Scare tactics on shoreline plan unethical, inaccurate

July 3, 2013 

Some Olympia residents received a postcard late last week urging people to attend next week’s public hearing on the city’s long-overdue Shoreline Master Program. The local activist group Friends of the Waterfront designed the mailer to stir up a crowd opposed to City Council’s current version of the plan.

We, too, encourage civic engagement in all of its forms.

The Friends of the Waterfront, however, resorted to the lowest form of democratic participation: the negative campaign smear piece. The mailer uses Halloween-horror style typography and screaming headlines designed to create fear and manipulate people’s emotions.

It also includes inaccurate information.

The mailer claims the City Council is proposing zero setbacks, which is a distortion. The latest version of the city’s SMP requires 50-foot setbacks on the commercial waterfront area — from the Fifth Avenue bridge to the Port Plaza. Many people, including some council members, regard that as too restrictive for current property owners.

In fact, it’s unlikely a new development could get within 30 feet of the shoreline in that area, known as Reaches 4 and 5a in the plan. Making the mailer’s claim more absurd is the reality that no opportunity exists for new development in that area.

It’s untrue to imply the City Council is proposing a public trail enclosed by some fictitious new buildings, as the mailer depicts in a computer-generated image. The council has proposed no such thing, nor could any reasonable person imagine the city approving such a development. The city’s design review process simply wouldn’t allow it.

The most egregious image on the mailer, however, is what the group calls “A better approach.” It’s a pretty picture dreamed up by someone on a computer and a fantasy in their brain, because it depicts an impossible scene.

The image shows a dirt trail where Percival Landing now exists. Do the Friends of the Waterfront propose tearing out the recently renovated and popular city boardwalk?

Or are they intentionally misleading people to believe such a scene could exist somewhere along the downtown waterfront? That’s more likely, and it’s an unethical tactic to drum up support for their ideas.

Where could such a scene exist? The east side of the port property already has a trail. The east side of East Bay either already has a trail or is fully developed with private residences.

The west side of West Bay is known as Reaches 3a and 3b in the plan. Reach 3b, from the Fourth Avenue bridge to Rotary Park has 150-foot setbacks and is mostly public property. Reach 3a, from Rotary Park to Tugboat Annies, has 30-foot setbacks and is mostly private property. Also, it’s covered by the West Bay Master Plan.

The current version of the plan should be modified, but to create more relaxed setbacks and a partnership with private property owners for the public’s benefit. Under the current version of the plan the city’s own new Harbor House on Percival Landing and the playground would not be allowed.

We expected a higher road from the Friends of the Waterfront, though some in this community probably did not. They have exhibited a diminished capacity for civil discourse on this issue, and that’s not helpful.

Elected officials have an obligation to consider all opinions and suggestions presented to them by concerned citizens. Purposeful misinformation nullifies that responsibility.

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