Half measures for the community….

Full steam ahead for industry.

I want to get these thoughts down now, before they exit. I reserve the right to edit them later as necessary.

So, last night there was a City Council meeting. Overflow crowd, 80 people signed up to speak. The meeting lasted a little over 5 hours.  I’ll address some details of the meeting as it pertains to the community. And then I’ll have a couple of observations about the “democratic” processes in this City.

First, the meat of what I want to share. We started out with a proclamation about how great Tacoma is a place to visit and how tourism is such a huge piece of the economy for this city. That in itself was a very interesting moment – seeing as how the Council keeps putting fossil fuel projects in the queue because “ECONOMY”…

A brave and tenacious group in my community put together an amendment, at the urging of our Council member, to request that the planning commission revise the zoning codes around the port so as to create a buffer zone between our community and industrial activity on the port. With an unknown amount of chemicals being emitted up the hill, and the onslaught of noise from a local scrap metal factory, we are sorely in need of some respite from the continual sensory disturbances that industry creates. After the amendment was discussed at the Planning Commission meeting last week, City Council – including our Council member – miraculously created a resolution on a Thursday and put it up for vote the following Tuesday. My, look how fast the City rolls! This resolution essentially negates the value of the citizen created amendment (that none of the sitting council members had read) by burying it into a resolution for a sub-area plan. A plan that will take 3 to 6 years to get in place. In the meantime, industry gets free reign, all the permits they could dream of, at the sake of the health of environment and people.

Let’s talk about what a resolution is: “Resolutions are non-binding statements made by the Tacoma City Council”.  They are not laws. They are not codes. They are not ordinances. In fact, they aren’t even really a promise. So, a resolution was passed last night that said a few things about how the community might come together to discuss some issues around planning for the community and they are going to look at it ‘in whole’…..which is funny in and of itself, because they don’t look at industrial projects on the port ‘in whole’. If that were the case, then each project would be considered in relation to the other industrial neighbors, and maybe they wouldn’t put a liquid fracked gas plant RIGHT NEXT DOOR to a super fund site so toxic it melts bedrock. Or maybe they wouldn’t put a liquefied fracked gas plant LESS THAN TWO MINUTES from a petroleum tank farm. That fracked gas plant will also be LESS THAN A MINUTE from a Tribal marina. It’s also important to note that the authors of the resolution added some language about including the Puyallup Tribe in all future communications and decision making processes. But that shouldn’t have to be noted in a damn resolution. That should be Standard Operating Procedure since the Puyallup are more than a stakeholder – they are a Sovereign Nation.

But once again, industry gets the fast track and community gets the sloth track.

I’m honestly gutted by this whole process. I sat for three hours to be able to make my statement. With a fever. That’s how committed I am to this work. And I don’t even come close to the level of energy/effort expended by a whole lot of other land/water/community defenders. Thomas Paine’s words about fighting tyranny really ring true right now. There are some people in the community who see this as a small success.

I can’t.

I know that the fracked gas plant is moving forward. I know that other fossil fuel projects will not get properly slowed down or turned down. I still live in a community where industrial emissions aren’t fully measured or accounted for. I still live in a community where the people who make the rules don’t really seem to care about the long term effects of their narrowly viewed decisions.

Tensions are high in this city (#understatement) {Side note – someone keeps rolling through the community stealing people’s NOLNG signs – so we have that going for us}.

Industry is doing a good job trying to divide the people. You have one group of people advocating for economic development, with little regard for the environmental impact to land, air, water and people. Generously stated in their favor. You have another group advocating for a healthier and more sustainable approach to economic planning and development. Last night, City Council threatened to shut the meeting down on a couple of different occasions if people weren’t respectful and diplomatic. This sounds like a reasonable request. This statement was made with the explanation that this is a democracy and everyone should have the opportunity to discuss this and have their say. Again, sounds reasonable.

 

At one point, the order of speakers got a little sideways and a gentleman used his time to ask a pointed question of the council regarding the perceived conflict of interest of a member of the Council. The Mayor shut him down, audience members objected, and other citizens started shushing the people who were objecting. I get it – everyone wanted their chance to talk and if the Mayor got too annoyed, she would shut us down. But here’s this observation: City Council, it seems, has done a great job of training citizens to behave in a particular way. What most folks are failing to bring up is that there are no public forums or opportunities for citizens to really hash this out in a meaningful way, with each other and with the leaders. Communication is one way. Always one way. No collaboration or meaningful dialogue. So we get to have the same conversations, with the same results, and yet some wonder why nothing gets accomplished in this city. NO wonder why we have very high levels of emotion and anger. No one gets heard.

community debate

I recently watched “Lincoln” with Daniel Day-Lewis, and was amazed at the portrayal of how raucous the business of government. Look, there is no polite silence when you are debating the health and welfare of your family, the environment on which we depend and whether or not it will be healthy for generations to come. But, by all means, let’s be “democratic” and “respectful” in our conversations that never accomplish anything to begin with.

Now – I’m not a fan of attacking people. It’s not my style. Lee Maracle’s admonition and Hazel Wolf’s example to treat every opponent as a person who goes home to a family every night guide my actions. But I also remember that Billy Frank Jr wasn’t afraid to cuss at people and I’m pretty sure Vine Deloria Jr raised his voice on more than one occasion to be heard. Lee Maracle’s words remind me, at the end of the storm, let’s make sure we can all see sunshine. There is a way to have contentious but respectful conversations. It is kind of a lost art to which I aspire.

On the subject of the question about whether or not a council member has a conflict of interest – when it was brought up, said council member takes the opportunity to address the comment, and threatens a libel action. Would this be considered an abuse of power on behalf of the council member? Serious question on my behalf. Is it an abuse of power to issue a threat of a libel suit from the seat on the council? I will have to look that up.

I’m going to keep fighting. I know that it might be very Quixotic. But I am committed to my community and to nbi (water), aki (earth) and mititgoog (trees). Too much at stake to not keep trying.

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