SEATTLE CITY COUNCIL President Peter Steinbrueck predicts that a controversial zoning change for Rick's strip club in Lake City will be repealed Monday, Aug. 11. The repeal is unlikely to end the debate over the matter that now includes three City Council members returning over $30,000 in campaign contributions connected to Frank Colacurcio Jr., convicted felon and owner of Rick's.
Steinbrueck says the City Council will hold a special meeting Monday to reconsider the zoning change that has roiled City Hall.
On June 16, the City Council approved 5-4 the zoning change that allowed the strip club to use a small parcel of land for parking. Since the vote, Seattle Weekly and other media outlets have reported on at least $32,000 in donations from Colacurcio and his associates to City Council members Jim Compton, Judy Nicastro, and Heidi Wills. Last week, the three council members pledged to return all of the donations.
In addition, Compton first admitted to Seattle Weekly, and then in a memo to Steinbrueck, that before the vote on the rezone, he was lobbied by former Gov. Al Rosellini and Rick's attorney Gilbert Levy to support the zoning change. That lobbying would appear to violate the rules surrounding the City Council's quasi-judicial proceedings on the matter by engaging in so-called ex parte communications, according to Tim Burgess, former chair of Seattle's Ethics and Elections Commission (SEEC). Now Steinbrueck says more council members have come forward saying they, too, broke the rules. Says Steinbrueck, "There have been declarations of ex parte communications from council members." He adds, "As many as six, " and "We will have to disclose it." He says he personally was not one of the council members, but declined to name anyone at this time.
Steinbrueck says a special meeting of the City Council on the rezone is now required because of the rule violation. "This is fairly necessary," he explains. While he has not counted votes, he does make a prediction. "My best bet is that all legislation relating to the rezone will be repealed."
At that point, he explains, the City Council will start consideration of the zoning all over again. Steinbrueck says he will not send the rezone back to the Land Use Committee, chaired by Nicastro, but instead will convey a so-called "Committee of the Whole" City Council to consider the matter. There will be public testimony, a committee vote, and then another vote by the entire council on the rezone.
Steinbrueck would not make any predictions on what the final outcome would be. He did note, however, that it takes five votes for any law to be enacted or rejected by the Seattle City Council.
Last week, in his letter, Compton raised the possibility that he might recuse himself from future votes on the matter. "If the Council decides to revisit the zoning decision, I will agree to any appropriate limits on my future participation." It will be up to individual council members to decide whether to recuse themselves because of ethical conflicts.
Recusement, in this case, is "strictly political as opposed to legal," explains Seattle City Attorney's spokesperson Katherine Harper.
It appears highly unlikely that any of the four council members who originally voted against the rezoneSteinbrueck, Nick Licata, Richard Conlin, and Margaret Pagelerwould change their votes. If Compton or any of the other supportersNicastro, Wills, Jan Drago, or Richard McIverdo recuse themselves, the rezone would die.
IT'S UNLIKELY, HOWEVER, that the political issue will die. Last night, the 36th District Democrats in Northwest Seattle held their annual endorsement meetings. In 1999, the 36th District Democrats endorsed both Compton and Nicastro. This year, they endorsed neither. Judith Baker Hine, the 36th District chair, says there were several reasons expressed by the membership, and the controversial rezone was one. She says, "It is unusual" for the 36th District Democrats not to endorse Democratic incumbents. The last prominent incumbent who failed to receive Democratic District endorsement was Mayor Paul Schell, who was ousted in the primary election of 2001. While Compton does not face serious challengers this year, Nicastro is fighting for her political life against several serious challengers.