Politics from the Palouse to Puget Sound

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

What Goes Around, Comes Around

It was reported yesterday in the Moscow-Pullman Daily News that the Moscow City Council has enacted an emergency ordinance concerning the construction of retail stores with over 40,000 square feet (i.e. "big boxes"). All such stores will have to get a conditional-use permit from the city after a public hearing before the Board of Adjustment. The ordinance will be in effect for 182 days, after which time they hope to have a permanent ordinance in place.

This all started earlier this year after Home Depot was scouting some property north of the Palouse Mall for a new store. A member of the city council proposed an emergency moratorium on all "big boxes" for 180 days, but that measure was defeated.

You know, it sounds good in principle, getting the public's input and all. Unfortunately, the public is too busy with work and hauling kids to soccer games to pay much attention to these matters and especially to attend public hearings. The kinds of people who attend are activists. And if there is anything I have learned over the past few months, it is that Moscow is full of well-established left-wing activists. All you need do is take a look at the Vision 2020 message board, the Moscow Food Co-Op, the Not on the Palouse, Not Ever web site, and all the recent controversies over Christ Church, New Saint Andrew's College and downtown zoning to see what I mean. The Daily News described the mood at a recent public hearing in Moscow on the zoning issue as ranging from "argumentative to contemptuous."

Many years ago, Pullman decided to depoliticize this process, I'm sure as a result of losing out on the Palouse Mall. The current method is fair, civil, and business-friendly. Pullman Wal-Mart detractors would disagree, but they have had ample opportunity to make their views known, both in the media and during the SEPA comment period. Unless they have been on Mars the last six months, no one in Pullman could fail to know they oppose Wal-Mart and why. Wal-Mart critics will also have a right to appeal any final decision made by the city.

The only thing PARD has missed out on is the opportunity to have a loud, messy, vitriolic, free-for-all hearing that would grab headlines from here to Seattle. The purpose of that would not be democracy, as they claim, but political extortion and manipulation. PARD's hope is to put so much pressure on the city council that it will bend to their will and change the process. We see the left do this all the time, but that's not what free enterprise is all about. I, for one, am glad we have avoided that.

If I were Home Depot or Target, I would think twice before I subjected myself to the agony and spectacle of a public hearing in Moscow. Pullman, to me, would look much more appealing, even with PARD.

So, in my opinion, the Moscow emergency big-box ordinance is a de facto moratorium. After decades of retail dominance on the Palouse, Moscow may soon see the tables turn and lose its ascendancy to Pullman.

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