Letters to the EditorSpotlight

Guns, equity, recycling, shelter and Public Broadband’s last stand

Joined by ASUWT president Vincent Da, I attended the city council meeting of October 29 in its entirety following a meeting we had with two city council members regarding parking issues for students and Koz apartment residents, the details of which we will announce later. 

Seldom are the council chambers so full that there are no seats available, but in response to the city of Tacoma’s proposed gun and ammunition tax every gun rights and gun safety activist in Tacoma seemed to be in attendance. Competitive shooters, instructors, gun store employees, and members of Mothers Demand Action were clearly present. Tensions were high, media crews were present and council was late to start due to disagreements over amendment language as explained by Mayor Woodards. 

When city council finally did convene, members moved to suspend the rules and consider Ordinance 28624 before anything else, an unusual move. Mayor Woodards explained that there was simply too much to consider about the ordinance, and that the amendments that were to be proposed should have time to be reviewed by the public. She made a unanimous motion to push the final reading and vote to Nov. 12, apologized to the nigh hundred people who had signed up to testify on the issue, and called a recess. With the item removed, the people who wished to give comment could no longer do so. Most of the people that filled the room then cleared out during the recess, while council members moved in to talk to some of them and the media present. It’s hard to say if the vote will have the same enormous turnout on the Nov. 12, but any potential voter backlash around the issue for incumbents McCarthy and Blocker will no longer be a concern. People were certainly upset. 

Moving on a delegation of women accepted a proclamation declaring October 2019 as Safe Infant Sleep Awareness Month and spoke about the issue of sudden infant death, 2nd hand smoke, racial inequities in childcare, and so on. Two public hearings were then set, one around a revision of the biennial budget and the other on a development on East 51st street. 

The few remaining folks who had signed up to comment on agenda items were then allowed to speak, excluding the public hearing on the surplussing/ sale of Click! Network. Of the three purchase resolutions on the agenda, all of which passed unanimously, only one received public attention. The city had budgeted 150,000 thousand dollars to convene non-profit, faith based, and community stakeholders to discuss emergency shelter needs. The money was allocated to Metropolitan Development Council, a local non-profit homeless services provider. One commentator noted that it felt like the city was passing the buck to these organizations, when in reality homelessness should be a city problem, using tax revenue to create a real social safety net for the economically displaced. Others were concerned about the faith based groups discriminating against homeless individuals of different or no religion and sexual orientation. The mayor had a staff member address these points, explaining that this convening was to find sites suitable for new homeless shelters. She also mentioned that the city could not legally enforce any of its public camping bans without adequate shelter space to direct those living in tents to. 

Next there was a lengthy discussion around city recycling. Changes in the private market, namely China halting its import of first world recyclables has stopped the process of recycling many materials entirely. The remaining items now need to be washed, and the city is investing a large sum of money and hiring new staff to reeducate the public on what can now be recycled, as well as adding an additional surcharge for customers. Councilmember Thoms introduced an amendment that would remove the surcharge in the event that market conditions change, but this seems unlikely as long as Tacoma and the rest of the United States relies on exporting our trash across the Pacific and uses private companies to facilitate this. We don’t handle our sewage this way, and have seen that it is a necessity to make it a public utility, recycle it and even make it into useful products like Tagro, so we can only hope that we will begin to see the rest of our waste that way. As a councilmember pointed out, when even Councilmember Mello (the resident environmentalist) doesn’t know what he can or can’t recycle in Tacoma, we have a problem. The surcharge again passed unanimously.

After another unanimous vote on a contract renewal with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Tacoma Power Unit, there was then two relatively long presentations. The first of which was on several changes to the way the city of Tacoma contracts with these various companies. The city staffer presenting this explained how in spite of different minority groups making up x amount of x businesses, the city only contracts with a small percentage of them. The majority of the business owners the city contracts with are white, so these changes would amount to an affirmative action policy for women and minority owned businesses, requiring the city to take bids from historically marginalized populations. The following presentation was around improving equity in the Tacoma Creates art program, and was admittedly so long that my compatriots from ASUWT decided to leave the meeting halfway through it. Creating a new government program is a lengthy and thorough process but I think once we begin to see the amazing stuff this city funded arts program will create we’ll know it’ll all be worth it. 

By the end of the meeting, those of us that were left gave comment on the city’s proposed surplussing of Tacoma Public Utilities Click! Network, the first public broadband system in the country. The city of Tacoma was previously stopped in court from an outright privatization of the network, with a judge stating that any sale of a public utility must be brought forward to a vote of the people. The city’s response has been to declare the entire network as a surplus in order to sell it to private broadband company Rainier Connect. Activists from a range of backgrounds brought up how Click! had never gone under an independent audit to determine if it was financially unstable (a claim made by the city), that it generates revenue for the city, has been reliable for its customers, and city’s around the country have modeled their public networks around ours. I personally shared my concerns that a private company would mean a profit margin for its owner, meaning higher prices all around and lower wages for its workers. I also brought up that the current Click! employees are unionized whereas Rainier Connect is an anti-union company, and that Rainier Connect could easily be purchased by companies like Comcast. No comments were given in favor of the sale of the network, and the people were unanimous in saying that this deserves a vote of the people. 

City council agenda’s and recordings can be found here:

If you’re interested in coming to a city council meeting, have any questions, or would like to learn more about ASUWT you can reach me at asuwtcl@uw.edu