Doctrine of Public Trust Part 1

Foundations of Public Trust

“The concept of the public trust relates back to the origins of democratic government and its seminal idea that within the public lies the true power and future of a society; therefore, whatever trust the public places in its officials must be respected.” Wikipedia

To my mind, there are additional elements that define the doctrine of public trust and most politicians/representatives of agency totally fail at upholding them.

To be a good steward of the public trust one must:

  1. Know what you are doing.
  2. Do the work with integrity and due diligence.
  3. Listen to all the people, to understand.
  4. Understand and value the fiduciary responsibility of being a guardian of the public commons.

In 2017, while citizens of Tacoma were fighting expansion of fossil fuel projects in the tideflats at the Port of Tacoma, a council member encouraged the citizens to propose a buffer zone amendment to the City’s planning commission. This was a huge undertaking by several citizens, who diligently researched the process, gave their own time, and prepared a substantial case for an increased buffer zone between port industries and residential neighborhoods.

Two years later, a committee is finally formed, and we see that the committee is so stacked with industry one would be hard pressed to believe that this whole effort was started by citizens. Two years later, the draft recommendations of the committee are being considered. The way that the “outcomes” are written gives one great pause. It appears that the intent is to maintain the status quo of unbridled development of industry at port and easy paths through city hall, to continue the status quo of industry infiltration and degradation of port lands, without the oversight and input of the people.

The trust that was placed with the councilman and the other representatives for the government of the city of Tacoma was threadbare to begin with, but now it is gossamer.

Here are the parts of the DRAFT Tideflats Subarea Work Plan that we should pay really close attention to, because industry and agency have already shown that they work together, and they don’t work for you.

Item number 1 on the plan states: “The Subarea Plan will protect the fisheries and shellfish resources that are essential to the tribe both culturally and economically and shall support continued growth of the regional economy and the currently estimated 29,000 existing family-wage jobs in the maritime, manufacturing and industrial sectors, the provision of infrastructure and services necessary to support these areas, and the important role of the Tideflats area as an economic engine for the City of Tacoma, Pierce County, state, and the region while protecting the livability of the surrounding areas.”

Good lord. So much to dig into there. First of all, that is one sentence!! One sentence and it’s so garbled and awkward that it would be really easy to get lost in the meaning. Which, to my mind, is intentional. There’s a lot of talk about “economy” and preservation of the economy for City of Tacoma, Pierce County, the state, and the region – NO MENTION OF THE TRIBE – even though they start the sentence by talking about the tribe AS IT PERTAINS TO FISHERIES. As if the Puyallup Tribe of Indians has no other economic stake or interest in the tideflats being a sustainable area aside from their constitutionally guaranteed treaty right to fisheries. And only once do the citizens of the ‘surrounding areas’ get mentioned. We must all only care about money. Not about anything else. /sarcasm/ Pay attention to how this gets handled and who sits at the table at every meeting. Pay attention to what they talk about.

Item number 3 states: “The Subarea Plan will establish environmental improvement goals for Commencement Bay, including providing for greater bay-wide diversity of ecosystems, restoration of historic functions and improvement of physical conditions to protect and enhance environmental and cultural resources.”

I’m very concerned that the focus of this environmental statement centers on Commencement Bay, and doesn’t really say anything about the Puyallup estuary nor the streams and creeks that flow into the estuary and then out into Commencement Bay. I am very concerned the potential that this means that environmental efforts will be intentionally focused away from the estuary, rather than acknowledging and honoring the fact that the estuary is a vital organ of Commencement Bay, and therefore the Salish Sea. It is very critical that this item does not get lost in the shuffle.

Item number 5 finally addresses health and safety. After all the talk of the economy, we finally get to the health and safety of the people. Remember Wikipedia’s description of the doctrine of the public trust? “The concept of the public trust relates back to the origins of democratic government and its seminal idea that within the public lies the true power and future of a society…” the health and safety of the employees and residents should not register at number 5 on the list of priorities.

There are more items to address so say tuned for follow-up reviews.


I am reminded lately that the universe is a very intentional place. No effort or action goes without consequence. Those consequences can be mitigated by intentionality.


In this season of electing representatives, I see so much anguish and fervor. I see a lot of fear. I am remembering that creating anything from fear rarely has a good outcome. I offer to you these thoughts that have been rumbling around my consciousness for the last couple of days, on the topic of “what do I want in a representative” – sometimes alternately titled as “what kind of representative would I be?”.

I wish for a representative who eschews the traditional proliferation of road signs and wishes rather to embrace and make known her/his heart with a handshake and a conversation. A reminder that the energy s/he puts into the world lasts longer when it comes from the heart.

I wish for a representative who avoids fancy dinners with exclusive constituents and favors the community potlucks and neighborhood council meetings. Who accepts a dinner/lunch invitation from industry/wealthy constituents ONLY if a member from the community, whose life is affected by the topic to be discussed at said dinner/lunch, is also invited.

I wish for a representative who remembers that the ‘resources’ s/he manages are not privileges but are rights; that these ‘resources’ are shared by all and should be considered and discussed within the greater community, rather than in a small group of exclusively selected participants.

I wish for a representative who does not complain when her/his constituents get saucy or loud when it comes to solving the wicked problems we face.

I wish for a representative who does not have a cold heart and will stop everything to make sure that the most vulnerable among us are cared for, rather than continuing ‘business as usual’ as if nothing is more important.

These are a few of my wishes. What are yours?

Owning my junk

This morning I reinstated a spiritual practice that I have been neglecting. I wanted to share in case it resonates with anyone else. Personally, I believe that this practice has profound implications for moving us toward the world we dream of…if we dream of a world of harmony, reciprocal and balanced relationships.

In my meditation, I searched for those areas where I am imperfect or out of alignment with my higher self. One of those was ego; being too full of ego.

Ego is a part of our psyches that we can’t ignore and we shouldn’t ignore it. Like everything and every component of this existence, it is capable of both light and dark. Mine has been super heavy.

So, I brought that out into the light. Asked for help in balancing, for good and graceful lessons, and leave it in peace knowing that my intent is affirmed.

It is not meant to be a way to berate or abuse my spirit. It is meant as a good medicine, to clean and discard what is hurtful and to learn a good lesson that helps others and myself be our highest selves.

Bizaan. Peace.