Thursday, July 19, 2012

The Economy, Stupid

The phrase made famous by James Carville resonates in our county today. Despite appearances, our pitched environmental battles here are not about the environment. They are about economic programs disguised as environmental programs. The Friends, for example, are not against development. They are very much in favor of Scenic Byway/transportation corridor development. That's the kind of development that favors their interests and business model. Never mind the environmental impact of tourists, which some studies suggest generate as much as 5 lbs of trash per day and use 100 gallons of water per day per tourist. That doesn't matter. What matters is that the Friends get an economic development program that suits their continued growth and power base. Tourists come here; fall in love with a crafted marketing image of the San Juans as a threatened natural paradise and then return home to donate to the Friends from afar. Plus, the Friends then get to use "visual impacts" to the Scenic Byway as one more legal strategy for hauling landowners to court or the Hearing Examiner, as already has happened on occasion.

Destination marketing is part and parcel of the Scenic Byway/transportation corridor/eco-tourist development program. We heard the "destination marketing" term bandied about at Council meetings just last week by Liz Ilig, promoter of the Scenic Byway. Destination marketing is the economic development plan pushed by our local "conservationists," which seems like it should be a cruel joke. Case in point, over a hundred businesses in the islands (many consisting of one-man bands) wrote to Obama in support of the National Monument/Conservation Area idea. This is what they said in their opening paragraph:
As business owners we have a strong interest in the economic health of the San Juan Islands. The economy of the San Juans depends on the natural beauty and recreational opportunities that attract residents, visitors and businesses to these islands.
Folks, I have news for you. That's not a conservation message. That's a destination marketing message.  That's not Rachel Carson or John Muir. That's Disneyland. That's using the environment for marketing.  This county is full of pretend environmentalists pursuing their own economic self interest while simultaneously wanting the sanctimonious image benefits from their eco-glorymongering.

It's phony. It's Vivien-esque.

The eco-tourist economic development path is the road to perdition, and by perdition, I mean County bankruptcy. It creates infrastructure needs that have to be sized for the peak season, supported by a tax base sized for the off-season. Couple that with our County's collective fiscal irresponsibility, and we are on the same trajectory as all those charter governments in California that are going bankrupt. Yes ... bankrupt, just like our insolvent solid waste program. We need to start talking about it because that is where we are headed, in my opinion. And it's not the fault of the "CAO virus" or "property rights" groups, or the bogey man or some other scapegoat. Our whole County is run the way our solid waste program was run. We do not have a sustainable model for government here in the islands, and our incapable public servants lurch from crisis to crisis in groundhog day fashion, surprised at every turn by foreseeable events.

Just like the solid waste program, our overall pathetic performance as a County shows up in the numbers, and thanks to some fantastic research by Lopezian, Nick Jones, we can say the following:
Coming up with a truly equivalent comparison from county to county is extremely difficult: Counties all spin budget numbers in slightly different ways, counties vary wildly in percentages of population in incorporated towns and cities, percentages of unoccupied or vacation homes can drive up county expenses and drive down population figures. And of course geography play a large role in the expense of administering a given area--a county composed of islands is a special case when it comes to delivering services to all residents--though there is some adjustment too for the much greater mileage of county maintained roads in any mainland county.
That said, the discrepancy between all levels of SJC budget and spending and that of other rural, waterfront Western WA counties is shocking. In the rawest form, unexamined numbers from other rural Western Washington show San Juan County spending as a wild outlier. Total county spending per capita, including general fund and non discretionary spending, ranges from $825 per capita in Island County (Whidbey and Camano Islands), $990 per capita in Clallam County to $1084 per capita in tiny Wahkiakum County, with practically no services provided by incorporated towns. San Juan County total spending currently runs $2613 per capita, or 241% of Wahkiakum County's expenditures. Pacific County in South West Washington seems to have more in common with SJC than any other Washington county. It has many of the same factors and limitations as SJC, and some unique or steeper challenges than we have here. Their raw budget comes to $1464 per capita, or exactly 56% of San Juan County spending.
More of that to come in later posts, along with economic analysis done by other citizens too. The excellent work done by these private citizens stands in stark contrast to the pathetic economic non-analysis done by our own County. It's one more example of how our County, dominated by special interests, doesn't do analysis. It's simply an out-of-touch echo chamber.

