Why does the City Council continue to ignore and distort the substance of the Community Bill of Rights?

A few weeks ago The Inlander published a guest editorial from Councilpersons Stuckart, Snyder, and Waldref on the Community Bill of Rights (click here to read). A response was submitted by Brad Read – president of the board of Envision Spokane. The Inlander did not respond, nor choose to publish the editorial. Below is the editorial.

June 17, 2013

In 2009, Envision Spokane qualified the Community Bill of Rights for the ballot. Having met and exceeded every legal requirement to qualify the citizens’ initiative, we had to fight the City Council to actually have them do what the law required: place the initiative on the ballot for the citizens of Spokane to decide, on its own merits.

When the Council finally did what the law required, we then had to confront their placing “advisory questions” on the ballot, prejudicing the vote to make sure the Community Bill of Rights would fail. The City Council used the power of their elected offices to sway the vote on an initiative which had been brought forth by a citizens group.

Every City Council member and every City Council candidate denounced the Community Bill of Rights, and some even appeared in campaign ads against the initiative.

They’ve been at it again.

In 2011, the Community Bill of Rights would have become law in Spokane if 500 votes had swung the other way. We won more precincts than we lost. So the City Council last month considered supporting a lawsuit preventing the Community Bill of Rights from even making it to the ballot, and when that failed, three of the council members wrote an editorial denouncing it again, and explaining to Inlander readers why it’s bad policy.

Like virtually every other hit piece on the initiative since 2009, the Stuckart/Snyder/Waldref editorial ignores and distorts the substance of the Community Bill of Rights. It’s almost as if they didn’t even read it.

The first plank of the initiative empowers Spokane residents to make critical decisions for their neighborhoods.

The reality is that, in Spokane, when a major development project is proposed for a neighborhood, the residents of the neighborhood have no legal say in the decision.

Sure, they can come to hearings and hope their concerns are heard, but they have no authority to decide. The Community Bill of Rights would make certain that residents of neighborhoods would be part of the decision-making process when it comes to major developments; they might even say yes. But they would have the power to decide.

Arguing against letting neighborhoods decide, Stuckart, Snyder, and Waldref write that “the state gives authority on land use decisions to local elected officials for a reason – to ensure accountability and to consider the needs of the entire community.” Yet as many residents have found, the “needs of the entire community” too often mean the needs of the corporations.

The second plank of the Community Bill of Rights improves protections for the Spokane River and Aquifer.

Existing environmental laws allow certain levels of pollution into the river and aquifer. Thus, PCBs, heavy metals, and other toxins continue to pollute our river. The current structure is in effect regulating how quickly the ecosystems can be destroyed.

Yet Stuckart, Snyder, and Waldref assert that our environmental laws are strong enough.

The Community Bill of Rights would protect those bodies of water from harm, for the health, safety, and welfare of the people of Spokane and the ecosystems themselves.

The third plank of the Community Bill of Rights expands worker rights.

It would be nice to believe that workers’ rights were safe in this country, but any careful reading of history-recent or otherwise-tells a different story. In states throughout the country, state governments are threatening public unions and collective bargaining, in the interest of cutting budgets.

In addition, if you work for a private employer, the minute you cross the line to work you give your constitutional rights away -your 1st amendment rights, your 4th amendment rights- and we take that for granted.

That’s why employers can read employee emails and search your locker without your consent. We don’t allow our law enforcement to do that; why do we let corporations?

The Community Bill of Rights recognizes that that’s not the way it should be. The rights of workers should not be subordinated to those of the employer.

Finally, in an effort to undermine the Community Bill of Rights, and the Voter Bill of Rights-also qualified for the ballot-opponents argue that the measures attempt to limit the “rights” and influence of corporations. That is probably the deepest irony, especially coming from those who are ostensibly elected to lead us.

That our own elected officials would defend the right of corporations to continue to have undue influence over the political process, and the future of our community, speaks volumes about how (and for whom) our system of governance truly works.

And there is perhaps no better argument for passing the Community Bill of Rights than that.

 

 

Brad Read, President of the Board

Envision Spokane