This is the second version of the Community Bill of Rights to come before Spokane voters. The first was soundly rejected at the polls in 2009.
The proposal was brought to the ballot by Envision Spokane, a coalition of union, environmental and human rights activists.
The new list is significantly shorter than the first with only four items.
Part 1 would give neighborhood residents who are registered voters veto power over any rezoning of land in their neighborhood if the rezoning involved commercial or industrial development larger than 10,000 square feet or residential development with more than 20 units. Developers of such projects would have to collect signatures from a majority of registered voters of a neighborhood in order to move ahead with the project.
Part 2 declares that the Spokane River, its tributaries and the aquifer “possess inalienable rights to exist and flourish,” and the city or any citizen could sue any entity that violates that right.
Part 3 declares that workers “in unionized workplaces shall possess the right to collective bargaining.”
Part 4 stipulates that corporations would “not be deemed as ‘persons’ ” and could not interfere with the enforcement of the Community Bill of Rights.
The last part, supporters admit, contradicts rulings from the U.S. Supreme Court and is meant to challenge case law that gives protections to corporations.
Supporters say it would give neighborhoods power in choosing their destinies and argue that the extra requirement to get neighbor support is reserved only for the kind of development changes that would significantly change the quality of life of the surrounding area. They say current environmental regulations aren’t enough to protect the river and often are successfully challenged or watered down. Further, they say the Bill of Rights fights back against corporations, who have gained too much control over the political system.
Opponents, however, say the Community Bill of Rights is a recipe for expensive, budget-crushing lawsuits both against the city and against businesses, in part, because it doesn’t define what might be a violation of the river’s right to flourish and, more obviously, the proposal’s blatant contradiction with existing case law on corporations. They also say the rezoning rules would add needless bureaucracy to expanding businesses, which would simply move and create jobs somewhere else.
Once again, the proposal hasn’t gained the backing of any elected city leader, though it does have the endorsement of the Spokane Regional Labor Council.