Friday, April 20, 2012

Let's Help Councillor Miller et al. With A Better Answer

Repeatedly, many in our community have asked "What's the problem?" purportedly being addressed by stringent new CAO proposals. We have received no clear answer.

Last October, at least one member of our Council was looking for answers too (see emails below). For the sake of argument, let's ignore whether the right questions were being asked in her email. The community isn't saying, for example, that we shouldn't comply with the law regarding the CAOs. The disagreement is over what compliance looks like.

That said, I think the email reply from Pete Rose speaks to the real need for the CAOs. We need them to protect the ecosystem. Not the natural ecosystem, but the grant and funding ecosystem that is our County's fiscal habitat. That's the habitat we're really protecting with buffers.

There exists an interlocking network of legal requirements and grant eligibility rules that serve to fiscally coerce local governments down a path of State-sanctioned propriety, especially eco-propriety. The CAOs appear to have less to do with on-the-ground ecological impacts than with impacts to the fiscal environment where our government's budget psyche lives. Like an insecure beauty contestant, our County feels pressure to satisfy some wink-and-nod notion of grant attractiveness to the State.

Pure and simple, our County government wants money. It feels strongly incentivized to externalize questionable costs to private citizens under the guise of environmental protection for the underlying authentic purpose of simply improving its own prospects for grant and loan eligibility with the State. It will then use those grants and loans to undertake projects for us, whether we want them or not and whether we need them or not. If the past is any guide to the future, the grants and loans will establish policy and fiscal obligations that will end up costing us more than had we never taken them to begin with. Back in 1990, our County Commissioners (Cowan, Orchid, LaPorte) opted into full compliance with the GMA in part for the promise of grants, and we've been chasing grants ever since.

Grants and loans are not the solution to local government finance; they are the problem. Instead of asking Pete Rose for answers, I wish our Council would have picked up a book and read Nobel-prize winner Muhammad Yunus' bestseller Banker to the Poor. In fact, I wish the Council would recognize the analogies between the grant/loan ecosystem they inhabit and the ecosystem of international aid for poor countries, because the dynamics are very similar.

Yunus witnessed how billions of dollars in foreign aid created colossal projects (dams, bridges, huge industrial plants) but did not create a situation in which the local population had to organize itself to solve its own problems. And that, according to Yunus, holds the key to poverty:

"Poverty is a creation of a complex system of conceptions, rules and attitudes we have thought up ourselves. Therefore, if you want to eradicate poverty you have to go back to the drawing board, discover where we have planted the seeds of poverty and make changes there."

Yunus' revelation was that international aid primarily benefited the countries and organizations providing the aid, not the supposed poverty-stricken recipients.

When grants/loans become a raison d'etre, all economic perspective (and control) has been lost. The community is no longer looking to itself to solve its problems. In our own community, the people who peddle grants/loans and the people who crave them probably have more in common with John Perkins than Rachel Carson.

If the Council wants an answer, they should contemplate Mohammad Yunus when he says, "go back to the drawing board, discover where we have planted the seeds of poverty and make changes there."

Stop thinking of the CAOs as a fundraiser for the County.

-----Original Message-----
From: Patty Miller [] 
Sent: Wednesday, October 12, 2011 5:29 PM
To: Richard Fralick
Subject: FW: What happens if we do not update CAO?

fyi in case you find this useful

From: Pete Rose
Sent: Wed 10/12/2011 11:27 AM
To: Patty Miller; Randall Gaylord
Subject: RE: What happens if we do not update CAO?

Hello Patty,

I'll take a shot at this and see if Randy wants to add or correct anything.

We can be in non-compliance either by missing a GMA deadline, which applies now to the CAO update and certain comp plan updates, or by having a compliance order in effect.  Anyone who feels aggrieved by our missing the deadlines can make a "failure to act" filing before the GMA hearings board and try to get us under a non-compliance order (which is generally a schedule to comply). 

The grant programs are:

*         Centennial Clean Water Fund;
*         Public Works Trust Fund;
*         Recreation & Conservation Office (RCO) various funds;
*         Emergency Management Hazard Mitigation grant program.

We are currently precluded from applying for loans or competitive grants from the Centennial Clean Water Fund (mainly sewer/septic and stormwater) and the Public Works Trust Fund (mainly infrastructure), with the exception of their emergency fund (such as a public health emergency due to septic or sewer failure).  These programs distribute hundreds of millions and loan at very low rates, which get lower with your increased percentage of match.  Centennial also has major grants for sewer improvements.  

