Monday, April 25, 2011

Bass Ackwards

The Planning Commission held a "public hearing" on the Rural Element tonight. "Public hearing" means that the public is allowed to be "hearing" about decisions that the Planning Commission already made, right?

Well, wrong, in any jurisdiction I've ever worked in. But Whatcom County is a state of mind (as opposed to being part of the state of, say, Washington.)

Not only did the Planning Commission hold a "work session" before the public hearing, but it went a step further to vote on Rural Element policies and maps before the public hearing. When you know what you want to do before you set foot in the room, why even waste energy pretending that the public hearing matters, right?

Only straw votes, mind you. But after the Planning Commission had already devoted six hours of labor to its votes, the odds that its collective mind was not made up were very, very slim. Slim to none. None.

Of those of us who were dumb enough to speak, on the theory that the purpose of a public hearing is for the Planning Commisison to be "hearing" from the public, one speaker referred to the event as "kabuki theatre" (stylized acting, based on popular legends). Several referred to it as a "rubber stamp."

(What do you think that stamp said? Why yes, "approved"! Good guess!)

In a morbid way, it was kind of fun -- like watching a movie that you've seen over and over again, and you know it's going to end badly, but because you already know how it's going to end, what used to seem tragic just seems sort of -- banal.

For those masochists who are still interested, here's a link to comments submitted to the Planning Commission. There's a Council "hearing" tomorrow.

What do you think will happen?


Left out a few things.

Like the Planning Commission Chair's rousing speech at the end, denigrating citizens who -- after two years, and a confusing, poorly-conceived public process -- still cared enough to e-mail the Planning Commission to express their concern for Whatcom County and its rural character. She dismissed these citizens as nothing more than Futurewise "product."

In the past, Michelle has emphasized including citizens in the process; I was sorry to learn that her interest in citizen input did not extend to citizens who disagree with her.

Also didn't mention that the vote was 7-2. The two remnants of the 2009 Planning Commission, John Belisle and John Lesow, voted no.


  1. Gee, it's so hard to tell. The Council has been so very unpredictable. Oh, wait, I know! They will listen to all the public input, reverse themselves and follow state law. You betcha!

  2. The county has become a criminal enterprise.

  3. I feel bad for the Johns. I'm going to send them a thank you letter.

  4. Well, what to say?

    First, "poorly conceived?" Please remember this process was "conceived" by Mr. Stalheim and, Ms Melious was Planning Chair through a good part of the process.

    I don't know exactly what Ms Luke said because I wasn't there but I'd bet some of the ire you say she vented came as the result of the sort of mindless approach Futurewise sometimes uses in asking members not to bother thinking about an issue, just sign this testimony and send it in. (I've since confirmed that was the case)

    As to the process, if it was as bad as you say it was, it kind of takes me back to the old days of two years ago when the Planning Commission rubber stamped the ten year review the day before the Final Environmental Impact Statement with response to citizen comments came out, blithely proceeded on and made a final decision on the Bellingham Urban Growth Area despite a citizen (me) pointing out the material the public hearing was about had not been included in the materials given the public but had only been provided to planning commissioners and, despite protestations by some commission members, rushed to a decision on its rural element recommendations despite knowing the Supreme Court was going to make a decision within a few weeks on the very challenge being addressed by the commission.

    Almost humorously, the much vaunted land supply analysis forming the foundation of the ten year review was released the day after final action by the County Council despite months of public requests that the updated version be released.

    A big difference between the process last night and the processes we all became accustomed to in 2008 and 2009 is that the materials provided the public are the same materials the commissioners used and are the result of a number of public hearings the Council held to assure full public participation. In the past we came to be more used to having very complex materials provided two or three days before a hearing in which we were supposed to be able to provide "informed" public comment.

    My mom's repetition of an old parable on this kind of thing had to do with the pot calling the kettle black.

  5. Thanks for the update Jean.

    Jack, you would have more credibility if you didn't always try to rewrite history. Your a smart thoughtful guy, but your spin on issues has been too heavy handed to pay much attention to. I simple test is that the Futurewise's record of challenging and prevailing on issues has been far better than your clients.

