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Island Guardian


Your Tax Dollars At Work


This is the County at work today, (October 7th, 2016) in the salmon stream above the “new”
bridge at Buck Bay in Olga.

ig_W_Buck_Bay-1 (167k image)

If this was being done by a private property owner, that person
would be in big trouble. Compare this going on now to the State and County response to the
poor folks on San Juan who had some brush removed on a small section of shoreline several
years ago.

By way of background;

The “new” bridge was built a number of years ago to replace the culverts which had passed the
stream under the road since the 1920’s. During one or two major winter storm events in a
decade the culvert did not handle all the water and would sometimes run over the roadway for a
few hours. It was also claimed the the culvert might inhibit the salmon if or when they might
spawn in the lower reaches of the stream.

For these two reasons the Council and Public Works decided what was needed was a million
dollar bridge to replace the culverts. So far so good. The problem soon showed that the bridge
design/construction was wrong and the stream was under cutting the bridge abutments.
The obvious answer was to redirect the stream, which the County did several years ago. The
major stream redirection/construction ( at unknown cost) has not worked. Now the next new
stream redirection/construction is in under way. Things are not looking good for any spawning
salmon, the stream-side riparian environment, the stickleback fish in residence or the waterfowl
that stops in Buck Bay on their migration south this time of year.

One suggestion I could make is for islanders to save this picture from today, October 7th.
Show it to the Planning Department, the Council, Department of Wildlife and the State
Department of Ecology if they are being given grief about a Critical Area or stream-side riparian
area on their property.
Have a great day.



(John B Evans: Columnist for The Island Guardian, Farmer and nurseryman in Doe Bay, County Commissioner for 12 years, Executive Director of SJC Builders Association, and one of the founding members of Citizens For Responsible Government, a not-for-profit & a non-partisan corporation -Ed)




Who Should Be A Planning Commissioner?


There is some discussion in the community about the upcoming appointment of a new member to the Planning Commission. The seat is allocated to a resident of San Juan Island. There is a concern that one candidate’s career and background is inconsistent with the mission of the Planning Commission.

The person in question is Mr. Dick Grout. Dick is a qualified land use planner, the former Planning Director for San Juan County and a long-serving staff member of the Washington State Department of Ecology. (The DOE is the State agency tasked with commenting on and providing direction to cities and counties on land use planning and approving shoreline regulations.)

I am acquainted with Dick from the many years we have both lived in the County. From my experience he is a good man. Mr. Grout’s personal or professional qualities are not at issue. The issue is in how to honor the intent and purpose of the San Juan Planning Commission.

A Planning Commission operates under the rules of the Washington State Planning Enabling Act. It is far more than a casual advisory body. The San Juan County Planning Commission is made up of citizens, appointed by the Council, for the express purpose of providing the Council with citizen guidance related to the County’s Comprehensive Plan and Unified Development Control. Further, the Planning Commission provides review, opinion and suggested direction to the Council, specific to the County’s professional staff land use planners.

The intent of the State law is for the Council to appoint planning commission members who are not trained planners, but rather average citizens who have knowledge of the community and who will express their fellow citizen’s thoughts on planning issues.

The Council already has a highly paid staff of trained planners who bring the “professional’s” views forward. There is no shortage of professionals with Mr. Grouts background involved in the process of developing plans and regulations. The area under-represented is the views of the greater public and the working family down the street. The San Juan County Planning Commission should continue to provide representation of this “greater public”.

With no disrespect to Dick Grout and his years of service to local and State government land use planning, the Planning Commission seat from San Juan Island should, as it always, go to a thoughtful member of the public who is NOT a career planner.




More Shoreline Regulations Are An Affront


My question to the Council and the powers at be is simple …. why are you adding additional rules, regulations, restrictions to the public’s beneficial use of the shoreline?

For more than 20 years San Juan County has had comprehensive shoreline regulations that have included development restrictions within either 50 feet or 100 feet of the shore depending on tree cover, a minimum of 50% frontage development allowed on a parcel, septic system requirements, reasonable requirements for shoreline interruptions such as stairs to the beach, detailed rules for shoreline protections and docks, and more recently, minimum 5 acre parcel size and comprehensive storm water management rules.

For some zealots in the community no rules will ever be restrictive enough. These folks can not show that yet more restrictions will have even a minuscule benefit to the marine environment, yet somehow they steamroll the planners and the Council to do more. It will never be enough.

At the same time, salmon (in particular Chinook salmon that the killer whales eat) are still aggressively caught by Indian, commercial and recreational fishers. The numbers are hard to find but I did locate WSFW records for a 2012 harvest in excess of 200,000 Chinook.

