Don't let decibel level dictate public policy

By the Herald editorial staff

Planning commissioners have tough jobs.

Their reward is a sense of public service and accomplishment toward improving their communities.

It certainly isn't money.

Planning commission seats may sometimes, though, be a good rsum-starters for a run for city council.

There's nothing wrong with that. For some, it's a good step toward dealing with matters of interest to the public before asking for their votes.

And such service can also prepare one for the truism that in public life, it's impossible to make everyone happy. It's tough to sit on a public board and absorb the occasional abuse that might come your way.

Planning board members might well wear that little tag seen around the Tri-Cities from time to time: "Stop yelling at me, I'm a volunteer."

This preamble is a bit longer than usual for a Herald editorial, but the extra context is necessary in talking about the recent Pasco Planning Commission decisions on two cases: the proposed Planned Parenthood clinic and the special permit for a corn maze on Road 72.

It took a number of votes and lots of vote switching for the commission to decide to recommend that the Pasco City Council turn down the request for a special permit for Planned Parenthood's women's health care clinic on West Court Street next to Mark Twain Elementary School.

Abortions, Planned Parenthood personnel promised, would not be performed at the Pasco site.

As we noted in a previous editorial, however, with a teen pregnancy rate well above the state average, the kinds of educational benefits and health services Planned Parenthood offers might be beneficial. And the Herald offered in that editorial to join the crusade against an abortion clinic at that location if one were ever proposed.

It is inescapable that planning commissioners came to their decision to recommend that the city council deny the request largely upon the threat of anti-Planned Parenthood demonstrations.

In other words, it's not Planned Parenthood that concerned the commissioners, it was fear of rowdy crowds of protesters.

That's not conjecture. Commissioners said their decision against Planned Parenthood was based on the threat to public safety that could occur to nearby businesses because of public protests at the clinic.

In short, recommendation of a needed health service was denied because people who didn't approve of the organization running it might make nuisances of themselves.

People have a right to protest, of course, but the mere possibility of protest seems like shaky ground for a planning board decision.

By that logic, any proposal -- regardless of merit or legal standing -- could be stopped because some group threatened picket lines.

What if the opponents to the corn maze next to the Faith Assembly of God church had threatened to disrupt business with picket signs?

No one is equating the two proposals, but if the possibility of protests is all it takes to stop a project, then any mob can manipulate planning decisions.

The Pasco City Council should carefully consider the precedent it might set as it weighs its decision.

City council members are not volunteers, but politicians by definition, and they are held to a different standard.