By David Anderson
“There is only one thing more painful than learning from experience and that is not learning from experience.” – Archibald MacLeish, American Poet and Critic (1892-1982)
Now that Camp Murray has got the gate they wanted and Tillicum residents are fed with anecdotal traffic counts and fed up with city hall, what did we learn?
There are the pundits who say “It’s done. The gate is there. Knock off the whining and let’s move on. Don’t you have other windmills to tilt at?”
There are former politicians who say “When I met with Tillicum neighborhood leadership, I did not predict an outcome, but I do remember telling them to get a good lawyer.”
So, other than sorry-losers and sorrier-lawyers, is there anything of value to be had from an experience gone bad?
Authors of an article just this week on the Municipal Research Services Center website say there is. The piece is entitled “Land in Conflict: How Planners Can Better Manage an Increasingly Contentious Public Process.”
As if they had been watching over Lakewood’s shoulder during “one of the most bitter neighborhood debates in recent memory,” as Walter Neary described it, authors Nolan, Ferguson and Field ask “Why do some decisions about land use go smoothly, while others generate multiple lawsuits, ruin relationships, and waste community resources?”
Before looking at the solution, it is worth noting in passing the problem raised here in the just-posed question.
In Tillicum’s case the land-use concerned land – streets – in Tillicum that Camp Murray wanted to use. It did not go smoothly – there was one speed bump, literally, installed and more planned if military personnel traveling Tillicum’s streets cannot read the pre-land-use posted 25 mph signs. Multiple lawsuits were not generated as Tillicum could “hire a good lawyer” for only one and then, $20,000 later – ran out, not of money but were run-out – were out-lawyered by the “smart lawyers” of the city.
“Ruined relationships”? Yes. “Wasted community resources?” Reread the paragraph above.
Whining? Depends on what you make of the following referenced article.
“Promot(ing) effective dialogue and better citizen involvement,” and “encourag(ing) more dialogue and collaboration in planning decisions” – with those citizens – is what the authors call “the mutual gains approach.”
They give examples of how it has worked. Here’s one:
“When a major gravel mining company, J.P. Carrara & Sons, proposed an expansion near a residential neighborhood in East Middlebury, Vermont, the first meeting on the subject was confrontational. Then a mediator stepped forward to set the agenda, establish ground rules, manage communications among the parties, design a joint fact-finding process, and followed the stages of the mutual-gains approach. After months of meetings that went late into the night, a new relationship of mutual understanding emerged between the mine and the residents; the expansion of operations went forward under a set of conditions.”
Which of the following stages of the mutual-gains approach were implemented/shared/involved within the context of the land use matter affecting Tillicum where “stakeholders” included the community’s residents?
One: all stakeholder interests as well as the necessary technical information involves stakeholders along with appointed and elected decision makers;
Two: requires strong community and public engagement skills along with strong technical planning skills;
Three: engages the public above and beyond sharing information and views.
Which of these steps were employed by Lakewood City Staff?
Lakewood City Council?
I can support and substantiate my assessment: “none.” The question is can the others?
So, in an honest review – for the purpose, in the words of MacLeish, we don’t fail to learn from this painful experience and thus repeat it again, here are some post mortem questions authors Nolan, Ferguson and Field recommend we ask: “Was the result satisfying to a range of stakeholders? Was the process rewarding? Were relationships improved? Did participants share valuable information about the community? Did the process contribute to the growth of the community?”
A failing grade means “few people were happy with the results, the process was long and expensive, long-standing relationships were stressed, the information shared was incomplete, and the sense of community was compromised.”
A failing grade also means the conclusion reached by the authors is in order:
“It’s time to equip our local communities with the tools and techniques to move from contention to consensus, and from standoff to solutions.”
In which case they recommend the following:
The Urban Land Institute’s book, “Breaking the Development Log jam: New Strategies for Building Community Support” (Porter 2006) explains how to enhance citizen participation and collaborative decision making.
The website of the American Planning Association lists the “ability to function as a mediator or facilitator when community interests con?ict” as one of the skills of successful planners.
Are these resources on Lakewood’s shelves?