Last week Seattle’s The Stranger magazine whipped up a rather long exposé on the Point Ruston condo development in Tacoma, titled Text Message From a Toxic Waste Site. The fact that the article squarely puts the fuction of the gated condominium community into the perspective that activists have been articulating for the past three or four years, is a victory. As their outsider perspective shows, the kinds of deals the City of Tacoma is making with rich developers are overwhelmingly fishy and one cannot help but side with the bearded activists who see through the shroud of dislocating capitalist development.

We received a message from the toxic waste site, too. Our message included photos from the condo yacht tour the article alluded to. It is partly because of this yacht tour — the activists stowed away on the yacht and disrupted a tour for prospective buyers — that developer Mike Cohen is sticking the Carpenter’s Union and Jobs With Justice with a fatty lawsuit. He says the activists disrupted business relationships and were not invited on his boat.

The Point Ruston development and Mike Cohen

Developer Mike Cohen giving a virtual tour of Point Ruston on his miniature model from inside the Point Ruston yacht.

Three years ago building a mixed-use condo and shopping center sounded like it could have been a feasible solution to this nasty problem: how to use a toxic waste site?

The solution: the cities of Ruston and Tacoma make money from the trickle down of millionaires, the developer rides the housing bubble through the crisis, and the EPA finds a new owner to take care of the toxic cleanup. But whatever kills you after three years is your own problem, because after the property is sold it has a three-year warranty. But, they add reassuringly in their FAQ, there will be a homeowners association prepared to manage that risk for you.

View from the yacht

The view of Point Ruston from the yacht.

The Asarco plant contaminated the entire Puget Sound. Tacoma’s Metro Parks has denied requests for scientific testing at 100 Tacoma parks fearing that watchdogs would demand remediation, so because of this information asymmetry the real trouble areas are unknown. Some already-tested places, for example elementary schools in Tacoma, tested at 691 PPM of Arsenic, when the state limit is 20 PPM. So long as somebody else owns the toxic waste, it’s not the City’s problem. The negative externalities of the now-bankrupt firm, Asarco, will soon be the problems of thousands of homeowners.

But! With the proposed  “impermeable liner” — in some places just three inches of soil and sand — to stop the arsenic from leaching (or becoming mobilized by the rain, or dug up by animals, or by anybody who enjoys making a sand castle, or growing a garden) you’ll have nothing to fear!


Realtors, goons, and other tag-alongs are furious, by the looks on their faces, about the commotion caused by Jake Carton (right) and South Sound Jobs with Justice.

Cohen’s staff whispered into his ear that the activists found their way onto the boat. Panicking, he called off the remainder of the boat cruise and decided to head back to dry land. They put in a call to the police, and had the boat escorted to shore with the help of the Coast Guard no less. Rumor has it the developer’s son, Loren Cohen, told the police the activists were packing knives, and when the police didn’t buy the story, kept calling the authorities back to the scene to report further alleged misconduct.


Point Ruston is "The American Dream," as its radio advertisement says.

This wretched development is actually located in the City of Ruston, not in the City of Tacoma. But the bottom line is that the City of Tacoma is subsidizing the expensive venture only to the benefit of rich, gated-community baby boomer types whom they wish to attract to its adjacent regions. Meanwhile, immigrant labor is exploited to this end by the greedy realtors (as described in The Stranger article), and the residents of Tacoma must pick up the expenses of capping, developing and de-congesting the area.

The logic is simple, and standard. In a democracy, the governed have the right to consent, but nothing more than that. In the terminology of modern “liberal” thought, the population may be spectators, but not participants, apart from the occasional choices among leaders representing authentic power. And this is reflected even at the local level. The general population must be excluded entirely from the economic arena, where what happens in the scoiety is largely determined. These and other functions of the ‘city’ under the capitalist system, are what we seek to expose and address.