Initiative and Referendum FAQs

Have all first class cities adopted the powers of initiative and referendum?

Yes. All ten first class cities have adopted these powers in their charters. The exact procedures vary for each city as provided in their charter (Aberdeen, Bellingham, Bremerton, Everett, Richland, Seattle, Spokane, Tacoma, Vancouver, Yakima).


Do all code cities have the powers of initiative and referendum?

No. The powers of initiative and referendum are available to all code cities but they must be specifically adopted. Most of the code cities in the state have never adopted these powers. Olympia is a code city that has adopted the powers of initiative and referendum.


Do second class cities or towns have these powers available?

No. A statutory grant of authority from the state legislature is necessary for the powers of initiative and referendum to be available. There is no such grant of authority for second class cities or towns to adopt these powers.


How many signatures are required in order to initiate a referendum or initiative in the City of Olympia ?

For an initiative or referendum petition to be valid in the City of Olympia , the petition must contain the signatures of registered voters consisting of at least 15 percent of the total number of persons listed as registered voters within the City on the day of the last preceding City general election.


Does the referendum power apply to resolutions of the City Council?

No. The power of referendum only applies to ordinances adopted by the City Council. Resolutions are not subject to the referendum power and the initiative process may not be applied to a resolution.


Are all types of ordinances subject to the initiative and referendum process?

No. There are a number of limitations on the exercise of initiative and referendum powers. Some of these limitations arise out of the state statutes that grant the right of initiative and referendum. Other limitations arise from court decisions concerning the extent of these powers.


What statutory limitations are placed on the right of referendum in the City of Olympia ?

RCW 35A11.090 contains a list of types of ordinances that are not subject to the power of referendum in the City of Olympia . This list includes emergency ordinances, ordinances providing for local improvement districts, ordinances appropriating money, ordinances providing for collective bargaining, ordinances for compensation or other working conditions of City employees, and ordinances authorizing or repealing the levy of taxes.


What other limitations are placed on the exercise of the powers of initiative and referendum?

The courts in Washington have imposed two tests to determine if a specific ordinance is subject to the powers of initiative and referendum. The first test is whether the underlying action is administrative or legislative. Only legislative actions are subject to initiative and referendum; administrative actions are not. The second test is to determine if the power is one that has been granted to the City Council or whether that power has been granted to the corporate entity (voters) as a whole. If it is a power that has been granted to the City Council specifically, then it is not subject to initiative and referendum.


What is an administrative action and what is a legislative action for purposes of determining if an action is subject to initiative and referendum?

The courts have established two tests to determine this. Actions relating to subjects of a permanent and general character are usually regarded as legislative in nature, and actions relating to subjects of a temporary and special character are usually regarded as administrative in nature. Secondly, the power to be exercised is legislative in nature if it prescribes a new policy or plan, while it is administrative in nature if it merely pursues a policy or plan already adopted by the City Council.


Is a rezone ordinance subject to the referendum process in the City of Olympia ?

No. This specific issue was the subject of a court case, Leornard v. Bothell, 87 Wn.2d 847 (1976). Although the court considered a site-specific rezone to be an administrative action, it held that the authority to adopt and modify the zoning code in a code city had been given by the state legislature to the City Council and so a site-specific rezone is not subject to the power of referendum.


Can petition signature gatherers be paid?

Yes, petition signature gatherers can be paid either a flat fee or on a per signature gathered basis. Cities and counties do not have the authority to ban signature gatherers from being paid on either basis.


Are ordinances enacted pursuant to the Growth Management Act (GMA) subject to the power of referendum?

No. Any ordinance adopted pursuant to the GMA is not subject to the power of referendum because the legislature specifically delegated the power to act under the GMA to the City Council and not to the corporate entity (voters).


Can ordinances that pertain to the Growth Management Act be enacted by initiative?

No. Any ordinance related to the GMA is not subject to the powers of initiative as well, because the legislature specifically delegated the power to act under GMA to the City Council and not to the corporate entity (voters).