Saturday, May 9, 2015

The Incredible Shrinking Buildout

Not very long ago, the word "buildout" was standard fare in the government lexicon of this county. It was equal measures of bogeyman, planning-speak, and rallying cry. "Buildout" is the theoretical maximum population of the county if all parcels were developed. The whole "buildout" topic was fertile ground for predictions of a dystopian San Juan future.

And speaking of a dystopian future, one of my favorite examples of fictional Friends writing was their 2002 Spring newsletter titled Managing Growth. The subtitle was "News from the Voice of the Environment, Spring 2002." It's a hoot and a classic, and I urge everyone to read it. In addition to wild predictions of growth and the Friends bragging about how they were saving us, it contains a profile of then-President Lynn Bahrych.
Lynn Bahrych, University of Washington professor, high-powered Seattle attorney, heroine of the Comp Plan battles, and delightful companion — a true renaissance woman. How did FRIENDS get so lucky as to get Lynn Bahrych as Board President?
Delightful. It actually says "delightful."

As entertaining as that description may be, the best aspects about that Newsletter are its predictions of horrifying growth and related effects. It says:
  • More than a million people will be added to the State of Washington’s population in the next decade and, without a dramatic change in trends, San Juan County will get considerably more than its fair share of them. [Note: the State's population grew by 830,419 from 2000 to 2010, almost all of it to urban areas. San Juan County received 1,592 people, which was less than its pro rata share.]
  • San Juan County’s population and housing growth are not only out of control, but they’ve actually accelerated relative to other counties since the adoption of the current Comp Plan.[Note: our current growth rate of about half of one-percent per year is far less than the state's. We are one of the slowest growing counties in the state.]
  • The projected build-out population numbers are so huge that the Plan offers virtually no control over growth for at least the next twenty years. Only as County population approaches the build-out level will the Plan start to manage growth rates. Although the Comp Plan is coy about build out numbers, the County Planning Department has projected a buildout population (without guest houses) of between 45,000 and 57,000. [Note: see later in this post.]
  • The impact on traffic is likely to correspond to the growth in population: a 40-50 percent increase in the next decade, a doubling of traffic volumes by 2020, and worse if the BOCC’s liberal approach to guest houses prevails. Nancy Spaulding, a 30 year resident of San Juan Island, comments: “In the time we’ve been living on the island, we’ve seen our small road turn into a busy highway. [Note: as a result of the Scenic Byway and the availability of federal money for road building, our Public Works Department has been building roads out of step with our rural character, despite citizen complaints. Growth in government, not growth in population, has been driving road building.]
  • Another consequence of growth will be an increase in crime, probably at a faster rate than the increase in population. As we live closer and closer together, and as the gap between “haves” and “have nots” widens, we can expect significant growth in crime rates. Attorney and FRIENDS Board member Maile Johnson comments: “Growth breeds crime at an accelerating pace – if current trends continue, the County will need court space beyond anything the BOCC has considered.”[Note: we've seen drugs and crime grow here, but it hasn't been because of growth. If anything, it's been because of lack of growth and opportunity].
  • Finally, there will be the summer crowds ... there’s no reason to expect a change in the traditional summer ratio of one visitor per resident. (Or, putting it another way, whatever the population, it will double in the summer.) Lynn Bahrych, President of FRIENDS, asks pointedly: “Can you imagine a July Fourth with 200,000 people in the San Juans?” [Note: for the most part, the Friends have steadfastly supported tourism and tourism initiatives such as the Scenic Byway; however, when it is in their financial interests, they oppose specific tourist initiatives, such as the "buildout" of the Lopez Islander Resort or the sale of Helen King's B&B.]
But back to buildout specifically ... when our County adopted its first Comprehensive Plan around 2000, it was required to downzone in rural areas and upzone in "urban" areas. The result was that 75,000 acres in the county (out of 110,000 total acres) were downzoned. According to estimates from Planning Commissioners at the time, more than 10,000 development rights were eliminated in order to bring our Comprehensive Plan into GMA compliance. After that happened, the Friends then pushed to do away with guest houses too, and they were largely successful.

