Sunday, March 23, 2014

Ah, Have Scott Call Me ...

We'd like to know what's going on too, Jessica.

Back on February 9, we covered a story about Orcas Island Fire & Rescue (OIFR), which drew the ire of some usually supportive TH readers. They'll probably be mad at us again because of this post. As we reported back on February 9, many Orcasites have questions about the management of OIFR. There is no doubt that Orcas firefighters have behaved heroically in battling some very dangerous blazes, especially of late. But for many Orcasites, that heroism exists alongside questionable management decisions and behavior ... it exists alongside the alleged cover-up of a suspected DUI involving one of their own, Jack Delisle ... and it also seems to exist alongside a deepening siege mentality that lashes out at any critique.

Orcas Issues recently carried an editorial about the OIFR DUI controversy, which (along with other OIFR questions) is being brought into greater focus because of an upcoming vote about an OIFR levy. The old propane tank at the Country Corner, which serves as a makeshift Orcas community painting board for events, currently says "Vote no on the fire levy ... government accountability starts at home!"

Lord knows that Orcas has suffered more than its fair share of failed government accountability over the past few years ... the Charles Dalton situation, the Eastsound mosquito hatchery, floods in Eastsound, the Mt. Baker Road project, the Deer Harbor bridge ... and representation by electeds who seem hell bent on throwing us all under the CAO bus. If people are getting fed up, is it any wonder why?

Below is a recording of the report of the Delisle accident by OIFR Deputy Chief Mik Preysz (pronounced "price" for you non-Orcasites) to the San Juan County Sheriff's Office. The recording was obtained via a public records request. It's been making the rounds on Orcas ... people playing it for one another on their cell phones ... and passing it around via email too.

The call was logged at 3 a.m. on March 9, 2013. For context, you can refer to our original blog post from February 9, which includes the police report of the incident along with inserted questions of a commenter from Orcas. Note too that the police report doesn't seem to be entirely accurate with respect to the phone call from Preysz either.

Maybe the whole thing is no big deal, but would you have been treated this way? Does it sound like normal procedure to you? Can we have Sgt. Brennan call us the next time we get in a scrape?

Propane Tank -- some readers questioned the tank message aspect of the story, so here is a photo.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Buh Bye To Another Island Way Of Life

Editor's Note - the "Broken Dreams" series begun with the last post will be interspersed among other TH stories. Until the next one (probably in a couple of weeks), we now return to our regularly scheduled programming.

Below is a plea from a Lopezian to help save another endangered way of life under threat from a governmental agency's senseless desire for control and pointless regulation. It's just one more straw on the camel's back of rural character and independence.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Broken Dreams - First In A Series

As anyone who has watched County events over the past few years would know, our local government is in the business of crushing dreams, not making them come true. If you've watched with anger and disappointment as our elected Council heaps abusive laws on us, you might have come to the conclusion that we should just let the Department of Ecology appoint our Councilmen so we can at least save money on elections. It couldn't be any worse. The abusive laws allow the Friends of the San Juans to harass us. The process has become the punishment. Tonight we start the first of a series telling the stories of islanders.

The Lopez Islander Resort

“Friends” and Neighbors in the San Juans

The ability to run a small lodging business in San Juan County is at risk as long as the “Friends” (of the San Juans) are your neighbors. They may say that they support tourism and small business but that is disingenuous and here’s why.

The Lopez Islander Resort has been a landmark in Fisherman’s Bay for almost 70 years. It was first established in 1945 when Nan and Otto Perkins moved to Lopez Island after the war. On a cold stormy night a few years later the resort burned to the ground. Neighbors held a party at Woodman Hall where they donated enough money to help rebuild the restaurant and a few guest rooms. That was back in the days when “friends” meant something entirely different than it does today.

In the following years the resort went through a series of owners. Mr. Wally Trace purchased the property in 1992 as Lopez Islander Inc. and immediately applied for and received approval of a Shoreline Conditional Use Permit for further expansion of the resort and marina. At that time none of the neighbors opposed the project. However, the resort went bankrupt after completing their improvements. It’s not easy to run a business like this in San Juan County, even with community support.

