This post serves as a segue from a series-within-a-series about environmental organizations to one about community dynamics in general. The Friends and their friends believe in rules, and once a rule is established, they are very good at convincing people that the rule is the most important thing, not the reason why the rule was established or any potentially mitigating factors.
For instance, one of the rules being discussed for the CAOs is whether buffers cover developed areas and how non-conformity works in that instance. Some argue that if buffers are allowed to include developed areas then any change to that developed area is a potential increase in non-conformity. Any expansion of a house, even upwards with no change of footprint, would represent an expansion of non-conformity.
But that really doesn't address whether such an activity (building upward) has any effect on the functions and values of the critical area, does it? It seems like administration of the rule has become more important than the substance or intent of the law.
When you combine oppressive and/or unclear rules with a local government that is not trusted, you get the situation we have today in San Juan County. Many people here believe the CAOs will be used, not to protect the environment, but to settle scores. In keeping with past experiences, some people (or kinds of people) will be targeted and others won't. We saw this with Charles Dalton, for example.
And many people feel we are seeing this happening again with Consignment Treasures on San Juan Island. While not directly related to the CAOs, the dynamics surrounding the Consignment Treasures controversy are much the same. It involves the intersection of environmental (recycling) and land use issues to name just one similarity, but there are more. If you haven't been following the situation, the brief summary is that the County has voted to make Consignment Treasures non-conforming at its current location and suggested it become an Essential Public Facility. Alternatively, some Councilors have suggested that Consignment Treasures close its current location and move to Sutton Road, where it will be on County land.
Lined up on one side are the community censors and defenders of rules, such as Sharon Kivisto of sanjuanislander.com. She always appears to defend rules and taxes, except when the Friends are involved. Kivisto admits to censoring letters to the editor, and she justifies it by saying that she won't print libel or slander. Someone should inform her that no one prints slander because, by definition, slander is verbal.
Kivisto, as usual, is on the same side as the County. County staff, particularly Ed Hale (whose wife is Shireene Hale of Planning), have virtually made a career out of perennially expressing displeasure with Consignment Treasures. And overlaid on top of that, we have politics. Many of our leading local Democrats like to equate party membership to local environmental support, which leads to an effort to turn every environmental debate into a political maelstrom. The environment, however, isn't a true political divide. I know many environmentally-conscious Democrats in this county who feel ostracized by their own party at the local level because they dissent from it on local environmental issues, especially issues surrounding the Friends, the Scenic Byway, the National Monument, land use planning, and property rights. However, many of the leading vocal Democrats in this county view these issues as purity tests for the Democratic masses. If you're not with them on those issues, you're a Republican. Big mistake.
Nevertheless, politics brings us to the other side because the founder of Consignment Treasures, Frank Penwell, has been a thorn in the side of the eco-pure Democrats. Penwell has done a lot of good for our community, but he is most well known for being an advocate for property rights and opposing environmentalists. He's been Head of the San Juan Grange and opposed the takeover of that venerable institution by local eco-activists who wanted to use it for their own purposes. He's the head of the local chapter of CAPR, the Citizens Alliance for Property Rights. The pure Democrats despise CAPR and have said some pretty nasty things about Penwell over the years. One eco-pure Democrat and devoutly religious member of our Council, who Penwell opposed during the Grange controversy, memorably said to him after church one day, "You destroy everything you touch." This was said to a man who has used his own money (not a grant in sight) to found a community recycling and reuse center that now donates thousands of dollars to charity and for scholarships. That's more than the Friends have ever done, and yet, Penwell is evil and the Friends are saints. Penwell's style may not be everyone's cup of tea, but he produces a lot of good substance. Judge not, lest ye be judged.
So it is against this backdrop that the Consignment Treasures controversy plays out. When some of Penwell's long-time opponents say "all we're trying to do" is ensure Consignment Treasures can continue to be successful, no one believes them. They might as well say, "I'm from the government, and I'm here to help." No one believes that placing Consignment Treasures under greater County control (either via non-conforming status or by moving operations to Sutton Road) is an innocent move. We believe it's score settling using rules.
People love Consignment Treasures, which is why its Facebook page had over 800 followers within just a few days. Because of context, many see the County moves as ultimately malevolent, just as they view the intent behind the CAOs as malevolent.