Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Whatcom County Planning: An Oxymoron

Today's headline announces: 'Bellingham moves ahead with King Mountain annexation despite county concerns.'
You know what?
The County needs to pay attention to its own business and stop trying to tell other jurisdictions what to do!
That is a very poor substitute for real planning, for which the County lacks both the talent AND the top-down commitment.

Yes, this is the same Whatcom County that has meddled for years in delaying the last Comp Plan update from being timely completed, yet STILL does not have its own information developed and adopted.
What is wrong with that picture?
The County's time has run out -on more than one occasion- for getting its own work done, yet it just applies for another extension instead of getting this work done.
The latest 5-month extension granted by the Growth Management Board has a 'firm' deadline of December 1, 2009.
Let's hope that deadline is firm, and that the GMB means what it says about withdrawing an array of state funds from counties that don't meet their legal commitments.
That seems to be the only language Whatcom County understands.

How many remember being treated to the spectacle of a County Planning Commission with an attitude, debating and delaying reaching any timely recommendation for the County Council, except their own opinion that the City of Bellingham already had enough land to accommodate its growth in the next 20 years?
Where is the data to back that up?
Historical records certainly do not show that, so where do these appointed -or anointed-amateurs get their information -from populist sentiment or just their own biases?
It's too bad the County Council was deprived of timely, well-considered and balanced information from the Planning Commission, because that is one thing that is needed to make an informed decision, and not just parrot demagoguery.

But, the County Council did eventually make a decision to grant the City some additional UGA land around King Mtn.
Guess which parcel?
The exact same one that is now being questioned!
What is going on with that?
Sorry, County, you don't get to backtrack on this matter.
Once an area is approved and accepted as being part of the UGA, the only way to undo those decisions is for BOTH parties to agree.
If the City does not agree to rescind this UGA, it is entitled to consider annexation proposals from property owners there.
That is what has happened, and what the City Council is inclined to accept -by a unanimous vote, yesterday.

The one concept which the County seems to have the most trouble understanding is this: that the surest way the City has of ensuring the type of development and density that is built is by way of annexation, with urban village style developments being integral parts of annexation proposals.
Otherwise, all bets are off, and we may wait a long type to see wishful thinking -no matter how good- actually implemented.
That is what has been happening in the UGA up until now, with results that please neither jurisdiction.
Einstein defined insanity as continuing to do the same thing, while expecting different results.
But, it shouldn't take an Einstein to figure this out!

No, it is really very simple.
As long as the UGA is NOT annexed it remains County land, and subject to County rules and revenue collections.
That is the very method by which the County has over-collected revenues in the UGAs for years, then sticking the City with dealing with sub-standard or discontinuous development to fix at its expense when annexation eventually occurs.
That simply won't work any more, particularly if urban densities are desired.
The reason is that the City's policy has changed regarding extending water & sewer services outside City Limits, without annexation.
Did the County miss that little change?
I don't think so!
They just don't like it.
You see, that little change isn't so little, really.
That change means the annexed UGA becomes City land, not the County's jurisdiction.
It means City rules & regulations apply and the City collects revenues in order to provide urban levels of service.

I'll say it again; the County doesn't like this change in City policy.
Two things; loss of revenue and loss of control.
Get used to it County, because that's the way things will be done from now on [and the way we should have been doing things before].

The sooner the County understands that their whim is not the City's command the better.
Citizens need to know that this 'dispute' isn't about legalities, but about the County finally Having to face up to the reality of what real growth management means, at least in part.
It also means the County will need to constantly relinquish lands to Bellingham ad the other cities of Whatcom County to accommodate their urban levels of growth.
Inherently, this also means a diminishing revenue base.
And, it may finally serve to get attention from the County administration that it needs to raise its own taxes periodically, instead of stealing revenues from UGAs -and unincorporated areas- from building without annexation.

All one has to do is examine the County's record of growth management, or more accurately, non-management, to understand where sprawl has occurred most frequently.
If you guessed the 'unincorporated areas', you'd be correct!
BTW, that means all those areas that are characterized by farms, forests and open space, NOT cities.
Whatcom County needs to mind its own business better, and stop calling other jurisdictions to blame for every ill it can imagine.
What was the saying about the pot calling the kettle black?