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.

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Twylia (the 'i' is silent)

~ I am Anishinaabe-kwe with Scottish heritage and Sami DNA. I speak on the behalf of no one but myself. My ancestors inform and guide me. My voice is but one of many who are calling for change. We have much work to do to create a good space for the real human beings who are waiting to be born.

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