I am fully in favor of sustainable harvest rates for all salmon. including Chinook. This fishery is commercially important, has cultural importance to native Americans and has a large recreational fishery benefit, and it contributes to the complex web that is the marine environment -including our killer whales.

I am not in favor of the further restrictions on the public’s use of the shoreline. The current restrictions are compatible with our environmental responsibility, with preserving the natural beauty of the island’s shorelines, and with protecting the quality of life for shoreline and upland property owners. More restrictions are not beneficial or necessary for the salmon or for a healthy marine environment.

As pointed out by a 60 minutes program, the millions of dollars that has been, and is being, spent to “protect the salmon” serves only to provide well paying jobs for those directly promoting the “protection agenda.” Aside from this colossal waste of money (money that could be used for many worthy programs for the public benefit) the new restrictions being generated are an affront to the common sense of the community, and of those who own and pay significant taxes for shoreline property.

If the Council stands behind the rules we already have in place, and communicates such to the Department of Ecology, we will all benefit. More restrictions and the resulting cost for the County and for our property owners will have little benefit to the fish or the environment.




We Can All Rest Easy


I have heard that the County Council will consider passing a new ordinance regarding the ownership and operation of a vehicle in San Juan County. The Council’s overriding concern is for public safety of the vehicle owner as well as the well-being and common good of the general public. After the customary “three touches” by the Council, the new ordinance is scheduled to take affect the first of April.

The Ordinance will specify that the vehicle owner is responsible for assuring that they have the proper license and insurance to operate the vehicle. This has been a standard State law for a long time, but is really not adequate. The new Ordinance will be similar to the rules a homeowner must follow under the new County’s Critical Areas Ordinance restrictions passed by the Council this year.

Now the County seeks to protect you from the risks to your self and others if you choose to drive a car.

Some of the new requirements for operating a vehicle in San Juan County vehicle include the following; a certification from licensed and County-approved physicist that the tires on the vehicle have the proper inflation and are not dangerous to use. Certification by a County-approved mechanical engineer hat the rated horsepower of the engine does not exceed County specifications.

The vehicle owner-driver must record, on their property deed on file with the County Auditor, that they have an approved and permitted place to store the vehicle when it is not in use. They will also be required to have a driveway permit issued by San Juan County Public Works certifying that the driveway access to the public road does not exceed specified standards.

Finally, the driver must certify that they have taken the required driving classes,(provided by the County for a fee). If the vehicle will be used on slopes in excess of 15% a “certification of operation” is required from both the County approved geologist and the cartographer.

A County-issued trip permit will be required for each routine trip to the grocery store, doctor or other local errands. The cost of the permit will depend on the length of time approved for the trip, the miles to be traveled and the size of the vehicle making the trip. Permits will be issued in 40 to 60 days; as is the current turn around for other “land use” permits (it will be important to plan ahead for your grocery shopping).

We are living in a time when your progressive local government wants to do all it can to protect you in your home (requiring permit approvals for everything except changing a light bulb).

The government is also concerned with protecting the environment and endangered species in your yard, (A Critical Area review by scientists and approval permits are required for any land-disturbing activities outside your home),

This report I am passing along is based on what I heard, first person, in the Lower Tavern on Orcas. I am sure this heads-up is useful for all of us.

We can all agree that we are much better off when most of life’s choices are made for us by progressive thinkers, government bureaucrats and the County permit process.

This season we all have so much to be thankful for; health, family, friends, overall well being and a government that is looking out for each of us.






Another New Planning Director


County Manager, Mike Thomas, has announced another reorganization of the Department of Community Development and Planning (CD&P) which had recently been renamed Community Development (CD). The current CD department head, Ms. Sam Gibboney, is being moved to Public works, taking with her a number of environmental focused programs that she had been overseeing in Community Development.

Ms. Erika Shook has been hired as the new Community Development Director. She will be responsible for building and land use permits and long range planning. There was no public vetting or selection process before filling this key Department Head position.

The County’s press release says that Mike Thomas presented the new organization structure, (and presumably the personnel decisions) to the Council Tuesday October 21st. It is not clear what role, if any, the Council was able to play in this reorganization. Maybe the Council got closed door briefings out of the public eye.

So here we are. CD&P or CD (Community Development) has yet another new director. Maybe this one will work out better than past choices.