In 1997 Diller Associates purchased the resort. The place was a bit run down and had been for sale for about 3 years. Bill Diller made it very clear from the beginning that he would be “sprucing up” the resort. He had been a frequent visitor to the islands and was excited about the possibility of owning a small business that served his community and employed more than 25 local islanders during tourist season.

After fixing up the resort and getting it back into business, the Dillers saw the potential to do more with their investment. In 2010, Diller Associates applied for a permit to expand the marina to accommodate an additional 50 moorage slips. They ran into some roadblocks because of a small patch of eelgrass. At this point they didn’t feel like fighting for the permit, but two years later they needed to grow their business.

There were campsites on the property for families on a budget and the owners saw the need to add a few more as well as several RV campsites. They wanted to tear down and replace some of the older cabins and add a new building with 7 guest rooms, which was allowed outright under the zoning code. They also applied for a shoreline permit to build a small structure for a kayak rental business. They didn’t expect a fight over this modest expansion but they got one from the “Friends” of the San Juans.

The “Friends” were called into action by a small group of neighbors who for whatever reason wanted the project stopped[1]. The neighbors solicited by email, “tax deductible contributions to the Friends of the San Juans ... that will be applied directly to fund Laura’s work.” [2] (Former Planning Director Laura Arnold).

The “Friends” stepped in with their team of litigators and organized against the Dillers, even though the project was perfectly legal under the County’s land use codes.[3] This is an example of the “Friends” tactic of turning neighbor against neighbor. All of the surrounding neighbors purchased property next to an existing resort. Why would they all of a sudden object to the resort?

The Friends hired Laura Arnold to help them fight the project. In an email message Ms. Arnold said,
“It appears to me that the County Code anticipates this type and intensity of use in this land-use district and would, I expect, find it difficult to deny the proposal . . .”[4]
The Dillers held a public meeting in August 2012 to listen and respond to the concerns of their neighbors. They made concessions and changed the site plan in an effort to mitigate concerns.

This did not deter this group of activists and attorneys from going ahead and appealing the permit and arguing before the Hearing Examiner. It was a “change of use” they declared and therefore subject to mitigation. The Dillers persevered, and the “Friends” succeeded in adding substantial costs to the small business.

This time the Diller’s were determined to fight their way through the process. After hiring engineers and consultants to do all types of studies demanded by the “Friends,” and hiring land use experts and attorneys, they had invested more than six figures to get a permit that without the intervention of the “Friends” would have been routinely approved.

While this battle was being fought the “Friends” published a county-wide mailer entitled, “Shorelines: Where We Live, Work, & Play.” In it they say,
"Protecting our shorelines is good for our economy and our environment. Our visitors contributed over $158.5 million to our local economy last year,” said Stephanie Buffum, Executive Director of “FRIENDS” of the San Juans.
If the “Friends” acknowledge the importance of tourism to our local economy then why did they take up a fight to cripple a small scale lodging business by challenging permits for a modest expansion? The local lodging industry is the basic driving force for low impact island tourism and contributes millions each year to the community through lodging taxes. It is a fact that small-scale island resorts benefit the local economy in many ways, not the least of which is attracting customers who spend money and support other island businesses. The evidence suggests that the “Friends” don’t really want people to “Live, Work, & Play” anywhere near the shoreline.

The ability to run a small business is at risk as long as the “Friends” are your neighbors. For a business investor, risking capital to hire attorneys and other professionals to face endless challenges by the “Friends” for a simple permit reduces potential profitability and discourages investment. Who is it that makes a community thrive? Is it people who invest in it and work hard or the people who organize neighbor against neighbor to restrict the very things that create economic vitality? Perhaps the “Friends” need to find the answer to that question before they focus their special interest litigation machine against other island neighbors.
[1] Email from Mr. Rick Strachan, 5/20/13, “It may well be true that this application will be decided on strict issues enumerated in the application, but it seems that all our concerns stem from Mr. Diller himself, not from the proposal itself.” 
[2] Email 5/11/13 from Peter Cavanagh to neighbors. 
[3] A hotel/motel is allowed outright in the Village Commercial Zone.  Campgrounds (RV and tent camping) require a conditional use permit approval. This information is found in Table 3.1 of the Unified Development Code. 
[4] Email 5/11/13 from Peter Cavanagh to neighbors.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Stupid Is As Stupid Does

