Monday, September 28, 2009

Why I'm Voting NO on PROP 4

I am absolutely voting NO on PROP 4.  At first glance, the Community Bill of Rights* proposed by EnvisionSpokane sounds great, right? Well, I'd suggest reading it in its entirety before you conclude that Prop 4 is a good idea.

Increased taxes to cover community health care, prevailing wages that will put many smaller companies out of business, tax monies going to pay for all the new lawsuits that will be filed against the city, new businesses looking to locate anywhere BUT here because of how much higher the price for doing business here would be, random bands of “neighborhood councils” vetoing everything proposed by the city.

Um, yeah. That sounds wonderful. Are you kidding me?

Breaking it down further...

The bill of rights states: “For residents otherwise unable to access [preventative health care], the City shall guarantee such access by coordinating with area healthcare providers to create affordable fee-for-service programs within eighteen (18) months following adoption of this Charter provision.” I heard one argument that this wouldn't take much for city staff to complete and that there would be fewer emergency room visits, which would lower costs.

First of all, it's naive to think that such a guarantee would not take hundreds, if not thousands, of staff hours to fulfill.  Also, I come from a family of doctors, nurses and other medical personnel and I can tell you that we've had as much preventative health care as anyone could.  But we’ve had family members in the ER for a number of different injuries and sudden-onset health issues. So if there were fewer ER visits overall, I highly doubt that it would be enough to make a dent in the cost of the staff time it would take to implement such a program.

Having to pay prevailing wage (which is the median pay for a given field in a specific location) for construction projects will significantly increase costs, not only for the construction companies, but also for any organization that is having a building constructed. I’m all for people being paid what they’re worth, but I don’t think that anyone should get middle of the range payment regardless of their skill level and work ethic.

According to the complete text of the documents filed with the Spokane County Auditor, the fourth duty that would be imposed upon the City of Spokane would be “providing legal defense for actions of neighborhood councils in vetoing land development projects,” which means that the City would foot the bill for all the impending lawsuits from businesses whose projects are vetoed.

And that leads me into my next point: Neighborhoods can veto development plans with as little as 15% of the people who voted in the previous election within the neighborhood limits. 15%! So if your neighborhood has 100 voting residents, you better hope that 15 of them don’t disagree with the other 85 or those 15 could cause a development project to be vetoed.

The bill of rights says “The City shall ensure the availability of low-income housing stock sufficient to meet the needs of the low-income housing community.” If low-housing doesn’t exist now, I’m curious where it's supposed to come from. Is the City supposed to build low-income housing? If that’s the case, what if more than 15% of the residents of the neighborhood the City wants to build said housing in are not supportive of the project?  Oh yeah! They can just veto it.

Part of the 9th amendment states: “Any person seeking to enforce the rights of ecosystems, may enforce these rights. Enforcement actions shall be filed as civil actions in a court of competent jurisdiction, against any person, government, or entity violating these rights…” While I absolutely agree that entities abusing our environment and ecosystems should be held accountable for their actions, it's ridiculous that someone would be able sue the City, an organization or an individual on behalf of the river, a patch of trees, etc.

The bill of rights says the City will be required to provide “sufficient funding to neighborhood councils for the creation, adoption, and enforcement of neighborhood plans” and yet there is no mention as to a dollar amount for such funding. It’s illogical and irresponsible to suggest something like this with NO indication of the amount, or of how the amount would be determined, or of where the money would come from.

I must admit that when I first heard about this citizens’ bill of rights, I was excited about the prospect of something that seemed so innovative. But upon further reading, I was extremely disappointed to discover how truly deceptive the language is in the bill of rights. I do think that a bill of rights for the citizens of Spokane is something I could vote for in the future, if it was developed in a socially-, fiscally-, environmentally-responsible way with language that is concise and transparent, and if it accounted for all details and outcomes.

I wish that instead of WASTING time and money promoting this joke of a bill of rights, and now more time and money fighting it**, the residents and leaders of this community were focusing on continuing to move forward in the POSITIVE direction we’re already headed.

I am disappointed with how many smart young people in Spokane have been duped by the smoke and mirrors of this ludicrous, flawed proposition.

I am a young, smart, environmentally- and socially-conscious business professional, wife and mother who was born and raised in Spokane.  I strongly feel the need to protect myself, my family and the city I love and I will VOTE NO ON PROP 4.  I ask you to VOTE NO too.

* Read an interesting take on the notion of "rights."

** For more information about the fight against Prop 4, visit SaveOurSpokane and SpokaneJobs2009.


  1. Well reasoned and well said. Thanks for posting this Beth.

  2. Nicely done Bethany! I'll definitely keep referencing and directing people here.

    Nick Lawhead

  3. Other than agreeing with you that 15% is an awkward percentage to have a veto of anything, I personally tend to feel that Spokane is holding itself back, and it would be in the long-term interest of business people to catapult Spokane into the 21st century as a great place to live and work. I see this measure as a reaction to entrenched habitual ways of conducting the business of the city that people are, quite simply, fed up with.

    If not this idealistic and perhaps overzealous attempt at moving our city into a brighter future, then what?

  4. If I am reading your statement correctly, you want Spokane to continue to take steps forward and to become more open-minded and progressive. I very much appreciate your sentiment and I couldn't agree more.