The net result is that, several years before the current job-killing CAOs even appeared, our longterm ability to grow and build in these islands was crushed. And, in addition to the Friends, many familiar names participated in (and benefited from) these events. Note that Tom Cowan was a BOCC member who approved of our GMA participation, who later that same year was a driving force in founding the Land Bank, and who still is a Land Bank Commissioner to this day, who went on to found the Marine Resources Committee and the Marine Stewardship Network, and who has had a long and successful career as a consultant for Ecology, and who has worked on everything from the San Juan Initiative to Puget Sound Partnership activities. Rhea Miller was a BOCC member during Comp Plan downzoning, which coincidentally also resulted in upzoning in certain areas to allow for rural residential clusters. Rural residential clusters is the scheme that was invented to "solve" our affordable housing crisis via developments such as the Lopez Community Land Trust, which Miller co-runs. She's not alone ... one of the former executive directors of the Friends runs the San Juan Community Home Trust. These people worked to restrict housing by tens of thousands of units and also eliminate relatively low cost and affordable guest houses, while promoting their own pet high-density developments. The list of beneficiaries of the "new GMA economy" invented during the 90s and 2000s is long, and they still hide in plain sight at CD&P (or DCD as it is now called), the various Land Trusts, the Conservation District, the LIO, the Madrona Institute, the Stewardship Network, and on many of our county committees.

The effect of the GMA and the war-on-buildout was to eliminate many private opportunities for growth and economic development, and replace it with a growing mountain of government sanctioned bureaucracies, committees, and quangos ... attachment points for the revolving door of government officials and insiders ... places where careers were built and riches were made, lubricated by grant funding that poured in to "save the San Juans". It's as if government growth body-snatched the private growth that might have happened.

Government grew while our private economy perished. The San Juans weren't "saved" ... the San Juans that everybody knew and loved were legislated out of existence for 30 pieces of grant money, and the GMA has been the Via Dolorosa.

Where do we stand on buildout today? Nearly 60% of parcels have some development on them already. We estimate that a further 20% of parcels are protected from development (e.g., Land Bank, parks, National Park, National Monument, etc.). Consequently, we are probably close to 75% built out (i.e., 60% out of 80% available), and if we consider that many people own more than one parcel and will probably never build on every parcel they own, our buildout proportion may be even higher. We are probably close to full buildout.

The Office of Financial Management puts out growth projections every five years for every county in the state. Each county projection consists of a high, middle, and low projection trend. The projection used by our County in planning documents and forecasts has been the middle trend; however, we have consistently failed to achieve the growth trend of even the lowest projection since 2002. The most recent growth projection for San Juan County has a flat middle growth trend, and the lowest growth trend projection shows a decline.

We have a growth problem. (Except for tourism) We aren't growing at all.


  1. Feathering your own nest may be the second oldest profession. What a bunch of suckers we were. Looking back on it, I can't believe we listened to Rhea Miller at all. All the while in office, she was securing development rights to build a land trust "community" that would be beholden to her financially and ideologically while providing her and her partner with a longterm steady cashflow. Gheesus we were suckers. The conditions for it were literally created out of thin air by robbing everyone else of development rights. Legal robbery. Housing, food, broadband, energy, solid waste. They'll tell you how you should think about all of them. Enough is enough.

    1. Broadband and energy are de-growth levers. It should be no surprise that Chom and Chris of LCLT are involved. Restrict the land. Restrict the water. Restrict energy. Restrict broadband. They can make direct, though false, eco arguments against land, water, energy, but they haven't figured out how to make a direct eco attack on broadband. That's why they ask questions. We want transparency. Uh huh. They're playing the same game -- restrictions on anything that could be used to make life livable here. The scam is head snapping if you think about it. They get us to worry about not having enough land, and the solution is to place restrictions on land. Voila, there isn't enough land. Same with water. Same with everything. We legislate restrictions that are far more onerous that we would encounter naturally. It's a mentality of scarcity and perpetual crisis that is always solved by more restrictions. The funny thing is that the professional con artist degrowthers find friends in the stupid wing of the conservatives. We have players from all camps who have spent their entire lives in the GMA economy and have no awareness of it, or that it needs to be destroyed and rebuilt.

    2. The "restriction is the answer" crowd would help a man dying of thirst by insisting he apply for a permit to cut his glass of water in half. This is the same approach that California has to its water problems. Instead of building desalination plants and pricing water fairly and making better use of wastewater, California's answer is restriction on top of restriction on top of press report about projected death by restriction.

