Appeals Court affirms decision on the legality of permit for the 2008 Tent City

The Washington State Court of Appeals has affirmed the decision of a lower court that dismissed the claims by a group called Mercer Island Citizens for Fair Process (CFP), in its action against the City of Mercer Island regarding the decision-making process that allowed the roving homeless encampment, Tent City 4, to come to Mercer Island in 2008. The CFP's lawsuit was an attempt to prevent the establishment of Tent City 4 on Mercer Island.

In 2008, the city approved a temporary use agreement with the Mercer Island United Methodist Church in order to allow the church to host the homeless encampment for three months on its property.

CFP filed for a restraining order against that agreement, but not within the allowed timeframe. The lower court dismissed the claims. CFP appealed to a higher court, and the Court of Appeals heard final arguments this past April.

The original complaint by CFP alleged that by using the temporary use agreement, the city, church, Tent City 4 and other organizations involved in the encampment violated their right to due process, and asked the court for damages as well.

“This court decision confirms the city’s belief that the temporary use agreement was the most cost-effective and efficient legal means to protect citizens’ health, safety and welfare while not running afoul of state and federal laws,” said City Attorney Katie Knight. The court has determined that the city was required — according to state and federal law — to allow the church to host Tent City 4 even without an ordinance at that time.

Since the Tent City 4 experience, the City Council has adopted a temporary encampment ordinance similar to the temporary use agreement, permitting the city to address health, safety and welfare concerns related to temporary encampments including setbacks, the number of people allowed in a camp, smoking areas, notice requirements, cooking and food handling, fire safety and other issues.

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