EDB et al. vs. Save Tacoma Water

Two local business organizations, together with the Port of Tacoma, have joined in a lawsuit to halt the ballot efforts of Save Tacoma Water, a citizen conservation group. In addition, the plaintiffs ask that Save Tacoma Water be ordered to pay their legal expenses.

Save Tacoma Water’s signature-gathering is almost complete, and the petitions are expected to be turned in by June 15th, unless barred by the court.

The ballot initiatives would require voter approval of any new application for water rights in excess of one million gallons per day. That idea was born last year as part of the grassroots opposition to the now defeated mega-methanol plant, which by design would have consumed ten million gallons of fresh water per day.

In announcing the lawsuit, the "business leaders" cite both legal and ideological grounds. Their press release mentions as precedent a case in Spokane, in which people’s local water rights were supposedly thrown out of court. Of course, any available legal strategies will be employed, if they seem to have a bearing on the case.

However, the main emphasis in the press announcement is the notion that the proposed initiatives would "chill economic development in the county if they are allowed to go to a public vote, whether or not they passed."

Of 6,000 commercial users of Tacoma water, only two currently meet the extreme threshold of one million gallons per day. One of them is the well known paper mill, responsible in large part for the "Aroma of Tacoma" stigma of yesteryear. The other is the amusingly-named Niagara Bottling Company, which continued to buy a million gallons a day during last summer’s drought.

So where’s the economic chill? In other words, what type of business would have a problem? If anything, the presence of new polluting industries in a residential area, squandering water during a period of draught, could be a severe economic burden.

Truth is the first casualty in any war, including a propaganda war. Anti-business bias is a charge commonly invoked whenever the Chamber of Commerce (one of the plaintiffs) feels its investment schemes may have to be scrutinized.

Accordingly, it is the danger of a stifled business environment -- not the legal case -- that is given the most schrift in their media publicity. Bruce Kendall, CEO of the Economic Development Board, says "The fact that it’s illegal and unconstitutional is, from our perspective, almost beside the point."

Translation: The profits of the wealthy elite must be protected from public needs, so they are making up any technicality to defeat democracy.

Residents of Tacoma, Federal Way and other communities look out on the waters of Puget Sound and they see a finite life-giving resource, threatened with drought, as we learned last year. Members of the corporate establishment look out and see a chance for a vast windfall.

The most recent news is that the Tacoma City Attorney, who in March helped prepare the ballot initiative and carefully shepherded it through the legal roadmap, has suddenly decided to join the lawsuit of the political business networks. What could have caused her change of heart?

A letter from Jeff Milchen to the 4/18 New Yorker expresses it quite well: "America’s independent businesses -- especially those serving local residents -- have more in common with average citizens than with the giant corporations that hold so much sway over our courts and legislative bodies."