YOYO vs. WITT
Wednesday, November 16, 2016
YOYO vs. WITT: If any odor can be sniffed from the national election, it’s YOYO: You’re On Your Own, with local governments cast increasingly adrift from federal funding sources and federal goals. It’s not at all an unfair characterization of modern movement conservatism that it imagines no nexus at all between federal and state governments—the former must be choked and severed, its role limited, to produce independence for the latter. The latter meanwhile remains paralyzed in Washington—the upper house of the state Legislature in the control of Republicans by a single vote; the lower house of the Legislature in the control of Democrats by a single vote. To imagine that state will get anything accomplished in the next biennium is extreme optimism, meaning any financial and political relief are kicked even further down to the local level: YOYO. Whatever Bellingham or Ferndale or Anacortes imagine they may need in the next decade, they must achieve on their own.
No assistance will arrive from the Washington in the District of Columbia; and very little assistance will arrive from the Washington in Olympia.
The aggressive directives of the federal government—entirely in the hands of unified Republicans for the first time since 1928, and unshackled by any generous liberal sentiments that might’ve existed in the 1928 Party of Lincoln—will create a particular problem and challenge for the West Coast states, which rejected that conservative “mandate” by a large margin. The West Coast moves seismically away from the east in approaches to social and environmental justice, and shows no interest in slowing that continental drift. The state supported the Democratic nominee for president by 55 percent, with Whatcom County support only a fraction less. Democrat Patty Murray was hugely supported for reelection to the United States Senate. Congressional Representative Rick Larsen outpaced his opponent two-to-one in voter support; as did state Senator Kevin Ranker.
Which is a roundabout way of saying the federal government will impose much that is onerous and obnoxious to the state while denying any revenue to respond to those onerous demands. This is a recipe for civil uprising—no taxation without representation—where denied benefit or interest in federal goals, a citizenry must therefore actively resist those goals in the spirit of peaceful American Revolution.
It’s going to require activism, an active citizenship, a higher demand on citzen groups—and the obvious constructive outlet for that are the municipal boards and commissions that very often serve as the entry point and training ground for future service as an elected official. There, one learns the ropes of governance.
The kiln in which future electeds are made has traditionally been the planning commission, an advisory group to local policymakers authorized under state law. That statutory authorization (RCW 35.63) confers upon planning commissioners a higher duty and quasi-judiciary function on the most contentious of municipal decisions—local land-use regulations, such as zoning or subdivision code. Planning commissions make (or break) neighborhoods.
Both Whatcom County and Bellingham City Council are currently reimagining their planning commissions; and while their motives for doing so differ, and the reasons for seeking change are divergent, their goals are the same: To increase citizen participation in this most critical public function that often serves as gateway to greater participation in municipal government.
Bellingham City Council member Terry Bornemann this week introduced an ordinance that would limit the number of voting members of the commission that are actively engaged in the buying, selling, developing, construction of, or investment in real estate for profit. Currently there is a surfeit of city planning commissioners with financial interest in development—they have an enthusiasm for the subject and a working knowledge of its particulars—and while the direct concern of members of Council is the potential for self-dealing in land-use decisions by commissioners with profit stake in those outcomes, the indirect concern is more of groupthink, a narrowly constrained board failing through limitations in membership to consider wider public interests in planning recommendations. Bornemann’s proposal attempts to check both concerns.
“The intent,” Bornemann commented, “is to address the possible appearance of bias by one sector that could benefit financially by the recommendations and decisions made by the commission.” Noting he had no concerns with any current member of the commission, “anytime there is potential for large amounts of money to be made or lost over decisions made with land-use decisions, there is potential for bias to arise when people, who make their living from increased development, hold a majority in a decision-making body.” His aim, he said, was to address what appears to be a growing concern with trust in local government. “I feel we owe it to citizens to be as transparent and open and inclusive as we can.”
County Council’s task is alegbraic: How to apportion its nine-member commission—originally selected three apiece from three districts—from five newly drawn voting districts. In the end, Council appeared to favor eliminating the district requirement altogether, freeing them to select the most qualified, capable commission from wherever commissioners may reside.
Both jurisdictions face a similar challenge: They’re not getting enough applicants for these positions as is, without overburdening or limiting membership with additional requirements.
“Many times, the planning commission acts as a stepping stone to those working in this position,” Bornemann said of Council. “If people know we are looking for a broad spectrum of voices on the committee, I believe we will have the pool of applicants to do that work.”
Step up, citizens. We’re In This Together.