At the last public hearings before the city council and the port commission, Mayor Linville, Mike Stoner, Environmental Director for the port, and other staff members alleged that the proposed waterfront plan was almost ready for enactment. They painted a picture of robust public process, resulting in a popular plan developed through a strong public partnership.
This statement was contradicted by virtually every member of the public. In comment after comment, the public asserted that public values were ignored, that plan results were predetermined without open process, and that they were not provided with what they wanted and what they had been promised. The administration provided a plan so flawed and unpopular, it resulted in an alliance between labor and the environmental community, known as the Blue Green Waterfront Alliance. The only people satisfied with this plan are developers.
This highlights several critical facts:
- Port and city staff are first and foremost, project advocates. They see the public and elected officials as an obstacle to what they wish to achieve.
- The port and city administration can not be trusted to provide accurate waterfront information or impartial analysis to the public or elected officials. (Nor is it reasonable to expect otherwise. Staff is attempting to complete work, against a background of broader concerns, in a specific period of time. They are not elected by or accountable to the public.)
- If public transparency remains a goal, the port and city administration need more oversight and stronger parameters and guidelines for developing waterfront plans. Only the city council and the port commission can impose restrictions, which would require revisiting parts of the plan.
Where municipal administrations no long listen to the public, and in fact, fail to acknowledge or admit what the public is saying, action by the legislative branch is the best, and perhaps the only solution. The city council and the port commission have become crucial players in the waterfront planning project. So the question becomes whether the city council and the port commission are willing to override the powerful port and city administrations on this matter.
The answer is not promising. Unlike the County government, conflicts within the city and port are more infrequent and are handled more discreetly. A council member wishing to push back against the Mayor’s waterfront plan would need to know that he/she had the strong support of the public, as well as the support of other council members.
On September 9, 2013, the city council is holding the first of four work sessions from 9 AM to 12 PM in city chambers. Administrative staff is providing a series of 10 minute presentations on a wide variety of complex, technical waterfront issues, including cleanup standards, social equity, habitat restoration and sea level rise. There is no opportunity for public input and response at the hearing, although written comments will be accepted afterwards. In other words, despite the established failure of the administrative staff to accurately describe the waterfront development status, the city council will continue to rely on the staff’s altered version of reality in making waterfront decisions. The best potential for a more promising outcome is a strong turnout by the public.