Yesterday, I got to attend a very interesting court hearing regarding the city’s lawsuit against Monsanto at the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Santa Barbara, CA. Why Santa Barbara? Every year, a group of Federal judges are chosen to sit on a multi-jurisdictional court that decides whether a group of cases should be consolidated before one Federal judge. They take this “mobile” court around the country to different courthouses and Santa Barbara happened to be the location this month. It is very rare for a case to go before a multi-jurisdictional court. City Attorney Nancy Isserlis has practiced law for many years and this was the first proceeding she had attended, along with other attorneys who joined us from the Cities of San Diego, Portland, and Seattle.
I especially enjoyed meeting Pete Holmes, the City Attorney of Seattle (see photo). He and I got a chance to discuss other topics like body cameras and police accountability work happening in Seattle.
What is the City’s case against Monsanto and why were we asking to consolidate with other cities? We are claiming that Monsanto knowingly produced & sold chemicals called PCBs (poly-chlorinated biphenyls) that were damaging to human health and the environment and that they should have responsibility for the costs associated with cleaning up these chemicals from the Spokane River. Two law firms are representing the six cities who have filed lawsuits (San Jose, Berkeley, Spokane, Seattle, Oakland and San Diego) and three more are considering filing (Portland, Los Angeles County and Long Beach). All these cities have bodies of water with PCBs that have migrated there through stormwater runoff.
We argued today that the cases should be consolidated, but the judges did not seem partial to this in their questioning. We will get a ruling in a few weeks. If the cases are not consolidated, the law firms will work each case separately in various Federal courts before different judges at different times. In Spokane it would be before Federal Judge Moreno.
How much is this costing us in Spokane? There is no direct cost to the City of Spokane. If we ultimately prevail in court, the law firms representing us will get a portion of any damages awarded. The only indirect cost is staff time and resources responding to public records requests from Monsanto or producing discovery documents.
I am very excited about this case. I think it is extremely important that companies be held accountable for the products they produce. The responsibility should not fall on consumers and citizens to pay to clean up chemicals in our watershed that were known to be cancer-causing and impossible to contain. The law firms we are working with have had other successful cases against Monsanto regarding PCBs in paint and window products in schools and I’m hopeful we can all be successful in these cases.
At our February 29th City Council meeting, we had the full complement of our new Council. It is good to have seven members back up on the dais! At our 3:30 Administrative session where we approve consent agenda items, we added two letters that were approved 7-0. The first letter is being sent to our State legislators in Spokane County regarding funding for stormwater cleanup projects. The city was awarded almost $6M in grants to help keep stormwater and toxics out of the Spokane River. The funding source for these dollars is at risk in Olympia, so we are weighing in and asking our legislators to keep as much of that grant money coming our way as they can. We also approved a letter of support for a Living Cities Initiative “Racial Equity Here” grant. This grant would provide technical assistance and training for the city to implement better practices within our organization to promote racial equity. For instance, how to better communicate and engage communities of color in decision-making.
The major topic for the evening session at 6pm was a resolution opposing the Trans-Pacific Partnership and it was jointly brought forward by Councilmember Fagan and Council President Stuckart. The TPP is a proposed trade agreement between certain countries and the United States. It is a controversial proposal because although it may increase competitiveness of certain U.S. industries and decrease tariffs for those who export from the U.S. (creating a more even playing field), it also sets up a tribunal system whereby disputes between governments and corporations are decided outside of our law and justice system. This is extremely problematic. This allows corporations to sue foreign governments over environmental or public health laws we may have on our books that they feel are infringing on their ability to trade their product (their product might have a certain chemical that is banned in our country). The independent tribunals (which we have no control over) can decided that the U.S. is in the wrong and make us pay damages to that company.
This type of “dispute settlement” process has been in place with the WTO and NAFTA. Over 70 of these types of arbitration cases were filed last year through the NAFTA tribunal and more than $400 million has been paid out to investor-state cases under NAFTA in the past 20 years.
