Friday, June 20, 2003 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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City files lawsuit to remove creeks issue from ballot

Seattle Times staff reporter

Initiative 80, which seeks to protect and restore Seattle's creeks, exceeds the power granted to initiatives by state law, according to City Attorney Tom Carr, who filed a lawsuit yesterday seeking to stop the measure from appearing on the Sept. 16 ballot.

Groups representing local builders and Realtors also have joined the suit, along with the Port of Seattle.

It was clear from earlier debate that developers oppose the initiative, as does Mayor Greg Nickels. But it was surprising that Carr would try to pre-empt the fish-friendly measure from going to voters, said I-80 spokesman Knoll Lowney.

"I don't expect it to be popular, but I think it's the right thing to do," Carr said of his challenge to the initiative.

I-80 seeks to make Seattle's creeks better habitat for salmon by "daylighting" those that have been buried in drainage pipes, removing fish-passage barriers and creating buffer zones, not allowing development within a certain distance of creeks.

Sponsors say the initiative would cost Seattle households no more than $5 a year.

Critics have said the potential cost could reach several billion dollars if the initiative's requirements were strictly enforced.

The lawsuit's chief argument is that I-80 would set land-use policy and that power should be belong only to city government.

"The issue for the city is the integrity of the land-use process. I-80 would trump that whenever a creek is involved," Carr said. "That's the main issue we want decided."

The lawsuit also claims that I-80 would interfere with land owners' rights to due process.

Carr said he hopes the case will be decided in King County Superior Court by mid-July. Ballots for the Sept. 16 election must be printed by Aug. 1, he said.

Lowney said the lawsuit was aimed to blunt the I-80 campaign, which officially kicks off next week.

"This is a calculated political effort spearheaded by the master builders to undermine our campaign," Lowney said.

The complaint intends to erode voter support for I-80 by creating doubts about its legality, he added.

Lowney, a lawyer, also contends that land-use policy has been set through Seattle initiatives to build a new monorail, protect the Pike Place Market and cap the size of downtown buildings.

Allison Butcher, spokeswoman for the Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish Counties, said, "This is something the city is doing on its own and we're coming in and supporting them."

Carr disagreed with Lowney's assertions about earlier initiatives. He said the monorail will not have the same direct impact on land use as I-80. He said the 1989 CAP initiative could have been legally challenged but wasn't. And he said the Pike Place Market measure preserved a specific piece of property and was not citywide, like the creeks initiative.

Sponsors obtained enough signatures to qualify it for the September ballot. The City Council voted in February to put it on the September primary ballot.

Bob Young: 206-464-2174 or

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