Sunday, December 2, 2012

Crimes Against Nature Ordinance

Tomorrow, the County Council is poised to pass the Critical Areas Ordinances (CAOs). Despite feverish opposition, despite horrifically bad science, despite election results, and despite lawsuits, they press onward.

When I am asked to summarize the CAOs for the uninitiated, I find it difficult to find the words to neatly convey their content and flaws. Generally speaking, though, I have come to think of them as the Crimes Against Nature Ordinances (CANOs).

Imagine a crime has been committed. The crime is "general worldwide environmental degradation" and you are a suspect. You are a suspect because you are alive, and more specifically, you have "nature" on your property. You come into contact with "nature" during the course of your activities at home, too.

The vague wording of the new ordinances ensures that nearly everything is construable as protectable nature (e.g., habitat, water courses, aquifer recharge area, wetland, buffer, etc.). Nearly any activity could be construed as environmental harm, too. That's a dangerous formula. You might think you have nothing to worry about because you consider yourself to be "green" and you live harmoniously with nature. But these new ordinances do not care about that. In fact, the more harmonious and the more integrated your life may be with nature, the greater the potential risk that you might be elevated from suspect to alleged environmental criminal.

The person who will decide whether to prosecute you for crimes against nature is René Beliveau, the Director of Planning. It will be his decision alone. He has unlimited discretion. If he decides to prosecute you, you can either admit your guilt (thou shalt not suffer a witch to live) or pay $2,300 to fight the charge. If you fight it, you will need an army of expensive consultants to prove your innocence, and the people who will sit in judgment of your expensive new evidence will be the very people who accused you of the crime in the first place: namely, Beliveau accompanied and assisted by various and sundry "experts" from the State Department of Ecology.

If "they" disagree with your experts, and you still wish to fight, then you have to proceed with Hearing Examiner and court challenges.

There are still people in this County who think I am exaggerating. There are many who think they (and/or their loved ones) will never be personally subject to the enforcement aspects of this law. You are wrong ... flat dead wrong.  And none of it, absolutely none of it, will have anything to do with environmental protection.

Every locavore should be against these ordinances. Every permaculturist. Every gardener. Every homeowner. Every Democrat, every Republican, and every Independent. There is no protected class. We are all environmental suspects under this law.

It didn't have to be this way, but that is what this Council has done to us ... to our community. None of us should forget it.

Please also read the Island Guardian editorial.

This is how a farmer in Germany got around the permit rules.  Our situation may not be so humorous.


  1. It strikes me that none of our current, lame duck council has what would be termed skin in the game--that is all of them are in one way or another sojourners in SJC. None of them have really built their careers or lives here, with the possible exception of Howie. For those of us who have laid it all on the line to live and work in SJC, not to mention the old time families, this is an unmitigated disaster. Why did we ever think that electing a pack of what can only be described as "novelty candidates" was a good idea? This next round of electoral musical chairs will be highly edifying. The salient question to the likely three recycled candidates, "were you unwilling, or were you unable?" The answer is moot. Why would anyone vote for a candidate who is either?

  2. Well put's been a mystery to me from the start that Howie "represents" the county. He is a townie all the way and has nothing to lose whatsoever.

  3. Thank you TH for outlining this so clearly. People do not believe me either when I explain the truths of the CAO and it's effect. It will effect EVERBODY and not in a good way.

    Having Rene Beliveau and his designees of CD&P assert vast discretion is a recipe for disaster. It creates no consistency, which we have all asked for. Currently, he and CD &P abuse their power of discretion on selective enforcement. This is the reason people do not speak up, because of their retalitory behavior. It must stop.

  4. It is inevitable that the powers of initiative and referendum are going to be flexed.

    The state courts have held that we cannot hold a local referendum to toss out a CAO because the CAO is required by state law. We cannot use local referendum to over-throw state law. (Never mind that Ecology says, oh its your CAO we're only providing guidance.)

    But I see no reason that the voters of San Juan County can by its power of initiative do the following:

    1) Forbid the County from spending one thin dime on CAO enforcement. Reason: They refused to assess the cost of this thing ... ever. So, fine. Don't spend a dime on it. Not one piece of paper. Not one light bulb. Not one gallon of gas. Not one billable hour. Nada.

    2) Begin to adjust and update the Comprehensive Plan and related elements that the Council/FOSJ/DOE cabal refuse to address. Force open our comp plan to support community economic vitality and rural character by voter initiative. We can do that.

    3) By initiative, instruct the council what their legislative priorities shall be, and what they shall not be.

    Fully realizing this is a double edged sword, what's good for the goose is good for the gander and that this will open up yet another Pandora's box for creative misgovernment via popular initiative (hello California!) the initiative is an important way for the citizens of the County to protect their interests and quality of life against the depredations of current powers that be.