Thursday, May 7, 2015

Our Phenomenal Growth Rates

San Juan County had a larger population in 1920 (3,605) than in 1960 (2,872). For most of San Juan County's history, population growth has been negligible.

Then the 70's hit. The population of the islands doubled. The Growth Management Act (GMA) was enacted in 1990. We were not required to fully plan under the GMA because our population was less than 50,000, but our growth rate exceeded 20% over the previous decade. That triggered a special provision of the GMA which allowed us to opt out of fully planning if our County Commissioners were to vote for exclusion. However, our Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) at the time affirmed our full participation in the GMA via Resolution 113-1990 (see below).

While we had phenomenal rates of growth for several decades (103% during the 70s, 28% during the 80s, and 40% during the 90s), we were growing from a low base. In raw numbers, we only added about 12,000 people to our population from 1970 to 2010. Annualized growth over that time was 3.2%. Since 2010, annualized growth is far less than 1% ... we are essentially back to negligible population growth.

A few other curious points that may be of interest to some readers ...

In 1990, the Land Bank was formed. At its inception, it was forecast to protect 5,000 acres and 10 miles of shoreline over the next quarter century. According to the Land Bank's annual reports, it had achieved this goal by 2013.

More people live in King, Pierce, and Snohomish Counties than in all the rest of the state combined.

The 12,000 people added to San Juan County's population over the 40 years from 1970 to 2010 is equivalent to about 6 months of population growth in King County (based on their growth from 2004 to 2014).

Lopez Island (population 2,177) is approximately the same size as the island of Manhattan, which has a population of 1.62 million. In fact, if current rates of growth in Washington state were to continue apace, the entire state wouldn't achieve the current population of just New York City until another 25 years.


  1. Some other interesting facts, as this thread could become quite imstructive. According to the, there are 13,229 housing units, 7,963 which are occupied full time, and 5,266 units which are classified as "vacant". Which implies vacation rentals, seasonal second homes, ADU's, whatever. Lots of property tax bills go to addresses off Islands.

  2. We need to have a rational discussion about disinfecting our local government. We need to have a serious talk about eradicating the central-urbanized-large metro-planning mentality.
    This is actually easily accomplished with strong leadership. Replace a number of department heads and high level staff positions.
    We are rural. This isn't King County. We shouldn't be in GMA.
    And when the uber-planner-bureaucrat, Mike "superfly" Thomas is finally shown the door, DON'T HIRE USING PROTHMAN!
    Any questions?
    Oh yeah, if someone was a failure at public works, don't transfer them to CDP. And vis-a-verse.

  3. Hiring failures or transfering failures seems to be standard operating procedure for the County.
    Can't manage garbage grants at Public Works?
    Have no experience as a planner?
    No experience with the build in code?
    You're the perfect hack to run CD&P!
    Are you a hack uber-planner from King County who ran into trouble with the workers there and needed to run away?
    You're PERFECT for a small county with a few thousand people!
    When will the stupidity ever end?

  4. In my perambulations about these sylvan shores over the recent years, I try to stay in touch with some folks I've grown acquainted with who moved to these parts back in the days of the great migrations out of the '70s. Many independent types looking for new opportunity in a land of great charm discovered the islands. Land was inexpensive, zoning was reasonable, the locals welcoming.

    The doubling of the population back then, even small by absolute numbers nevertheless drove fears of population projections of a quarter million within a few decades unless something was done. Something was done to allay those fears (GMA, etc.) When the past projections didn't even come close to current reality (kind of like climate models) the response has been, rather than to dial back on restrictive regulations and allow for some growth flexibility again, our entrenched Casandra Chorus simply doubled down and pushed for even more restrictive regulation combined with a strange atavistic fear looking to roll back the clock and return to some kind of imaged ecotopia run by tribal elders,

    And yet. And yet. When I chat with some of the emerging generation of old timers (those free thinking risk taking creative independent folks who found there way here back in the days) I now make it a point to ask a question. Because I was so surprised by the answer I got the first time I asked an old friend, a real dyed-in-the-wool back-to-the-land appropriate-technology type: "How would you feel if 10,000 more people lived here year around?" The answer was enthusiastically positive. We have the carrying capacity. This would rejuvenate on so many levels. Bring younger working families, good for the schools, increase local retail service markets, create new small business opportunity, reduce the average age discrepancy and income imbalance.

