Posted by: sweeneyblog | January 6, 2011

Republican County Council ruled invalid!

This is slightly old news, but its a great article I co-wrote with Shane Roth about the County’s lawbreaking behavior.

Warning: This article could be a little confusing if you are not up to speed on the Growth Management act. The Growth Management ACT (GMA) passed in 1990, rules that every county must have a plan for how they grow (a comprehensive plan). Meaning they can’t just build developments willy-nilly, they must show that they need to expand and do so in a responsible manner. Now, onward with the article. It is exciting, I promise.

Just before Christmas, Whatcom County was slapped with an “Order of Invalidity” by the Western Washington Growth Management Hearing Board. The Board ruled that key elements of the County’s current growth policy, which has been designed by the conservative county council, violates state law that dictates how County’s grow.

The County Council, with Sam Crawford at the helm, started 2010 with a Comprehensive Plan that was halfway down the road to GMA compliance. When the Democrats held the majority on the County Council in 2009, they had done their homework and moved the County’s Urban Growth Areas (the so-called Urban Element) into compliance. The rural element of the Comp Plan remained out of compliance. The next logical step might have been to get the rural areas of the County (the so-called Rural Element) into compliance in 2010.

But that’s not what happened. Republicans seized the majority on the County Council. Bad things ensued.

Instead, the Crawford Council neglected the Rural Element, leaving the landowners in those areas vulnerable to the very action that the Board took in December, and instead catered to a few well-coined developer buddies of Mr. Crawford’s who didn’t like how 2009 went and wanted a do-over. As the Chair of the Council, Mr. Crawford got them their do-over and put them at the front of the line.

The Board has ruled that Whatcom County has an extra 90 days to come into compliance. Mr. Crawford’s response was strident. He was quoted in the Herald as saying, “If the hearings board continues to treat Whatcom County with a bureaucratic and overreached regulatory response, this is going to galvanize, I think, the County Council, who are elected by the people, to spend a lot of taxpayer dollars to go to court to prove that we’ve reached the proper balance of growth controls in Whatcom County.”

Considering how long it took for the Council to accomplish its UGA “make-over” in 2010, it is difficult to believe that the Council could get its Rural Element in order in 90 days, even if Mr. Crawford was willing to try. If Mr. Crawford’s opening move is going to be to stage an expensive legal battle against the GMHB, that battle will devour the lion’s share of that 90 day extension.

And despite all apparent evidence to the contrary, according to the County Charter we still have two independent branches of government in Whatcom County. Mr. Crawford’s Council could not have made this glorious mess without a willing and strangely co-dependent Executive Branch. Pete Kremen has been County Executive long enough to bring his commitment to the goal of bringing the County into compliance with the GMA into serious question. His Planning Departments have a turn-over rate comparable to the night shift at a Jack In The Box. Every time a planning director appears to place the County on a collision course with GMA compliance, that planning director parts ways with the County for one reason or another and then the County goes back to square one. Considering Executive Kremen’s support of the GMA when he was serving in the State legislature, his chronic inability to support the GMA at the municipal level raises unsettling questions that may only be satisfactorily answered on election day.

What does all this mean for the rest of us?

It means that Mr. Crawford will stage a legal fight to keep the County out of compliance with the GMA. He is willing to defend his developer buddies profits on the tax payers’ dime, at a time when that particular stack of dimes is shrinking and all the remaining dimes are already spoken for.

It means Whatcom County will remain ineligible for state-level grants that are only available to counties that have come into compliance with the GMA.

It means that the County remains at an elevated risk of having sanctions (big fines, that is) leveled against it by the State if we continue to remain out of compliance with the GMA. Defiant statements by the Chair of the County Council will do nothing to reduce this risk.

It means that there are now consequences to the County for remaining out of compliance with the GMA, which will affect the ability of property owners to vest their property rights. These consequences will be felt at the customer counter of the Planning Department.

It means that if you didn’t give generously to Mr. Crawford’s campaign fund, your property rights remain at the bottom of his priority list.

It means that those who want to continue to take a 20th Century approach to developing Whatcom County in the 21st Century must now defend their actions in court.

It means that Mr. Crawford and his disciples will continue to cast blame anywhere and everywhere except into a mirror.

It means that if we want a County government that fights GMA compliance tooth and nail while wasting countless tax dollars on a protracted and futile legal action, then we have the right County Council and County Executive for the job.

But if we don’t want that, if we want something different, we may have to elect different people in 2011.

In the meantime, you can call the County Council at (360) 676-6690 or email them and remind them who they really work for and whose tax money they are actually spending. Bear in mind that they spend everyone’s tax money, so they work for you and are answerable to you whether you voted for them or not. Don’t be shy. The next regular County Council meeting will be on January 11, 2011. Perhaps you could tell them in person in Open Session. They like when you do that.

You can also follow all this issues at Get Whatcom Planning. It is a blog maintained by David Stalheim. Remember when we mentioned Pete Kremen kicks out anyone who wants our County to follow the law? David Stalheim was a very knowledgeable and capable planning director in Whatcom County until he was forced out by Pete Kremen. Now he works for Bellingham, and maintains a blog talking about planning issues. You can find it here:



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