      Here's how you spot the con artists among us. Anyone who proposes another government plan or program for these islands is living in the 90s. Anyone who supports more government or more taxes is living in the 90s. The con artists should have been thoroughly debunked by now. If you're not creating a new future for these islands by dismantling the future that was created for us, then you are part of the problem.

    3. @11:14 is correct. The grand design of restrictions is to control growth not solve real problems. The degrowthers have had a tin-hat environmental complaint against cell phones and have kept that rolling for years. They haven't been able to come up with anything about fiber, so instead they'll go for a direct power grab to take over Opalco. Can't wait to see who will throw their tin-hat in the ring for Opalco board in the elections to come.

    4. It's nothing short of government brutality through redtape.

    5. This thread could be labeled a "community conversation" you know.

    6. If it's a community conversation, the deliverable will be a word cloud.

  2. Oh my. Government grew while our private economy died. The San Juans weren't "saved" ... the San Juans that everybody knew and loved were legislated out of existence for 30 pieces of grant money, and the GMA has been the Via Dolorosa.

  3. Local county government is growing.
    Local county expenditures are growing.
    Local NGO grant funded scams continue to grow.
    Stupidity of our elected officials grows daily.
    I see growth everywhere. Just not the right kind.
    Sort of like cancer.
    A lot like cancer.
    The disease of over planning.

  4. Now your on to something! Poetry in motion. Yes our council people are the perfect idiots. And we put them there. I'm feeling some serious guilt myself, I supported Rick, nice guy but my God lock stock and barrel he fell right into place. They believe in what they are doing too! Look at the mess we are in now! There is no resemblance left of a community we had just a short time ago. There isn't even a means to get an answer. I think the only thing to do know is ignore them, defy them, wait for an opportunity

    1. No, most of them don't believe in anything but a fat paycheck relative to their skill set (one that would not get them far in the real world) plus benefits that most of us can just dream about.

      Mike Thomas is just Pete Rose with a fake smile. Just as dismissive and condescending to the plebes who pay taxes. Just as manipulative of our elected officials (there, there, don't you worry your pretty little head about how we've subcontracted out many of the functions of the CPD to cronies yet haven't reduced the CDP staff, I'll take care of that little annoyance, --why don't you go to a salmon recovery meeting or something? Just as blindly supportive of his idiot staff, because--you know--he needs to have lots of staff to supervise else her can't justify his $125k or 150k or whatever. Gibboney--the only person who could make us say "we miss Shireene."

  5. That 2002 Newsletter is great. It should be proof that nothing the FOSJ has ever said is true. They should have no credibility.

  6. Don't be so quick to dismiss the FOSJ credibility.
    Come on. Let's be fair. They raised holy hell about the guest house issue. Sued the county, pummelled the GMA hearings with appeals and general abuse.
    At least some of their key leaders like Vivian Burnette didn't just go construct a guesthouse illegallyand enjoy the benefits of said guesthouse.
    You can't call them hypocrites.
    Jeesh. You guys must not care about eelgrass or the children.

  7. "Delightful" is a Lummi word and means "mean, hypocritical battleaxe." I recall nothing more vividly about Ms. Bahrych--the serial divorcée--than her strident accusations in Council meeting about the 30 odd people who spoke to council begging them (Ranker, and two others who have already faded from memory) not to ban guesthouses--she accused them of being selfish and interested in nothing but money. Which was laughable as most wanted a small guesthouse for annual visits of family or friends. But Bahrych and Friends launched forward to ban guesthouses ("DOUBLE DENSITY" OH MY!!) and to keep people from building big houses on the shoreline and from building almost any dock. Except for HERS. Her 6000 Sq Ft mansion sat on the very edge of the shoreline cliff, had a studio that walked and talked just like a guesthouse, and enough impermeable surface to give a planning biddy a heart attack. She also had what was rumored to be the biggest private dock in the county. This compound was worth some $4 or 5 million at the time, money apparently squeezed from one of the unfortunate exes.

    Yes, she was the first and the grandest of the "Do as I say, not as I do" Friends--moving on to Vivien Burnett and her unpermitted guesthouse, and now Kevin Ranker, who seems to have miraculously broken loose from CDP a building permit for a new guesthouse on a teeny space right on the shoreline. How does that happen, I wonder?

