Saturday, June 16, 2012

Old Time Islanders

From my perspective, one of the most politically underrepresented segments of our island society is the voice of old-time islanders. Below is a letter from one of them.

April 2, 201

To: Lovel Pratt - San Juan South, Rich Peterson - San Juan North, Howie Rosenfeld - Friday Harbor Richard Fralick - Orcas West, Patty Miller - Orcas East, Jamie Stephens - Lopez/Shaw, Ingrid Gabriel, Clerk of the Council

Subject: CAO Comments and NCA

In recent months I have been reading, studying, and discussing the issues surrounding the proposed critical area ordinance.  My family has deep roots here as my father started the highschool on Lopez and the Clinic is named after my mother.  As a native Lopez Islander,  I have seen a lot of changes over the years but they have been gradual and mostly positive to allow for moderate and smart growth in our County.

In Dr. Adamus’s own words, there are no study results to determine real findings in attempting to control pollution for example.  He says that the drivers behind this proposal are “somewhat hypothetical and precautionary”.  The actual nitrogen pollutant levels have had some cursory looks by some learned people and appear to be far lower that the minimum threshold viewed as potentially harmful.

It is no secret that special interest groups have worked hard to persuade or threaten our officials into adopting legislation that will be far more restrictive than what is required in the “review and revise if necessary” requirement by the GMA.  I have also learned that some public “input” has been minimized while some Planning Commission input and County staff input has been of the more restrictive variety based upon individual beliefs in those groups.  I have always thought that “we the people” are the ones to whom our elected officials listen to and work for but things have changed.  What I see now is a collaborative decision making process using consensus by the governing bodies to make and decide new public policy.  This leads me to the emotions of sadness, frustration, and some anger I feel when trying to understand really why such a regulation is being rail roaded through our county government.  We the people are about to be required to hand over a bundle of rights (property and civil rights) to our local (and higher) governments.

The following is a list of items that were discussed at a meeting of locals (many “old timers”) which cause me concern and I would like feedback for clarification.  They may not all be true but I am on a quest for truth at the moment as a citizen and tax payer in San Juan County.  Please help me out.

1. The property owners in SJC are presumed guilty until they prove themselves innocent regarding the issues of the CAO.  This is in contrast to Skagit County where the opposite is true, they are presumed innocent of violations unless proven guilty regarding their CAO and their land use.  The Skagit County CAO is reportedly much less strict and is pro farming.

2. Dr. Adamus redefined the definition of a wetland which takes us here in SJC from 900 wetlands to 2700 wetlands.  To me this is huge when the new wider buffers are added and apparently under the new ordinance, 78% of all tax parcels in SJC are “touched” by the new rules.

3. Under the guise of protecting these newly found wetlands come the list of “thou shalt nots” restricting such things as  excavating or tree cutting, with certain caveats.  I got a copy of the general portion of the ordinance that was passed in January and tried to make sense of it and see where these items mentioned were found and it was hard to understand because it is more of a legalese type of document rather than one which the common person can comprehend.  I understand that there is a more recent version which I took a quick look at and the language was a little more clear but could be simplified, like a FAQ sheet version.

4. I attended meetings off and on over the last few years regarding the CAO and I do remember a county person being in attendance with a pencil in hand and writing some notes.  I was told by reputable people that little public meeting input was used in making the final ordinance draft.  If true, this should be illegal and certainly unethical.

5. I have a number of friends that make their living from farming here on Lopez.  They see this ordinance as the end of a lifelong effort to grow crops and animals for local use.  These products have become known as some of the best in the region if not the country.  The island used to have over 5000 people on it and was 70% agriculture while the fish runs were at all time highs.  Farming is part of our heritage and creates the environment that we hold dear today.

6. Back in the 60s when I was in high school here, we started to get the Californian influx which brought people here that put up fences and posted no trespassing signs.  With that influx came some who thought they knew better how things should be run here and began to change things.  In more recent years we have seen special interest groups come in here who, in my view, see themselves as the “Saviors” of the Islands and apparently have pushed their agenda with the County officials.  The locals see these efforts as a power and control grab which is at the heart of the matter rather than trying to save the environment from the evil hands of the current or future property owners.

7. Perhaps one of the most disturbing things is the way the county expects to enforce the new regulations by encouraging neighbors  to spy and turn in their neighbors for any “suspicious” activity.  This is similar to how dictatorships have  operated historically in seeking out offenders and punishing people.  This will change our culture from the tight community that it has been to one where there is always an element of fear and lack of trust present.

8. There was discussion about what it will take to recall the council people who vote for it.  I would say that there is a fair chance that a petition to do so may become a reality.

9. Lastly, If this goes through as is, there will be a fair amount of litigation from property owners against the County, especially those with money.  The county and us tax payers will be the ones paying to fight ourselves.  Also, the passage of the ordinance will be a huge negative economic loss in terms of property values and business losses.  A case in point would be if you own a non conforming property under the new ordinance. Who is going to want to pay what that property has been worth with the stigma that the new ordinance will impose in regard to future potential of the property.  This will be more pronounced with the Shoreline Management portion upcoming.

I would also like to make a comment about the proposed National Conservation Area legislation.  I talked with a local woman who recently went to D.C to promote passage of the bill.  I encourage you to take a close look  at local impact to all our citizens rather than just quickly endorsing this change in ownership. We need to have the bill language published to the local citizens and they be given opportunity to see what is actually in the bill and what impact it will have on them plus what other options are available.  We all know that changes to the bill can be made at any time until passage and that could not be what we desire.  I see this as a knee jerk attempt to quickly get this through congress politically before a possible administration change takes place.  This is not just my opinion but what the local advocate person told me.  There also is a multi millionaire adjacent land owner here on Lopez who also may have selfish motives to see this pushed through quickly.  My advice is slow it down and let’s have a closer look which is what we deserve rather than a slam dunk.

Thank you for allowing me to speak my mind on these subjects and I leave my case with you for fairness and wisdom in decision making.

Charlie Washburn
Lopez Island


  1. It would be good to learn a bit more about the backgrounds of current PC appointees. Are they old-timers? New-comers? How long have they been on the PC? Who appointed them? What other offices/positions have these folks held? Do or have any of them served together on other boards/committees? There is some information that one of the current Commissioners served as the PC chair some years back while simultaneously serving in a leadership capacity with the San Juan Preservation Trust only a few years after moving to the islands. Some readers would be interested in additional biographical information, if it is in the public domain.

  2. Thanks for your comment. Many people have been clamoring for an answer to those same questions, and TH will begin posting to the "Central Casting" tab shortly. That tab has received hundreds of hits even without any content, so imagine what it will be like once something is actually there! Stay tuned and look for something to show up in the next couple of weeks.

  3. I'm especially interested in Charlie's mention of the population having been 5000. When was that? and how about the other islands? Does anyone know?

  4. As to Charlie's points 1 and 7, you may wish to take note of the Common Sense Alliance chart comparing the current enforcement regs to those now proposed by the CPDP. Its in the CSA website document library re the CPDP. I don't think you will enjoy the comparison, but do think it ought to be front page news.