Thursday, December 13, 2007

Growth Management Act: A Refresher & Rant with Local Footnotes

"Perfection of means and confusion of ends seem to characterize our age." - Einstein

"But we must remember that good laws, if they are not obeyed, do not constitute good government. Hence there are two parts of good government; one is the actual obedience of citizens to the laws, the other part is the goodness of the laws which they obey..." -- (Aristotle, Politics).

One last rant on this subject may be in order:

An overview of the Growth Management Act is provided from [], with excerpts as shown below:

In 1990 the Legislature found that “uncoordinated and unplanned growth, together with a lack of common goals… pose a threat to the environment, sustainable economic development, and the health, safety, and high quality of life enjoyed by residents of this state.
It is in the public interest that citizens, communities, local governments, and the private sector cooperate and coordinate with one another in comprehensive land use planning.” (RCW 36.70A.010)
This is the foundation for the Growth Management Act (GMA).

The GMA requires all cities and counties in the state to:

• Designate and protect wetlands, frequently flooded areas and other critical areas.

• Designate farm lands, forest lands, and other natural resource areas.

• Determine that new residential subdivisions have appropriate provisions for public services and facilities.

In addition, 29 'Fully Planning' counties and the 218 cities within them are to plan for growth based on certain requirements. These jurisdictions represent the fastest-growing counties and the cities within them, as well as other counties, plus the cities inside their boundaries that chose to plan under the GMA.

Here are the basic steps that local governments 'fully planning' under the GMA are to follow:

• Agree on county-wide planning policies to guide regional issues, for example, public facilities and affordable housing.

NOTE: The Bellingham City Council did NOT agree with Whatcom County's planning policy, and took exception especially to the Land Use Section, because the language essentially says the County can do whatever it wants, wherever it wants, whenever it wants. That is not planning! Read it for yourself.

• Plan for urban growth within the urban growth areas that are adopted by each county, based on forecasts provided by the
State Office of Financial Management (OFM).

• Adopt comprehensive plans with chapters that fit together.

• Identify lands useful for public purposes and essential public facilities, such as airports, educational facilities, and utility and transportation corridors.

GMA plans and regulations are to be guided by 14 goals that are summarized below:

• Focus urban growth in urban areas. NOTE: This is why Bellingham agreed to try and accommodate 51.4% of the projected growth adopted!

• Reduce sprawl. NOTE: This is what will happen if Bellingham does not receive sufficient new UGA Land Supply OR CHANGES THAT MAKE THE EXISTING UGA MORE CERTAINLY ABLE TO ACCOMMODATE MORE DENSITY THAN THEY DO NOW!

• Provide efficient transportation.

• Encourage affordable housing.

• Encourage sustainable economic development. NOTE: By not having B&O Taxes apply to land outside Bellingham, the County is contributing to sprawl that does not pay its way, while enjoying income out of proportion to the services it provides.

• Protect property rights.

• Process permits in a timely and fair manner.

• Maintain and enhance natural resource-based industries.

• Retain open space and habitat areas and develop recreation opportunities. NOTE: The City adopted a Parks, Recreation & Open Space Element in its Comp Plan for the first time. Additionally, Parks Impact Fees have been adopted as well as the Greenways 3 Levy passed by voters to provide funding.

• Protect the environment. NOTE: Clean-up & redevelopment of the Waterfront Industrial area and associated Waterways and old landfills is being vigorously pursued.

• Encourage citizen participation and regional coordination.

• Ensure adequate public facilities and services.

• Preserve important historic resources.

• Manage shorelines wisely.

The comprehensive plans are to provide for 20 years of growth and development needs based on forecasts of OFM [Office of Financial Management].
They can be amended once a year. State agencies are required to comply with local comprehensive plans. -------------------

Local comprehensive plans are to include the REQUIRED chapters below:

• Land Use

• Utilities

• Housing

• Transportation

• Capital Facilities

• Rural (for counties only)

• Shorelines

NOTE: An optional chapter on Parks, Recreation & Open Space has also been adopted by the City of Bellingham.
Additionally, there is work proceeding to develop Strategic Guidelines to help the City plan for Economic Development.

Plans must be put in action by development regulations, for example, for zoning and concurrency.

When plans and regulations are developed, they are submitted to CTED for review. However, the department does not certify the plans or approve the regulations. Plans are PRESUMED VALID upon adoption UNLESS a growth management hearings board finds they are not in compliance with the GMA.

