Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The Die Is Cast

Not with a bang, but with a whimper, the County Council approved the Rural Element.

There was a public hearing, which Council Chair Sam Crawford stressed, most emphatically, could only include comments on the revisions since the last public hearing. Like the public is supposed to know what that did and did not include, within the sea of red ink that is now the Comprehensive Plan and Zoning Code.

(Of course, the Council itself got an additional 42-day extension from its extended deadline to work on any darn thing it wanted to, and the County sent out information on a topic unrelated to the public hearing a few days ago. But as I pointed out in a previous blog, it's the little people who must be carefully restrained by procedure. The Council is above all that.)

After a few brave souls testified, in spite of the limitations and the air of inevitability that hung over the room, Kathy Kershner moved to approve. She pointed out that the Council has worked very hard. "This is not perfect," but she felt good about approving it.

Barbara Brenner said that she was not part of the problem. She knows how she lives, and she likes how she lives. Calling the growth that has developed in the County "sprawl" is disrespectful. She believes that this plan represents such a decrease in density [we don't, but more on that later] that we all need to come together on it.

Carl Weimer stated that he would not vote for it. He has viewed it all along as an enormous waste of time and taxpayer money, since many issues will have to be revisited. Those issues include agricultural buffers, rural lot sizes, and increased pavement in the Lake Whatcom watershed. (He had more on his list, but I didn't get it all.)

Ken Mann thanked staff and the Council for working so hard. He said that he voted against the Rural Element when he was on the Planning Commission because he thought it was too restrictive, and he'd vote against it this time because it went too far the other way.

Bill Knutzen, Tony Larson, and Sam Crawford didn't say anything -- just voted "yes." It was a 5-2 vote. The entire discussion might have taken ten minutes.

On to the next stage.


  1. This whole process reminds me of poor Sisyphus. I wonder if Sam 'Sisyphus' Crawford enjoys rolling the Comp Plan uphill only to watch it roll back down (after being rejected by the GMBH). Will Council find this punishment as maddening as Sisyphus found his?

    According to Greek mythology, Sisyphus was both avaricious and deceitful. Does that remind us of anyone?

  2. Earlier in the Rural Element Update process, I attended a Council committee meeting where Barbara advised Staff that she did not want them using the word "sprawl" because it was propaganda. I guess she did not bother reading the GMA, which includes the term sprawl(or the 1st Amendment, which even applies to County employees.)

    Besides, we do not have rural sprawl in Whatcom County. As Barbara advised us, we have "eclectic" patterns of growth.

  3. Oh, it's eclectic patterns of growth? Gee, I feel so much better now. It's all in a name.

  4. I believe everyone worked really hard on this. Staff, council and public. The problem is some council memebers find GMA to be very inconvient.

  5. There certainly was an incredible amount of Council and staff devoted to this package of changes, and time is taxpayers' money. I think that Carl Weimer raised the key issue when he said that the time invested was a waste.

    As David Stalheim suggested repeatedly, the Council could have used its time and resources to bring everybody together in a mediated process to hash out the issues -- but it didn't. As a result, the process will just keep going.

  6. The key is 'effectiveness' not 'effort'.

    Sisyphus spent eternity rolling a rock up a hill. He got an A for effort, but failed miserably.

  7. Touché, Spooky.

  8. Nobody on either side or even in the middle is happy about the changes... so now it'll just get fought over for a long time and everybody loses.

  9. Wendy,
    You wrote, "... I guess she did not bother reading the GMA, which includes the term sprawl..."

    I assume that you used the word "includes" because in RCW 36.70A.030, there is no definition of the word.

    That seems to be a serious omission, since Planning goal (2) is "Reduce Sprawl."

  10. Wendy's point might be that it seems strange to say that "sprawl" is propaganda when the word appears 6 times in the part of the GMA that the County has been trying to address: the requirements for the rural element. In addition to Goal 2.

    The term often occurs in the context of preventing the inapproprate conversion of undeveloped land into "sprawling low-density development." It also is used in connection with service provision. So it's not just a word that occurs once in the law -- preventing sprawl is a major component of the GMA.

  11. I agree with Wendy and Jean that the term ‘sprawl’ – In and of itself – is not propaganda; however, I also agree with Anonymous that both ‘sprawl’ and ‘infill’ need to be clearly defined if we hope to discourage one and encourage the other. The county and each of its cities would be wise to adopt county-wide definitions for each in order to establish a meeting of the minds.