The County Council passed an even more restrictive CAO than the previous dysfunctional 6-member Council did. Jamie Stephens and Rick "we can fix it" Hughes voted in favor, Jarman opposed. Someone live-blogged the proceedings and left them as comments on the previous post. We copy them here for your reading pleasure:

Live blogging:

Candace, ARC member, notes concern about Council caving to newly CDP restrictions on agriculture. She is in despair of impact of conditional use requirements. Wants council to take step back and allow ag reps to consider this to prevent the death of ag by a thousand cuts.

Hughes argues that AS APPLIED it won't be a problem. Candace points out concrete problems. Jamie asks via telephone (where IS Jamie??) whether she's happy with existing rules.

Peggy Bill of ARC says ARC worked really hard and made comments and had their work thrown out by CDP (and Council). Ag activity will now have to be treated like all development, which is going backwards. Condition and provisional use permits will be required for lots of activity.
March 5, 2014 at 9:53 AM
Peggy Bill--CAO goes to far and ag people are very angry. Says that Land Bank is merely trying to fence off streams to protect water but are being told that fences are development.

Hughes is "clarifying for record" that ag expansion in critical area is not ideal. Hughes is being schooled on the difference between what the rule says and what HE thinks it says.
Jamie claims that existing rules will continue unchanged for ag. [Neither Hughes nor Stephens seem to understand the difference between what staff told them the language means and what the language MEANS. We all read it to burden ag, but council doesn't. I guess council will be there to argue on each issue that arises.]

Where is Jamie? Anyone know why he can't show up for arguably the most important council meeting this year.
March 5, 2014 at 10:02 AM

Jane Cable points out the obvious: no one understands the proposed CAO. No one can read and know. Everything is going to be decided by the director. Jane doesn't understand what they are trying to do; she doesn;t think that COuncil knows what they are trying to do. Hughes takes umbrage.
March 5, 2014 at 10:05 AM

Stephanie Buffum: she thinks that Council understands what it is doing. COmmends staff for their work. Stephanie thinks that CUPs and PUPs are "opportunities" for farmers to do what they need to do. [Stephanie has a full-time lawyer that someone else pays for. Farmers, not so much.]
March 5, 2014 at 10:08 AM

Kyle Loring: the aforesaid paid for lawyer loves the changes. Surprise. even he thinks that there are still problems. Kyle predicts what his buddies at the Growth Board will do. [wait--if KYLE thinks there are still problems with this new CAO, why are we launching forward?]

Kyle again goes over time because the Friends are allowed to go over time--they are SPECIAL.
March 5, 2014 at 10:11 AM

Hughes and Stephens seem to be saying what Shireene Hale said from the very beginning--you can keep doing what you're doing. If so, why is the language changed?

Do you trust the CDPD to help and guide you and the Friends not to interfere? If so, this CAO is no problem.
March 5, 2014 at 10:20 AM

Council calls time out [to consult with staff?] and comes back to have Thomas recite all the answers. Thomas believes that it all comes down to implementation--relying on staff to work with citizens. That works so well, doesn't it?
March 5, 2014 at 10:28 AM
Jamie says something but can't be heard well. Where IS he?

Bob points out the basic issues that remain--the new rule still makes it very difficult to use their property. No problem identified and so burdensome solutions aren't related to any problem. Going to make it difficult and expensive for ordinary citizens to use their property.
Too complicated to understand. Too much discretion in Director. Why do we even have "tree protection"? [Good question--ask Shireene.]
March 5, 2014 at 10:37 AM

Hughes now claims that they have no obligation to clean up the new CAO but just to respond to the Growth Board. He seems not to understand that the Council response to the Growth Board must be coherent and logical.

Hughes seems to think that council must DO something today. Why? What can happen? Why didn't council appeal from the Growth Board demands?

Oh good, let's go back into the weeds.

WHAT? Council is planning to come back later to FIX this mess? Are they crazy??
March 5, 2014 at 10:46 AM
Well Rick really wants to do something today but he says he isn't sure quite what. Right.