Cities and counties 'fully planning' under the GMA are to review their comprehensive plans and ordinances at least every seven years to see if their plans and regulations comply with the GMA. The deadline to complete this requirement varies from county to county. The earliest deadline for some counties and cities is December 1, 2004.

NOTE: Comp Plan Updates for Bellingham & Whatcom County were initially due December 1, 2004, but successive extensions have been granted. Bellingham adopted its Comp Plan in 2006. Whatcom County remains out of compliance, and expects legal challenges may further delay adoption of its Comp Plan.

Buildable Lands
Six counties, and cities and towns within their boundaries, are to establish a review and evaluation program commonly referred to as the Buildable Lands Program. The counties are King, Pierce, Snohomish, Kitsap, Thurston, and Clark.

NOTE: Whatcom County & the City of Bellingham are not on this list of 'fully planning' entities, although the County is seeking to have the City do the additional monitoring required to meet this requirement. It is unclear whether the County will do this, or where the funds for doing it will come from in either County or City

The GMA Goals are not ranked in any order, with one goal having more importance over others. When local governments develop their plans and regulations, they determine how the goals will be carried out.
However, the Comp Plans adopted by County & City must be consistent with each other, as well as within themselves.
That means every part of this planning tool is linked to every other part, as has to be true if it is to work as expected.

This is a tall order! And, it doesn't seem to be working very well here in Whatcom County, does it?
Who is at fault is a question that needs to be investigated, then remedied!

For example:

Whatcom County adopted a 20-year population projection slightly above the OFM estimate, or about 61,480 new people.

Bellingham agreed to plan to accommodate a percentage -greater than half- of this projected growth over the 20-year period beginning in 2002.

So, mathematically, that can be stated: B%/100 X 61,480 = B

If B1% is 51.4, then B1 = 31,601 [This is a known difficult task, since Bellingham only accounts for about 40% of the County's population, and recent trends have shown more people are building homes in rural areas than in urban ones]

So, if B2% is set at say 40, then B2 is 24,592 [7009 fewer people than B1]

That 7009 people might not sound like much, but it is more than enough than needed to make more UGA land not needed!
And, that's what all the 'debate' is about over at the County!

Also, since that number is the one Bellingham used to develop internal consistency in its Comp Plan, do you think just changing it might also change other assumptions as well?

But since Bellingham has already completed its work, and withstood a legal challenge subsequently, its Comp Plan is considered OK without other changes being necessary. We're OK with what we have now, don't have the time, staff or inclination to debate further with the County.

In the lengthy PUBLIC process -yes it was very public- it took to develop the City's Comp Plan, and hold up its end of the initial agreement with the County, the City used all the data, historical trends and experience it could muster to arrive at its estimate of additional Land Supply needs.

Of course, there still remains considerable uncertainty in this estimate, due to the very nature of the exercise.
To reasonably cover this uncertainty, a modest 'Safety Factor' was applied and adopted, which amounts to 17%.
That is a number too low for the Growth Management Boards to even consider for review.
Yet, some want to deny it entirely, in the name of limiting sprawl!

Go ahead, make my day.
Reduce the City's Safety factor to zero, or some other number that sounds about right.
Then let us know what that number is so we can reduce the City's estimate of how many new people it can reasonably accommodate to fit into its existing City Limits and County-owned UGA.

That's easy.
Too easy!

It also discounts the good work done in good faith, and substitutes instead a process that is based upon ignorance and arrogance.
The GMA analysis process is inherently imprecise, but it does arrive at reasonable ballpark estimates, providing intellectual honesty is valued and used.

But, you know, it would be so much easier if the City could use a lower population estimate!
Oh please Santa, bring us one.

So why not just do it and get it over with?
In the end, the growth will just go to more rural areas anyway, where the land is cheaper, the rules are weaker, and the County gets to keep the revenue generated to continue financing sprawl of the worse sort - rural.

Hey, if that's what the County wants, that's what it will get.
It's County-wide planning policies already fully support doing what it wants, where it wants, when it wants.

Only next time, just tell the City not to worry about it, because its outside the City's control anyway -its the County's!

What was that GMA Goal #11?
Encourage citizen participation and regional coordination?

Do you think the City and County are 'fully planning' under the GM?

Are either of these things happening?
I don't think so.

But that's just my opinion.
" I never give them hell. I just tell the truth and they think its hell." -- Harry Truman

"You can't teach what you don't know, and you can't lead where you won't go" - Jesse Jackson

Insanity: doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different outcome -Einstein

I'm the lamest lame duck there could be. -George C. Wallace