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City of Tacoma Will Issue Formal Response to Action Filed

City of Tacoma Will Issue Formal Response to Action Filed
June 7, 2016

Gwen Schuler, Media and Communications, gschuler@cityoftacoma.org, (253) 591-5152
Maria Lee, Media and Communications, maria.lee@cityoftacoma.org, (253) 591-2054

City of Tacoma Will Issue Formal Response to Action Filed 
Challenging Citizen Initiatives Pertaining to Large-Volume Industrial Water Usage 

Tacoma, Wash. – Today, the City Manager advised the City Council that the City of Tacoma will be formally responding to an action filed by the Port of Tacoma, the Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber of Commerce and the Tacoma-Pierce County Economic Development Board. The City is named as a defendant in this action challenging two citizen initiatives pertaining to large-volume industrial water usage. 

Both citizen initiatives require that applications for water service of one million gallons or more of water use per day be placed on the ballot at the next general election for voter approval, that the applicant for water service pay associated election costs, and that any regulation or law that may conflict be superseded. 

"We support the citizen initiative process as a way to develop policy and maintain checks and balances in the legislative process," said Mayor Marilyn Strickland. "Under state law, however, the City does not have the legal authority to pick and choose who gets access to water in our service area. As a result, access to water cannot be determined by initiative. We must apply existing state and federal laws that ensure equality of access to municipal services. We will improve processes to address the community's concerns and ensure that all voices are heard."

Many significant laws in Washington state have been enacted through the citizen initiative process. However, the initiative process does not currently offer clearly outlined steps for examining the impacts of proposed initiatives. As a result, initiatives can sometimes contain language that appeals to strong and legitimate public sentiment, but may lead to uniformed decisions, unintended consequences, or ineffectual provisions due to conflicts with other laws.

"Having listened carefully to community concerns, we definitely understand the need for improved communication regarding large-scale projects with high resource utilization,” said City Manager T.C. Broadnax. “As a part of the City’s response to the complaint, we will be asking the court to review whether or not these particular initiatives exceed their scope by including administrative matters, powers granted exclusively to the City Council, and matters beyond the legislative scope of local authority, including matters that conflict with other laws." 

In response to citizen feedback, City staff are also currently working to develop an expanded notification process for projects taking place around Tacoma, and will specifically be working more closely with the Port of Tacoma on improved communications surrounding large-scale Port-owned projects. 

“A formal agreement with the Port to address issues of Port-City notification, environmental review, and partnership on subarea planning will be developed,” said District 2 Council Member Robert Thoms. “Staff will be pursuing the establishment and implementation of interim regulations that address the process for large-scale projects. It is imperative our partners, including the Port, businesses, the Puyallup Tribe and impacted neighbors establish a way to best utilize the benefit of our waterfront.”