Letters to Editor
To Contact the Editor
Friday, October 3rd
CC Agrees To New UDC Docket Timelines
(Jon Cain explains a point to Council as CD&P Planner Shireene Hale observes -Randy Gaylord in background)
The County Council failed to grant CD&P (Community Development and Planning) Director Ron Henrickson’s request to allow changes to land use regulations to come before the Council at will.
The Council decided to follow a version of the Planning Commission Recommendations to limit the number of times the UDC (Uniform Development Code) can be changed from only once a year, to three times a year, and to sunset the change in two years.
A public hearing on the proposal was held on Tuesday by the Council to hear additional comment on CD&P (Community Development and Planning) recommendations that the Council should ignore the three key elements of the Planning Commission Recommendations and let CD&P suggest changes at any time.
A Million Here, A Million There..Oops!
County Auditor Milene Henley delivered revenue projections In a report to the Council for 2009 and revised projections for 2008 that added to the previous warnings that the County Council is overspending their budget.
Henley’s PowerPoint presentation of the history and projections of the budget indicated revenue and expenditures have been close to parallel In the past, but that time has, well, passed.
PC Reverses Former Opinion -Agrees To ADU Lottery
The SJC Planning Commission (PC) has voted to approve a recommendation from CD&P (Community Development & Planning) to drop the “First Come, First Served” call-in permit application process currently used to apply for an ADU (Accessory Dwelling Unit) Permit.
While only the method of how one applies would be changed (the rest of the procedure process would remain the same) it is possible the result will be less permits for ADUs -also known as guest houses- being granted.
The current system requires some commitment, but under the lottery system anyone will be able to throw their name into a hat and hope for the best, even if they really have no intent of building an ADU.
Staff Recommends Against PC Recommendations
A public hearing will be held Tuesday by the Council (SJ County Council) to hear additional comment on CD&P (Community Development and Planning) recommendations that the CC ignore three key elements of the Planning Commission Recommendations on making changes to the UDC (the land use regulations contained in the Uniform Development Code) more frequently than once a year.
The PC (Planning Commission) and members of the public who testified against the proposal expressed concerns about making changes that would give CD&P freedom to submit changes to the UDC outside of the current requirement that all changes to the UDC and the Comprehensive Plan be done at the same time, and -a key point- only once a year.
Rush To Keep Tax Break For Ag Land
The County Council may use a desire to extend a tax break to the owners of agricultural land not being farmed, as one of the excuses to pass an ordinance to allow changes to land use regulations more frequently than once a year.
Current regulations will not allow deferred taxes on agricultural land if land is not being farmed, but adopting a program allowed by state law will allow deferred taxes if the owner agrees to conserve land as “farm and agricultural conservation land.”
Some problems: (1), the county has not following state law by requiring proof of farming of the land that is receiving a county property tax break; (2) the tax break results in the rest of county land owners picking up the difference, that is, the agricultural land is being subsidized; (3) the county could, but currently does not, allow a tax break for land not farmed if it is in a “farm and agricultural conservation land” program; and (4) the county would need to change the Uniform Development Code (UDC) to offer a “conservation land” program; but under county law this can only be done once a year.
UDC changes only once a year? Where have we heard that before? The County Council will hold a public hearing today -Tuesday (9-6-08)- to take testimony on allowing Community Development and Planning to make changes more frequently than once a year.
County Reviews Code Enforcement Policy
Responding to a number of complaints that the County is not doing enough to stop code violations, the Council discussed the matter on Tuesday with County Prosecutor Randy Gaylord and the Code Enforcement Officer for Community Development & Planning.
The Council had recently received a packet of photos (above) and background material alleging a land clearing violation on Orcas of un-permitted clear cutting.
While the material was used as an example of why stronger enforcement and fines, were needed, it turned out that the cutting of trees on the property was not a county land use violation, or a violation of state logging regulations; but in any case it served as a launching point for the Council to voice support for a review of current policies.
New Land Bank Purchase
(Judd Cove outlined in yellow, existing Land Bank land in blue)
The County Council has authorized the Land Bank to enter into a Purchase and Sale Agreement with The Trust for Public Land (a nonprofit California public benefit corporation), to purchase roughly 7.7 acres of land -known as the Carlson Property, Judd Cove- located on Orcas
The purchase price is $500,000.00, but the actual cost to the County will be less due to grants and partnerships that will help to offset the major portions of the cost.
