A dispute between the city of Yelm and a local food bank may not be headed to court after all.
Both parties are working toward a resolution outside the courtroom, according to lawyers on both sides.
The city is charging YPCC God’s Portion, a Yelm-based regional food bank formerly known as Faith Harvest Helpers, fines of $250 per day per building in alleged violation of building and zoning codes.
The food bank had argued its in compliance with city codes and representatives said shutting the food bank down would leave thousands of people without food they depend on.
Because the food bank allegedly hadn’t come into compliance, the city filed a lawsuit against the organization in Thurston County Superior Court.
Loren Combs, the food bank’s lawyer, said the city has offered to hold the lawsuit and work with them to come up with a mutually-agreeable solution. He said he thinks there’s a solution that will work for both the city, the church and food bank.
“I’ve discovered that court isn’t really the way to negotiate that’s in everyone’s best interest,” he said. “Hopefully we’ll have that sorted out in the next couple of weeks.”
Combs said the proposed solution will probably eventually go before the city council for approval.
“We would want the city to take a look at that and basically have the city adopt a game plan that binds both the city and the food bank to do any number of things over the course of the next several years,” he said.
The food bank is seeking a long-term solution, not a short-term fix, he said.
“This is a ministry involved in feeding hundreds of thousands of people,” he said. “That’s a good thing. That’s about serving the community and being a good member of the Yelm community and so it’s not just a fix for something. This is a long-term proposition for the benefit of the city and the community as well as the volunteers involved in the food bank.”
According to Brent Dille, the city’s lawyer, the city has always wanted to get the food bank into compliance. There’s only so many tools the city can use to bring people into compliance, he said, and sending a violation notice was intended to bring the food bank to the table to develop a plan to comply with city codes.
“It’s never been about not wanting the food bank or not wanting them in Yelm or putting up some type of horrendous requirements that wouldn’t be required with anybody else in a similar situation,” Dille said.
If a non-Christian religious organization said they wanted to start a food bank in Yelm, they would need to comply with the same requirements the city is asking YPCC to comply with, he said.
He said he presumes the results of the meetings are that the food bank will receive clarification and answers to any questions it needs to make a plan to come into compliance.
“The city really is not in any way opposed to the good work they’re doing,” Dille said. “It’s just, what ends up happening, as you imagine, if you don’t enforce the code for one applicant, there’s going to be 20 applicants behind, people with similar violations, saying, ‘Wait a minute, you didn’t enforce it on those people, why are you enforcing it on us?’ Consistency is key and I think that’s what everybody wants in their government: just tell us what the rules are and then apply them consistently.”
For Combs, the goal of working with the city is to find a solution that works for everyone.
“When you have something that at the end of the day everyone wants to see happen, you know you have room to come up with a win-win conclusion,” he said. “That’s what I’m trying to find — the win-win solution that makes everyone proud that this is Yelm and these people are part of that community doing things for the community.”
As the city and food bank work to resolve the matter, the food bank is in the process of purchasing the former Yelm Batting Cages where they currently store food. The building is one of the properties incurring fines from the city.
According to Tim Kraus, a spokesman for the food bank, the organization has signed a purchase of sale agreement and is working on funding, he said. The food bank has a donor who is committed to purchasing the property on its behalf, he said.
Under an addendum to the purchase of sale agreement, the food bank incurs any fines from the city while the property is under contract, Kraus said.
“The last thing we want is to encumber someone with fines from the city because we’re in their property,” he said.