WHEN IT COMES to initiatives, the Seattle City Council's new slogan is "Let's Make a Deal."
A legal settlement has ended the battle over Initiative 63, a water conservation measure that was set to appear on November's final election ballot. Concerned that I-63's language would interfere with existing water contracts between Seattle and the suburbs, the city had thrown up a series of roadblocks, including filing a court challenge against the initiative, convening a controversial review panel to study the measure, and proposing an alternative (which would also have been presented to voters in November).
But even as all this ammunition was being expended, City Council member Richard Conlin was leading negotiations between the city and Yes for Seattle, the initiative's sponsors. The result is a substitute measure that encompasses I-63's goals: funding water conservation programs for low-income residents by charging higher rates to the city's big water users and reserving water conserved by city residents to protect salmon, not water suburban lawns.
"This is a 100 percent victory for Yes for Seattle and the region's environment," says Knoll Lowney, Yes for Seattle co-chair.
Ironically, the city's court challenge provided the vehicle for the compromise. Although I-63's sponsors rejected the city's contention that the initiative improperly dealt with matters beyond the scope of initiative power, they agreed to let the city win its case in return for City Council approval of the agreed-upon substitute.
This quiet ending seemed unlikely as recently as two weeks ago. Council president Margaret Pageler, the initiative's chief legislative critic, wanted to force a ballot showdown between I-63 and the alternative proposal she created. Adding to the political tension, council members Peter Steinbrueck and Heidi Wills—both elected with significant environmental backing—voted to place Pageler's alternative on the ballot.
Conlin credits his council colleagues for pitching in to help create compromise language that retained some of I-63's specifics yet incorporated the concerns of utility officials. "It took a lot of persistence and a lot of backup by the whole council," he says. "We really felt there was the possibility of coming to a solution, so I just kept working on it."