The Gristle

State of the County

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

STATE OF THE COUNTY: Whatcom County Executive Jack Louws delivered his annual “State of the County” remarks to Whatcom County Council last week. Louws outlined a litany of proud achievements of responsive government, addressing human health and safety and improvements in public services. The executive was downbeat only in his description of county finances, “best described as stable,” he remarked.

“General Fund revenue received was at 99.3 percent of our budget expectation for 2013; while general fund expense was at 92.88 percent of what was anticipated. Through the end of 2014 the financial health of Whatcom County government will follow this trend,” he reported, predicting the state will continue to fail county governments in the distribution of revenues to assist the health and safety mandates required by state law.

“There is a need,” Louws said, “to continue to streamline government to provide as many services as possible, as efficiently as possible.”

Viewed through a particular lens, his remarks were a stout rejection of what we might call the “tea party agenda”—the idea that government is always the problem, government cannot and should not address problems of the human condition, and that taxes are always burdensome and wasteful. No; there’s important work to be done and the county is doing it, that was more the tone of the executive’s address.

In that vein, Louws also outlined both past and future actions to protect natural resources, actions the county has been dragged into against the kicking and screaming of the former County Council. Much of that costly work is the direct result of their aggressive failure to plan.

Louws outlined a series of water projects—from flood control in the north county watershed to stormwater improvements in Geneva and Lake Samish to environmental management programs underway for Lake Whatcom. Each was triggered as a result of citizen petitions initiated under RCW 36.70A, the “lawsuits” filed under the state’s Growth Management Act. The environmental accomplishments Louws praised would not have happened without those citizen actions.

We’ve noted before the adversarial nature of GMA as crafted by the state Legislature. The law presumes cities and counties are self-evidently correct and lawful in their practices and must be demonstrated to be “clearly in error” by petitioners, with the burden of proof on the petitioners. If municipal governments are obstinate and unwilling to sit down with citizens to address their concerns and settle their claims, the very construction of the law throws the matter to the courts.

This has been the condition of Whatcom County since at least 2005.

Ironically, even as the county continues to fuss and squirm against those court and board decisions in costly litigation—having squandered more than a quarter of a million dollars on this round alone—the county is also ploddingly at work yielding to the wisdom of public concerns.

Earlier this month, the county received the most recent reminder of a beating handed down by the state’s Growth Management Hearings Board last June that found Whatcom County did not apply measures to protect water quality or quantity throughout the rural areas of the county. This second determination of non-compliance changes no dynamic. The board again found the county’s whining about its lack of progress in addressing these deficiencies unpersuasive in an April 1 hearing. Perhaps befitting April Fools, the board further found “the county made minor changes to Whatcom County policies, such as changing ‘ground’ water to water ‘rights’ in reference to a Department of Ecology publication, referencing an existing development code requiring evidence of adequate water supply, and cross-referencing to a development code regarding land clearing activity.” None of these sly and silly semantic dodges meet the GMA requirement to impose measures governing land use and development to protect rural character by protecting water quality and quantity, the board observed.

The county continues to remain out of compliance with state law. The economic drag is considerable.

Far from an “environmentalist council,” the current Whatcom County Council is rather a cautious and conservative one, lured by the “certainty” (and political cover) that might arrive through the glacial grindings of the state’s courts but not willing to sit down with citizen petitioners to craft an equitable settlement and solution. They could be doing both—yes, simultaneously—without sacrificing or prejudicing their claims. Based on the executive’s remarks, the county is already at work settling some of those claims. For it is certain the county is bound to have its ass kicked by that court by the end of this year (the county hasn’t even argued its case competently; the county cannot demonstrate it has planned because it has not planned) and the smart course would be to have Plan B well crafted and well underway when that “certainty” arrives. Instead, council will doggedly dither and pursue the same strategy of the nincompoop council voters ejected from office last November.

Like some parody of a James Bond film, where guys both bad and good stand around watching the clock tick backward on a time bomb without trying to defuse it, convinced the best outcome is to await the certainty of explosion and plan only in the wreckage of its aftermath, that parody is our current Whatcom County Council.

