Roy's Market

Neighborhood Health continues to work with the city of Yakima on reaching an agreement for its proposed homeless service center at the old Roy's Market site on South Sixth Street in Yakima, Wash. (KAITLYN BERNAUER/Yakima Herald-Republic file)

YAKIMA, Wash. -- After warning of intervention earlier this month, the state Attorney General’s Office has now gotten involved in Yakima’s legal battle over the siting of a homeless facility in the former Roy’s Market building.

Yakima Neighborhood Health Services is suing the city of Yakima to win the right to establish a homeless shelter and service center at 201 S. Sixth St.

The city, in turn, has asked the federal District Court in Yakima to throw out the lawsuit on grounds of procedural violations and lack of merit.

But one of the reasons cited in the city’s motion got a big reaction from the Attorney General’s Office. The city argued a state law on discrimination “simply does not work the way” the federal Fair Housing Act does when it comes to identifying unfair or discriminatory housing practices and policies.

Assistant Attorney General Patricio Marquez called that claim “a significant mischaracterization” of the Washington law.

 Marquez wrote that the state and federal laws were “materially identical” and that nothing in the state law indicates it was meant to have a narrower reach than the federal statute.

The city hasn’t made any moves to cut that claim from its dismissal request, so on Monday the Attorney General’s Office filed an amicus “friend of the court” brief in the Yakima case to clarify state law.

“Contrary to Yakima’s argument, the Washington Law Against Discrimination prohibits discriminatory zoning practices,” Attorney General Bob Ferguson wrote in a statement accompanying the brief. “My office works to ensure that our state law is applied correctly to prevent discrimination.”

In his strongly worded letter in early August, Marquez hinted at further action, saying the office “may also address other issues raised by this litigation” if concerns were not addressed.

But those threats may have fallen on deaf ears.

Yakima has no plans to withdraw any portion of its summary judgment motion, city attorney Jeff Cutter said last Thursday.

“I believe the representations and the arguments we presented are accurate,” he said, while noting he hadn’t discussed the letter with Kenneth Harper, the lawyer representing Yakima in the lawsuit. “In my opinion, we will not be amending the motion.”

He said he doesn’t really agree with the assistant attorney general’s reading of the state law versus federal.

“It’s not a big concern,” Cutter said.

The claim that the Washington Law Against Discrimination does not apply in this case is one of four pillars of the city’s argument to have the lawsuit dismissed.  

If the city were to withdraw its Washington Law Against Discrimination argument, then even if the judge agreed that the rest of the lawsuit should be dismissed, the WLAD claim would still need to be addressed.

The attorney for Neighborhood Health, Rich Hill, declined to comment on the attorney general’s letter, citing the pending motion.

• Molly Rosbach can be reached at 509-577-7728 or mrosbach@yakimaherald.com.