    I won't pretend to know what the answer is to push Spokane more quickly in that direction. But I do know that Prop 4 is definitely NOT the answer. There is nothing about Prop 4 that would catapult Spokane into the 21st century or brighten our city's future. It would actually be quite the opposite. The passing of Prop 4 would force Spokane several giant steps backward.

    Prop 4 would inhibit Spokane from being a great place to live - in fact, the significant increase in taxes that would be necessary to pay for all these "rights" would likely drive people out of the community, and would certainly keep people from moving here.

    It would also cause businesses to look elsewhere to relocate or start up because of the potential for their projects to get vetoed and the impractical prevailing wages that companies wanting to develop here would be forced to pay.

    Like I said, I would consider voting for a bill of rights, if it were written responsibly, practically and logically. Prop 4 was most certainly created WITHOUT any responsibilty, practicality or logic.

    Voting NO on Prop 4 is the ONLY option for citizens looking for a brighter tomorrow for Spokane.

  5. I will not be able to vote on this issue as I'm a Spokane County resident but would definitely vote "NO" if I could. Appreciate Bethany's comprehensive review of this issue as I know it comes from a socially leaning liberal. However she has been able to look beyond that and evaluate in more detail the fiscal and legal issues that loom ahead if "Prop 4" (in it's current form) is passed.
    Keep up the good work and let's move Spokane forward without this additional burden.

  6. HI Bethany,

    Thankyou posting this on your blog. It is very well written. Would you mind if I link to it from the Save Our Spokane website?


    Michael Cathcart
    Campaign Manager
    Save Our Spokane

  7. ...Neighborhoods can veto development plans with as little as 15% of the people who voted in the previous election within the neighborhood limits. 15%! So if your neighborhood has 100 voting residents, you better hope that 15 of them don’t disagree with the other 85 or those 15 could cause a development project to be vetoed....

    This is an issue I have to speak about. The text of the proposition says:
    A neighborhood council may veto a land development project if requested to veto that
    project by a number of neighborhood registered voters equal to or greater than fifteen
    percent (15%) of the total number of votes cast at the last preceding general municipal
    election within that neighborhood. After being petitioned, if the neighborhood council
    determines that the land development project may adversely affect the neighborhood,
    and that the project is incompatible with either the neighborhood’s planning, the City’s
    Comprehensive Plan, or the City Charter, the council may veto the project.

    (emphasis mine)

    Okay, let's examine this. What is the Neighborhood council? Just the residents of the neighborhood who show up at the council meetings. That means that the decisions of the neighborhood council represent those of the residents of a neighborhood (There is a separate issue regarding who bothers to show up for the meetings, but that's really outside the scope of this conversation). Likewise the city government represents the collective will of the people, as presented by the elected officials. So, at the neighborhood level we have direct democracy and at the city level we have indirect democracy or representational democracy.

    If 15% of the neighborhood requests that the neighborhood council examine a project, then the council is obligated to do that. But then it takes a majority vote of the neighborhood council to make the veto. That means a majority of the residents of a neighborhood get to make the decision. People speaking against prop 4 routinely make this fallacious argument. It is not that 15% of the people get to veto the project, but instead 15% of the people get to request that the neighborhood vote on it. This is very different from what is claimed. In the end, it is still the majority of people in a neighborhood making the decision.

    What about the criteria for choosing to veto? The text says that the project must not only be unwanted by the neighborhood but also be contrary to either the neighborhood or city plan, or the city charter. This means, as I read it, that the neighborhood can't just veto anything, but can only veto projects that are in contravention to these plans or the charter. In other words, if a developer tries to build something in violation of the plans or even the city charter, if the neighborhood doesn't care to stop it, they can move ahead. The developer is still able to work against these plans and the charter if they can convince the residents it's okay.

    Asking the city to defend the neighborhood decision is a natural extension of it's job as the proxy will of the people. A neighborhood is a significant chunk of the city but has no real legal authority to enforce it's will except through the city. This empowers the neighborhood to have force behind its will. And since the neighborhood is de facto the will of the people in its domain then that is the highest form of democracy, in my opinion.

    I certainly have more to say, but this is enough for now.

    I still am undecided about prop 4. I think it has a lot of problems. But this one issue, the neighborhood veto, to me seems very straightforward and really, a good thing.

  8. I really appreciate you sharing your point of view, Andrew!

    I agree that Prop 4 spells out a lengthy process that 15% would ultimately have to go through to get a plan vetoed. And I do feel that neighborhoods should have a say in what happens around them. But there are just too many loopholes in this process for it to work the way Prop 4 advocates claim it would.

  9. In response to Andrew's comment, my concern is that the neighborhood council members are not elected and not accountable. There is no mechanism to remove them if you want your neighborhood to go a different direction, unlike our system of representative democracy with the City Council.

    I don't mean to suggest that these council members are bad people. They care enough to show up, and I give them credit for that. I just want a little more scrutiny and process for major decisions that threaten someone's ability to build something great for our city.

    Bethany does a great job of pointing out the potential for conflict between a mandate to create more affordable housing and authority at the neighborhood level to veto projects, as just one of the many problems in this measure. So often I see people who want absolutely NO change in their neighborhoods: no higher-density development to help reduce sprawl, in particular, and affordable housing is typically going to be multi-family units.

    The grounds for a neighborhood council veto include anything in the city charter, which will include all these provisions and much, much more. If you haven't read the full city charter, you don't know what those grounds are and thus don't know what powers you're giving your neighborhood council.

    For my own take on why I'm voting NO on Prop 4, see