The Kshama Sawant-championed Seattle City Council decision to “save the Showbox” by surgically sliding the 1st Ave venue under the historical protections of the Pike Place Market has the city staring down the barrel of a $40 million lawsuit and an embarrassing reversal of the ordinance.
While District 3 and Capitol Hill representative Sawant is mentioned by name only once in the 22-page suit, her political effort to stymie the planned sale and redevelopment of the property owned by strip club magnate Roger Forbes is front and center in the suit:
When politicians cater to populist calls – whether those calls are “lock her up,” “build the wall,” “ban Muslims,” or “Save the Showbox” – civil and other rights are placed at risk. Populism, and politicians’ desires to appease their loudest constituents and generate headlines must, however, yield to the rule of law. Luckily for those who prefer protection of civil, constitutional and property rights, the courts exist to preserve, protect and enforce the rule of law.
About the D3 council member herself, lawyers at the Seattle-based Byrnes, Keller, and Cromwell firm representing the property — set to be acquired by Canadian developer Onni Group to build a 44-story apartment building after demolition of the Showbox — say Sawant’s actions were an “Appearance of Fairness” violation:
“The City Council failed to recuse biased members from voting, actively campaigned on behalf of a position on the issue, and made biased, prejudgment statements against a position to be considered,” the lawsuit reads. “Councilmembers engaged in ex parte communications with Save the Showbox supporters but failed to disclose those communications as required by law.”
Friday, The C is for Crank published details of emails and meeting records showing the “extraordinary measures city council members and staff took to promote legislation” and revealing that “the city attorney’s office advised the council against pursuing landmark status for the Showbox.” Included in the trove are details of special training provided to celebrity public commenter Ben Gibbard before he spoke on behalf of the legislation and a Sawant-emceed concert and rally that has been planed for the street in front of the venue.
The alleged fairness violations are just one of seven arguments the suit makes against the ordinance.
At its core, the lawsuit argues that the ordinance represents an illegal “spot zone” that “fails to comply with the law, failed to comply with procedures, was a violation of the Appearance of Fairness doctrine and is a violation of due process and equal protection; and if not immediately invalidated is an illegal taking of plaintiff’s property without just compensation.”
Filed on behalf of the Nevada-based corporation that holds the Forbes property, the most damaging aspect of the lawsuit could be the plaintiff’s argument that Seattle now owes $40 million because of the lost deal with the Onni Group. “The taking results from the City’s commandeering of the property for continued use as a concert venue,” Forbes’ lawyers write. “The damages for the taking are approximately $40 million, the exact amount to be proven at trial, based upon a fair and reasonable offer for the property in the open market.”
The City Attorney has yet to respond to the suit, according to court filings.
A trial has been set for January 2019 in front of King County Superior Court Judge Mary Roberts.