by KEVIN TAYLOR & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & N & lt;/span & ow for something completely different ... The presidential election is settled as you read this and we've either had the revolution or we haven't, my friends, so where do we go from here?
Well... to City Hall, of course.
It was full-on dark with a cloud-shrouded crescent moon hanging amber in the evening sky when the automatic sliding doors at City Hall rumbled open and a cheerful group of potential rabble-rousers came shouldering into the lobby and down the long stairs to the Chase Gallery beneath.
Men, women, young, old, white collar and blue, these chatty people represent neighborhood groups, unions and community activists under the umbrella of Envision Spokane, and they intend to bring the revolution to city government. They streamed into the basement of City Hall Monday evening to pose for a photograph, but it was striking timing -- just minutes prior to a meeting of the City Council.
The cheerful rebels from Envision Spokane are pitching an effort to amend the city charter and get a citizens' bill of rights onto the fall 2009 ballot -- whether the council likes it or not.
The council this year created its own committee to review the city charter, but the group is primarily concerned with tweaks and housekeeping matters.
Envision Spokane has a bold idea with 11 proposed rights that represent a paradigm shift to create a "people's rights-based city charter rather than a commerce-based charter," as one proponent explains. The document covers everything from living wages to land-use.
"Envision Spokane is a direction away from commerce-based law to rights-based law, a movement towards the rights of human beings, and the land and environment that humans live from," says Gunnar Holmquist, a Spokane physician, in an e-mail.
& lt;span class= "dropcap " & D & lt;/span & o a quick online search for "cities bill of rights" and the Internet turns up everything from a Parent Bill of Rights in New York City to a Children's Bill of Rights in Portland to a Victim's Bill of Rights in Yuma. There is a Cyclist's Bill of Rights in Los Angeles and a Customer Service Bill of Rights in Seattle, and even a bill of rights for people who get parking tickets in Chicago.
But none advocate such a direct injection of populism into municipal government as Envision Spokane proposes.
"Residents have the right to a healthy, locally based economy," reads the proposed first charter amendment. "Residents have the right to a healthy environment ..." reads the proposed fourth charter amendment.
"Neighborhoods have the right ... to determine their futures," reads the sixth.
Other proposed amendments cite the right to affordable housing, health care and that any business employing 15 workers or more pay a wage based on 165 percent of the state minimum wage.
"A bill of rights that talks about good-paying jobs and a healthy Earth, that's fine. But mandating employers on what they pay ... that doesn't work in Spokane," says City Councilman Steve Corker.
What works in Spokane or doesn't work in Spokane is exactly the business-as-usual mindset Envision Spokane is challenging.
& lt;span class= "dropcap " & T & lt;/span & he bones of a citizen's bill of rights became visible late last year in the frustration of neighborhood councils and local-interest advocates feeling they had no voice in growth, development and land-use affairs.
The sense of futility seemed to crystallize early this year in the lengthy fight by residents of the South Gate neighborhood to shape proposed "big-box" retail development at 44th and Regal.
It was a case where new urbanism met Spokane-as-usual. The neighborhood group insisted the development have a sidewalk presence instead of a big store plopped into a large parking lot.
The developers expressed irritation that citizens would tell them how to run the project. The neighborhood group staunchly maintained that they would be living with the project, and thus certainly did have a say.
Though it may not have been articulated this way at the time, it was a clear delineation of the rights of people versus the rights of commerce.
"Absolutely, totally this has grown out of frustration at not having a voice," says Kathy Miotke, board chairwoman for the citywide Neighborhood Alliance.
Miotke is not directly involved with Envision Spokane's proposed charter amendments, but says they are needed.
Miotke is also a member of the Five Mile Neighborhood Council, which has voted to support Envision Spokane's efforts. The Neighborhood Alliance and local councils such as Five Mile are at the front lines of whether neighborhoods have a say in shaping growth.
Typically, the land-use and planning processes are tilted toward development interests, who have greater familiarity with and access to both regulations and regulators. Residents often learn of a development proposal in later stages, and are often left making emotional arguments about quality-of-life issues that hearing examiners or hearing boards can rarely consider.
& lt;span class= "dropcap " & "U & lt;/span & nder the city charter, neighborhood councils are advisory only. They don't have legally binding authority to do anything ... and neighborhoods are finding that to be part of the problem," says Thomas Linzey, a public interest lawyer from Pennsylvania who came to Spokane to conduct a three-day Democracy School and now is staying here to help shepherd the charter amendments.
"The neighborhoods came together to say ... if we don't want a certain development coming in, we have a mechanism to stop it ... and claim some authority," Linzey says.
This would not be legislative authority as Councilman Corker was thinking Monday, concerned that the city would be split into 27 legislative districts -- one for every neighborhood council.
The amendment proposes quasi-judicial authority to neighborhoods, Linzey says. "There is a lot of misinformation out there," from gossip when the 11 amendments were still in flux. Now that they are complete, he says, Envision Spokane is presenting them to council members.
"This is quite an amazing document on any number of levels," Linzey says.
"I think it came out of a proactive discussion of people envisioning what this community can look like," says Patty Gates, an Envision board member. "There are any number of battles, whether it is a dirty river or land use.
"There is going to be a whole lot of conversation about this. There will be forums all over the city," Gates says.
Holmquist, the family physician, says, "Whether the movement of Envision Spokane fails or succeeds doesn't change that the momentum has begun, and eventually a city somewhere will pass a charter that will establish the rights of humans and the environment ... above the rights of all else. We could make that city Spokane."
RIGHTING THE WRONGS
& lt;span class= "dropcap " & E & lt;/span & nvision Spokane plans a series of public meetings in January to present the group's proposal to add a bill of rights to the city charter. A coalition of neighborhood groups, unions and community activists held 48 meetings since April to hammer out 11 declarations, covering everything from preventive health care, respect for the environment and giving people a voice in land use and wages.
The number of meetings and the attendance were encouraging. "It just kept growing," Kai Huschke, Envision Spokane board member, says.
"Some meetings would run until 8:30 or 9 at night and we'd ask, 'Do you want to stop?' and people said no," adds Shallon Dawson, who represents the local Sierra Club on the Envision board.
Here are the proposed rights:
First -- Residents have the right to a healthy, locally based economy.
Second -- Residents have the right to preventative health care.
Third -- Residents have the right to housing.
Fourth -- Residents have the right to a healthy environment.
Fifth -- The natural environment has the right to exist and flourish.
Sixth -- Neighborhoods have the right to determine their own futures.
Seventh -- Neighborhoods have the right to have growth-related infrastructure costs provided by new development.
Eighth -- Workers have the right to be paid a living wage, and if greater, to be paid the prevailing wage on construction projects.
Ninth -- Workers have the right to employer neutrality when unionizing and the right to Constitutional protections within the workplace.
Tenth -- Workers have the right to work as apprentices on construction projects.
Eleventh -- Residents, neighborhoods, workers, neighborhood councils and the City of Spokane have the right to enforce these charter amendments.
Envision Spokane members intend to discuss the proposals with people around the city starting in January. They are briefing City Council members and city staff starting this week.
If the council does not agree to make the charter amendments, Envision Spokane is prepared to gather signatures and place the proposal on the 2009 fall ballot.
A Website outlining the amendments and containing room for comments is envisionspokane.org and will be live after Nov. 15, Envision Spokane advisor Thomas Linzey says.[email protected]