    This was not what I expected to hear from old hippie crafts folks holding on to their 20 acres in the back woods. Is this a trend? As you go around these islands, why not raise this question over lunch, or the drink after work with someone from the '70s migration cohort and see what you learn? You may be pleasantly surprised, like I was.

    1. I like your idea. I suspect the answers are very island dependent. Lopez, in my opinion has a hard, hard core of anti-anything types, with a burning desire to impose a pre-industrial era lifestyle on all of us. Not let us choose, but impose it by way of controlling our choices of what we eat, how we travel, what energy we can use, and of course, elimimating the evil of the internet.

    2. The image of Lopez as a bastion of insane anti-anythings is at least in part an artificial construct of who the council chooses to sit on committees. The fact is that the council only chooses Lopez crazies to sit on the citizen committees. Other Lopezians apply, but are ignored. There are applicants for some of the vacant Lopez positions committees that have had good qualified applicants for literally months, if not years. The dominance of the Lopez insane set is now maintained by the council manufacturing a certain point of view from Lopez.

      The council is governing from the fringes, and making appointments consistent with that tactic.

  5. Some of the "whereas's" in that resolution are a joke, a bad one. Funding promised. GMA consistent with the Comp Plan when it's become an ordeal where the opposite occurs. Polls showing we want to remain rural, and yet we don't have a rural element. We have complete streets and guardrails, but no rural element! Put in another superhighway runway Rachel Dietzman!

    I'm sorry, but according to the way I read EHB 1224 and the amendments to RCW 36.70A.040, .060, and .280, we are eligible to withdraw.

    What the is wrong with this council that they are not talking about this?

    1. Here are some important links regarding GMA withdrawal.

  6. Speaking of phenomenal growth, it would interesting to know how the County employment has grown over the past 20 years.

  7. @6:33AM,
    Do you mean "County Employment" in terms of raw numbers of FTEs? or do you mean the overall weight gain, on average, for a county worker? Pretty phenomenal growth either way if you take a look.

  8. A few books of interest:

    Small Town America, Robert Wuthnow. This guy did over seven hundred interviews of people living in small towns. (Pardon me please if I get wrong attributes as I'm reading three of these on the night stand.)

    Boom Town USA, Jack Schultz. Don't let the title throw you, this guy gets at our problems with a march through countless examples of success and failure. I think he might entertain your disagreement if you do.

    Challenges for Rural America in the Twenty First Century, David L,. Brown. Have not broken the cover on this one, but guessed it has the stats.

    Rethinking Rural, Don Albrecht. A professor's book, nothing exciting for me so far, but he gets the isolation and the global pass by.

    It is obvious to me, and has been for a long time, we need to focus a whole lot more on the economics of our community and a whole lot less on planning generating only more regulation at the injury of economic necessity.

    In my view we desperately need a whole new approach to who and what we are. Are we a community of expensive fancy EMPTY homes and a suction cup for tourism or are we better than the vape of Newport and Nantucket.

    At the very minimum we need a QUALIFIED person on County staff to seek out appropriate employment, 365, for San Juan County. A sales person for us, if you must call it that. But NOT a three month tourist bump like FH envisions.

    (I bought these books hoping to get a list of good employment ideas for small towns. I will keep working on this and post here, but any help would be appreciated.)

  9. I'm sure sorry, but REALLY! Enough social Engineering already!
    We are damn lucky we have tourism. Because it's part time. We don't need your help! Shit! Fire the fucking county government, roll back the God damned regulations, allow people the opera unity to construct guest houses and employee housing and let people decide what works for them! THEM! THE PEOPLE!

  10. Excuse me but empty houses are not a bad thing, I would say it's a pretty good deal! For the county and for the residents. Unlike the land bank, empty houses bring in way more than they take!

  11. There was a time when people were content to live free in a tent, or in the back yard of a friend, life on these islands isn't a free right but a privelidge that comes with sacrifice. Why should it be anything less or more? Why do we need the social police telling us it's not good enough

  12. Problem is other things start falling apart when you don't have a healthy economic base and a reasonably diverse population.

    Think, schools, resident serving retail, resident serving craft workers and repair people, and social stuff like restaurants that operate year round.

    Empty houses get you property taxes that's true, but other than some T-shirt sales that's about it.

    And, there are plenty of islands here that have the isolation for those who want it.

    Go to Salt Spring Island which has about 10,000 more in population and it is hard to notice any difference from SJI. What you do notice is the average age in this population seems a lot lower and the general economic activity seems a lot more active. Empty store fronts sitting for years? Nope. A general shut down, five months a year? Nope.

