05/03/2012: "-- Guest Column --"
By Tim Blanchard
Did you know the County Community Development and Planning Department (CDPD) has proposed a significant expansion of its code enforcement authority?
I suspect that most citizens and land owners are not aware of the proposal currently before the Planning Commission that would dramatically change and increase the power of the CDPD to regulate almost everything we do on our land. Ask yourself:
* Should the CDPD Director become the County “Safety Czar,” empowered to identify, investigate and order correction of “any condition” he believes “is likely to create a hazard to the public safety, health or welfare, to the environment, or to public or private property”?
* Should CDPD be authorized to impose penalties, escalating from $500 to over $30,000 per day, without court approval, for alleged building and land use code violations (including new critical areas and shoreline provisions)?
* Should land owners be required to pay an appeal fee of $2300 to challenge a penalty of $500, or stop work order?
* Should the burden of proof shift to owners based solely upon a “notice of violation” from CDPD? (Since when is “because I said so” sufficient to establish potentially criminal violations?)
* Should the CDPD be allowed to enter your property, without even asking first?
* Should we allow increased CDPD penalties to “provide a potential source of revenue” for the County?
* What evidence is there that CDPD has tried using the existing enforcement code without success, or that the draconian measures proposed are needed?
* Most important, how will this affect our community?
We should all support enforcement of the law, but expanding regulator discretion, increasing penalties to raise revenue, and ignoring principles of fundamental fairness is no way to engender support from law-abiding citizens.
The Planning Commission has decided not to take further testimony on this issue, but it is not too late to do something about it. If you have the same concerns that I do, please consider calling members of the Planning Commission and attending the Planning Commission meeting on the proposal, Friday, July 22, 2011, 8:30 a.m., Islanders Bank Annex, Friday Harbor.
(Mr. Blanchard is an attorney and resides on Orcas Iisland)