On New Year’s Eve, several mock headlines appeared on this page proclaiming news we’d like to see in 2018, most of which we’ll be lucky to see in our lifetimes.
They included this longshot: “Israeli-Palestinian, Tacoma-Ruston peace accords signed.”
Less than a month and a half later, against all odds, the second half of that headline has already transpired. At this rate, maybe Benjamin Netanyahu and Mahmoud Abbas should practice their ceremonial handshakes.
The Tacoma and Ruston city councils signed a hard-won agreement last week, offering hope that years of friction will ease and the billion-dollar Point Ruston development will fulfill its promise on both sides of the two cities it straddles.
Officials in the neighboring cities deserve credit for setting aside egos and years of distrust. Pierce County Executive Bruce Dammeier earns special mention for accepting an invitation to mediate. And Tacoma legislators played a part as intimidators in a supporting role.
If you think you’ve seen this movie before, it’s because the cities negotiated a similar interlocal agreement in 2015. Ruston officials ultimately didn’t sign it. This time they did, even though it means giving Tacoma sole authority to permit the pieces of the 97-acre Point Ruston project that lie inside the smaller city’s boundaries.
That might seem like a major concession for a city whose go-slow ethos contrasts sharply with Tacoma’s “culture of yes” — a contrast that’s proven frustrating for Mike and Loren Cohen, the hard-charging father-and-son Point Ruston developers.
But Ruston, like an experienced escape artist, dodged the threat that Tacoma would annex Point Ruston. The pact allows Ruston to retain its zoning and many millions of dollars in anticipated tax revenue, while securing an avenue for dispute resolution if it disagrees with Tacoma’s permit decisions.
In short, Ruston won the best deal it could with its lifeblood at risk.
And Tacoma? It needs Point Ruston to succeed on both sides of the city line, and not just for the sake of completing a marvelous residential-shopping-dining destination and Superfund cleanup project. The Cohens still owe Tacoma $21 million on loans they used to build utilities, roads and other infrastructure.
Dammeier, the county executive and a loud voice for economic development, spent the better part of a weekend conducting shuttle diplomacy. He also offered county building inspection services to Ruston — a “very gracious” gesture that helped sell the final deal, Ruston Councilman Jim Hedrick told us.
It never hurts to have a congressman involved, so Rep. Derek Kilmer weighed in from Washington, D.C.
But nobody would have come to the bargaining table if not for the crude and brutally effective intervention of local legislators. At Tacoma’s request, they pushed a proposal in Olympia to skirt Washington annexation law, subvert state growth management principles and allow Tacoma to absorb Point Ruston if the landowner agrees.
It was the kind of brazen power play Niccolo Machiavelli would have admired.
It also was the rare legislation whose sponsors don’t want it to become law; its only purpose was to plant enough anxiety in the minds of both parties — Ruston: what if it passes? Tacoma: what if it doesn’t pass? — that they’re compelled to negotiate.
We can’t quite bring ourselves to praise legislators for the tactic, nor do they expect it. “I don’t think any of us were looking for credit but anticipated that we would get a lot of negative responses from our constituents,” Rep. Jake Fey explained in an email. He sponsored the legislation with fellow Tacoma Reps. Laurie Jinkins and Steve Kirby and Sens. Jeannie Darneille, Steve O’Ban and Steve Conway.
No matter how you score this at home, many people came together to facilitate a breakthrough between Ruston, Point Ruston and Tacoma. One only hopes the truce holds and this unparalleled piece of South Sound waterfront can find a happy Hollywood ending.