Friday, May 18, 2012

De Minimis Anyone?

Today is a joint session between the Planning Commission and the County Council on the Fish and Wildlife Habitat CAO (FWHCAO). People continue to voice eloquent and well reasoned arguments about our County's approach to CAO and SMP compliance (see letter below). I hope today continues the trend of vigorous public engagement.

For me, a pattern seems to be emerging that divides the waters between two fundamentally different types of environmentalists. That is, either you believe in de minimis or you don't. The cornerstone of the US strategy for environmental protection has been to quantify excess human health and ecological risk, and then to take measures to reduce that risk. An integral aspect of that approach is the notion of de minimis risk, which is risk so low that it is below regulatory concern. Quite literally, it is a pointless waste to insist on measures to reduce de minimis risk even further.  However, if you don't believe in de minimis, then you think that all human activity must be regulated.

This would appear to be the approach of most in the planning profession, and accordingly, it appears to be the prevailing view among the planning-dominated mentality of our state and local government as well as the Friends. Without the notion of de minimis, you don't need any proof that human activity causes harm, you just believe it anyway.

That's virtually the mantra of CDPD and cohorts. It's also the view of many on the Planning Commission, who voted to restrict ALL activities in buffers except for a select few activities they vouchsafe us. "They" believe everything is harmful, unless "they" sanctify it.

This blog has addressed risk and de minimis in earlier postings. It is a central tenet of environmental protection, and if you don't believe in de minimis, you aren't really engaging in rational environmental protection.


April 30, 2012

San Juan County Council
San Juan County Planning Commission
San Juan County Community Development and Planning Department


My concerns are centered on the possibility that our home and the existing property features may be designated non-conforming going forward within the proposed CAO Shoreline Management Plan.  As ordinary law abiding owners / tax paying citizens of the county we are not equipped nor should we rationally be expected to have a complete understanding and working knowledge of the 300+ page Inventory and Characterization Report (plus maps and appendices), or the potential impact imposed upon our specific property by the proposals being considered.  In our opinion, the county has done a woeful job of communicating the specifics, basis, true motivation, and full ramifications of the changes being considered.  The property tax bill enclosure provided only direction to some documents available for viewing online, none of which included a draft of changes to development standards, parcel specific information for each owner to relate to, nor an indication that owners may be required to take action to protect their rights or inform the county of the as is condition of their property.

Granted, communication with property owners is difficult and costly.  An added challenge in San Juan County is the high number of absentee / part time resident owners.  However, these parties are equally impacted by changes in standards, if not more so in the case of vacant land owners hoping to build retirement homes in the coming years.  This being the case, it seems unfair and highly unwise for county officials to proceed with adoption of any code document calling for sweeping changes in development standards, requirements, and classification of land and existing structures prior to making an exhaustive effort to advise each property owner as to the specific information on file for their parcel and the impact to their property by the proposed code changes. 

In addition, as far as we have seen, there has been no truly objective local study of best available science in the San Juan Islands.  In truth, any such study is highly subject to bias by the personal beliefs and motivations of the scientists and/or the funding source driving said reports.  We also question purported scientific proof that doubling or tripling future development setbacks will significantly alter the effects of development on the environment.  These issues combined with the unavoidable bias of planners drafting the proposals, and counsel members directing and adopting the development standards, dramatically speaking, the county and public is presented with a cauldron of venomous snakes poised to strike.

For ourselves, what we do know is that we have followed the current development guidelines and standards completely.  We have endeavored to do no harm to the physical condition of the environment in which we are privileged to live.  Having done so, we are greatly concerned about and object to the county imposing any regulation that will classify our property at any point in the future as non-conforming by subsequent changes in regulations.  In spite of what anyone may say to convince you otherwise, from my professional experience, I can advise with near absolute certainty that among the future consequences of your actions will be an exponential increase in the hostility of your constituents, a decrease in future property tax revenue potential spanning for much more than a decade, and a long term legacy of increase in cost of litigation for the county over development issues.  Clearly, your decisions on this issue will have direct and indirect long term effects upon all property owners within the county and services it is able to provide, proponents and detractors alike.  The course of action being pursed on this matter appears drastic.  In the interest of mitigating the potential negative outcomes from the development code review in process, I encourage you to endorse the absolute minimum and necessary revisions of the existing code.  

Respectfully submitted,

Harlow Cameron

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