  8. I think the Fiends have moved on from eelgrass and the children to oil tankers and the children--more money can be squeezed from big energy companies than shoreline homeowners.

  9. So our local economy is in the toilet. Quite evidenced by vacant space in our downtown areas.
    Yet government size and regulation continues to grow.
    You can bet that along with all that government growth, corruption has grown as well.
    How does that saying go?
    The coverup is worse than the crime?
    I'm sure there is a lot going on we don't know about.

  10. This week, 11 – 15 May, is the time to file to run for office in November. I would like to see everyone who engages in intelligent discussion on this Blog get out of your chairs and run for something that you can make a difference at. How about if the TH makes a rule that you can only gripe and complain (G&C) if you have filed to run for office and are willing to try and make a difference. Of course this excludes me (as I like to G&C).

  11. Out of the GMA. OUT NOW. (I stand by my pledge of $1,000.00 as seed money cash green to any person who has some knowledge of the process involved and will get us doing whatever it takes to get out. I'm positive there is other monetary support out there.

    Many thanks to the TH for carefully and thoroughly outlining the horrific details and those responsible for getting us in the mess we have today.

    PS: It appears Ranker has got the new ferry on the run to his new digs. When will the rest of us see a new ferry? Never.

  12. If Chom or Chris Gracen write a post OPALCO election, drivel spewing letter to the editor and tons of people have the ability to read it, what are the odds that no one gives a shit anyway?

  13. Hindsight is great isn't it. I remember as one of the victims of the FOSJ guest house fiasco, that a few of us discussed trying to bring a barrage of lawsuits at FOSJ. My wife and I were so pissed and upset at the wholesale destruction of normal family lives and financial planning wrought by FOSJ that I was actually dreaming of somehow getting the FOSJ membership list and having each and every person on it served at say 1AM.

    So why didn't we? Smarter and cooler heads pointed out that FOSJ would welcome the attack and use it as a huge fund raising tool...."PLeeese pleeese save us from those crazy spoiled guest house people seeking to destroy our islands, and our natural environment!"

    Despicable as it is, you have to hand it to the bastards/bitches. They concoct problems out of thin air--how many years has the Chevron refinery been in Anacortes and of course no FOSJ member drives a car--to maybe their latest hand wringer, the water, the water, the water!
    You name it, these people can easily convince the DOE, GMA board, and every other anti-people entity, including questionable judgeships, to join in a sky is falling death chant.

    Hindsight. Look at the record.
    Build out--never has been a problem, may never happen.
    Over population--what's that? Not a problem, in fact the exact opposite. Not even modest population growth, now that's a problem.
    Where buildings are built? Never has been a problem, unless you're Commissioner Jamie who built so far over the bank that he has to have expensive sea walls.
    Docks? Golly, they move up and down with the tide and as the Sun travels through our sky as we move and tilt the shadow from the dock to the bottom moves also. Eel Grass seems to do well wherever it wants to. (The fish at Roche love the docks, and there of millions of the little devils right now.)
    Second units? Never a problem. Most jurisdictions encourage second units of limited size as a benefit for low cost housing and the focusing of development.
    Oil spills? I know, dumb luck. Well no actually because important navigation rules, pathways, have been in effect for decades.
    Water? Some places like South Lopez might have a problem, but most islands have excellent water storage facilities and desal has done wonders when it has been properly set up.

    The "problems" we have, and we do have some, as so well pointed out here, can be seen as largely generated by useless, pointless and damaging regulation promulgated by FOSJ.

  14. Broken Trust = Poor LeadersMay 14, 2015 at 3:14 PM

    Two Israeli diplomats walk in to a bar....
    The first one says, "you ever been to the Jefferson County food CO-OP".......
    The second one, inexplicably, bursts in to tears of shame and begins sobbing uncontrollably....

  15. Oh my, Duncan Wilson, admin lord of Friday Harbor has announced (thank you IG) of town spending for a new logo and a video showing the one hour town at its best.

    Could this money be spent on more substantive matters, like dealing with off island destructive landlords or even the unpainted plywood box decorating the ferry landing, or the truly ugly empty building for many years now next to the theater on the main Spring Street drag.

    Hell no. Why actually do something when we can sit at a desk and piss away thousands.

    Thank you Duncan.

