Judge Veronica Alicea-Galván’s courtroom just after hearing arguments on the I-27 lawsuit on Friday, Oct. 13, 2017. From left to right: Mark Cooke of the ACLU-WA; State Rep. Drew Stokesbary, serving as counsel to the defendants; Bothell City Council member and I-27 organizer Joshua Freed; Jeff Slayton, counsel from the Seattle City Attorney’s Office; court staff; and the brown-coated shoulder of Dr. Bob Wood, former director of the HIV/AIDS Program at Public Health Seattle/King County. Photo by Casey Jaywork

Judge Veronica Alicea-Galván’s courtroom just after hearing arguments on the I-27 lawsuit on Friday, Oct. 13, 2017. From left to right: Mark Cooke of the ACLU-WA; State Rep. Drew Stokesbary, serving as counsel to the defendants; Bothell City Council member and I-27 organizer Joshua Freed; Jeff Slayton, counsel from the Seattle City Attorney’s Office; court staff; and the brown-coated shoulder of Dr. Bob Wood, former director of the HIV/AIDS Program at Public Health Seattle/King County. Photo by Casey Jaywork

Judge Blocks I-27, Saves Supervised Consumption Sites

The ballot initiative would have prohibited supervised consumption sites (CHELs) throughout King County.

A ballot petition designed to obstruct King County’s public health response to the heroin crisis has been struck down by King County Superior Court Judge Veronica Alicea-Galván. She ruled that I-27 is “invalid, null and void because it extends beyond the scope of the local initiative power” because it tried to override the authority of public health authorities and is thus unfit for the February 2018 ballot.

As we reported, in September 2016 a public health task force recommended supervised drug consumption sites (called Community Health Engagement Locations, or CHELs) as part of a comprehensive response to the opioid/heroin overdose epidemic. Similar sites have operated for decades in other countries, without any known overdose deaths. A growing medical consensus recognizes supervised consumption sites as a healthier alternative to incarceration for drug crimes. “Studies from other countries have shown that supervised injection facilities reduce the number of overdose deaths, reduce transmission rates of infectious disease, and increase the number of individuals initiating treatment for substance use disorders without increasing drug trafficking or crime in the areas where the facilities are located,” says the American Medical Association, which endorses such sites.

“Around 100 supervised consumption spaces currently operate in Australia, Canada, Switzerland, Norway, Germany and the Netherlands, and multiple studies show that these sites save lives and can help to connect people struggling with substance abuse to the services they need,” said Michael Ninburg, Executive Director of the Hepatitis Education Project (which we wrote about here) and another member of Protect Public Health, according to a press release. “These programs are proven to reduce the risk of fatal overdose and prevent transmission of HIV and hepatitis C, as well as to reduce outdoor drug use in neighborhoods. Our current approach to the opioid crisis isn’t working. We need to do more, and today’s decision will allow us to do so.”

As we previously reported, the argument made by attorney Knoll Lowney against I-27 went like this:

1. Local ballot initiatives can’t take away authority delegated to city officials by the state legislature. “An initiative is beyond the scope of the initiative power if the initiative involves powers granted by the legislature to the governing body of a city, rather than the city itself,” reads one quotation from the judgment in Mukilteo Citizens for Simple Gov’t v. City of Mukilteo. And another from City of Sequim v. Malkasian: “Stated another way, the people cannot deprive the city legislative authority of the power to do what the constitution and/or a state statute specifically permit it to do.”

2. State law delegates health decisions to local health officials—specifically, the Local Health Officer and the Board of Health.

3. Therefore, local ballot initiatives cannot override public health decisions made by local health authorities, including how to address the opioid crisis.

On Monday, Judge Alicea-Galván agreed, declaring I-27 “invalid, null and void,” and enjoining the King County Council and the Director of King County Elections from putting it on the ballot.

You can read her entire ruling here.

“This is a major victory for public health, and will allow us to take the steps we need to implement an effective harm reduction approach to help those suffering from addiction to get the help that they need,” said Dr. Bob Wood, former director of the HIV/AIDS Program at Public Health Seattle/King County, according to the release. “If I-27 was allowed to go to the ballot, other critically important and effective public health policies would also have been put at risk, including needle exchange programs, or even vaccination requirements.”

Also on Monday, the King County Council voted to approve an alternative to I-27 that could have appeared alongside it on the February ballot. That alternative would have allowed voters to opt for two pilot CHEL sites (which would almost certainly be sited in willing host cities, though that was not explicit in the ordinance). Chair Joe McDermott and Councilmembers Jeanne Kohl-Welles, Rod Dembowski, Larry Gossett, and Claudia Balducci voted in favor of ordinance 2017-0420, while Reagan Dunn, Kathy Lambert, Pete von Reichbauer and Dave Upthegrove voted against. Assuming Alicea-Galván’s ruling stands, the alternative is now moot.

Explaining his vote via email afterward, Upthegrove said he’d wanted “to ensure the county doesn’t move forward on locating a facility within a city that has adopted a policy to not permit them in their city…My main argument today against the alternative was the absence of any such assurances.”

cjaywork@seattleweekly.com

This post has been updated. Also, an earlier version erroneously implied that the King County Council ordinance explicitly prohibits the placement of CHELs in unwilling host cities.

More in News & Comment

Maleng Regional Justice Center in Kent. Photo courtesy King County
King County Could Ban Solitary Confinement for Youth in Detention

Last week, a lawsuit was filed over the practice; this week, King County scrambled to respond.

Welcome to the Bliss Jungle

A party house in Shoreline served as a home base for a community of hippies. It was also, according to multiple alleged victims, the scene of numerous rapes.

Bow Hunting in Bellevue, Church Threats, and Much Ado About Mulch

Plus, a former high school office staffer charged with rape.

City Budget Includes Funding for Georgetown-South Park Trail

Tired of feeling like islands, South Park and Georgetown residents pushed the city for greater connectivity between the communities.

Increased Caseloads Plague a Court Designed to Help the Mentally Ill

King County’s Involuntary Treatment Act Court has seen its cases double in the last decade and the staff can’t keep up.

Seattle Schools Superintendent Larry Nyland speaks about a new agreement between the city and Seattle Public Schools at a Monday press conference. Photo by Melissa Hellmann
Former Army Base Could Address School District’s ‘Capacity Crisis’

The city and Seattle Public Schools entered into an agreement on Monday to plan for new schools and Fort Lawton’s future.

Is the State Transportation Commission Irrelevant?

A report says the citizen panel often is ignored, and its duties overlap with the Transportation Department.

Tommy Le’s family, joined by their lawyers, held a press conference in September to discuss autopsy results that showed the Burien man was shot in the back. Photo by Daniel Person
Family of Burien Man Killed by Police Calls Inquest Process a Whitewash

Tommy Le was shot by officers who believed he posed a threat. That’s just one side of the story, says the family attorney.

Matthew Davis, lawyer for lead plaintiff Michael Kunath, argues against the income tax Friday.
Income Tax Hearing Brings a Big Crowd and Few Surprises

A decision is likely to come before Thanksgiving.

Most Read