I don’t believe a corporation should undermine any government’s environmental and public health laws. This is contrary to what I believe is in the best interest of the citizens of our country. Thus, I voted in support, with all six of my colleagues on the Council in favor of the resolution opposing the TPP. I appreciate the excellent dialogue we had with citizens last night and look forward to more discussion on this topic. For more information, you can visit this article about the pros and cons of TPP or this editorial from U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren.
It’s been a few weeks since my last blog post. (I hope to catch up on the last several weeks of Council meetings soon…and get out my Feb. e-newsletter before the end of February). My husband had a complete right hip replacement two weeks ago. This is quite the operation and requires a lot of assistance during recovery. He is doing well and becoming more independent every day. We hope he’ll be back to work and walking independently in about 3 more weeks! Thank you for all your support!
The Feb. 22nd Council Meeting was special for several reasons. First, it was newly-appointed CM Breean Beggs’ first Council Meeting. (Congrats, Mr. Beggs — I look forward to working with you for many more!).
Secondly, I was pleased to co-sponsor with CM Fagan a resolution in support of an application to the Federal Government to designate a portion of NE Spokane a “Promise Zone.” If you remember from previous posts, there has been a collaborative effort between the City, Spokane Public Schools and over 30 other non-profit and government/business organizations to develop long-term strategies to address poverty, housing, jobs and education in the 8 neighborhoods that make up “TheZone” (Nevada-Lidgerwood, Hillyard, Bemiss, Whitman, Logan, Chief Garry, Minnehaha and part of East Central). I have been supportive of this effort since I was first approached about it by Andre Wicks, former vice-principal at Shaw Elementary. The Promise Zone is a designation by HUD that would help us bring attention and Federal resources to the many strategies we have developed, such as targeted youth training programs, economic development strategies in the industrial area east of Market St. known as “The Yard”, wrap-around housing strategies/targeted early education for struggling families. Only 5 communities will get designated as “Promise Zones” in 2016. We are hopeful NE Spokane will be one of them! Congrats to all who have worked so hard to make this happen — Andre Wicks from Spokane Schools, Gloria Ochoa from the Mayor’s office, the over 30 organizations that have come to the table, and even our Senators Cantwell and Murray for their letters of support. Here’s a brief KXLY story about the efforts.
Finally, the Council unanimously voted to place a ballot measure on the April 26th ballot that would renew the EMS levy for the City of Spokane. This levy provides funding for 90 paramedics in the City of Spokane’s Fire Department, as well basic lifesaving equipment. The cost would remain the same as what property owners pay today: 50 cents/$1000 assessed value. ($50/year on a $100,000 home). Click here to learn more in the Spokesman Review article.
The January 25th Council Meeting was a town hall-style meeting with little Council business. The one item we added to the agenda was to override a veto 5-1 (Fagan against) from the Mayor of the paid sick and safe leave ordinance the Council adopted on January 11th. After so much community engagement and discussion on this topic over the past year, I thought we should move forward with the ordinance as adopted. I look forward to working with the Administration to lay out the administrative procedures that will implement and enforce the law, which requires a base amount of sick leave to be provided to employees in the City of Spokane.
The Council focused our attention on at the Council Meeting on the neighborhoods from the lower South Hill and area west of Downtown. Each neighborhood, COP Shop reported on their projects, successes and challenges over the past year. Congratulations to all the volunteers who are working every day to build community and improve the quality of life for the residents/businesses in their neighborhoods.
On Monday, Feb. 1st, Council held a short meeting. Council voted 4-1 in favor (Fagan against, CM Mumm absent) of a change to the city’s investment strategy to no longer invest in fossil fuels (as proposed by Council President Stuckart). This is consistent with a WA State protocol that we are currently following at the City, but I think it is important to support this in light of the all the work the City has been doing to influence the shipment of oil and coal via rail and what this could mean for the long-term sustainability of our economy and our environment.