The purchase will allow a connection between existing Land Bank land that lies adjacent to the Judd Cove land. The purchase includes a dock and storage shed on the dock, as well as some tidelands.
One of the rationales given for the purchase is that it will provide access to the beach. This purchase differs from the recent authorization by the County Council to buy land with a building and a dock at Orcas, in a number of ways, but not least in that the dock and building on this property will be removed.
More Cell Towers?
Action is slow in coming in government, but given enough time, and sufficient reminders, things do get accomplished.
For a couple of years now there has been requests for better cell phone coverage, not just so one can call from a car to -for example- talk to a person they are on their way to see, but because cell phones are increasingly used by first responders, public agencies and departments such as OPALCO and the Road Department. And yes, the public is complaining too.
SJC Council member Rich Peterson brought up the subject again last week, and was quickly rewarded for doing so by being appointed the chair of an ad hoc task force to research and present a report to the full council.
County Hiring Freeze
County Administrator Pete Rose has suggested to the County Council that “we work this year to try and balance the budget for next year.”
Rose is responsible for all hiring and firing, and concerns about the budget has resulted in Rose initiating a ”limited hiring freeze” on new county personnel.
Auditor Milene Henley has joined Rose in informing the County Council they are facing a budget crunch, and if spending is not curtailed, the impact on the budget will flow over into next year.
On several occasions Henley and Rose have gently reminded the council that “you are already spending next years money.”
Stormwater Funding Details Dribble Out
In July Committee Chair Rich Peterson had informed the rest of the council that the first draft of a new stormwater funding ordinance was complete and waiting for review by the County Prosecutor’s office, but todate had not been reviewed.
The new draft ordinance is intended to replace the funding ordinance that was rejected by popular vote; and according to the Council, the new one may not be subject to a popular vote this time around.
Now that the arguing and disagreements between the subcommittee members (Peterson, Knapp and Rosenfeld) have been tempered by months of closed door meetings, members of the press were invited to a Stormwater Sub-Committee meeting to get a preview of the draft funding ordinance.
While the draft will not be handed out to the public until the legal review is complete, some of the funding details were explained, and fair to say, the two members of the media present predicted some turbulent waters ahead for the Council when the draft is launched for a public showing.
Supreme Court Update On CAO Agenda
The San Juan County Critical Areas Ordinance (CAO) Review Committee scheduled an "update" from Tim Gates of the Washington Department of Community, Trade and Economic Development (CTED), on the recent Washington Supreme Court Decision that brought a halt to the inclusion of the shoreline regulations into CAO regulations.
The CAO committee was told by the Prosecutor at the last CAO meeting that in the light of the Court's ruling, it would be best if the committee limited it's work to the uplands.
Some of the members said it was just a matter of time until they would be asked to deal with shoreline issues, and so they might just as well continue to review and "bank" their recommendations for possible future inclusion into the regulations.
Other members disagreed, and pointed out that the issue of shoreline setbacks were no longer on the table, and that in any case, the committee had been reaching an impasse on shoreline setbacks, so the removal of the issue will allow the committee to get back on track and deal with CAO upland issues.
Too Much Too Soon On Orcas Village?
The continuation of the public hearing on the Orcas Village plan may have to continue to be continued. Attorney Peter Eglick of EKW Law has expressed concern there is insufficient time for the public -and the Council- to review and comment on a new draft report -with attachments, let alone a final report that may, or may not, be available by Monday for possible passage on Tuesday.
The new report is in response to requests by the County Council for additional information on questions, suggestions and objections that were made at a public hearing held last Tuesday on Orcas on the proposed Orcas Village Plan
CC Forced To Postpone Orcas Action
( Mike Krieger presents a video of traffic at Orcas landing)
The County listed the wrong address in the public notices for mailing in written comments on three public hearings that were held Tuesday on Orcas. Lack of comment will, in many cases, meal a lack of standing to appeal. The correct address written comment is 350 Court St. #1
It was to be a big day on Orcas as the County Council moved their regular schedule meeting there to hold three public hearings directly related to Orcas Island issues, but due to the mistake in the legal notices, no formal action was taken
Fuse lit on Fireworks Ban referendum
It’s now officially known as Referendum 2008-2. The effort to put the ordinance banning “Safe & Sane Fireworks” up for a vote of the people has cleared the County’s required legal review, and now enters into the signature-gathering phase.
