How could seven months of meetings with the City of Seattle's Special Events Committee, and the threat of a lawsuit against the city, fail to yield a specific plan for traffic into and out of Hempfest?

That's what City Councilmember Peter Steinbrueck would like to know. The festival is held at Myrtle Edwards Park, next to where Seattle Art Museum (SAM) is in the final furious stages of construction for its Olympic Sculpture Park, scheduled to open in October. Hempfest needs a road through a piece of public land adjoining the construction site during the days leading up to and following the August 19 and 20 event.

Lacking its permit or a specific traffic plan, Hempfest did finally file that talked-about lawsuit on Monday, and that's when Steinbrueck got involved, even though it's not his job to hand out permits or settle land-use disputes.

"This is really the responsibility of the Seattle Parks Department, and it should have been resolved a long time ago," Steinbrueck said Wednesday.

Virginia Swanson, director of the Special Events Committee, was not available for comment this week. Neither was her supervisor, Deputy Superintendent of Parks BJ Brooks. (Ken Bounds, parks superintendent, was out of town on a family matter.)

A city ordinance requires the museum to provide access to Myrtle Edwards for events such as Hempfest through a publicly owned "boulevard" on the north side of the future sculpture park. And in accordance, the museum on Monday said it was always planning to accommodate the festival.

But in a letter sent late Monday afternoon in response to the suit, the museum declared it would be impossible to meet Hempfest's demands. The museum claimed it had been the victim of a bait-and-switch.

"During our site walk-through on July 19, SAM and Sellen [Construction Inc.] offered to accommodate the load-in and load-out of exceptionally large vehicles that would have difficulty entering and exiting from the north," the museum wrote to Hempfest organizers. "At the meeting, you suggested there would be up to five vehicles per day—Your letter now suggests that up to as many as 40 vehicles will require access through the construction site for each of the three days that precede the weekend event, and for two days following. This simply cannot be accommodated amidst very intensive construction activities, unless these additional vehicles can enter and exit prior to 7:00 a.m. or after 4:00 p.m."

True, the art museum is in the middle of construction, and it needs to protect the site, Steinbrueck said: "But the (boulevard) is city property, and the museum only has use of it for construction purposes, and not exclusively, and that's a fact."

An ordinance passed unanimously by the city council in June requires SAM to "ensure safe public access to 'Special Events'" during construction.

Hempfest says the city is in thrall to SAM's high-profile development project, and makes concessions to SAM that it shouldn't, including allowing the museum to provide only vague promises for the last several months. "It's essential that the rights to free speech are not exchanged for the luxury of an art exhibit," said festival spokesman Dominic Holden. Hempfest, devoted to marijuana law reform, has been at Myrtle Edwards Park every year except one since 1995, and draws more than 100,000 people.

The museum, meanwhile, says it is has cooperated all along in conversations and is confused by the sudden urgency. It also is frustrated at seeming resistance to a project that will improve the city long-term. "Do you want a parking lot and a metal shed, or do you want a bicycle path, a restored habitat, and art for free on public land?" said SAM head of capital projects Chris Rogers. "Sure, it's going to be messy at times, but people have got to pull their weight."

Why are Hempfest's precise needs only coming up now—i.e., 5 trucks versus 40—when the museum and the festival have had seven months to hash this out? How did a tiff escalate into acrimony and a lawsuit?

Does the lack of public response from the Parks Department reflect the lack of leadership coming from that sector of the city in this situation?

"There've been numerous complaints over time about the issuance of permits for special events," Steinbrueck said. "So that's certainly something that warrants review."

He said he expects the city to issue a permit to Hempfest today.

"Hempfest must go on," he said.