Why do we keep electing, appointing, and hiring people who perpetuate it?


  1. Yes. The inmates have a very different view on how to run the Asylum.

  2. And in the upcoming election, we are told, presumably through the County Council's expensive communications administrator, that we must approve Yet Another Tax to be able to afford even basic public safety services....

    Where is all the money we are currently spending going, that we can't afford sheriff's deputies and court services?

  3. Wait until they tell you that they need another levy lift to save granny. Because they will. Not a word about the bloated bureaucracy; just threaten sheriff, seniors, kids.

  4. Plate 'o ShrimpJuly 19, 2012 at 5:32 PM

    Remember the old National Lampoon cover from back in the day? A revolver pressed against the head of a dog, who is looking a bit concerned, with the caption: "Buy this magazine or we kill this dog."

  5. I'm with the writer of the main post. Why do we continue to elect and appoint people who's main goal it seems in return is to attack us. For several years now I've felt far more threatened by County Government, than served by it. The County, for no reason, has taken up arms against it's citizens for several years now.

    Honestly, the main goal of the PA, who cries poor while he somehow manages to supply Mr. Cain for countless hours of butt sitting to coach the County Council on how to defraud the public "legally", he, the PA, needs more money for attack the people who peacefully want to be left alone. And at some point he will want us to re-elect him? Why would we continue to do that? This man could have properly and easily corrected the County's grand and unnecessary march against it's citizens early on. He could have used common sense to avoid the huge legal disaster and quagmire we are being launched into. Re-elect this guy? HELL NO!

    Ms. Miller, never really ran for election, she had no opponent, so we got a volunteer most of us felt was a thoughtful person. Oh gee whiz, were we ever wrong. Ms. Miller loves the minutia of new policy creation and loves the power of sitting at the dais far more than any motivation she may have once had to serve the public who placed her there. This person too, is an unmitigated disaster.

    Fortunately there are some other folks up for election in the near future. For a real change let's throw the bums out AND FULLY VET THE NEW ONES!

  6. Yes, indeed, throw the bums out--my criterion in virtually every office up this year. Pratt and Rosenfield are up, and running on the usual -- oil spill response (like we'd rely on the County for that) and ferries (like what we say matters). Of course, we've banned nukes and supported gay marriage (not that there's anything wrong with that; it's just not in their jurisdiction) while the County burns. How many times does it take the electorate voting down your grand schemes for you to take your marbles and go home?

  7. But they're only trying to make a difference! You see, their business in not worth minding. They are not content to live out their own lives as they see fit. How grand to be able to make others live out their lives as you see fit. Now that's a real purpose in life, a reason for feeling so self righteous. Glorious!

  8. I was thinking about the budget comparisons that Nick Jones researched (thank you!). Thinking about the claim that there is no money in the budget for policing and other necessary public services. And for the 2nd day in a row, I passed, on Olga Road, a person with a County vehicle parked along the road who was busy picking Tansy Ragwort! So apparently we have money for that, but not for dealing with burglaries and crime issues, which apparently the county must think are less important than pulling tansy ragwort. That plus the numbers Nick Jones gave as the County per capita expenditures ---it's hard to believe the these days when lots of folks are scraping by or can't find jobs that the County is spending more than it did in 2008!!!--will cause me to VOTE NO on the proposed sales tax increase.

  9. Maybe Senator Ranker can help? Last I heard he was out there creating new jobs for the Lopez National Zoo. All I know is what I read in the papers.