To give you an idea of how you finance a public improvement, a city I previously worked for had to finance a $12 million sewer plant.  We started with a $2.5 million Centennial grant, worked a $2 million partnership with a state agency that needed the plant for its facilities, saved a couple million over 5 years in ramped up rates, and borrowed the rest from the Public Works Trust Fund at 1%.  Monthly rates were at one time projected to rise to $100 a month per house.  This approach kept them under $40 at the time the plant opened in 2000.  Our future needs for stormwater projects and possibly a transfer station come to mind.  Access to this money can help us be more creative in meeting our needs and wants.

The other two grant programs listed above simply cost the applicant agency a point on the scoring form.  These programs distribute tens of millions and the points are often split by 10ths in landing in or out of the money.  An example of how this costs us was in the purchase of the marine access dock at Orcas Landing.  We were the last project in at the cut line and got what was left after those above us got fully funded.  My noggin is too full of thoughts and data to tell you how much more we would have gotten if we did not have the point deducted, but it was in the hundreds of thousands.  On the Odlin project, we were the first one out of the money and then when someone else cancelled a project, we again got what was left over, not the original request.  Public Works, Parks and Land Bank compete in the RCO programs.  Brendan Cowan does not believe we have been hurt in the Emergency Management Hazard Mitigation program.

For the extremely recalcitrant local governments, the Governor may impose sanctions allowed by 36.70A.340 & 345.

RCW 36.70A.340
Noncompliance and sanctions. 

Upon receipt from the board of a finding that a state agency, county, or city is in noncompliance under RCW 36.70A.330, or as a result of failure to meet the requirements of RCW 36.70A.210 , the governor may either:

    (1) Notify and direct the director of the office of financial management to revise allotments in appropriation levels;

    (2) Notify and direct the state treasurer to withhold the portion of revenues to which the county or city is entitled under one or more of the following: The motor vehicle fuel tax, as provided in chapter 82.36 RCW; the transportation improvement account, as provided in RCW 47.26.084 ; the urban arterial trust account, as provided in RCW 47.26.080 ; the rural arterial trust account, as provided in RCW 36.79.150; the sales and use tax, as provided in chapter 82.14  RCW; the liquor profit tax, as provided in RCW 66.08.190 ; and the liquor excise tax, as provided in RCW 82.08.170; or

    (3) File a notice of noncompliance with the secretary of state and the county or city, which shall temporarily rescind the county or city's authority to collect the real estate excise tax under RCW 82.46.030 until the governor files a notice rescinding the notice of noncompliance.

RCW 36.70A.345

The governor may impose a sanction or sanctions specified under RCW 36.70A.340 on: (1) A county or city that fails to designate critical areas, agricultural lands, forest lands, or mineral resource lands under RCW 36.70A.170  by the date such action was required to have been taken; (2) a county or city that fails to adopt development regulations under RCW 36.70A.060 protecting critical areas or conserving agricultural lands, forest lands, or mineral resource lands by the date such action was required to have been taken; (3) a county that fails to designate urban growth areas under RCW 36.70A.110  by the date such action was required to have been taken; and (4) a county or city that fails to adopt its comprehensive plan or development regulations when such actions are required to be taken.

Imposition of a sanction or sanctions under this section shall be preceded by written findings by the governor, that either the county or city is not proceeding in good faith to meet the requirements of the act; or that the county or city has unreasonably delayed taking the required action. The governor shall consult with and communicate his or her findings to the growth management hearings board prior to imposing the sanction or sanctions. For those counties or cities that are not required to plan or have not opted in, the governor in imposing sanctions shall consider the size of the jurisdiction relative to the requirements of this chapter and the degree of technical and financial assistance provided.


Pete Rose, County Administrator

San Juan County
350 Court Street No. 5
Office Location 55 Second Street
Friday Harbor, WA  98250
(360) 378-3870

From: Patty Miller 
Sent: Wednesday, October 05, 2011 10:34 AM
To: Pete Rose; Randall Gaylord
Subject: What happens if we do not update CAO?
Importance: High


I would like to develop a more accurate response to the question "what happens if we do not update the CAO" or if we say "we think our current regulations adequately protect the critical areas".  I am able to provide the standard answers but am repeatedly being pushed or challenged regarding the answer.

Pete - what types of grants are and are not subject to our GMA compliance.  I do not expect that you will list all of them but if you can tell me what types are not at jeapordy and which types are, it would be helpful.