    Frankly, I think those who want to keep the GMA, need an eye exam. (Yes, you can STILL get them year round ON ISLAND.)

  13. The only thing growth sustains is government employment. I want the opposite, because frankly incomes aren't goin up! Except for government. There is no way to sustain the growth in government. Haven't we pushed enough people away yet!

  14. Maybe we're pushing the wrong people away, if that's true. One thing I know is true is those of us who have tried to marshal an army to combat the ECO Zealots have had a hard time doing it. Not because we're dull and boring, but because there is no army out there.

    I have posted these numbers before, but one more time in hope readers will come to better understand the situation. Here's the example:

    There are about 3,550 shoreline properties in SJC. Using the assessors records we find about 2,300 of these property owners get their tax bills sent to an address off island. Mostly Seattle, Bellevue (you knew that), Bellingham, even Anacortes.

    In that 2,300 total are about 630 addresses that are not even in Washington State.

    OK, I admit it is an assumption, but I think we can assume most people get property tax bills sent to their actual residence. Surely we can mostly agree on that.

    So trying to build an army to take on government, FOSJ, with those proud associated ECO Zealots (big D) when about 65% of your potential recruits are AWOL is tough. And tourists are OK but they don't vote either.

    The point is that if those empty, almost never used Shoreline homes had families living in them, it would be a formidable force, maybe a winning force.

    Now imagine if population base numbers offset that second home vacancy which of course will never change much. Now then I believe you will not only have a better economic base, but also enough people to finally bring some sense to local government. There are rural towns that have done it.

    Good paying full time YEAR ROUND jobs is the best and perhaps the only way to get this place into economical and social health and if that is called social engineering, so be it.

  15. that is simply the dumbest thing I've ever heard! Sure let's double the cost of services to everyone, oh and he'll the fact we live on an island, with dwindling water resources, we don't need to drink, he'll why don't we just pay folks to move here so they can vote correctly maybe we can buy their votes. Your ideas are idiotic at best, meanwhile those of us here now, living on minimal fixed incomes are destroyed in the process. Yes we came here for the traditional reasons, to live freely on the remote fringe to escape from people like you that can't just mind your own business.

    1. Minding our own business? I can't think of anything we would like better to do. But instead we have the county government telling us how many feet away from a wetland we need to be to have picnics and the like. The regulation we live with is intrusive, costly and unnecessary. What is the problem?? No, it's not water. For one thing, look around. Apart from having no or few fresh water problems, we have lots of salt water.

      How did y'all get your "minimal fixed incomes"? That usually means welfare to me. Most of us don't have fixed incomes; we have incomes that we scrabble for every day.

  16. I don't understand what either of you are saying, but I know this place is already a goner. Government isn't connected to the well being of the community and can grow as long as voters allow it to grow. There is no sign of voters getting fatigued about bailing out the government. As far as minding your own business, part of that would involve not voting to raise the taxes of your neighbors every time there is a tax on the ballot. Voting for more taxes is not what I would call "minding your own business." In all the years I have been here, I can only think of three especially outrageous tax measures that have failed. Otherwise, it's automatic.

    Dwindling water resources? Who made that up? Sounds like you've got a bad well, but there is no widespread shortage of water here.

  17. Well paying, year round jobs is "idiotic at best." Well no wonder we have economic fatigue here.

    The fact again is that we have plenty of places, and it appears we always will, for those who want to live off the "grid."

    Nor does a modest population increase double the cost of services. Just the opposite as the cost basis is spread. But it is true as mentioned above the knee jerk vote to constantly increase taxes and expand government must end.

    With more fulltime family residents I think you might have a chance for such change.

    Water shortage? My pond is full and every pond around here looks full. Is this going to be FOSJ's newest celebrated cause.?

  18. How many wells have run dry in the last 4 years, sea water intrusion another count, developement increases runoff. Reduces already spoken for 174% of recharge capacity driving water resources well under demand. Add to that requirement and we are only askin for trouble. somebody do your homework. Water is, and always has! Been a problem. Skeptics and sewers on the rock is also height expensive as well. The islands are not capable of providing but for limited use. In so many ways. Why are we so bent on furthering the demise of the natural beauty of these lands. And but to line the pockets of a very few.