  16. Duncan Wilson. The Sam Gibboney of Friday Harbor.
    Under qualified.
    Uses Lots of buzzwords.
    Very comfortable spending other people's money.

  17. Interesting post, looking at a FOSJ publication from 13 years ago.
    Same fear mongering, different boogeyman.
    They may have lost some public support but they have intertwined themselves in to the local grant machine.
    This is an industry.
    Eco activism through NGAs and quasi.
    Stop the FOSJ.

  18. @ 10:55
    At least Duncan isn't fat, stupid and ugly.
    Ok at least he's not stupid.
    Damn it!
    Ok Ok at least he's not an adulterer.

  19. @8:35
    So screwing the taxpayers doesn't count?

  20. Un fu&%ing believable that neighbors can behave in such a way and still show their faces in town. Let 2 neighbors use an easement to access their property for commercial purposes but not Jenny Rice. Just put her out of business even though the "pot farm" is gone. A$$HOLES.

  21. Access Denied. Blue screen of fu@&ing death.

  22. I am going to spread the word to boycott Tom Nolan Construction
    Maybe even go to the county planning department and see if he has any pending permits.
    Send the homeowner/client a letter explaining the douchery that he exhibits.
    Oh wait, that would be petty, mean, and spiteful and no way to treat a neighbor.
    Oh wait, the book of kindness and the golden rule got pissed on quite some time ago by the Nolans.
    Yeah. Screw those people. I would publicly shame them every chance i get.
    We need to find out where he is working and bring the shame home.

    1. "Send the homeowner/client a letter explaining the douchery that he exhibits. "

      Buy an attorney friend a cup of coffee and ask him/her to explain what the term "tortious interference" means unless you really like the idea of owing every dollar you ever make to Nolan. Seriously.

  23. How evil.....Karma will slap them in the face soon.

  24. The Nolans and their merry band of asshole neighbors aren't without other accomplices.
    Somewhere along the way, this evolved from what could be considered a legitimate land use dispute that was argued before the hearing examiner, to the filing of an additional lawsuit for "unjust enrichment".
    The original land use attorneys were, in my opinion, representing a legitimate legal interest of their clients. Like it or not, that's a fair characterisation (O'day and Mann).
    Then, enter the real Aholes that painted a picture of untold riches to be gained by a claim of "unjust enrichment". Those in attendance of the late fall/early winter discussion at the grange about pot farms (yeah, the one where the school board president admitted to years of illegal drug use), ole Queen Shrilley herself, Deborah Nolan, using some half baked propaganda, proceeds to hypothesize that this nearby farm was capable of 16 million dollars a year in revenue.
    My guess, the unjust enrichment claim was a pay as you go, so they likely have spent tons of money to get it this far.
    Their only hopes now of recovering that money are to drive Jenny into civil forfiture through litigation and awards by a judge.
    It spiraled out of control and they are committed now.
    I'm guessing that it started out as wanting to stop the pot farm but along the way morphed in to this, for he above reasons.
    None of which make the Nolans, Pences and Stirneskes any less shameful, it's just worth considering how it got like this.
    One of the neighbors, that Shawn guy, the one with the pharmacist wife, seems to have prevailed on the land use appeal to stop the pot farm and he left it at that.
    Much more respectable.
    Or less despicable, however you want to look at it.

    I agree with the previous poster who suggests shaming the parties publicly.
    Tom and Deborah Nolan were at the head of all of this. When others weren't concerned, then chicken little sky is falling routine got involved.
    Come to think of it, the Nolans remind me a lot of the FOSJ.

  25. I have no idea what the last half dozen or so commenters are talking about. The Jenny Rice pot farm was a topic of comments on a TH post a while ago when the court case was decided. You might be angry about the court case, but it was a straightforward dispute about the wording of an easement, and Jenny lost. A simple dispute between two actual neighbors is completely different from the meddling third-party legal interventions of the Friends done for alleged planet-saving and social engineering purposes.

    1. The pot farm discussion is pointless anyway because the tribes are going to dominate the industry and no one else will be able to compete. It's a terrible business to get into because the tribes will be able to out produce everyone and do it for cheaper and with less regulation. End of story.

  26. The "tribes" ... wow. Their new motto is "Smoke Pot, Not Fish."

    ...and FOSJ loves it.