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The Gristle

Outliers and Outlaws

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

OUTLIERS AND OUTLAWS: An emerging meme among several of this year’s candidates for county office is the notion that they’re seeking election to protect individual homeowners and property owners from “special interests.” Council President Kathy Kershner declared this as she sought the endorsement of Whatcom Democrats.

“We’re not just protecting developers,” Kershner explained to Democrats. “We’re protecting folks just like you, who’ve worked your whole life, invested in your property, counted on it for your retirement, and then you turn around and find out that it’s worth nothing,” she emphasized. “We’re being challenged and sued by special interest groups who don’t care about all of the people in Whatcom County.”

Council member Bill Knutzen and Planning Commission Chair Michelle Luke expressed similar declarations at the recent Water Supply Symposium. Knutzen, in particular, went out of his way to characterize his work as an epic struggle protecting rural homeowners against preying and uncaring “special interests.” Luke complained of “an abundance of special interest groups, attorneys, and regulations that prevent solutions.”

Where to start? At the center of these claims is the blind conceit that everyone who bought property as investment merits an upzone. Buildable property purchased at R5 is still buildable… at R5, the zoning in place when it was purchased. With sufficient water, you can build a home there; you cannot build (and flip) 100 homes there. Nearly all of the council’s remaining debate concerns a refusal to reverse themselves on upzones that never should have been granted in the first place, many created after the passage of the state’s Growth Management Act that actively discouraged such practices. Their declarations are leavened by assertions they’re protecting “Mom & Pop,” but the bulk of unresolved matters involve properties held by agents like Gold Star Resorts. But more: These declarations must be understood as code, an advocacy of continuing lawlessness in county compliance with state goals.

The folly of that lawlessness was driven home last week when, after they’d spent $50,000 of your money on a pricey out-of-town attorney to continue to argue the merits of the Rural Element of the county’s comprehensive plan, Whatcom County Council again received a beatdown by the state’s Growth Management Hearings Board, losing on nearly every assertion.

The board found the county’s plan protects neither rural character or surface water and groundwater resources. Whatcom County, the board found, was heedless in directing development into areas with available water, authorizing instead a proliferation of private wells that draw down underlying aquifers and reduce groundwater recharge of streams. Roughly a third of these wells are contaminated with nitrates exceeding health standards, the board found. The county’s fouled beaches are unfit for shellfish harvest.

“The causes range from increasing urbanization, to malfunctioning septic systems, agricultural runoff, and removal of riparian vegetation,” the board commented. “The GMA requires rural character to be protected by measures governing development that provide patterns of land use consistent with water resource protection.”

A central organizing principle of GMA is to constrain the state’s built environment to what existed when the law was crafted in 1990, a crude yardstick to limit sprawl. Meeting that goal would direct future growth into areas that already have a clear, established and senior right to water: Incorporated cities. Failure to meet that goal ushers in the water crisis of the current hour, with hundreds of wells without a water right drawing down the supply from those who do have a water right.

The state’s “exemption for private wells does not exempt the county from complying with GMA’s mandate to protect critical aquifers,” the board commented. “Similarly, the exemption does not exempt Whatcom County from complying with the GMA rural element requirements.”

The state’s growth management laws are modeled after a similar initiative in Oregon, with one important distinction. The Oregon model requires counties to adhere to top-down directives from the state. Washington lawmakers preferred to allow counties more control over their land-use decisions, subject to oversight by an appointed state board and the courts. The approach allows an organic, finer grained local control over outcomes, but it has also ushered in a bitter defiance of state goals that has paralyzed Whatcom County government for more than two decades.

Initial challenges to the counties’ plans under GMA come not from the state, but from citizens. Thus, the “special interests” and “outliers” groused about by candidates like Kershner, Knutzen, and Luke are, in fact, neighbors and voters. These complaints are heard by so-called “distant boards” and courts, without which there would be no redress of the destructive policies of county government. A complaint-driven process is inherently litigious, particularly when—as GMA bakes right in—”the burden is on petitioners to overcome the presumption of validity and demonstrate the challenged action taken by the county is clearly erroneous.” A thick-headed County Council, rejecting a mediated settlement, makes it even more litigious. Therefore, small wonder citizens band together in “special interests” to defray legal costs—it’s their only chance of prevailing.

A final point about the “special interests” these candidates find so deplorable: They are largely the same groups who filed detailed and intelligent concerns during the scoping process for the environmental impact statement for the proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal coal pier at Cherry Point. So remember, when you go to the polls in November, the contempt these candidates have already showered on these groups and their testimony; they’ve essentially promised to ignore these groups as they respond to other concerns.

SVCR OZ
Past Columns
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September 14, 2016

Drip-drip-drip:

September 7, 2016

Much ADU about nothing

August 31, 2016

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August 17, 2016

Zombie Terror

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Polar Wastes

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Chapter Two

July 13, 2016

Close the Schools!

