Friday, July 29, 2011
The city of Walla Walla has a proposal before the City Council to change the zoning rules so city officials could rezone its property -- city-owned property -- without going through the same process as citizens. Why?
Well, according to the city legal staff, the current rezone system is a lengthy process that often takes well over a year to complete and is costly in terms of staff hours.
In addition, this proposal would allow the city to rezone its property even if that particular land use was not stipulated in the city's comprehensive plan.
Now, to be fair, this plan is not being pitched for nefarious reasons. It came up because two seemingly simple land deals became way too complex.
In one case the city was trying to follow a recommendation of a 2005 Homeland Security survey calling for a security fence to be placed around the Clinton Street water reservoir.
In the other case, the city wanted to do a small land swap with a neighboring private property owner near the city-owned golf course so steps could be taken to keep golf balls away from surrounding private property.
Those rezones took three or more years to complete, according to city staff.
Nevertheless, this proposal to circumvent the system is outrageous. It's an affront to citizens.
The city government should have to follow the same rules as the public and go through the exact same process for zoning or rezoning property.
If the process is so lengthy and costly, then fix it.
Laws work best when council members (or legislators or members of Congress) who pass the laws also have to follow the laws.
On Wednesday, the Walla Walla City Council, by a 4-3 vote, gave the green light to the city's legal staff to draft the ordinance for a final vote. Council members Dominick Elia, Shane Laib, Jerry Cummins and Conrado Cavazos voted in favor.
Fred Mitchell, Jim Barrow and Mayor Barbara Clark wisely rejected the ordinance because it would do away with an important part of the public hearing process and give the city more rights than the average property owner.
The proposal has been tweaked to allow opportunity for public comment at City Council meetings.
That improves this plan, but not enough to merit supporting it. We urge the Council to reject this proposal.
City government should have to follow the same zoning laws as the citizens it serves.