The sponsor of the referendum is Fireworks Unrestricted, and they have until December 4th to obtain the signatures of 1,522 registered voters in order to place the measure on the November 2009 general election ballot.
SJC Auditor Milene approved the signature form on Wednesday, and they have just come back fresh from the printer, said referendum sponsor Don Burkhart, “I’m encouraged. We stood in Eastsound this morning and filled up our first sheet in under ten minutes,” he added.
County Feels The $ Squeeze
“The easiest cut to next year’s budget is the dollar we don’t spend this year” -Auditor Henley
While it may not be news to those who pay attention to the actions of the SJ County Council, it took a second quarter report the County Auditor to the County Council to make it county wide news.
Expenditures, as a percentage of the year’s budget, are higher than last year and revenues are lower. “It is time to start worrying,” she said. Some in the county think the Council should have started showing concern -and restraint- last year (see related letter to Editor).
Henley told the council that while property tax revenue and sales tax revenues are running close to projections, the excise tax on real estate sales the County uses to fund capital improvements less than projections.
WA Supreme Court Sinks-Saves SJC?
Deciding as Ecology urges would contradict the clear language and intent of the legislature in ESHB 1933 and would add substantial costs to citizens and local governments. Ironically, legitimate conservation management efforts would be frustrated and encumbered…-Justice Jim Johnson
The Washington Supreme Court has ruled that critical areas within the jurisdiction of the SMA (Shoreline Master Act) shall be governed by the SMA; not by the GMA (Growth Management Act).
The ruling may have saved San Juan County from a flurry of lawsuits that would have made all past litigation look like a small claims lawsuit.
Stormwater Ord Bogs Down
The County Council Stormwater Subcommittee has presented a new draft ordinance to the County Prosecutor’s office for legal review.
At the Monday County Work session, Subcommittee Chair Rich Peterson informed the rest of the council that “we are not going to meet our self imposed deadline of having a stormwater ordinance ready for circulation” by the end of July.
Peterson cited one reason for the delay is “the draft of the new ordinance rests in the Prosecutor’s office, and they have simply not found the time to get back to us.”
Councilman Bob Myhr expressed his concern that “this has been going on for eight months now” and said he “would like to see at least the key bullet points of the draft” so he could see the direction the subcommittee is going.
West Coast Governors Ocean Action Plan
The Governors of California, Oregon and Washington today joined together via satellite to launch a historic action plan to address challenging ocean and coastal management issues along the West Coast.
The West Coast Governors’ Ocean Action Plan is the result of a 2006 agreement signed by Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski.
The regional agreement, known as the West Coast Governors’ Agreement on Ocean Health , forged a long-term partnership to tackle obstacles facing the Pacific Ocean and its coastal communities.
To support the states’ agreement, a federal working group, co-led by the U.S. Department of Interior, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, has been established and will work with the states in implementing the actions.
SJC Proposed As: Critical Aquifer Recharge Area
(Representation of an aquifer system (Jones, 1999))
A Public Hearing is scheduled to take testimony on a recommended proposal to make all of San Juan County a Critical Aquifer Recharge Area (CARA), and may result in a number of new, and/or changes to, land use regulations, including “prohibited land uses”
On Friday, August 8, 2008 the Planning Commission held a public hearing on proposed code changes that have been recommended to “improve the protection of groundwater in the County.”
The hearing is just one of a number of steps in the ongoing process of updating the controversial Critical Area Ordinance that the County is currently working on.
The proposed ordinance updates terminology to be consistent with the County Charter and current Critical Area laws and regulations; designates all of San Juan County a Critical Aquifer Recharge Area (CARA), and in so doing will:
SJI Transfer Station EIS Released
The 266 page Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for the San Juan Island Transfer Station Replacement Project will be released -drum roll please- at approximately 11 a.m. at the regular Monday Council/Staff Work Session Meeting of the San Juan County Council.