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Closing a Circle

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Roads to Nowhere

May 25, 2016

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May 18, 2016

Events
Today
Whatcom Water Week

10:00am|Whatcom County

The Music Man

7:30pm|Anacortes Community Theatre

Little Women

7:30pm|Whidbey Playhouse

The Miracle Worker

7:30pm|Claire vg Thomas Theatre

Quilt & Fiber Arts Festival

10:00am|La Conner

Get an edible education

4:00pm

Love, Loss and What I Wore

7:30pm|Heiner Auditorium

Hellingham

8:00pm|Upfront Theatre

Handling the truth

9:35pm

Run Like a Girl

8:00am|Fairhaven Park

Anacortes Farmers Market

9:00am|Depot Arts Center

Benefit Garage Sale

9:00am|T.G. Richards Building

Cabbage Class

9:00am|Garden Spot Nursery

Mount Vernon Farmers Market

9:00am|Riverfront Plaza

Model Train Show

9:00am|Northwest Washington Fairgrounds

Twin Sisters Farmers Market

9:00am|Nugent's Corner

Healthcare Film

9:30am|Bellingham Public Library

Fermentation Fun

10:00am|Blaine Library

Fall Family Fun

10:00am|Glen Echo Garden

Birding Walk

10:00am|South Whatcom Library

Fall Fruit Festival

10:00am|Cloud Mountain Farm Center

Skagit Valley Festival of Family Farms

10:00am|Skagit County

Film is Truth Anniversary Party

10:00am|Bellingham Public Market

Blaine Gardeners Market

10:00am|Peace Portal Drive

Bellingham Farmers Market

10:00am|Depot Market Square

Whatcom Artist Studio Tour

10:00am|Whatcom County

Porpathon

10:00am|Salish Sea

Buddy Walk

11:00am|Fairhaven Village Green

National Geographic's 50 Greatest Photos Opening

12:00pm|Whatcom Museum's Lightcatcher Building

Boating Center Open

12:00pm|Community Boating Center

Banned Books Week Read-In

12:30pm|Village Books

Intro to NaNoWriMo

1:00pm|Bellingham Public Library

Artist Lecture

1:00pm|Whatcom Museum's Old City Hall

Matched Makers Opening

2:00pm|Museum of Northwest Art

Timber Rose

2:00pm|North Fork Library

Traditional Jazz

2:00pm|VFW Hall

Blessing of the Animals

3:30pm|Cornwall Park

Poetry Palavers

4:00pm|Village Books

Matzke Art Auction

5:00pm|Matzke Fine Art Gallery and Sculpture Park

Edison Opening

5:00pm|Smith & Vallee Gallery

Celebrating Jack Prelutsky

5:30pm|Western Library

USA Dance

7:00pm|Presence Studio

Fred Morrison

7:00pm|Littlefield Celtic Center

The Aimees

7:00pm|BAAY Theatre

George Winston

7:30pm|McIntyre Hall

Tannahill Weavers

7:30pm|Lincoln Theatre

Folk Dance Party

7:30pm|Fairhaven Library

Bellingham Chamber Music Society

7:30pm|Whatcom Museum's Old City Hall

Mount Baker Theatre Artifacts Wine Bar
Tomorrow
The Music Man

7:30pm|Anacortes Community Theatre

Little Women

7:30pm|Whidbey Playhouse

The Miracle Worker

7:30pm|Claire vg Thomas Theatre

Quilt & Fiber Arts Festival

10:00am|La Conner

Love, Loss and What I Wore

7:30pm|Heiner Auditorium

Handling the truth

9:35pm

Benefit Garage Sale

9:00am|T.G. Richards Building

Model Train Show

9:00am|Northwest Washington Fairgrounds

Skagit Valley Festival of Family Farms

10:00am|Skagit County

Whatcom Artist Studio Tour

10:00am|Whatcom County

Fall Fruit Festival

10:00am|Cloud Mountain Farm Center

Boating Center Open

12:00pm|Community Boating Center

Community Breakfast

8:00am|Rome Grange

Rabbit Ride

8:00am|Fairhaven Bicycle

Fueling Education Fun Run

9:30am|Washington Park

Sunday Market

1:00pm|Alger Community Hall

Walk the Wall

1:30pm|Lake Padden

Take a Kid Mountain Biking Day

2:00pm|Lake Padden Park

Sunday Night Fusion

7:00pm|Presence Studio

Bruce Molsky

7:00pm|YWCA Ballroom

White Christmas Auditions

7:00pm|Mount Baker Theatre

CW BOB 2016 Artifacts Wine Bar
Monday
Handling the truth

9:35pm

White Christmas Auditions

7:00pm|Mount Baker Theatre

The Land That Remains

3:00pm|Perry and Carlson Gallery

Educators Afternoon Social

3:00pm|Whatcom Museum's Lightcatcher Building

Raw Desserts

6:30pm|Community Food Co-op

Pumpkin Particulars

6:30pm|Gretchen's Kitchen

Selector Dub Narcotic

8:00pm|Bellingham Alternative Library

Poetrynight

8:00pm|Bellingham Public Library

Guffawingham

9:30pm|Green Frog

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