During the summer of 2000, the Pasco, Washington City Council imposed a moratorium on further expansion of social service facilities in the city's downtown area while the Council considered changes to its zoning regulations. Pasco's Downtown Development Association argued for tightening the regulations in order to promote commercial redevelopment of the area.
On May 17, 2001, the City Council met to consider a proposal that would have declared that a number of property uses "inhibit new business growth, contribute to business loss and decline of property values . . . or perpetuate a public image which is undesirable or unattractive and detrimental to public and private investment in revitalization efforts and, therefore, are prohibited within the C-2 district." Among the prohibited uses were "community service facilities," which included churches, either with or without food banks.
Leaders of the Tri-City Union Gospel Mission, which conducts worship services in the area and also provides community services for the poor and the homeless, contacted The Becket Fund for assistance in battling the proposal.
The Becket Fund sent a letter to Pasco Mayor Michael Garrison warning that the proposed ordinance, if adopted, "would violate the United States and Washington Constitutions, as well as the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000." The ordinance, the letter pointed out, "would impose a 'substantial burden' on the [Tri-City Union Gospel] Mission's religious exercise, because it "would prohibit the Mission's religiously motivated activity of 'meeting the physical and spiritual needs of homeless men, women and children, as well as supplying emergency aid to low-income, refugees and the working poor.'"
During the three hour meeting in May, members of the City Council referred repeatedly to The Becket Fund letter, and in the end decided not to bring the proposed zoning change to a vote. In early July, they voted to extend the moratorium for another six months to allow more time to consider their next move.