Randy - what are the legal ramifications of us not updating.  I have been told that Jefferson County refused to do it and a moratorium for building permits was put in place however I have been told that this would be highly unusual.

Can you help me develop a better answer?

Thanks, Patty


  1. Of course, Councilperson Miller's e-mail reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of the position of those who feel the grand new CAO scheme is not necessary; of course the CAO would be "updated." It's just that "updating" does not mean rewriting the ordinance from scratch. It merely requires that we review and change the existing CAO where it is not working. That would satisfy the letter and the spirit of the law, even if it didn't make downsound bureaucrats happy. It might be for the courts to decide who is right, but I'd rather the County do the right thing and defend its citizens and their choices, than concede the entire issue just to make said bureaucrats happy. We would be disqualified from nothing if we followed the law, not that there's much grant money out there any more anyway. Most of that money has dried up and doesn't look to be coming back anytime soon.

  2. Why did the CAO process take such a turn to the extreme?
    Who was pushing this? How did the " reasonable use exception" become so unreasonable?

    My suspicion is the F.O.T.S.J.

    Why do they have such influence, and why does the County Council, with the possiple exception of Peterson, seem so inclined to blindly accept the mess being proposed?

  3. The Friends was established in 1979 and is heavily funded from outside sources invested in influencing local planning decisions all over the Pacific Northwest. The FOSJ has had decades to become the "Octopus Squid" of San Juan County. What Patty Miller should do, in fact all the Council members should do, is make a public statement of their position on this. The County has had, what is now, six years? We have a Comp Plan policy that's pretty clear: maximum use and enjoyment of one's property. That's the bar. So, the question for Patty is simple: "Do you support regulations that accommodate maximum use and enjoyment of one's property? No not?" Same question to the others. They don't have to wait for the Planning Commission to state their policy positions. It is simply cowardice not to, and at this stage of the game, really unsettling to the public.

  4. Let me correct one thing. I meant to say "Vampire Squid." My apologies.

    That is a derogatory term generally used to describe the behavior of certain predatory Wall St. firms that feed off hopes and fears to fuel greed for money and power.

    The same can largely be said of the FOSJ, and their financiers. They operate behind a green fog, peddle to hopes and fears, to fuel their greed for money and power.

    This is not about environmental protection. It's just a protection racket. And we're all being shaken down.

  5. Long before Gordon Gecko, there was a finance professor at a leading eastern business school who used to say that greed is the most powerful force in the universe. Perhaps the CAOs are so extreme because the greed is so extreme. The CAOs have an underlying economic purpose for the County. Unmasked, the CAOs are a State economic program, not an environmental program. They are administered through the Department of Commerce, not Ecology. They are an economic program justified on the pretense of environmental protection and funded externally by costs borne by the individual homeowner. As long as the "right" people are in power to push it through, it's an all around win-win for County government. "They" achieve better positioning for elusive State monies. "They" achieve greater control over the populace, which translates to the need for an expanded bureaucracy to handle more "services." The only thing that's needed is for us to accept our role as overall loser in the proposition, something we've been quite willing to do in the past.

  6. Occam's razor is the law of parsimony, economy or succinctness.

    It is a principle urging one to select among competing hypotheses that which makes the fewest assumptions and thereby offers the simplest explanation of the effect.

    So, to understand the motives behind the CAO and why we have "battled" for nigh on six years with no clear evidence of a problem ... just "Follow the money."

  7. CAO rhymes with MAO!

    Time to "Occupy the Wetlands"

    I saw a large green CH-47 helicopter at Friday Harbor airport last week. On the fuselage was a unit insignia: it read

    "335th CAO Enforcement Group"
    In smaller script was the motto, "Semper Vigilens in Umida"
    ("always watching the wetlands")

    I figure it was part of the County's plan to monitor compliance with the new ordinance!


  8. Oh, no, don't give them ideas! The County already bought a shiny new boat, the "Miss Appropriation" (known by County employees as "6 FTEs"); then they had that robot thingy that went all around the County "documenting" conditions; what's to stop them from an enforcement helicopter? Perhaps the Friends will get a grant for one.

  9. The process has been rigged with a reward/punishment mechanism. Do what the FOTSJ want, and you get "free" money from the State. Don't do that the Friends want, and they sue the county.
    We have layed back, gone to work every day, and waited for reasonable leadership to rise.
    It hasn't.
    It is gratifying to see the masses rising and taking a stand. Enough!!