Notes from today’s Council meetings

Here’s what happened today at the three meetings the Council held on Monday.

This morning’s weekly Council Briefing began with an update from the Office of Intergovernmental Relations on the ongoing state legislative session. There are currently 3700 active bills, but that is about to change: the “policy cutoff” for bills without budget impact to be passed out of their committee of origin is this Friday, and the “fiscal cutoff” for bills with budget impact is next Tuesday. All bills must then be passed out of their house of origin by February 14th. By next Monday’s update, we’ll know more about what still has a chance to be enacted into law.

Council President Harrell announced that tomorrow his committee is meeting to consider the appointment of Ryan Vancil to the position of Hearing Examiner to replace the retiring Sue Tanner. Vancil is currently Deputy Hearing Examiner. The Office of the Hearing Examiner reports up through the City Council, not the Mayor, so the Council is responsible for appointments in that office.

Council Member Herbold reported that the third meeting of the Progressive Revenue Task Force is this Thursday morning. The task force will hear reports back from its two subcommittees, and discuss options for revenue.

The Council’s Select Committee on Citywide MHA met this morning to receive a briefing on the plan submitted by the executive branch for the Council’s consideration and (hopefully) eventual ratification. I’ll post a longer recap later this week. the Council hopes to complete its community engagement and subsequent amendments to the legislation by the end of the summer.

The big event today turned out to be a non-binding resolution on something happening outside of the City Council’s jurisdiction: the liquid natural gas (LNG) plant that Puget Sound Energy is building in Tacoma in anticipation of a permit to operate the facility. Two weeks ago, Council member Sawant introduced a resolution opposing the project, noting an urgency to get it passed since construction of the facility was already underway.

Last week, the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency (PSCAA) determined that the project required a supplemental Environmental Impact Statement, which will tie up the decision on issuing the operating permit for months. That takes much of the urgency out of the resolution (Council member O’Brien disagrees, arguing that if the permit is denied, PSE ratepayers will still foot the bill for the project through higher rates).  Nevertheless, Sawant pushed forward with bringing the resolution up for a vote this afternoon. However, late last week and over the weekend Council member Juarez and some of her colleagues proposed several amendments to the resolution, and not all Council members had time to review them before this morning’s back-to-back meetings. That led to the suggestion of referring the resolution to Juarez’s committee, with the newfound luxury of time, to appropriately deal with the amendments. Harrell further argued that he wanted to see it move to committee “to extend everyone the opportunity to see our public policy process.”  The ensuing conversation showed a schism between Sawant and Juarez, even on the fundamental goal of the resolution and the primary objection to the LNG plant. Juarez argued that the Puyallup tribe, by treaty, must be included in deliberations on the plant by virtue of its location, but the decision-making body, the PSCAA, had no elected representatives from the Puyallup or any other of the nine tribes in its jurisdiction. “Elected tribal leadership must be part of this conversation, otherwise it can’t go forward.” She reminded her colleagues that tribes “are not environmental groups. They are not political groups. They are a government. Not a club, not an interest group, not an activist group.” She went on further to say that she was glad to have it come back to her committee for further work, as she wanted to approach it “government to government.”

Sawant, for her part, continued to insist that this was primarily  an environmental issue. “This is not about government-to-government relations; this is about the rights of all people. We all share the same fate on climate change. All of us have a right to speak.”  Objecting to what she saw as a “tiered activist” model, she said “we can’t let up on our movement. We can’t put blind faith in officials.”  Sawant had earlier noted that the original resolution, which she pushed her colleagues to pass this afternoon, was written and given to her by activists.

This afternoon’s public comment session was long and divisive. Environmental activists and tribal leaders spoke in opposition to the LNG plant, while labor leaders and elected officials from other jurisdictions said that the jobs the plant would bring were important and urged the Council to “stay in its lane” rather than interfere in other jurisdictions. Mayor Durkan has a seat on the PSCAA, and air and water doesn’t respect jurisdictional boundaries, so the City Council has some claim to being a stakeholder in the PSCAA’s decision on the plant.

After nearly two hours of public comment and debate this afternoon, in the end the Council voted to send the bill to Juarez’s committee. There is no immediate timeline for when it will come back before the full Council, but given the sentiments expressed today it’s  a fair bet that it will have much stronger language in support of tribal sovereignty and treaty rights in the PSCAA’s activities.