Saturday, August 7, 2010

August 10, 2010 - Issue of the Week

Tuesday will be the last Council meeting until September 14th, so the agenda is packed with a number of important items, and there are a number of things that will be discussed that the public has not been privy to because they are being “added in” at the last minute.

Here are the ones that I am trying to focus on, although a million gallons of oil dumped into to a river in Michigan from a pipeline has diverted my energies significantly.

Interim Lake Whatcom Subdivision Moratorium - This “interim” moratorium has been in place and renewed every six months since 2005. About a month ago we tried to make this moratorium permanent but that failed because some Council members still don't believe that additional development in the watershed will have any negative impacts on water quality. Others argued that they didn't want to take people's property rights (in this case rights that don't even exist yet) without using taxpayers money to pay them, and they wanted more time to try to develop such a system. That is all chronicled here.

On Tuesday we will see whether there are four votes to extend the moratorium again in hopes of developing some sort of transfer of development rights (TDR) program to compensate property owners. I suspect we will know the outcome fairly early in the day since it is scheduled in the Natural Resource Committee at 9:30 AM. Both Bill Knutzen and Ward Nelson are on that Committee and one of them will have to vote in favor of this moratorium for this to pass. While Kathy Kershner has voiced support for a TDR program, she is on vacation and will not be at Tuesday's meeting, so my sense is that this will come down to Bill's vote, since Barbara Brenner, Ken Mann and I are already on record as supporting this.

There will be a public hearing on this in the evening.

Lake Whatcom Management Plan - At the evening meeting we will be asked to approve the 2010-2014 Lake Whatcom Work Plan. In general this work plan is much easier to read and figure out what is really proposed to go on for the Lake. I think it includes the programs we need to implement to address numerous water quality problems and the pending TMDL. Unfortunately while the programs are listed and catalogued there is not much real commitment to actually implement them, especially from the County. At this point it seems pretty clear that we know what needs to be done (just as we have known for years now), but unless we can beg grant money from the feds or state we really have no intention of moving forward in a timely manner.

For the five years I have been on the Council there has been an ongoing discussion about creating some sort of Stormwater Utility District around the Lake to help fund movement of these programs. This plan does not address that huge issue, and without it getting addressed this plan, like all previous plans, amounts to hoop jumping without any clear path toward success. I am considering voting no on the plan because I no longer want to be a part of the deceit the County has for years foisted on the public and other agencies about how much we care. If we cared we would develop a dedicated funding source, instead of hoping money to protect the lake will somehow magically appear.

And Now for the “Public Process? Who Needs a Stinking Public Process?” section.

Thursday afternoon, the day after the agenda for the Council meeting is made public, Sam Crawford submits a resolution to start the process for dismantling the County-wide EMS system. In his email with the resolution he said:
“I would like to discuss the attached Resolution at the Tuesday evening Council Meeting. I would like to bring it to a vote.”
While the EMS system does have huge territory issues between different groups, the system as a whole continues to deliver outstanding ambulance service county-wide. The Herald did a background piece here. There is no doubt that these issues need to be worked out, but the plan that the voters approved included a revamped ambulance advisory board made up of representatives from the cities and county and the emergency response experts that run our system, and tasked them with making recommendations regarding the budget and conflicts. That voter approved conflict resolution system has not yet been used, so in my opinion this move to dissolve the EMS system is way premature.

Even more troubling is the way the resolution was introduced so as to keep it off the publicly available agenda. An item like this that moves to do away with a voter-approved system should at a minimum be shared with the public so the public has time to comment. I have posted the proposed resolution here, because as of Saturday morning it still was not publicly available anywhere else.

10-Year UGA Review - In the same “who needs public process?” category we have another attempt by the Council majority to expand the UGAs. This is the same ordinance that they have wasted huge amounts of time on for months now, but once Sumas and Nooksack decided that they didn't want to have to pay for the legal defense of something that is already scheduled to happen next year anyway, the Council had to introduce a new ordinance to only include a chunk near Ferndale and a small piece in Birch Bay.

While there has been plenty of opportunity for developers and their consultants and attorneys to comment on this process there has only been one public hearing, and that was on an entirely different ordinance. This is also a Comprehensive Plan amendment which is supposed to go through the public process of our Planning Commission, but that hasn't happened either. So what we have on Tuesday is a new ordinance for a Comp Plan amendment, with two cities removed, a bunch of new “findings of fact,” and no hearing for the public to comment on it.

To make things even more fascinating it appears that perhaps even more changes will be made to the ordinance before it is voted on Tuesday evening. Late Friday I received a copy of an email from Barbara Brenner to the Council's attorney Karen Frakes, basically saying she thinks Sam Crawford's proposed new finding-of-fact to help justify the Birch Bay expansion is a good idea. You can read that email exchange and the new "fact" here. What's more fascinating is that the language in Mr Crawford's new finding of fact which he sent to Ms Brenner on 8/5 is nearly exactly the same language from a letter submitted to the entire Council from the developers consultant on 8/6, so I am left to assume that Mr Crawford and developers consultants worked together on this new “fact” which will be voted on with no public review or hearing.

Public process? Who needs it when you have developer's consultants and lawyers to give you the facts? I'm sure they are looking out for what's best for the public.