Thursday, August 20, 2009

A Potpourri Of News: Port Primary & County Growth Management

Things are happening all the time, but significant results and their reporting tend to bunch up at intervals.
That's what has happened this week.
Since I was out of pocket yesterday, here are comments on two issues of local interest:
'In war, you can only be killed once, but in politics, many times.' - Winston Churchill

'My experience in government is that when things are non-controversial and beautifully coordinated, there is not much going on.' - John F. Kennedy

Local Primary Elections

An updated Auditor's Report will be issued today, but preliminary results were posted Tuesday evening, and can be found at this URL.

KGMI and The Herald also posted summary articles at their respective links, with some commentary.

I am particularly delighted with the Port of Bellingham results, which show challengers John Blethen and Mike McAuley as leading vote-getters.
But caution must be offered since the General Election is coming, which is time the big money comes into play to attract what should be a larger turnout.
That is the race that really counts, so let's not be lulled into thinking this election is over!

BTW, I appreciate today's NWCitizen blog labeling me as 'conservative'. I take that in the best sense of the word, just as I do the word 'liberal' which has also been applied to me with some frequency.
Too often these terms are tossed off as lazy and over-simplified pejoratives, which is a disservice to everyone, especially readers.
So, I guess being called both terms may qualify me as somewhat 'balanced' in my views? Hope so.
The quotes cited above come from a Conservative and a Liberal.

Growth Management

Both The Herald and KGMI reported on our County Executive's recommendations on Whatcom County land use, information that has been very slow in coming, at least until the County Council requested it while recognizing a real deadline is coming on December 1.
The County is over 2 years tardy in correcting and completing its Comprehensive Plan, and these recommendations -along with any Council modifications and eventual approval- are needed necessary to avoid actual State penalties, in the form of lost opportunities for grants, and possibly even fines.

Directionally, the County now seems to be on a better trajectory, at least in updating its Comp Plan under last-minute pressure. But, will this make any difference? Only time will tell.

The idea of reducing the size of Urban Growth Areas [UGAs in Govt jargon] isn't all bad, either for zoning purposes or for their eventual annexation to cities.
Often, disparate areas were lumped together without much thought it seems. One example is the Dewey Valley area which applied for annexation to Bellingham, but was rejected due to its overall size, location, disparate uses and potential fiscal impacts on the city. That particular result might have been avoided had the Dewey Valley area been more compact and easier and cheaper to serve.

I am assuming that the County's recommendations will also extend to the so-called '5-year Review Areas', which the County also designates from time to time. This designation is preliminary to an area even becoming an UGA.

It remains to be seen whether existing UGAs [county's jurisdiction] can be easily downsized without administrative, legislative or legal challenge.
Also, presumably, the respective cities would have to agree.

In the case of the Geneva and Hillsdale UGAs, I believe the City of Bellingham might agree to a change in designation, but only after an in-depth discussion about whether equal or better protections to Lake Whatcom could result.

Years ago, when the decision was made to include Geneva and Hillsdale as UGAs, there were clear pluses AND minuses involved, but in the end they were designated UGAs.
Now, with more stringent land use regulations -especially STORMWATER requirements- and the fact that significant buildout, facilitated by the independently operated Water District, and restrictive land preservation acquisitions and easements, have occurred may change these weighting factors.
Also, there is the little matter of compliance with mitigating and remedial requirements of the TMDL Study issued by the Dept of Ecology.
Of particular concern are those areas with Geneva and Hillsdale that are unusually susceptible to runoff from upslope development, either in the UGA or in unincorporated areas -like Squalicum Mountain, Toad Lake and Galbraith/Lookout Mountain.

The net effect of downsizing county controlled UGAs may include the following;

• general reduction in areas zoned for high density use of any type- could be positive, unless buildable land supply reduction unduly increases prices.

• gradual slowing of growth and development, either real or perceived -could be positive, unless concurrency of housing and transportation infrastructure is thrown more out of balance.

• more unincorporated land retained, whether for agricultural, forest, open space -could be positive, unless more sporadic county rezoning and low density development occurs [already a known problem].

• appearance of compliance with GMA guidelines - a definite positive.

• a likely net reduction in county annual revenues from development, but also longer retention time of lands in county jurisdiction.

Regarding the proportion of countywide growth to be accommodated by the City of Bellingham, the debate between 38% and 42% probably brackets the best number available.
And since actual growth rates and land absorption are only known from history, why quibble?
A 1.4% long term growth rate is likely OK; but 2.something is excessive.
This seems to be largely about asserting more control over another jurisdiction than is necessary or justified.

The County is charged with the responsibility of countywide planning, with the cities part of that plan.
The individual cities certainly know their history of growth, limitations and expectations better than the County ever could.
So, just make these elements fit!

From the report it appears that some cities prefer more projected growth than does Bellingham.
And, the estimated numbers are not so big as to be impossible to change around a little and still total the amount approved.
Why not do this?

[Alternatively, the County might want to reconsider supporting the Waterfront Redevelopment, which itself might accommodate the difference between County & City preferences. Here, I know the County's EDI [Economic Development Incentive] funds are not supposed to go for 'residential development', but is a dense mixed use redevelopment of a blighted area and expected to create hundreds of new jobs, intended to be included in this definition?]

'All progress has resulted from people who took unpopular positions.' - Adlai E. Stevenson

'Society, community, family are all conserving institutions. They try to maintain stability, and to prevent, or at least to slow down, change. But the organization of the post-capitalist society of organizations is a destabilizer. Because its function is to put knowledge to work -- on tools, processes, and products; on work; on knowledge itself -- it must be organized for constant change. - PETER F. DRUCKER