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Ballot Measures Part 2: Forms of Government, Marijuana Bans, and Non-Revenue Measures

Ballot Measures Part 2: Forms of Government, Marijuana Bans, and Non-Revenue Measures

In part 1 last week, I wrote about revenue-related ballot measure results, such as the Ellensburg affordable housing sales tax and the impact of low turnout on bond measures. This week I’m turning my attention to the other, non-revenue measures.

Don’t forget to visit our Local Ballot Measure Database, with its improved user interface! I’ll be adding all of the general election results to the database after the counties certify the results on November 28.

Port Angeles Retains Classification, Rejects Water Fluoridation

In two related measures, voters in Port Angeles overwhelmingly rejected a citizen initiative to change the city’s classification from code city to second class city, but in an advisory vote they also directed city officials not to add fluoride to the water supply.

The twin votes resulted from deep divisions over fluoridation. The city had been adding fluoride to its water for a decade but stopped the practice a year ago, pending the outcome of this advisory vote. While advisory votes are not legally binding, the council voted 4-3 last year to abide by the results.

Second class cities have fewer powers than code cities, and no city has ever “demoted” itself from code city to second class. Quite the opposite, in fact — in the last few years, Chewelah, Colfax, Colville, and Port Orchard have all made the switch from second class to code city, leaving just five remaining second class cities statewide.

But fluoridation opponents hoped the change in classification would trigger new elections and allow them to replace all sitting councilmembers. However, under state law it doesn’t appear new elections would have been required, and by switching to second class city, this initiative ironically would have stripped residents of the ability to submit any future initiatives.

No More Commission Cities in Washington

For about 20 years, Shelton has been the only remaining city in the state to retain a commission form of government, but no more. Voters easily approved a switch to the council-manager form of government, the result of a citizen petition led by one of the commissioners.

In the commission form of government, the commissioners serve both legislative and administrative functions, acting not just as legislators but also as department heads. City commissions were fairly popular through the 1950s but dwindled significantly after that, largely replaced by council-manager governments.

However, Shelton has long employed a city administrator to handle the administrative functions — essentially adopting a hybrid council-manager form with the commission acting as a legislative council — so the switch shouldn’t have a major impact on the city’s day-to-day operations. The measure will, however, increase the 3-member commission to a 7-member council, with expected pay cuts for the councilmembers.

For more information, see our page on City and Town Forms of Government.

Voters Support Existing Marijuana Bans

In nonbinding, advisory votes, voters in Bonney Lake, Snohomish, and unincorporated Yakima County strongly supported existing marijuana bans in those jurisdictions.

In Yakima County, where commissioners have suggested they will continue the ban, this will likely result in lawsuits and increased code enforcement spending. There are more than 20 existing grower-processors in violation of the county code, dating from when the county allowed small medical marijuana operations (before the merger of the medical and recreational marijuana systems last year), and these businesses have threatened to sue if the county attempts to enforce the ban.

To see how other cities and counties are regulating marijuana, visit our page Cannabis (Marijuana) Regulation.

University Place Supports Fireworks Ban

In the latest advisory vote on fireworks, voters in University Place overwhelmingly supported a ban on the sale, possession, and discharge of consumer fireworks. Eleven other jurisdictions have held similar advisory votes in recent years and voters supported a ban in most of them.

Under state law, local fireworks restrictions cannot take effect for at least one year after adoption. For more information, see our page Fireworks Regulation in Washington State.

Pierce County Says No to Longer Council Term Limits

Voters in Pierce County rejected a proposed charter amendment that would have allowed councilmembers to serve three consecutive, 4-year terms. Currently, councilmembers (and the county executive) are limited to two consecutive terms while the sheriff, assessor-treasurer, and auditor may serve three consecutive terms. The county’s charter review commission decided not to put this issue on the ballot last year, so the county council put the question to voters this year.

Voters also approved a charter amendment that clarifies the process for filling vacancies in partisan and nonpartisan offices.

Spokane Rejects “Coal Train” Initiative

Voters in Spokane decisively rejected a proposed initiative to fine railroad companies for sending certain coal and oil trains through the city. The proposal would have made it a civil infraction to ship uncovered coal — as well as oil that has not been treated to reduce its vapor pressure and flashpoint — through downtown or within 2,000 feet of a school, hospital, or the Spokane River.

The measure would have imposed a $261 fine for each rail car in violation and was opposed by elected officials and many businesses due to concerns over its legal validity and the potential for economic disruption. Proponents argued that it would make Spokane safer and reduce the risk of a disastrous explosion, particularly in light of the oil train derailment and explosion in the Columbia River Gorge last year.

Voters Reject New Regional Fire Authority, Park District

Voters in Skagit County said no to a proposed regional fire authority that would have merged fire districts 4 and 9. The two districts already share a fire chief, training chief, and secretary, but the merger and accompanying property tax would have allowed the district to hire paid daytime staffing instead of relying on volunteers. The measure would have been funded by a regular property tax, so it only required a simple majority to pass (as opposed to fire benefit charges or an excess levy, which would have required 60% approval).

Regional fire authorities are becoming more common — for more information, see our page Regional Fire Protection Service Authorities.

And on Lummi Island, voters overwhelmingly rejected the formation of a proposed park and recreation district, as well as its accompanying 6-year funding measure, which primarily would have provided a community multi-use facility.

Any Other Noteworthy Measures?

Are there any other measures we should be paying attention to? Leave a comment below or email me at

If you have questions about ballot measures or other local government issues, please use our Ask MRSC form or call us at (206) 625-1300 or (800) 933-6772.

MRSC is a private nonprofit organization serving local governments in Washington State. Eligible government agencies in Washington State may use our free, one-on-one Ask MRSC service to get answers to legal, policy, or financial questions.

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About Steve Hawley

Steve joined MRSC in July 2014 and is responsible for writing, editing, and conducting research for many of MRSC’s website resources, with a particular focus on local government finance, budgeting, ballot measures, and procurement. He has a broad communications and public policy background with over a decade of local government and nonprofit experience.