Restraining order against Tent City denied

Early Monday morning, a King County judge denied a request for a restraining order that sought to prevent a homeless camp from coming to Mercer Island next week.

Judge Michael J. Fox stated that the plaintiffs seeking the restraining order had not established the likelihood that they would prevail based on the lawsuit’s merits alone in a regular trial. Before a courtroom full of Islanders and Tent City supporters, Fox also said that the court must “tread very lightly” when venturing into the religious aspect of the suit.

The United Methodist Church invited Tent City 4, the Eastside’s homeless camp, to stay on Mercer Island from early August to November. The church is located at the corner of S.E. 24th Street and 71st Avenue S.E. A group , calling themselves Mercer Island Citizens for a Fair Process, filed a lawsuit against the city, United Methodist Church and SHARE/WHEEL, the organization that operates Tent City to stop the encampment from coming to the Island. The lawsuit contends that Tent City is being established in violation of Mercer Island’s city codes, is a safety hazard and nuisance, and would impair nearby property conditions. The official trial is scheduled to begin in December 2009 and the plaintiffs asked the judge to stop the camp until the trial could occur.

The judge explained that the plaintiffs’ motion to stop the camp was extraordinary, and he listed five factors that must be met to grant the injunction. Fox explained how those factors led him to his decision, stating that some of the fears required for a restraining order were not based on fact and the nuisance was temporary in nature since the camp will be on the Island for 93 days.

Jane Koler, the attorney representing the Island citizen group, said after the hearing that she was not surprised given the timing of the judge’s decision.

“The timing indicates the judge wanted to hear this when Tent City residents would have nowhere to go,” Koler said.

Mercer Island’s acting City Attorney Katie Knight stood by the city’s decision to enter into a temporary use agreement with the church and SHARE/WHEEL.

“The city does take its citizens’ concerns seriously. Knowing that to prohibit Tent City would be unlikely, a temporary use agreement is the most cost-effective, efficient and legal means to protect citizens’ health, safety and welfare while not running afoul state and federal laws,” Knight said after the ruling.

Koler said that she would file for a summary judgement, another court option that asks a judge to make a determination based on legally established facts but not going through a full trial. She argued before the judge during the hearing that Mercer Islanders’ civil right of due process was violated, as the city did not follow its own laws when drafting and entering the temporary use agreement.

During her arguments, Koler also suggested that Mercer Island residents’ confidence in their government had eroded.

“There are many, many laws in Mercer Island that they are obliged to live by,” said Koler. “On one hand, they are required to be in compliance as a citizen, but in one isolated circumstance, the city made a value judgement [that] Tent City should be above the law, that it may violate the law.”

City Attorney Knight argued that the city reviewed the decrees and experiences of other communities which have hosted Tent City and relied upon those to draft a temporary use agreement that was “as good as, or probably better” than other city codes regulating Tent City.

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