  6. Good grief, Jack. Am I to spend my one short, sweet life responding to your revisionist history (thank you for the correct term, Dan) about the Environmental Impact Statement?

    For the umpteenth time --
    1. The Draft EIS was completed before the Planning Commission review, and the Final EIS was available to the ultimate decisionmaker (Council), as required by state law.
    2. The schedule, which you now claim was rushed, was determined by your lawsuit.

    And your first paragraph is just silly. David Stalheim hasn't been Planning Director for almost a year. I haven't been on the Planning Commission for months. We're not like the Great and All Powerful Oz, running the County from behind the curtain of this blog. We do provide comments on process, and the County ignores them.

    As for the materials being available for public review -- pffft. A big part of the record came out less than 48 hours before the last Council hearing. So don't even go there.

    And I continue to think that it's disrespectful to assume that citizens who don't agree with you are mindless.

  7. I think I liked Luke better when she was speechless.

  8. Jack, you are writing fiction again.

    Chair Luke had a speech written last night that she read to support her decision after "hearing" from the public. That was after we found out that they spent the afternoon with motions making decisions on what to change before having a hearing to hear from the public.

    What was that about public participation plan and how the planning commission wanted to involve the public?

    No wonder people don't participate any more. A rural hearing that lasted all of, what, 45 minutes last night?

    For those that don't remember about the EIS issue, it was Jack Petree (along with Caitac, Wiesen and Futurewise) that forced the crammed timeline that rushed the UGA decision in 2009.

    The land supply analysis was available first in nine (9) months before the Council decision, and was refined through public process. The final report that Jack refers to is exactly that: a report that documented the Council's action, which was changed on their final decision.

    Finally, Jack, if you keep posting stuff that doesn't have citations to facts, start your own blog. This is a volunteer deal for me, and I'm not going to waste my time responding to your nonsense.

  9. David,

    I "rushed" the UGA decision in 2009?

    You mean that decision with a legally mandated deadline of 2007 that the county told the Hearings Board was being worked on "diligently" in 2006 when it decided not to do the five year review mandated by its own documents? You know, the decision due in May of 2007 the County tried to shove through with almost no public process in Jan/Feb of 2008 only to concede just a couple of months later that although we'd certified to the Board we'd done the work we really hadn't so we needed more time. That deadline exceeded by 2 1/2 years by the time a final vote was taken.

    That "rushed" decision?

  10. Jack: You are going to the refuge of not talking about the issue at hand but bringing up old perceived wounds from the past.
    I don't recall you being so bitter in the past. Hope all is well.

  11. Dan,

    I think that Jack's purpose might be to get Jean and I distracted from the work we are doing filing successful challenges to the county's actions and bringing it to the attention of citizens.

    I am extremely frustrated that I spend the day at work, volunteer for youth baseball, and then come home to work on writing briefs only to be derailed by reviewing this nonsense. So, I think Jack is being very successful and as much as I'm loving discussion, it is keeping me from doing what I can to stop the planning nonsense going on in this county. I, too, would rather talk about the issues at hand, so here we go...

    Both Jean and I have written very specific and extensive letters to the County Council that details the public process regarding the rural element under the "Stalheim" administration versus what has just happened. To recap:

    The previous effort to bring a proposal to the Council included extensive outreach to the public designed to help inform the outcome. Public workshops were held in November 2008, March 2009, and June 2009 in Laurel, Kendall, Rome Grange, Blaine, Deming and Bellingham.

    In contrast, no workshops were held in the last 18 months on the rural element.

    The previous Planning Commission held a series of public hearings on the proposal, starting in April 2009, then again in July, and again in September.

    The current County Planning Commission held a hearing after they had already voted on changes during the day, and they didn't consider any of the new zoning amendments initiated by the County Council.

    The county is now failing miserably at public participation -- in fact, no one even wants to be involved anymore because they know that their voices won't be listened to. The only amendments considered by the County Council and the Planning Commission were suggestions of the development community.

    The rural element will be overturned on appeal. So, the question will be what type of public process and council will we have during the next round of this? Maybe by 2020 we will have accomplished the rural element that was due in 2004? Here's to hoping!