The people missing from “Save Hicks Lake”

Swimmers in Hicks Lake in June

When developers proposed cutting down swaths of forest near the local small lake and install apartment buildings instead, I was as shocked as anyone. I am all for the grassroots group Save Hicks Lake, which formed to stop the proposed projects in Lacey, Washington. But when the gears of government started moving, I noticed some folks from the neighborhood who probably cared about the issue were quickly left out.

Truth is, civic participation is more than a virtue. It’s an advanced skill and a cultural mindset. To have a say, you had to have the time to understand where, when and how you could say anything. The actual opportunity was to testify (online or in person, during the workday) to a traveling “hearings examiner.” The hearings examiner will issue a report to the elected local city councilmembers. You don’t get to just go to a city council meeting and speak up. Perhaps out of legal strategy, or just because it’s what concerned them most, just about everyone who did testify focused on traffic. Read the news story here. I didn’t get to testify due to a kid issue, but I sent in a letter noting the glaring omission from that process. I leave it here as a reminder of the gaps in public participation.

Mr. Reeves,

I had intended to testify today, May 26, on the Hicks Lakes projects and listened to the hearing. Unfortunately, one of my kids texted me requesting a pickup from school around 4 p.m, and by the time I returned to the meeting, the public testimony portion was closed.

I do have something new to add to the significant amounts of testimony already provided.

First, let me paint a scene for you. In June 2021, I walked from my home near the Lacey Post Office to Wanscher’s Park. It was hot. And to my surprise, I counted nearly 100 people in the park and nearby boat launch. The most I have ever seen at one time at Hicks Lake.

The people there represented all of Lacey’s many ethnic communities, Blacks, Islanders, Hispanics and Asians, as well as Eastern Europeans and white folks like myself. There were kids with float toys. Teenage girls swimming in the water. Teenage boys walking the shore and watching the girls. 

At the boat launch, I was struck by the diversity of vehicles. An old Chrysler Sebring disgorged cheese puffs on the pavement next to a new Lexus GX460 and a beautiful GMC Denali 2500 pulling a Chaparral jet boat. Nearby sat a gray Nissan Quest minivan with one white door.

There were nearly 100 people from all walks of life in Lacey, gathered together at a park with one toilet (at the boat launch) and insufficient parking. But you’ve already heard about infrastructure regarding these proposals.

What you didn’t hear was a word from the people who were there that day. Or any of the scores of days I have come to the lake to fish or walk alongside people of different backgrounds — economic, enthic, generational, and otherwise.

It was my very distinct impression that the evidence, opinions and materials submitted regarding these projects came from a very specific demographic. Although one person identified himself as a truck driver, for the most part they were people like me — white collar workers who live near the lake and who had the time, education, awareness and opportunity to weigh in.

I often fish Hicks Lake, sharing the area with young white men sitting in lawn chairs under the trees, middle-aged Black men with sleek bass boats, Asian men fishing from the shore of the boat ramp, and others. I would be shocked if one of them supports adding high-density housing to the south end of Hicks Lake — the healthiest part of the lake. Nor can I imagine someone who tows a boat there being happy about added traffic.

I can’t speak for others, I know. But I can tell you, for a fact, that you did not hear from a representative share of the users of that area. You heard from residents or developers, but not people who drive that road and use that park because it is their place, too.

I would submit to you, and to the Lacey City Council, should it review this record, that it does not speak for people who came to swim with their kids, or people with mix-and-match van doors. Those people won’t be moving into the new apartments, should they be built. But they care about that part of Lacey.

The city should seriously consider why this gap in comment exists, and how their decisions would be improved if they perhaps conducted more outreach, rather than rely on outrage, to bring in the public’s view.

Yours very sincerely, 

Adam Wilson

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