Letters to the EditorSpotlight

Honoring Harold G. Moss, Tacoma’s tent camping ban, and Tacoma’s fossil fuel fight

The city council meeting of Tuesday October 1 was a particularly long one. With a tribute to Tacoma’s former Mayor, an ordinance harming the homeless, and the public comment period on the Tacoma Tideflats Interim Regulations, the room was filled with activists, community members, and emotional testimonies. 

For those that don’t know, city council always opens with a series of proclamations. Tonight the month of October was declared Italian American Heritage and Culture Month, Walk and Roll to School Month, and National Community Planning Month simultaneously. The Mayor always reads the proclamation and one or more community members says a few words and then accepts it. It’s a lighthearted way to start off the meetings, and one of the few places where applause is allowed. 

Council then bumped item 12, the resolution to declare the 34th street bridge the Harold G. Moss bridge up the agenda, no doubt because the 90 year old former Mayor Moss was present, and council was expecting a long and contentious public comment session. Mayor Moss was honored by several city council members, members of the community, and port commission candidate Frank Boykin. Harold G. Moss is Tacoma’s first Black mayor, and was a mentor to several sitting council members. Mayor Woodards considers him to a father, and affectionately calls him “dad.” It was stressed that few have any idea how much Moss had given to Tacoma, but that he had worked hard to light up the bridge that is now his namesake. An interesting thing about this resolution is that it’s the first thing in Tacoma to be named after someone who is still alive — thanks to an ordinance amending the city law several sessions ago. Moss himself expressed his heartfelt gratitude, and then he and his entourage left as public comment began. 

Public comment is available every council session on anything on the agenda. The second Tuesday of every month is something called Citizen’s Forum, where the public can comment on anything under the city’s jurisdiction. Speaking time is limited to two minutes. 

Item number sixteen, ordinance 28615 stirred up the ire of the Tacoma/Pierce Coalition to End Homelessness, Tacoma DSA, ASUWT, Tacoma Tenants Organizing Committee, and several community members, both housed and houseless. The ordinance came recommended by the Metro Parks Department, and agency under the City’s jurisdiction. The ordinance enacts a ban on all walled tent structures, effectively making the homeless encampments in many of Tacoma’s parks illegal. While there has been a Federal Court Case in the 9th Circuit declaring a similar law unconstitutional, under the rationale of “cruel and unusual punishment’, the city believes that they are in the right. The law struck down in Boise Idaho made tent camping a criminal offense, Tacoma’s new ordinance makes it a civil offense, like a parking ticket. 

Upwards of twenty people had signed up for public comment, with only one individual speaking to a different issue (Metro Park changes around the use of drones, which is still under 28615). Members of Tacoma DSA and the Tacoma Tenants Organizing Committee (TTOC), passed out flyers among themselves with talking points. The back of these sheets said in bold lettering, “WINTER IS COMING”, then in a smaller font “shelter is a human right. Which side are you on? The points highlighted by speakers were numerous. Only one of several homeless services providers was consulted on this ordinance. Forcing people out of the parks without adequate shelters to go to is immoral. Day time and night time shelters need to be providers (many nighttime shelters close during the day). Giving fines to homeless people is immoral. Some currently homeless people testified that shelters were unsafe and unsanitary. There are issues with shelters banning the three “Ps”, packs, pets, and partners. I was proud that our entire ASUWT executive board signed a statement supporting many of these points. Only two gentlemen spoke in favor of the ordinance, wanting parks to be clear to use despite the human cost. 

Many commentators asked for at least a postponement, which Councilmember Blocker (Hilltop) introduced via an amendment, in spite of sponsoring the ordinance in its original form. The amendment gave a 60 day postponement to the fine enforcement to take place, but the ordinance passed posthumously. Councilmember Beale (South Tacoma) was alone in his dissent, saying that he didn’t understand why the ban should come before actually providing shelter space. Dissent is rare on Tacoma City Council, but Beale has been a stalwart advocate for housing justice and deviates more than most. 

With a collective sigh of disappointment, the housing justice folks then left, leaving mainly an assortment of city staff, environmentalists, and Puyallup Tribal members to comment on the very controversial Interim Tideflats Regulations. 

Interim Regulations are renewed every six month, and govern the Port area while a sub-area plan is developed. For those that don’t know, a sub-area plan governs what can and can’t be built, and what businesses can and can’t operate in a city. Tacoma currently has a completed sub-area plan for the Tacoma Mall, which zones for large commercial space and some high density housing. The current interim regulation at the Port of Tacoma ban new smelters, coal terminals, mining/quarrying, and refineries. However, there is a large loophole allowing fossil fuel companies that are already present to expand internally. U.S. Oil, Targa, and Puget Sound Energy’s LNG plant are examples of this, and U.S. Oil was recently purchased by a larger company that is pushing expansion. 

A separate public comment period is set aside for the interim regulations, and groups have been showing up to these for the better part of three years. A handful of labor union reps and a representative from the Port believe that no regulations are necessary, whereas environmental advocates want to end the fossil fuel expansion loophole. The city has consistently renewed the regulations unchanged, irritating both sides. The city has also barely begun the sub-area planning process. Environmental groups like 350, the Sierra Club, and the Washington Environmental Council consistently testify every month on the dangers of supporting the fossil fuel industry during a greenhouse gas crisis. The Puyallup tribe maintains that the fossil fuel industry is killing their estuary, and in violation of their treaty rights. In response to the September 20 climate strike, more youth have been present to voice their concerns. I delivered a statement from ASUWT to city council demanding a halt to fossil fuel expansion. Tacoma Public Utilities Board member Chrissy Cooley spoke last through tears, explaining that she was terrified for her daughter’s future, and frustrated that she had to spend time fighting city council instead of being with her infant daughter. On September 20, Mayor Woodards and Councilmembers Mello, Ushka, and Blocker heard the demands of the climate strikers outside of city hall. All four of them agreed to the demands of the strikers, to declare a climate emergency, update their climate action plan, and to halt fossil fuel expansion at the Port of Tacoma. Now we have to hold them to those commitments.City council agenda’s and recordings are available at the city of Tacoma’s website at https://www.cityoftacoma.org/government/city_council/ccmeetings