    1. Why don't you answer your own question? How many wells have run dry in the last 4 years? Tell us about sea water intrusion. Tell us about runoff. We're 74% above recharge capacity? Really? Explain that. You seem to be very much in command of your desperate, gasping-for-air, we-are-headed-for-doom facts. You are right out of eco-doom central casting, so tell us more. When will we all die of thirst? When will we all starve? When will our precious islands be turned into a garbage heap by the Koch brothers? Who is raking in the money around here. Yes, do explain that. I'd love to hear you explain who's making money here.

      Got any more melodramatic canards to throw out there. I think you forgot that we'll all be killed in our beds by sea level rise and a lack of oxygen. What about surfactants and eel grass. It's been quite a while since Suds Kaill was claiming that every dead fish in his sewerqarium was a harbinger of imminent ecosystem collapse. Quick, we need more restrictions, a tax, a county committee, and a new intergovernmental committee to save us.

      Magically, tourists don't seem to drink water or cause the demise of the natural beauty of these islands. No one seems to make money off of them either. Tourists good. Year round jobs bad. We can handle unlimited numbers of tourists, but if we want a few more year round jobs instead of hordes of tourists, then we should be burned at the stake for despoiling our islands irreplaceable beauty.

      Strong like tourist, smart like Friend.

      The CAO virtually made all pond building illegal. I suppose you opposed that aspect of the CAOs because ponds can be a valuable water storage device and you're so concerned about our water. For the same reason, I'm sure you favor desalination too.

      I'd write more, but I'm growing weak from lack of water and malnourishment since our islands are dying and sinking and drying out all at the same time and I just ... can't ... growing weaker ... we're ... all ... dea ....

  19. The Friends and their friends have been predicting ecosystem collapse for 35 years, and all I've got is this lousy economy to show for it.

  20. The only people living full time around me are renters with full time jobs. One works at Roche; one works for the Cask & Schooner; one works cleaning houses; and one works at Browne's.

    Now, as John Evans fears, if these property owners decide to max out their income will they toss these people (one with two kids, all are voters) for the largesse of Air BNB?

    Trying to force us to all to go back to wiping our ass with a rock, will not solve the economic problems we have.

  21. To those fearful souls who worry about just about anything you can name, relax, you won't be blamed ever for anything.

    Thinking people can, without government, hire someone to help these islands attract appropriate business with good paying, year round jobs.

    And when we get a few of em there are plenty of excellent sites for them that won't bother you in the least.

    We don't need your OK.

  22. Yes, we use public money to sell the islands to tourists and that form of state fascism seems to work fairly well, corrupt as it is.

    We do have an Economic Development Council but that pathetic little wart on the rear end of the Machine has been co-opted for so many years its only job is to nudge things behind the scenes a bit to help maintain the status quo for its yearly stipend of a hundred grand or so more or less. So you have job selling resource sitting right there in front of you. Except they won't or cannot do the job they are supposed to. Do not expect great things from them.

    Anyway, Salt Spring Island is a great comparison to think about. It is about the size of San Juan a bit larger I guess. Bigger population and yes you won't feel it when you are over there, no sense of sprawl, suburban cul de sacs or shopping malls. Check out the Farm Institute just outside of Ganges and their Fall Fair, amazing outfit.

    What you do feel is a vitality that is lacking here. One of the reasons is their proximity and ferry service between Victoria and Vancouver, that is a huge competitive advantage that we don't have, unless we get our act together about commuter runs to Bellingham somehow. That however would kill eelgrass and chilllllddddreennnnn.

    Also, Salt Spring lies within the Victoria administrative region or whatever they call it, so they can draw resources from much larger public transportation networks, yes there is even bus service on Salt Spring. That is of course due to the socialist commies up there massing along our borders ready to seize our lands at the first opportunity.

    Speaking of which, and then there is the Island Trust. Uh oh. Imagine if the FOSJ really became part of government, officially. Our little county clowncil critters love to go to those big heap important bi-lateral cross border inter-governmental acronym soup Salish Sea eco-summits up there so they can feel like they are part of "Big Picture."

    But I digress ... the point is that Salt Spring seems to be in much better shape in many ways than San Juan, with a much larger year round population base and a younger average age. With a strong environment ethic and although I'm sure there are howls of planetary doom up there to put our local wackos to shame, seems to me their carrying capacity is doing OK. And please don't get me started about the Jersey Islands in the English Channel.

  23. i hate the mean snarky people on this blog who attack people and name-call anyone with a different opinion than themselves. it doesn't exactly engender intelligent debate, discussion, and problem solving. i won't be back to watch some of you attack people with solutions and ideas different than yours.