A Letter To Nancy Tosta Re. RCW 53.54.030

Ms. Tosta is a Council Member for the City Of Burien and chairs the Burien Airport Committee. This letter follows their joint meeting with the Des Moines Aviation Committee. The discussion was ostensibly about the path forward after both cities had decided to withdraw from the StART.

First off, I want to commend you for the manner in which you conducted tonight’s meeting. I had no idea that you were also a professional cat herder. I do, however, think there is reason for optimism. Perhaps keep a flask and a bag of NSAIDS in yer bag next time. I do mine ahead of time and it does seem to help with the blood pressure.

As I told you, I did not want to add to the night’s entropy. But this is the public comment I would have given:

Most people do not realize this but the Port loses in court all the time. What it doesn’t do is lose big issues involving community action–at least not since I’ve been able to research back to 1948. We believe that your group has a chance if it can focus all its energies on a single issue that everyone can get behind. Fortunately, our State legislators are well-liked and all cities are now reasonably well-funded. So if you can find an issue that has public support we believe that the airport communities can push one modest action over the line.

The question really becomes: do your members have the discipline to actually win? Can they put aside their dozens of asks and decades of grudges and really focus on a single issue? Because that is what we feel is the only viable strategy.

The reason SeatacNoise.Info decided to focus on Port Packages (RCW 53.54.030 §5) is because it’s the only issue that seems to generate genuine broad public support. Frankly, I don’t think many of your fellow activists fully appreciate this aspect of the fight. The vast majority of residents in Des Moines do not care about airport issues the way y’all do. Many activists are determined to do what is ‘right’ whether or not the rest of their town is on board. They may be correct, but there is also something undemocratic about this “eat your broccoli” approach. You can’t simply ignore the public because they’re ‘wrong’.

A big part of this lack of public support is a long-standing failure of electeds. None of the city councils has done much to actually engage and educate the public. In fact, they’ve done almost everything possible to run away from conflict with the Port since 2004. And let’s be frank, that is because your peers are like the public they represent: they either don’t know, don’t care or don’t want to wake the bear.

However, we believe that you cannot succeed without significant support from residents. Your constituents won’t tolerate cities putting major effort on issues they cannot see and that will not bear fruit within a reasonable time frame. So a real part of your strategy must consider how to obtain more buy-in from residents. (Anecdotally, in my campaign for City Council I’ve talked with over a thousand DM residents. Ninety percent of those people have no idea that the airport is getting ready for yet another significant expansion.)

Fortunately, a failed Port Package doesn’t require a lot of consciousness-raising. It means damage to a person’s home. And that is visceral, tangible harm that everyone can respond to regardless of their level of concerns about noise, pollution or any other impacts.

We use the term Port Package Failure in a very specific manner, by the way. We only use that term of art for homes where the structure or health have been compromised. We do this not to be pedantic, but because we want the wider public to understand that these are severe issues–ones that will engender the widest possible sympathies. People with foggy windows and the odd crack (like my home, by the way) also deserve help, but those homes do not generate the same broad sympathy as a homeowner with severe mold or rotten structure.

*Fixing this legislation is straightforward. And it’s just as easy for State legislators from **Camas as residents in Burien to understand. No one has to explain to a State Rep. why home damage from a bad contractor engaged by a huge corporation is unfair.

We feel that the one thing activists need is a win. If the Port can be defeated on even this small issue, it opens the door for other issues. Because as much as activists need a win, the public needs to see the Port lose in order to believe that change is possible.

With some serious effort by all players, this could be a law in twenty four months. Imagine that: genuine relief for hundreds of homeowners even before some of those ‘studies’ are complete.

That’s the kind of aggressive time-line we must be thinking about if we are to obtain meaningful relief. But we’re competing with the Port’s time-line so in our view we have no choice.

My partner, trained as a civil rights lawyer, sees this fight as being a battle for civil rights. He has convinced me that all successful civil rights battles are won by achieving extremely narrow victories one step at a time.



**In fact, Burien already has the draft change in their Resolution #407

*The original version actually read ‘Klakamas’. WTF? So much for trying to blog with that speech-to-text gizmo.

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