Thursday, March 31, 2011


So we're all outlaws now.

Whatcom County has had 14 years to get its Rural Element in shape, but it can't seem to manage. The Council just blew off its state deadline, which was Tuesday, March 29. It will get around to finishing the job one of these days.

The Herald reported on Tuesday's County Council hearing, and I thought that the article left out a few things. Like the fact that most of the people who spoke were there to testify, eloquently and respectfully, that the Council really needs to consider the cost of sprawl, the effect of sprawl on the environment, and the fact that the County's proposal would hurt agriculture.

That was one of the best moments of the night, by the way. A spokesperson for the Building Industry Association stood up and said that she spoke for farmers. She spoke for farmers, because she spoke for Henry Bierlink (Farm Friends), and Henry speaks for farmers, and all farmers are happy with the County's proposal. That, she said, was why no farmers had shown up.

Then came a farmer. John Steensma, who owns a dairy farm outside Lynden, reminded the Council that his business is to provide food. If -- as currently proposed -- buildings of unlimited size can be built right up to farmers' property line, the farmers' businesses will be hurt.

Very few property owners and property rights advocates testified, because they didn't need to -- they got everything they wanted in the Council's proposal.

But the mere fact that citizens suggested that some factors other than property rights should be considered appeared to upset Council members Tony Larson and Bill Knutzen. Larson went off on an anti-property-rights, anti-government rant that caused the person in front of me to wonder "When did this turn into a Tea Party rally?" Knutzen jumped in to agree wholeheartedly with Larson.

Speaking of outlaws, Tony Larson apparently believes that we should ignore state law. A big part of his speech involved declaring that the Growth Management Hearings Board doesn't need to be taken seriously.

Did more experienced County personnel step in and say "Whoa, buddy, you're way out of line here"? Heck no. Sam Crawford said "Ordinarily we don't allow applause, but that was passionate."


I don't want to live in an anarchist state, so I wrote the Council some letters. One pertains to the Hearings Board (link is here), one follows up on the issue of public comments that I raised in the last post (link is here). I pondered not writing, since the Council undoubtedly sick of me, but silence didn't seem like a good option.

P.S. If the links don't work, try this and this.


  1. I think I enjoyed the most Mr. Larson's passionate defense of what a terrific job Council had done on the rural element. Let's see - missed the deadline (repeatedly and by years), non-compliant, ignoring citizens and completely ignoring state law. Good job indeed! Yay - let's hear it for anarchy. Apparently anarchy is good when it's property rights anarchy.

    Like some in the crowd, I had not known that the BIA spoke for all Whatcom County farmers. So it was quite a lovely moment when an actual farmer spoke up to refute that assertion vehemently.

    And until Mr. Knutzen spoke, I was not aware we were in danger of the government owning all the land in Whatcom County. How wonderful that the Council is ensuring that all privately owned land is built on, as fast and as comprehensively as possible.

    So much surreal Orwellian beauty to choose from. Double-plus un-good indeed.

  2. Amazing how much angst there is over a short delay compared to the frenzied requests for delays when the Hearings Board found the county out of compliance on its ten-year update, delays amounting to 2 1/2 years.

    Those delays were met with yawns by some of the same people going ballistic now.

    First, Jean is in error regarding the 14 years. The out of compliance issue Jean speaks to in this piece dates from 2005.

    There’s been much discussion about the so called length of time since the Hearings Board made its decision as well as discussion regarding the “out of compliance” issue.

    It is important to remember, the Hearings Board was taken, ultimately, to the Supreme Court regarding this decision and, it is important to remember, the Hearings Board was found wrong on core elements of the decision.

    In reality, it would have been irresponsible not to wait for the Court’s decision before working on this and, in fact, right or wrong, much of the “controversy” surrounding the decision comes as a result of a rush to work on the rural element before it was known what the Court had in mind.

    Now the Council faces a daunting task. It is trying to adjust a Planning Commission document produced before the Supreme Court had its say in ways that reflect the Court’s assessment of where the Hearings Board made errors.

    This is tough work and the Council is taking it seriously.

    Regarding Mr. Steensma, I'm not sure where his farm is but if it is near Lynden the rural element would have no impact on it at all. The nearest LAMIRD allowing any kind of commercial is at Wiser Lake, well south of Lynden.

  3. The LAMIRD provisions with which the County is out of compliance became part of state law in 1997, 14 years ago.

    The Supreme Court didn't say that the Hearings Board was wrong about LAMIRDs - -it said it was right about LAMIRDs. Nor did it say that the Hearings Board was "wrong" about rural densities. It said that the Board had applied a "bright line" rule and that it needed to review the Rural Element without applying a bright line rule. That's not saying that the Board was either right or wrong -- it's sending the plan back for a review.

    I will correct the blog -- John Steensma was speaking about the effect of no buffers on ag land in general, not specifically about his farm. As it happens, his farm will be harmed by the rural element, which allows 2-acre zoning that affects his farm in the Badger Road vicinity.

    Concern about the time taken to comply with the GMA is not new. All last year, when the Council said it couldn't be bothered to deal with the Rural Element because it wanted to dedicate its time and efforts to expanding UGAs, we said that it should be working on the Rural Element.

  4. Blog regarding Steensma comments is corrected.

  5. Hearings Board Case No. 97-2-0030c


    Page 2 - line 6

    "Absent any challenges by petitioners in the remand phase of this case, and in accordance with Superior Court instructions to take actions consistent with its order, we rescind our previous findings of invalidity and noncompliance regarding the remand issues."

    March 28, 2001

    The new case in 2005 started things over and that is the case the Supreme Court addressed.

  6. And the law passed 14 years ago.

    County has had 14 years to comply. More than five years since it was found out of compliance. Close to a year and a half since the Council received the Planning Commission recommendation.

    Whatever statistic you like.

  7. Jean, I can't get your links to work.

  8. I found the linked documents downloaded to my desktop (Mac). Sorry!

    Thank you for trying to keep our Council honest.

  9. Thanks, Phil.

    I've added alternative links above, in case others have the same problem.

  10. "That's not saying that the Board was either right or wrong -- it's sending the plan back for a review."

    Didn't the court send the plan back to the GMHB on remand?

  11. Yes, it did, Sailor. It said that the Hearings Board applied a bright line test, which it is not allowed to do. As I stated in my previous response, the Court didn't say that the Board's conclusions about rural densities were wrong, nor did it say that its conclusions about rural densities were right. It said to review rural densities without using a bright line test.

  12. Does Jack Petree know how easy it is to start his own blog?

  13. Jack Petree can barely start the computer by himself... he is banned in five countries from getting close to anything of importance that is electronic... recently I had to move from a mouse to a trak ball just to function

    Of course, it doesn't really matter. I usually can't remember the password anyway.