The release is being called “a landmark in the process begun by the County Council in 2006 when it tasked the Public Works Department and the Solid Waste Advisory Committee, a citizen’s committee appointed by the Council, with studying the replacement of the current transfer station.”
The existing site currently does not meet health and safety codes after the cover over the dumping area was removed, and not replaced.
Appeal Filed on Fireworks Ban
(Don Burkhart of Blakely Island files appeal)
The recently passed ordinance banning all “safe & sane” personal fireworks in San Juan County has been challenge. Don Burkhart has filed a formal appeal with the County Auditor under section 5.40 of the home rule charter.
Mr. Burkhart and his Advocacy group’s "Fireworks Unrestricted" appeal now goes to the Auditor and Prosecuting Attorney for formal review and wording, followed by a 120 day signature-gathering period. (See related story "4th Of July Traditions" below this story)
CC Continues Discussion On Stormwater Regulation Complaints
County Administrator Pete Rose told the Council that they need to ask themselves "How do you want to ask the public to respond to their concerns on the regulations?" Rose said the the regulations are based on state guidelines that are 1,100 pages long.
The County Council received a requested briefing and discussed a staff report Tuesday (06-17-08) from staff on the county stormwater regulations.
Rose said the public seems to have responded in a negative way to the regulations because they are now being required to do things they did not have to do in the past, but the regulations have not changed. community development & Planning Director Ron Hendrickson explained that because is department is now fully staffed, they can enforce the regulations.
Local Assistance For Veterans
The recently established San Juan County Veterans’ Advisory Board (VAB) has completed its initial planning and is pleased to announce the availability of San Juan County’s Veteran’s Assistance Fund (VAF).
With an estimated 2,500 veterans in San Juan County, the County Council determined a need for an organized program to assist indigent veterans and their dependents in time of need. The VAB was established earlier this year with the guidance of Councilman Alan Lichter, himself a veteran, who serves as the VAB’s Chair. There are nine members of the VAB, all veterans themselves, who come from San Juan, Orcas, and Lopez islands.
County & Town Approve Letter On Border Checks
The County and Town of Friday Harbor Councils have approved a letter to U.S. Senators Murray, Cantwell, and Representative Larsen, protesting the negative impacts of the on-going border checks at Anacortes.
The County Council had previously voted down sending a letter (prior story), and then after the failed public vote, and without the knowledge of the public -or Councilman Rich Peterson- drafted and approved (by signing) a revised version of the same letter, then sent it off to the FH Town Council for their consideration.
Maintaining the stealthy approach to open government, the discussion of the letter did not show up on the Town agenda, but nonetheless it was discussed at the end of their meeting. After limited discussion, a motion was made to approve the letter -that had been signed by County council members- and make it available for signing by any Town Council members who wished to do so, then the letter was to be forwarded back to the County Council.
Salary Commission Says Enough Already
The San Juan County Salary Commission is responsible for setting the salaries of the County Council, and at their May meeting they decided to send a message to the County Council that they would not consider individual requests from a council member for salary adjustments.
The Commission has been lobbied hard in the past when some of the council members have testified before the Commission, for an increase in the salaries the council members receive.
According to official notes of the recent May meeting, the commission expressed concern about the “uncomfortable situation of individual members in the same position (elected council) trying to influence opinion of the commission as to the salary level.“
The last time the commission took up the matter of council salary range, they decide to keep it as is; but at the May meeting they again received two letters from Council members pertaining to the current salary amount.
Who Should Be Allowed To Use Turtleback Mountain?
When the Land Bank Commission held their regular monthly meeting in Eastsound back in April. the first hour of the meeting was for public comment regarding the Management Plan (Draft Stewardship and Management Plan) for Turtleback Mountain. There is now a new Draft Plan that may please some, and disappoint others.
There were about 40 members of the community present at the first meeting, included citizens from Lopez Island; San Juan Island; Center Island, and Orcas Island. Many of the speakers were passionate in their testimony, with a majority speaking in favor of multi-use trails on Turtleback.
There were speakers against any public use, and a few who spoke in favor of restricting access to hikers only. The current restrictions include: No camping; No fires; No hunting; No firearms; No vehicles; No bicycles; No horses, and No commercial use.