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Lawsuit against city over Tent City dismissed

A King County Superior Court judge has dismissed a lawsuit brought by a group of citizens against the city of Mercer Island over the city’s decision to grant a temporary use agreement for Tent City 4 last summer. Tent City 4, a roving homeless community, was allowed to camp on the Mercer Island United Methodist Church property late last summer and fall. The summary judgement, which was raised by Mercer Island Citizens for a Fair Process, was settled in favor of the city on April 24 and will not go on to trial.

Citizens for a Fair Process contend that their constitutional due process rights had been violated by the city when it “illegally” granted SHARE/WHEEL, the organization behind Tent City, and the United Methodist Church a temporary use agreement for Tent City 4 without notifying the public in advance. The group argues that they were not notified of where, when or the process through which Tent City would be granted permission to camp on the Island and thus denied fair process in the matter. The city countered that there was ample notice (the City Council meeting in which the temporary use agreement was to be discussed was published on the city’s Web site and in The Reporter) and that no federal rights were violated.

“The city acted properly to comply with federal and state constitutional law in accommodating religious activities while protecting the health, safety and welfare of Mercer Island citizens,” said City Attorney Katie Knight. “The temporary use agreement with SHARE/WHEEL and the church was a viable supplement to the city’s land use regulatory authority to manage the Tent City visit.”

In addition, the defendant pointed out that Island citizens had 21 days to protest the temporary use agreement through the Land Use Petition Act (LUPA). However, citizens did not take the opportunity to do so. The plaintiffs stated that they were unaware of this legal recourse.

Listening to both sides of the argument, King County Superior Court Judge Michael J. Fox determined that the group’s due process rights were not violated since the city did publish information about Tent City 4 coming to Mercer Island. The city also provided ample notice over its decision to create a temporary use agreement that would allow the Methodist Church to host the camp, Fox said.

“My understanding is that people knew about [Tent City]. Wasn’t it a public issue being discussed by the people of Mercer Island? Wasn’t this being discussed by institutions?” Fox asked the plaintiff.

Fox reaffirmed this point in his final judgement: “There is no question that people knew about [Tent City].”

He also upheld the defendant’s argument that, if the citizens had wanted to appeal the legality of the city’s temporary use agreement, they should have done so through the LUPA process.

“I find that the LUPA law does apply. The citizens had the ability to be heard in what is essentially a political process,” Fox said. “If people aren’t happy [with the city], then vote the rascals out.”

Based on these undisputed facts, the plaintiff’s case was overlooked.

“I grant summary judgement of dismissal to the city in all respects and dismiss this case,” Fox said.

Tent City 4 set up camp at the United Methodist Church, located on First Hill, on Aug. 3, 2008. Approximately 100 residents resided in the camp for 90 days, until the organization moved on in late November. Tent City 5 is currently being hosted by Temple B’nai Torah in Bellevue. There has been talk that the homeless shelter may return to another church on Mercer Island in the future; however, no concrete plans have yet been settled.

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