Like the old Sesame Street game, when we look at our Council members relative to the CAOs, one of them is not like the others. We saw more evidence of that yesterday when the Council had a discussion about their upcoming consistency hearings (November 27 and December 3). But before we get into that, I have to explain one of the deliberate misconceptions perpetuated by some CAO supporters.
As most readers of the Trojan Heron know by now, the State has no formal authority over the CAOs. However, since San Juan County opted into full participation with the GMA back in 1990, our CAOs can be appealed to the Growth Management Hearings Board (GMHB). Anyone can bring a complaint before the GMHB, including the State, and it often does. The State also can take other actions to restrict the County's access to funding, at least as a theoretical possibility.
In this way, the State is able to claim that it has no role in the CAOs while simultaneously leveling threats at the County about the CAOs. There is often a gulf, however, between the demands of the State and the legal requirements of the CAOs. Therein lies much of the controversy about the CAOs. Do we follow what the law requires, or do we follow what the State says we have to do ... even when the State's threats do not appear to be consistent with the law or with the facts on the ground, insofar as the facts can be ascertained and demonstrated?
Broadly speaking, suffice to say that five of the councillors seem to be more concerned about the State's threats (or the threats of the Friends) than with the law and the facts. One councillor (Rich Peterson) is a hold out. He is more concerned about the law and facts (not to mention the citizens and the environment) rather than the threats. As a further obfuscation, some CAO supporters (e.g., Lovel Pratt) have frequently characterized their opponents as ignoring CAO law. That is exactly the opposite of the reality of the situation.
Peterson believes the current proposed CAOs have several fundamental and fatal legal flaws. He is unlikely to vote for the proposed CAOs without major changes. He has circulated to the Council a list of the minimum changes that he feels are necessary to gain his support.
That brings us to yesterday's Council meeting. The five pro-CAO councillors, especially since the election, are eager to pass the CAOs unanimously. Unanimous approval might convey some legal legitimacy upon the new CAOs that they wouldn't otherwise have. Probably more importantly, though, three of the existing councillors are likely to stand for election (Miller, Pratt, Stephens). After all the CAO criticism aimed at the councillors, unanimous approval of the CAOs might rehabilitate their electoral chances. During the consistency discussion yesterday, we saw the Council dealing with all these subtexts while at the same time not saying a word about them. The words we heard were about public notice and schedule, but every councillor was pondering whether the five could accept the demands of Peterson with enough time to fulfill the public notice and related administrative requirements of the law. We even saw Patty Miller deliver a rather desperate lecture to Peterson (see the discussion around the 6:39 video mark) about the information he needed to provide to the rest of the group in order to strike a deal.
Can they swallow Peterson's changes? Can they get the changes done in time for a 6-0 vote before their lame-duck terms expire, or do they press forward as is?
Only time will tell, but with respect to the CAOs, one councillor is definitely not like the others, and the Trojan Heron is very glad about that.
As a postscript, I would like to point out the paradox embodied in the argument that says we must listen to the State about the CAOs while at the same time we overwhelmingly voted for a State initiative that rejected federal law.