Rezoning Finale

***This post was submitted by Planning Commission member Chris McNutt***

On Tuesday November 12th, the Puyallup City Council voted 4-2 in favor of the Van Leirop rezoning application.

To say it was a controversial issue would be like suggesting Obamacare had a shaky launch…

I feel very badly for those who are so upset by this topic and the result. I’ll explain why at the end, but first, I’d like to try and connect some dots for those who want to understand why it all went down like it did.

First, you need to understand the difference between a “quasi-judicial” action and a legislative action.

The definition for “quasi-judicial” is a little complicated and filled with legal terms, but it can more or less be summed up as “how a judge rules.” Which is to say, it’s a legal ruling, not a policy ruling.

A legislative, or policy decision is one where public opinion and representation plays a big role (or at least should play a big role) in the results.

A rezoning application is decided through the quasi-judicial process, not a legislative one.

It is a determination of the validity of the submitted criteria measured against the rules of the application process. In other words, there is a definitive process, a specific set of criteria that everyone is required to fulfill in order to be granted a rezoning of the property they own. Think of it as a series of checkboxes. Is criteria one met? Check. Criteria two? Check. Criteria three? Check.

The sole determination the panel is legally allowed to make is whether or not the criteria is met. Within the fair application of the law, there is no relevant policy discussion surrounding these decisions.

Most cities handle these matters through a Hearing Examiner, which then has an official appeal process. However, it was long ago established that we don’t do it that way in Puyallup. It is instead handled by the city council.

Let’s look at another situation that may seem more familiar.

Let’s say a judge was hearing a case about a robbery. They would accept evidence and make a legal determination based on the existing laws.

Let’s say 600 people sign a petition and many people show up to give their opinions about the guilt or innocence of the defendant. Unless the information is evidence (not opinion), it is inadmissible.

Wanting to hang on to an agricultural heritage is an opinion, not evidence.

Wanting to have a great view on your way to work is an opinion, not evidence.

Believing that warehouses possess a biological ability to breed is an opinion, not evidence.

In fact, being for or against any specific use of that land is an opinion, not evidence.

All of these things would be completely valid in policy or legislative decisions, but have no place in applying the law to an application. None.

I won’t bother going into all my personal opinions as to why this rezoning is a good legislative decision. I feel they are sufficient, but they don’t matter because only evidence would matter in this case, not opinions.

Now we get to the sad part. Councilman John Palmer advocated aggressively for the community to stand up and oppose this choice as though it were a policy decision. That either means that he doesn’t understand his responsibility in these matters as a quasi-judicial body, or he doesn’t care about the law and our rights as citizens.

Let’s assume he didn’t understand the nature of a quasi-judicial proceeding prior to the September 3rd council meeting where it was explained to him, in full view of the public. In that case, perhaps his advocacy up until that point could be excused. He didn’t know. He didn’t understand. (We’ll completely ignore the analog of a judge going out and asking people to testify opinions in a case they are presiding over.)

All actions after that point though are clearly in violation of his responsibility to make impartial decisions to apply the law. On September 3rd, it was explained in detail. He was told. He knew.

If he still didn’t have the capacity to understand his job at that point, or worse, chose to ignore his legal responsibility, the people of District 2 have bigger problems on their hands.

And what is particularly troubling about this is that the recipients of the emails were manipulated into outrage and action to oppose something where opinions have no applicability to the process.

It’s not even like last year when Palmer and Boyle used the same playbook to attack the Parks Department. Those were policy choices, and although they only raised a fuss out of spite and hatred for other councilmembers, at least the opinions people expressed were admissible, if also based on entirely fabricated information.

And really, why wouldn’t we stand up and shout? Our elected official used his official soap box to inform everyone of a tragedy in our town. He begged us to stand up and fight for what is right and for the honor of our heritage. Who among us who cares about Puyallup would not answer that call?

In the end though, what call were we asked to answer? Ignorance or incompetence?

So I feel bad for those manipulated and misled. I feel bad that when they answered the call of an elected official in need, they were lied to and used as a tool to stab emotionally at his personal enemies.

I feel bad that Councilman Palmer abused his position to cry wolf.

I only hope that those of us who care about our city will still be willing to answer a call to action the next time. That is, of course, as long as it’s a legitimate call for help.

Chris McNutt
District 3 Resident

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