Past Columns
Civil War

October 26, 2016

Twice Zero

October 19, 2016

Convergent Streams

October 12, 2016


October 5, 2016

A Stitch In Time

September 28, 2016

Closer to home

September 21, 2016

Zombie Stumbles On

September 14, 2016


September 7, 2016

Much ADU about nothing

August 31, 2016

A Matter of Equity

August 24, 2016

A Lock on the Crypt

August 17, 2016

Zombie Terror

August 10, 2016

A Raucous Caucus

August 3, 2016

Lockup Lockstep

July 27, 2016

Polar Wastes

July 20, 2016

Chapter Two

July 13, 2016

Close the Schools!

June 22, 2016

Handling the truth


Scream Fair Haunted House

6:30pm|Northwest Washington Fairgrounds

Arsenic and Old Lace

7:00pm|Lynden Pioneer Museum

Wild Things

9:30am|Stimpson Family Nature Reserve

Parkinson's Dance Class

10:00am|Ballet Bellingham

Spanish Storytime

10:00am|Lynden Library

Ferndale Farmers Market

1:00pm|Cherry Street

Final Ferndale Market

1:00pm|Cherry Street

Scary Bake Sale

1:30pm|Blaine Library

Gates and Fires

4:00pm|Village Books

Artist Talk

5:30pm|Syre Student Center

Gore and Lore Tours

6:00pm|Historic Fairhaven and downtown Bellingham

Art Party

6:00pm|Tillie Lace Gallery

Hamster Ball

6:30pm|Bellingham Cruise Terminal

Panic Squad

7:00pm|Lynden Middle School

Ben Folds and a Piano

7:30pm|Mount Baker Theatre

Our Town

7:30pm|Lincoln Theatre

Back to School Catechism

7:30pm|McIntyre Hall


8:00pm|Upfront Theatre


8:00pm|Old Main Theater

Rocky Horror Picture Show

8:00pm|Walton Theatre

Ghosts of Concrete

11:00pm|Skagit County Community Action Center

MBT Once Bellingham Farmer’s Market
Handling the truth


Scream Fair Haunted House

6:30pm|Northwest Washington Fairgrounds

Gore and Lore Tours

6:00pm|Historic Fairhaven and downtown Bellingham

Our Town

7:30pm|Lincoln Theatre

Rocky Horror Picture Show

8:00pm|Walton Theatre


8:00pm|Old Main Theater


8:00pm|Upfront Theatre

Ghosts of Concrete

11:00pm|Skagit County Community Action Center

Fall Family Fun

8:00am|Fairhaven Bicycle

Pancake Breakfast

8:00am|Lynden Community Center

Run Wild Bellingham

9:00am|Whatcom Falls Park

Anacortes Farmers Market

9:00am|Depot Arts Center

Hummingbird Class

9:00am|Garden Spot Nursery

Twin Sisters Farmers Market

9:00am|Nugent's Corner

NSEA Work Party

9:00am|Birch Bay Bible Church

Family Activity Day

10:00am|Whatcom Museum's Lightcatcher Building

Bellingham Farmers Market

10:00am|Depot Market Square

Harvest Happens

10:00am|Bellewood Acres

Chuckanut Writers Workshop

10:00am|Village Books

Blaine Gardeners Market

10:00am|Peace Portal Drive

Youth Symphony Fall Concert

1:00pm|McIntyre Hall

Gravestone Primer

1:00pm|Sedro-Woolley Museum

Writing Workshop

2:30pm|Lynden Library

Closing Reception at i.e.

3:00pm|i.e. gallery

Walk the Stars

4:00pm|Village Books

Artist Talk in Edison

4:00pm|Smith & Vallee Gallery

Ghost Stories on Bellingham Bay

4:30pm|T.G. Richards Building

BAAY Haunted House

6:00pm|Boundary Bay Brewery

Irish Concert

7:00pm|Littlefield Celtic Center

Halloween Contra Dance

7:00pm|Fairhaven Library

Rocky Horror Picture Show

8:00pm|Lincoln Theatre

Saturday Night Spookeasy

8:00pm|Secret locale

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Handling the truth


Our Town

7:30pm|Lincoln Theatre

Rocky Horror Picture Show

8:00pm|Walton Theatre


8:00pm|Upfront Theatre

Harvest Happens

10:00am|Bellewood Acres

BAAY Haunted House

6:00pm|Boundary Bay Brewery

Final Sunday Market

1:00pm|Alger Community Hall

Taste of Skagit Valley

4:00pm|Maple Hall and Brodniak Hal

Art of Jazz

4:00pm|BAAY Theatre


7:30pm|Lincoln Theatre

see our complete calendar »

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