Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Rural Element: No Peace In Our Time

The County Council approved a revised Rural Element last night, and Council Chair Kathy Kershner stated that it would have absolutely no effect on stopping sprawl. 

Which goes to show that we can agree about something.

The revised Rural Element and zoning code are an awful mess.  There’s no vision, the details have become so complex and convoluted that an attorney with a quarter century of experience reading zoning codes (that’s me) can’t figure out what the heck it means, and –

the County still proposes to allow enough development outside cities to accommodate all of its projected growth between now and 2029.  

 As we demonstrated in comments to the County, Rural and “Resource” lands (areas designated for farms and forests) still can accommodate 49,276 more people that the County has planned for.

If for no other reason, this matters because of water.  Our watersheds are mostly closed for new surface water withdrawals, either year-round or seasonally.  At least half of the County’s farmers don’t have water rights.  The only folks who aren’t worrying about water rights are those who will build homes, because they can use “exempt wells”:  wells that can be drilled without having to acquire a water right.

Wells tap into groundwater.  Many farmers use groundwater.  You see the problem.

As we stated in comments to the County, 2,384 wells have been drilled in the Rural area in the past 15 years, and 69% of those wells were drilled in basins that are closed for further surface water appropriation.

“Planning” is supposed to be a way to apply human ingenuity to avoid bad results.  We can “plan” to use our water resources wisely, or we can wait until a crisis occurs. 

That crisis might be the result of a court adjudication of water rights. 

It might be the extraordinary cost of providing water to homes and businesses that don’t have clean water. 

It might be the extinction of wild salmon.

Once we reach any or all of these crisis points, will the County regret its failure to plan?  Who knows.  If we’re all lucky, we’ll manage to kick this bucket down the road to our kids and grandkids.

In any event, we’ve reached the point where “planning” is simply not supposed to be talked about in a County Council meeting.  At last night’s public hearing before the Council, we were excoriated for suggesting that planning for the Rural Element should reflect the availability of water.

But then, to be fair, I was excoriated for everything I said last night. 

My suggestion that the County should talk to those of us who are promoting Growth Management Act compliance, in addition to talking to developers and their attorneys, was particularly reviled.  I was told that it reflected badly on my character.  My suggestion that we might talk through the issues rather than continuing to litigate the issues, which echoed a proposal by Futurewise, led to nothing but a disgusted uproar.

Note to self:  the hand that extends the olive branch gets slapped. 

The Council majority has taken a stance:  it would rather fight to the death than talk to people it disagrees with. Because there still are Whatcom County residents who believe in planning and the rule of law, this means . . . here we go again.


  1. Wow. So... other than that... how was the meeting?

    1. That pretty much was the meeting. About 6 people spoke -- Kate Blystone on behalf of Futurewise; Roger Almskaar (wanted wording changes), Ellen Baker (didn't want the County to negotiate with Futurewise or us), Wendy Harris (the Rural Element won't protect the environment), one or two others. The Council's deliberations focused largely on complaining, bitterly, about me (in particular), Wendy, Futurewise, the Growth Management Act and the Hearings Board.

      I've been to some weird public meetings, including one where protestors dressed in squirrel costumes dumped a pile of nuts in front of the dais. (This was not in Whatcom County, of course, or those squirrels would be behind bars.) But this was by far the most unpleasant.

    2. And John Lesow, too! How could I forget fearless John Lesow?

      John was reprimanded, too, for talking back when one of the Council members misrepresented what he had said.

  2. Haven't you figured out yet that they don't want to hear anything unless it supports their ill-conceived position? Besides, you insist on muddying the waters (pun intended) with the facts. Until you are ready to "sell" them the "science" they want, you will continue to just annoy them. Are they still trying to reverse the reconveyance????

    1. I think that the reconveyance hearing is next time. Blessedly, I'll be out of town.

    2. Reconveyance will be September 11th. They introduced the motion last night.

  3. I am suffering from post-traumatic council disorder. Am I entitled to compensation under the GMA?

    1. I'm thinking about suing the electorate for subjecting me to it

    2. It's okay Carl, because under the Affordable Care Act, I'm sure this is now covered.

  4. Here in the Adirondacks (northern NY state park the size of Vermont) where planning issues are historically contentious, it has been said, "Adirondackers would rather fight than win." I take it that is also the attitude of your politicians.

    1. There are many things about Whatcom County that take me back to upstate New York. And yes, that appears to be the size of things.

      Or maybe fighting IS winning. The law that the County hasn't complied with has been on the books for 15 years. The County fights and loses, but in the meantime, there's been a whole lot of development out in rural areas and vested rights for a WHOLE lot more. So the folks who are fighting have "won" by delay.

      They've "won" 77 stream reaches that have been designated impaired water bodies, and oversubscribed water, and shorelines that are closed to shellfish harvest, and a polluted aquifer, and a polluted lake that is the drinking water sources for half the County, too. But those costs are externalized to everybody, so I guess that they don't count for planning purposes. Only the profits from land conversion are included in the equation.

      Luckily, we have gorgeous mountains and a beautiful bay. And the sun is out today. Hooray!

    2. Nice Doctor Seussian finish there.

    3. Too true. I'm a (bad) poet and didn't know it.