Photo by HyunJae Park/Flickr

Photo by HyunJae Park/Flickr

Safeco Field funding referendum withdrawn

The mysterious backers of the initiative won’t say why, but some think it’s because they couldn’t get funding to gather the necessary signatures.

After a referendum was filed several months ago in an effort to repeal the King County Council’s recent decision to spend $135 million in public funds on Safeco Field upkeep, the initiative has now been withdrawn by its backers.

Back in late September, a referendum — formally titled Referendum 25 — was filed by a mysterious group calling itself “Citizens Against Sports Stadium Subsidies.” The move came a little over a week after the King County Council narrowly approved a controversial plan Sept. 18 to spend roughly $135 million in public funds over two decades on Safeco Field maintenance. Critics had argued that the money would be better spent on affordable housing and social services, given the regional homelessness crisis.

If the referendum’s backers had been able to gather around 40,000 signatures by Nov. 2, the initiative would have qualified for the Feb. 2019 special election ballot.

But according to a letter sent Oct. 31 to the King County Council clerk by Dmitri Iglitzin, an attorney representing the initiative’s backers, the group is now withdrawing the referendum.

“I write to inform you that the Citizens Against Sports Stadium Subsidies (CASSS) does not intend to continue to present Referendum 25 and, accordingly, will not be submitting a further sample for approval [for the February ballot],” Iglitzin wrote.

Iglitzin declined to comment further on the motivations behind the group’s decision to withdraw the referendum.

Melanie Pedroza, the county council clerk, wrote in an email that she wasn’t sure why the process was stopped. “That would be a question for the petitioner,” she wrote.

In text messages to Seattle Weekly, King County Councilmembers Dave Upthegrove and Rod Dembowski — both of whom strongly opposed the proposal to spend $135 million on stadium upkeep — speculated that the referendum’s backers weren’t able to cobble together funding to pay a firm to gather all of the necessary signatures by Nov. 2. “I don’t believe there was funding secured to hire signature gatherers (which would have been necessary to get to the ballot on this short timeline),” Upthegrove wrote.

Originally, the official plan to spend public funds on Safeco Field came from King County Executive Dow Constantine, who had proposed spending $180 million on the stadium back in May. On the same day that he rolled out his pitch, the Public Facilities District — the entity that manages publicly-owned Safeco Field — announced the district and the Seattle Mariners had agreed to terms for a new 25-year lease at the stadium.

Seattle Weekly eventually revealed that the ballclub was refusing to sign their new lease unless the county invested the $180 million in the stadium. But after the county council slashed the executive’s original proposal to $135 million in Safeco Field maintenance spending, the club signaled that the amount was satisfactory and it would sign its lease.

This won’t be the first time that public funds have been spent on Safeco Field. After county voters orginally rejected a plan to build the stadium using taxes back in 1995, the state Legislature and the King County Council approved a tax package for Safeco Field that didn’t require a public vote. In the end, $300 million of the stadium’s $517 million total cost ended up coming from local taxpayers.

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