Editorial: Walmart -- Truth, facts and public attention: There are differences

March 24, 2012

There is a legal process unfolding, regarding Walmart, and this week it reached an important date in its timeline.

A close, but distinct, layering of public and private connection exists in this matter, along with an element of citizen advocacy that deserves a place.

But timing is in question when it comes to the latest development out of Hood River Citizens for a Local Economy, the group that filed an appeal with Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals over the city's approval of Walmart's proposed expansion of its Hood River store.

HRCLE, in a last-minute letter delivered to Mayor Arthur Babitz March 21, challenged the city's decision to use Walmart's dollars to defend the city's ruling. On March 22, email blasts to HRCLE and Occupy The Gorge participants were sent out decrying the city's choice to allow Walmart attorneys to draft the appeal brief. But the deadline for the city to respond to the LUBA appeal was March 22, of which HRCLE was aware.

The city's participation with Walmart in the LUBA process was deliberated in open session and well-reported, and the city's reasons for it are sound.

The entire Walmart expansion question is a matter of land use involving a private company that, it can be said without taking sides, generates a high degree of emotion. Yet, throughout the city's consideration of the matter, and currently in the appeal stage, this has mainly been a matter of interpretation of past planning documents and case law in light of current law and policy.

In the Hood River Walmart expansion case the attorney's performances and the facts presented are receiving an expert level review and judgement.

When attorneys do battle, the general public believes that "truth" will come to light as a result. Part of any good attorney's job is to direct and misdirect attention, much like a magician doing slight-of-hand, to win the case.

Truth, in the arena of attorney-jostling, can become a prize won by those with better skill at directing an audience's focus. Facts can be either effectively highlighted or conversely, obscured, as needs be.

The central questions in search of truth: Did original planners grant Walmart approval to expand at the time of the original application to build? Did Walmart retain legal vested rights to expand its facility, though city zoning laws have changed and would not now allow the expansion?

After many months of legal wrangling and reviews, LUBA will now begin deliberating those questions. However, even at LUBA, which employs land use planning attorneys with years of experience, an interpretation of the law, governing the sum-total of what has been presented, is what will result - and may or may not be "truth" in the broader sense of the word.

Meanwhile, like on any contentious issue, throughout the process the public has been weighing in with opinion, emotional flurry and, in some cases, facts. "The truth" has been claimed equally by both opposing sides.

The city and her representatives have consistently and publicly admitted that it has done the best it can do to make a fact-based decision, even though pertinent laws and presented facts do not provide definitive guidance.

While discussion, including highly charged email traffic, continues, the fact remains that March 22 marked a critical day in the timeline.

HRCLE is a volunteer group, and its good faith is not in question, but presence at city meetings where Walmart business was discussed, and better timing with its protest of the city's decision not to file a separate LUBA brief would have better served the public discussion.

On the web: Flags Lowered for Air Force First Lt. Justin Wilkens. Visit www.hoodrivernews.com.

Flags Lowered

Air Force First Lt. Justin Wilkens

Gov. John Kitzhaber on Thursday ordered all flags at public institutions to be flown at half-staff from sunrise to sunset on Saturday, March 24, in honor of Air Force 1st Lt Justin Wilkens.

"Lieutenant Wilkens loved and learned to fly in Central Oregon," Kitzhaber said. "He was a dedicated Air Force officer and a loving brother, son and grandson. His death is tragic and he will be missed by many, but his legacy will not be forgotten."

Wilkens, 26, of Bend, died Feb. 18 when the plane carrying him and three other special operations crewmembers crashed in Djibouti, Africa. He was supporting Operation Enduring Freedom and was assigned to the 34th Special Operations Squadron based in Hurlburt Field, Fla.

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