Friday, October 12, 2007

Silver Beach Neighborhood: Wading Into Uncharted Waters - Again

'Freedom is when people can speak, democracy is when the government listens' - Alastair Farrugia

"If the nation expects to be ignorant and free, it expects what never was and never will be." - Thomas Jefferson
A renewed focus on Neighborhoods and hearing their input for updating Neighborhood Plans has begun in earnest.
Predictably, there are some 'issues' to be worked out in this process, but there are always 'issues' in such matters that affect people.

Getting these 'issues' identified and on the table is an important part of this process.
Maybe its equally -or more- important than any other objective.

Suffice to say this is a rich vein to be mined, that the prospectors hope will become a 'Mother Lode' of value to our community.
Others may have different ideas, and want to see this claim played out before it pays off.
That outcome would be unfortunate for our community, and I hope it doesn't happen.

But, the outcome and effectiveness of this Neighborhood initiative are still in question.
While each Neighborhood has its own unique blend of problems and opportunities, there are many commonalities as well.

Silver Beach is unique because it is the Neighborhood that occupies almost the entire portion of the City that falls within the Lake Whatcom Reservoir watershed.
That, in itself, is enough to set Silver Beach in a special category of importance.
It happens to be where the 'rubber meets the road' in applying best policy and practices to preserve our drinking water supply!

Stay tuned.
The Silver Beach Neighborhood Plan Update was the subject of a well attended meeting last night [Oct 11] at the Bloedel Donovan Park Gym.
Probably close to 200 people were there to weigh in on a set of proposals the Neighborhood Association had hammered out during past months.
Seeing all the cars in the parking lot made me wonder if I had the right address!

Most attending had participated earlier in some fashion, but there were quite a few who were there just to oppose something, either some of the proposals, or the process used to develop them for consideration.

Others seemed to be there mainly to express concerns, complain about things they didn't understand, or make requests to deny, decry and delay the process.
Somehow the stridency and lack of clear understanding about what was going on served to mark many of these folks as last minute recruits to a generally 'anti' agenda.
I may be mistaken, but I'd have to be convinced otherwise.

The meeting's object was to get direct feedback -in the form of ballot votes- from residents of that Neighborhood on a list of measures designed to reasonably represent the NH Plan changes the Neighborhood wants.
These recommendations agreed upon would then be considered by City staff and the Planning Commission before the City Council decides which will be approved.

If you were to think these are mostly advisory in nature, you'd be correct.
But, advisory or not, anytime good ideas are advanced and vetted by a fair process, the Council listens to them carefully.
It's much preferred to have these become part of early discussions and not last minute, disjointed after thoughts.

The point is, this is an attempt at bottoms-up democracy, where citizens get their input early in the process.
That in itself is a bit of a welcome change, don't you think?

But, some didn't seem to welcome this new process!
They saw it as their activist neighbors trying to push their agendas, and forcing them to also participate in order to protect whatever it is they think needs protecting.
Phony property rights claims maybe?

Some even stated resentment at having to interrupt their busy lives for this kind of exercise!
Some claimed foul because they were not notified.
Some claimed the process was bogus because all residents weren't voting
Some wanted to submit absentee ballots
Some wanted a ballot that allowed voting 'no' with a single check-mark, thereby gutting all the good work done
Some didn't know what they wanted but they complained anyway.

Now, why would such folks show up at this meeting when they claimed they didn't know about it?

Anyway, Silver Beach will be one of the first to go through the new Neighborhood Update process and test its efficacy.
We'll learn from this experience and be able to anticipate not always repeating the same learning curve later.

Thanks, Silver Beach!
Actually, the Silver Beach Neighborhood has already been a courageous trailblazer before, back in the year 2000.

That was the time the so-called 'Silver Beach Ordinance' was enacted on an emergency interim basis, in response to the Department of Ecology's 303 (d) listing of Lake Whatcom for fecal coliform and low dissolved Oxygen.

Since then, and after a very significant, contentious public process, that Ordinance has become a model for watershed protection within an already urbanized area.
It marked a departure from business as usual in this critical watershed, despite some of the same people who opposed that measure then, also showed up last night to oppose whatever it was they thought the Neighborhood Association was trying to do that they might not agree with.
Is it something in the water?

That's a different story, even though it did have some common challenges.
Back in 2000, the City Council heard many hours of testimony from dozens of people.
Among those who opposed the 'Silver Beach Ordinance', the comments listed were the common themes of complaint.
Many of these categories of concern are now being heard again:

The following 'generic' concerns are likely to be echoed over and over again, like a mantra, every time significant action is undertaken or even seriously discussed:

Why is this necessary; can't something else be done instead?

Convince us that this action will actually help solve the problem.

Unfair! -why pick on just us?

Others need to share the burden of watershed protection!

Our property values are being reduced or taken away; we want restitution!

We need more debate/proof; delay this for another time.

Existing owners caused the problem; let them fix it!

Why aren't existing regulations being enforced?

Our accustomed life-style is being threatened!

This constitutes a special hardship!

Dueling scientists.

This situation is already out of hand and can't be resolved.

We retired to "the lake" and want to build our dream home.

The water is clean enough; the City treats it anyway.

These new taxes/fees/assessments are too high.

More bureacracy!

We've already got a program to address this problem; this is unecessary/not being collaborative!

All we need is a retrofitted regional stormwater system and water & sewer services extended further.

That's [another jurisdiction]'s problem.

I don't want to feel guilty about living/working/building/playing here.

I can remember when the lake was really bad; it's clean now.

We're grandfathered into our rights; this is America!

Those [environmentalists/developers/bureaucrats] are only concerned with their special interests.

Why can't I build this, my neighbor's got one?

OK, how much do I have to pay to get this done?

And, on and on.... to the point that you could create a checklist of these and simply add names, dates & the issue 'du jour', to have a coded, concise summary of concerns.

Does anyone doubt that history has a habit of repeating itself?
'It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried' - Winston Churchill 

'Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts' - Winston Churchill