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.