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:
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.
- 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.]
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.