Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Rural Element, Part I: Across the Blogosphere

Charlie Crabtree’s blog, The Fourth Corner, recently included a link to this site, and I hope that a few readers will follow that link. (Since one good turn deserves another, click here for a link to The Fourth Corner.)

The Fourth Corner recently blogged about the County Council’s revision of the Rural Element of the Comprehensive Plan, which after almost a year and a half of delay, appears to be heating up – there’s a special meeting today (February 15) at 1:00. The Fourth Corner blog suggests “educat[ing] yourselves on both sides of the issue,” which is great advice.

Fourth Corner says that the Plan is being “pushed” by “voices of downzoning,” ranging from the state Growth Management Hearings Board to one of the authors of this blog. The Washington State Supreme Court needs to be added to the top of the list. Here’s what the court said (click here for a link to the entire case):
We agree with the Court of Appeals that, as the Western Washington Growth Management Hearings Board (Board) concluded, the County must revise its comprehensive plan to conform to 1997 amendments to the GMA [Growth Management Act] that set out criteria for establishing limited areas of more intensive rural development and rural densities.
So, unless Whatcom County plans to openly defy the state Supreme Court, it has to revise its comprehensive plan to conform to the GMA.

It’s also important to understand the massive costs to Whatcom County of its continued refusal to comply with state law. These costs include:
•Whatcom County is ineligible to receive Public Works Trust Fund loans or grants
•Whatcom County is ineligible to receive Centennial Clean Water fund loans or grants
•Whatcom County, including any special districts, lose points and preference in competitions for any grants or loans to finance public facilities
•Whatcom County has been issued an Order of Invalidity that restricts vesting of permits in thousands of acres of rural lands in Whatcom County

The next level of sanctions that are possible as a result of noncompliance would be sanctions of tax revenues to Whatcom County from the following sources:

•Motor vehicle fuel tax
•Transportation improvement account
•Urban arterial trust account
•Rural arterial trust account
•Sales and use tax
•Liquor profit tax
•Liquor excise tax

Even if you like the idea of a much more crowded rural Whatcom County, with more and more houses, cars, and people pressing in on our agricultural industry, these monetary consequences would have to give you pause.

Finally, I hope that anyone with property will make sure that it will actually be affected by the revisions before calling attorneys and “land use consultants” who stand to make money from people’s fear of the so-called “land grab.”

As for the contents of the County Council’s proposed revision, that’s a topic for another day.


  1. Nice post, Jean. Today I received a link from the Municipal Research and Services Center (MRSC) regarding a national publisher's column called "Modeling Civility -- It Starts With Local Officials."

    The writer states that local officials don't "often publicly demonize those with whom they disagree....governance and government at the local level offer a model for constructive, passionate civic engagement.." The writer goes on to say that local leaders "play a lead role in setting the tone and culture for civic engagement. They need to be open and inclusive to new ideas and new points of view and not shut out those that may disagree."

    That is why I was so disappointed in the Chair of the County Council last week demonizing my involvement in land use matters as the county council considered assisting low-income housing issues, a job that I currently am working in for the City of Bellingham. I held my tongue and congratulated both the council and the City of Ferndale, of which I am also in a land use dispute with, for making the decision that they did. It is part of making sure the tone and culture of our discussions are respectful.

    There are other great examples locally of people engaging the public in good civil discussion. The Whatcom Democrats are putting on a discussion about the Cherry Point pier this Thursday. The League of Women Voters is putting on a discussion about the jail proposal this Saturday. Futurewise and Farm Friends, over the years, have both put on good forums that engaged both sides of an issue in civil dialogue.

    So, as we are soon headed into public hearings and renewed dialogue about our rural lands and compliance with state law, lets hope that the discussion is civil and engaging, and that all side look for similar points of view and ways to reach agreement in this matter.

  2. Yeah, well – I do believe that I’m the only county planning commissioner in history whose application for reappointment was turned down, based on raw politics. So I’m probably not the person to argue that the current Council chair isn’t a divider rather than a uniter! Driving that wedge in further is good electoral politics, I suppose, but governing once you get elected ought to take everyone’s interests into account.

    But when people (including Chair Crawford) have economic stakes in development and land use policies, it creates an incentive to frame the issues as black and white, us vs. them. I think that’s a factor that also sets the tone for our current County government.

    Not that making money from land development isn’t important, or that it isn’t bound to be a key focus of the planning process – it’s just not the only interest. When I wear one of my other hats, I’m a developers’ attorney. My job is to advocate on behalf of my clients, and their goal is to make money. Environmentalists have other goals, neighbors have other goals. Advocates advocate, citizens express their concerns, environmental organizations provide input, and local government officials ought to be considering all of those interests in order do what’s best for the community. That’s the difference between an advocate and an elected official.