Anyway, where is Jamie? Is this a little irregular, his big televised face staring down like Big Brother. What if the other council critters decided they wanted to phone it in as well. Is that a quorum is it even legal? This is truly wierd.
March 5, 2014 at 10:47 AM
Talking about ag limitations again, how the farm plan will become the "key to the door that will open many ag exemptions." Assuming an voluntary steward program is in place with more money of course to administrate it.

Now what one little fiefdom have we here that holds those fun filled farm plan keys to your "right to plant stuff"?

The Conservation District of course. Remember them? Sure you do. Bwahahaha
March 5, 2014 at 11:08 AM
Jamie is at some friends house and plans to raid their refrigerator. So that is good to know.

Rick is the chair so he likes to play the role and believes he has an agenda to get done. He also gets to decide when to call a one hour lunch break because he needs to go off and think things through. Since he already said he does not not know what to do, he needs some time now (one hour) to go touch base with the folks who will tell him what to do.

When he returns, will he be Mr. Decision Man?
March 5, 2014 at 11:39 AM
Staff trying to mollify Bob, Bob is pushing back. Rick is frustrated, he really wants 'concensus.' Jaime glowering down from a big screen.
Staff basically comes out and says oh you poor thing, you must be so confused, it is true these regulations are so complex only planners who live and breathe this stuff 24/7 believe they understand them. And, hey, its pretty easy, come on over we'll give you a slice of Shirene's famous Marionberry pie and a cuppa and we'll just skip through this. 
But you must pass this today blah mumble burble ..."Bob. 
Bob: Just Say No. The Hairball from Hell.

Bob just said he would not vote for this, at least I think so ...
March 5, 2014 at 1:07 PM
Bob votes 'Nay'

Good for Bob.

As a gesture, Bob actually made the motion for this thing knowing it would pass anyway, but he did it in a humorous way saying he didn't want Rick to have a heart attack.

Chuckles all around.

Now, Rick wants the council to draft a resolution to lay out the road-map for the "fix-it job" he wants to press on next.

End of session.

Want something in this resolution? This might be fun. The Friends may entertain a modest proposal or two.

My brain hurts.
AP Seattle: March 5 2014

"San Juan County today passed what will widely be considered the most restrictive and onerous land use regulations in the United States. The Special UN Envoy for Human Habitation praised the County Council for its foresight and perseverance in advancing the goals of Agenda21. He said, "San Juan County has shown the world that the evils of private property need never again hinder the quest for climate justice and whirled peas!"
When the County passed the first dysfunctional CAOs we posted these photos and joked  that these were photos of the actual moment the CAO passed. We repeat them again for emphasis. Stephens and "Mr. Fix It" Hughes just burned this County.

Monday, March 3, 2014

It's Development-Specific Stupid

On March 5, this Council will approve yet another CAO. Like all the other CAO messes, this latest snafu will buffer wetlands and other critical areas instead of buffering/mitigating the development effects that purportedly threaten critical areas. Instead of basing mitigation on the scale of proposed development effects, CAO restrictions will be based on a subjective ranking of your undeveloped areas.

It's backwards. It always has been backwards, and as long as critical areas themselves, rather than development effects, are the stuff of buffers and restrictions, there will never be nexus and proportionality. In the last CAO, the County took great pride in claiming that they had derived "site-specific buffers." The fatal defect, however, was that they did not derive "development-specific buffers." All the factors necessary to derive a County-specified buffer are present on any piece of property whether one builds a garden shed, a lead smelter, the Empire State Building ... or nothing at all. Buffer imposition is triggered by development, but not related to its effects in any way.

Nothing has changed. In the March 5 CAO, once again buffers are triggered by development, but not related to development impacts.

And this strange fact leads Councilman Hughes on the same search as that of his predecessor, Councilman Fralick ... looking for any weasely way to find some justifiable paradox that will allow Eastsound (and other urban growth areas, but mainly Eastsound) to have smaller buffers. Hughes wants the critical areas of more developed areas to be buffered less than rural areas ... and he lives quite comfortably with this desire even though it would undermine the "buffer protection" logic of someone more perspicacious.