05/03/2012: "-- Guest Column --"
By Nick & Sara Jones
The issue we are objecting to is whether or not it is reasonable to demand that farm-stands come up to commercial code.
The price of the permit is irrelevant if compliance with the permit is going to cost $20-30,000(contractor friends came up with this estimate).
Further, we have hit a breaking point with the endless parade of harassment and interference that we and other county businesses receive from our government.
Bottom line: we cannot afford to upgrade our small, unstaffed farm stand to commercial code. Sales volume on Lopez Island does not justify it. We would imagine this to be true for most, if not all other farm stands in the county. We found county employees to be utterly unhelpful prior to our making our situation public.
We find it disturbing that a willingness to walk us through the process has been displayed only after our press release. We do not mean to demonize county employees in general, or specific county employees. What we do mean to point out is the generally dis-functional and punitive attitude of county government towards small business owners.
Council members Pratt and Stephens have both gone out of their way to listen to us and try and find a solution, and we would like to thank them both. Lovel Pratt tried to help us gain clarity and defuse the situation prior to our releasing our article.
Going public with this kind of thing is wrenching and unpleasant. We thank all those who have expressed support for our situation, and particularly fellow business owners who have called and e-mailed to share their own troubles.
We do have a systemic problem in San Juan County and Washington State and it is stifling business, killing employment, and literally driving people out of the county.
We feel that it is time to re-evaluate many of our county policies and rules. We cannot endlessly pile demand upon demand on our business community and expect them to survive. We cannot claim to desire an agriculturally productive county and then impose regulation after regulation on the handful of commercial farmers in the county.
Regulations are not cost free. Beyond simply the cost of compliance is the often greater cost of time and effort to track them. It may not appear so from inside the county courthouse, but every new directive, rule, public input process and regulation presents one more demand on a business and agricultural community that is already stretched dangerously thin. We find ourselves wondering if we can continue to grow our operation in San Juan County.
The economics of food production are changing radically and we--and other SJC producers have the best opportunities in generations to capitalize on it. Our oysters are currently shipped all over the nation and to Asia, our meats are in the best restaurants in Seattle, as well as being sold to our friends and neighbors in the county. Other growers in the county are doing similar things. What this means is opportunity for year round, entrepreneurial jobs in a manner that secures and enhances our rural character.
The question is; will San Juan County government help foster a rebirth of agricultural opportunity, or strangle it in the crib? Will county government maintain their current, adversarial posture towards business, or begin to work with us colla