Posting this here to share with other members of the landmarks board, and any other interested parties, to get suggestions for what I should say Monday should the City Council grant any of us the ability to comment. If you’d like more context for this post, the original post on the subject is here.
Members of the city council, and other fellow citizens, thank you for the opportunity to comment. My name is Walter Neary. I live in Lakewood. I was the Lakewood Landmark and Heritage Advisory Board’s first chairman back in 2000 and have served on it except when I had the honor of being elected twice to the Lakewood City Council in 2003 and 2007.
First of all, I realize that many of you individual council members were probably as surprised about this proposal as LHAB was. These remarks are not addressed to you, except I hope you will agree that things are being handled very badly. There are really two things to talk about how: how this is being done, and the actual proposal. Let me get this straight: you have an advisory board that is entrusted with official city activity and business? You have an advisory board to which you send a liaison who is supposed to share news with the advisory board? And you have a proposal to dramatically change that organization that has not even been discussed from the start? That’s really sad. I am sorry if these comments interrupt the dialogue between city staff and council members – and you are all very important people – but Lakewood was founded to serve all citizens. Citizens outside city government are important too.
Just because there are no original members left on the city council does not mean your city staff or God forbid, any of you, should forget why we voted to become a city in 1995. We became a city to give all citizens a voice. In whatever the matter is, sometimes an individual voice might win, sometimes it might lose, or maybe it just educates, but in all cases, Lakewood citizens are meant to have a say. That’s why we give this government a share of our property taxes and entrust it to form wise policy and make good decisions.
The way this is supposed to work is that any one of you, or someone on the city staff, or a member of the public says, “Gee, I have a question about LHAB.” Or, if you want to skip that step, you might say, “Gee, I have no understanding of LHAB and historic preservation, but I am against present practice. I want to change things.” It would be common courtesy to then begin a dialogue with LHAB. To ambush us with something buried in a city council agenda is a betrayal. This is the sort of thing Pierce County government did all the time in the 1990s, and the county’s relentless failure to represent actual citizens did more to encourage the vote for cityhood than most other campaign issues. People want to be respected and heard. If you are doing this to other entities in the city, I would be shocked and horrified. I really hope this was a fluke.
In terms of the actual proposal, I think what most offends me is that somehow all of this is justified by a phrase “in recognition of various property rights.” This is a variation of the common theme about historic preservation I would expect to hear on AM radio or a sitcom. I guess I should be thankful the staff report does not use the words “unAmerican” or “communist” because there is a track record of people using those words to force change as well.
Now, people will sometimes say, “oh, those historic preservation people hate property rights,” just as people will sometimes say politicians are only in it for themselves and city staff only exist to build their own empire. When I was on the city council, I didn’t like it when people said we were corrupt and had lost touch with the public. I would think you have to be the same way, because you know how hard you work to try to be fair and to do the right thing. So maybe you can imagine how we on LHAB feel now. Using sloppy and uninformed thinking and slogans to justify public policy is not a promising start for a discussion. I would suggest the phrase “in recognition of various property rights” be saved for bad AM talk radio, and that we instead have a mature discussion about what historic preservation really is and what we all want for Lakewood.
If the overriding interest of the staff and anyone on the council is defending property rights like a talk radio host means the phrase, LHAB is the least of your worries. The big chains on our freedom are the Lakewood comprehensive plan and the zoning code. They damage property rights far more than a history ordinance. For example, I’m pretty sure the code prevents someone from buying the house next to you, tearing it down and putting a gravel quarry in there. If you want to get on Fox News and be a hero, tear up the comp plan and zoning code. I should add that if anyone on city staff plans to do that, I hope you learn from this experience and tell the planning commission at the start of the process.
In that vein, your LHAB has actually worked very hard to juggle a variety of issues and priorities and struggled with matters of property rights and other rights. If you’d like to have a discussion about those, I know the members are available. I’d just say a couple things, first, we’ve never accepted a proposal from a person who was not a property owner, two, a lot of Lakewood history should be preserved and three, if you’re going to pass this ordinance, then just kill off LHAB. The LHAB would be a waste of your valuable city staff’s time, and mine. To keep up LHAB for no purpose would be a sham.
Because I can’t believe that the city is spending its time to find ways to serve AM talk radio slogans, the only thing I can come up with to explain this proposal is that you or someone talking to city staff wants to do a development that would tear down a landmark or potential landmark. That of course would make gutting LHAB sensible because we might actually stand in the way of something conceived within city government. Yet wouldn’t it be more constructive, transparent and honest to discuss that proposal than to gut an entire ordinance? Discussing the real issue and not hiding behind a smokescreen would be keeping with the spirit of cityhood.
Some of the people who have submitted their homes for designation have already gone to their graves thinking the city of Lakwood was going to protect the history they loved. Tonight, I’m looking at a staff report that ditches history and ditches all the hours of work by your own volunteers to support a political catch-phrase. I really hope our city governent doesn’t plan to make history by treating its own citizens with such, if you will pardon the pun, monument-al disrespect.