Up to this point, building permits still take months to be issued. The Critical Area regulatory decisions land owners face remain vague and arbitrary. Even the most simple and routine of permit approvals for a garage or remodel still take months to be issued. The cost to the property owner of their permits and the attendant environmental approvals is remarkable by any measure.

I give credit to the staff of CD. They are trying to make things better and, I believe, they understand the impact this department has on the local economy, housing affordability and small business viability. The decisions that make this department a continued frustration for all those citizens in the unfortunate position of being required to get CD permission and approval rests with the County Council and the County Manager. No level of positive attitude and competency at the staff level below the Director can overcome the pig in a poke regulatory morass they must contend with.

Lets hope that Erika can bring about the necessary changes so this important department is no longer the single most frustrating department in the County.


John B Evans: Columnist for The Island Guardian, Farmer and nurseryman in Doe Bay, County Commissioner for 12 years, Executive Director of SJC Builders Association, and one of the founding members of Citizens For Responsible Government, a not-for-profit & a non-partisan corporation




Many Rentals, None To Rent -Part Two


The issue of rental housing is complex. A rental property that is suitable and affordable for one individual or family may not be appropriate for another. Some folks find living “in town” close to schools and shopping and jobs is best for them. Others hope to find a place in a more rural setting.

Age of the renters and family structures are always a factor. Senior citizens in particular may need a rental home with special accommodations; without stairs or with wheel chair access within the home. Young families can often make do with arrangements that would not be suitable for a family with older children.

Even on the mainland finding a rental that works for the perspective residents can be a challenge. With a much larger pool of options on the mainland in terms of size, price, location and amenities, most folks find a place that works.

Then there is housing in the islands.

In the islands finding a home or apartment to rent has always been a problem. The new wrinkles in short term vacation rentals has only made things worse.

Land is expensive. Property development costs are high. Permit requirements and fees are expensive. The actual construction costs can be higher than the mainland.

The pattern of development in the islands (few if any developments of neighborhoods with duplexes, apartment complexes or condominiums) does not provide the lower cost or the economy of scale that comes from building multiple structures.

There used to be some relief through government subsidized apartments, however that option was only available for a special needs segment of the community.

There is no subsidized rental housing help for the working families.

The housing trusts on each island have helped for those buying a home but are not for those needing rental properties. On Orcas, the housing trust, (OPAL) does own and manage a number of apartment properties that they acquired and one they built themselves. There is also the Homes for Islanders sweat equity program, but again, this is for home ownership, not a rental.

So what to do?

First off it is a matter of changing land use zoning to make more property available for multi-unit development in expanded Urban Growth Areas and beyond (special zones outside UGA’s).

With more land on the market, the land prices will be more reasonable. Making more land available also helps to mitigate those ownerships in existing higher density UGA zones where the property owner has chosen not to build high density units.

In a similar vain, making property available for mobile homes and RV projects would quickly make rental options available.

The Oaks, on San Juan Island, is a very good example of a well designed and managed manufactured home park that provides affordable housing options. Many County employees and private sector working families live there.

In terms of land use permitting and the Comprehensive Plan, locating modular home or RV parks could be done under the Comprehensive Plan Essential Public Facilities planning relief valve that is available to the Council if they choose to use it.

Another option is making building a rental unit an attractive investment for a property owner by allowing the additional density to build a rental unit, is another option. This is currently being done all across the State.

In the case of a current home owner, they have already “bought” the land so to build a rental home on the property eliminates the land cost component.

Often the utility costs can be mitigated by piggybacking on the exiting infrastructure. Again, utility infrastructure has already been “paid for” by the property owners. The rental investment property becomes more affordable from the start.

To my knowledge, the only housing relief that is under discussion within the local County government is taking another run at forming a taxing district to raise the money to build something. Aside from all the problems and limitations associated with yet another government program, the money that could be raised is barely a band aid for the current housing problem.

It is essential that County policies toward land use and permitting be changed to make building rental units by the private sector a rational investment.

If that is done, and housing construction becomes a wise investment, hundreds of individuals will begin to build a wide variety of rental units. It will be essential that new rental housing built under any new County policies not allow them to be used for vacation rentals.

Making rental housing a wise investment for private citizens is the only realistic solution to our housing crisis.

We need to be serious about being a healthy community that is truly balanced and affordable for families of all means and ages.

Absent any action by our County officials we will become even more of a community of “haves and have nots,” with a three month season of hosting folks on vacation …. exactly like the famous island second home retreats on the East coast; and exactly what most our residents say they do not want.




Many Rentals, None To Rent -Part One


The lack of affordable (or even unaffordable) long term rental housing in the islands has reached a crisis stage. The introduction of AIR B&B and similar web sites has created a vacation housing market that is just too good for property owners to pass up.

