. In one scenario—if the council leaves out that provision—several groups say they will probably run the referendum. In a second scenario, in which council inserts the provision, there would be no referendum.
"I know they are looking a third path" other than inserting the language punting the question to the legislature, says City Council Member Mike O'Brien, the lone outspoken tunnel critic on the council. "I have been told in not so many words that they do have a strategy to create this third path, and I have been trying to figure out what legally they can do, but I don’t know what it is." He says, "I am not sure if it is a strategy to address cost overrun issue, or a strategy to avoid referendum."
The council investigated ways to block a referendum earlier this month by declaring the measure an emergency; however, that was found to be impossible because the mayor refused to approve.
A recent SurveyUSA poll shows that 63 percent Seattle residents want the legislature to address the issue of cost overruns before the contract takes effect and 58 percent support a referendum on the tunnel.
"My hope is that council has found a way to address the cost overruns and not find a way to get around what the public wants," says O'Brien, "because I don’t think that’s our job."