There has always been a shortage of rental homes and apartments in the San Juans. Now the shortage is even worse. Property owners are choosing to rent by the day or week for a much higher return than the former affordable rentals provided.

Conversation with restaurant owners, retailers, building contractors and similar employers echo the same story; they need help and have jobs available at good wages. Workers are not available because they have no place to live. Unless an employee owns a home, can live at home with parents or make some other arrangement, the available jobs go unfilled. Some businesses have already reduced hours because there is no help available. The busy summer season is still months away.

Even being able to rent a room is problematic. The AIR B&B phenomenon offers individual rooms in homes, cabins with few amenities, a place to put an air mattress . …. all in addition to the traditional vacation lodging.

There are some partial solutions but the answers will take some rethinking by the County authorities.

One option is RV Parks on each island. Living in a trailer or RV may not be ideal, but it is a warm secure place to live that is affordable. Along the same lines, folks who have a home and utilities available can offer an RV or trailer space for rent. Again, less than ideal but one piece of the puzzle. RV’s and trailers are generally more affordable to own or rent than traditional homes or apartments.

I mention the RV and trailer option because it avoids all the costs associated with the construction of a stick-built structure and it is something that can be done quickly. A better long term option is to make the construction of guest houses attractive again and allow the market forces of available rentals control the rental price.

When the County had the dustup with the Growth Board over guest houses it was pointed out, by the then Commissioners, that there would be serous housing problems down the road. Well, here we are.

I will also add that elitists, do-gooders and special interests are so intent on mandating houses that are “safe” and built to withstand a tsunami we have been left with a situation where most working families can not begin to afford to buy … or by extension rent …. these wonderful newly mandated homes.

ON top of the construction and energy mandates, the indirect non-construction costs have become obscene!! The rules and regulations and permit fees to “protect” everyone from most everything and the land restrictions (and, by the way, to be sure not to disturb the salal) is now nearly half the cost of a house before the first brick of the foundation is laid.

It is time for our County Council, our County Manager and our County Department Directors to take the housing issue seriously and do something. More talk, studies and lip service won’t cut it. The lack of rental housing is serious issue for the local economy and a huge problem for working families.

The County officials have the power to act. Maybe the workers and employers in the County can get their attention. If the elected officials and the Planning Department spent even half the time and money they spend fussing about salmon and eel grass on seeing that families have housing, the problem can be fixed.




Reservations


After 30 years I had come to terms with the ferry system; what sailing to avoid, how early to get in line, a bag of snacks and reading material on hand just in case. All in all, it has worked.

Now we have a reservation system. The need for reservations escapes me. I see very little value to islanders. Most of us can’t plan our daily lives weeks in advance.

We have a farm and nursery. Both need short notice connections to and from the mainland. Then there are doctor appointments, (sometimes with less than a weeks notice), and household runs to the mainland when we can’t find an essential item locally. The need to catch the ferry on short notice is not a matter of poor planning or not thinking ahead. Life gets in the way.

The reservation system allows for 30% of the sailings to be booked 2 months in advance and 30% two weeks in advance. In other words, up to 60% of the ferry space may be already reserved long before many islands know they need to make the mainland trek.

The providers of our overnight tourist accommodations are sure to tell their guest how to to reserve a spot on the ferry in advance. I expect that will pretty much take care of the 60% in “the season.” In other words, this 60% of the space allocated for long term commitments is of little use to islanders.

30% of the reservations are available for folks who can organize themselves 2 days in advance. Effectively only 30% of the space on our ferries will be available for use by islanders. The remaining 10% is for those who feel lucky or have medical emergencies.

So what is this all about? Unless the ferry system plans to adjust their sailings based on reservations I can’t see that a car in line with a reservation vs a car in line that just arrived for the sailing makes any difference to the capacity of the system.

I understand the ferry system thinks the reservations will reduce the number of cars waiting for sailings and thus reduce the need for parking and holding areas except now we will be stacked waiting in line out on the public road. How do I know? Because I made the trip today and the lines were backed up at the kiosks as folks were checked in one by one. This was for a Wednesday sailing in January!

Based on my first experience with the signup and a reservation back and forth from Orcas to the mainland on January 7th, this half-baked innovation is not ready for prime time. There are serious bottle necks at both ends. Aside from the operational issues, having only 30% of the ferry capacity useful for those who live in the islands is crazy. We needed more space and bigger boats, not a 2/3 reduction in useful capacity!




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