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"We should not write so that it is possible for the reader to understand us, but so that it is impossible for him to misunderstand us."
-Quintilian (Marcus Fabius Quintilianus), rhetorician (c. 35-100)
Letters On Mar Vista DOE Fine
(07-21-14) Reader Responds To Penwell Letter
To the Editor:
I am writing in response to Frank Penwell's recent letter, titled "DOE & The Friends?" [See referenced letter below -Ed]in the Island Guardian.
Mr. Penwell protests that the Dept. of Ecology fines levied against the Honeywells for their tree cutting at the former Mar Vista (now Orca Dreams) are out of proportion, and bases his response on a reposting of Gary Tripp's essay on the CAPR website. In doing so, Mr. Penwell seems to agree with Tripp's contrast between "conservationists" and "preservationists."
The thrust of Mr. Tripp's essay, reposted recently on the CAPR website, is that "Conservationists recognize the Tragedy of the Commons and believe private property is the best protector of the environment for this and future generations." Preservationists, in contrast, are those who believe we've already gone too far and must curtail our current practices in order to redress ecological damage, for the benefit of ourselves and future generations.
The "Tragedy of the Commons," described by Garrett Hardin in Science magazine in 1968, describes a "social dilemma" in which individual behavior (e.g., to maximize one's use of common resources) leads over time to a loss or destruction of those common resources because there is no mechanism to restrain selfish individuals from creating a disproportionate impact on those resources without paying the cost of sustaining them.
Tripp, and implicitly Mr. Penwell and CAPR, endorse the notion that "conservationists" (in other words, property rights activists who oppose DOE and the Friends) are aware of the Tragedy of the Commons -- in Tripp's words, they "recognize" it. So the free rider problem exists, and everyone on both sides of the issue recognizes it. That's good.
It's worth noting, however, that neither Tripp, nor Mr. Penwell, nor the organizations who lobby so zealously to free our property owners from environmental regulations, have offered a solution for the Tragedy of the Commons, beyond simply recognizing that it exists, and exhibiting faith that private property owners will avoid it, under their own steam.
But the Tragedy of the Commons is an incredibly difficult social dilemma to solve. It is, in fact, structurally identical to something called the "Prisoner's Dilemma", which is a mathematical game in which the winning move is always to "defect" -- or, in ordinary terms, screw your neighbor. Real world examples abound.
However, there are ways to make sure that selfish behavior (i.e., "defecting" in the Tragedy of the Commons) is not the winning move, and this has been the subject of decades of "vetted peer-reviewed science" which is readily available online (or contact me). One way to ensure that selfish behavior does not proliferate is social disapproval, which can often prevent selfish behavior before it happens, or provide negative feedback when it does. This is exactly what a significant segment of our island community provided when it recoiled in horror at what happened at Mar Vista/Orca Dream.
A stronger, and more effective, mechanism for deterring selfish and uncooperative behavior under the Tragedy of the Commons is "punishment" -- in this case, fines for failing to get the correct permits or environmental studies prior to cutting down shoreline trees. Punishment and fines are well understood to help curtail the Tragedy especially in conservation of the natural qualities of landscapes. This has now occurred through the DOE, and is what Mr. Penwell finds so unfair.
Mr. Tripp, and Mr. Penwell, are making an argument that the Tragedy of the Commons is something we all understand, and can each be trusted to avoid while exercising our full rights as land owners. They argue that few punitive measures are required in order to prod us into acting not only in our own best interests, but those of the next generation. The historical record, current events, and "vetted peer-reviewed science" all argue differently, and show Tripp's essay, and Mr. Penwell's use of it, to be -- at their best -- a misunderstanding of the Tragedy of the Commons, and what it takes to avoid it.
The issues surrounding the rights of landowners, versus the imperatives of conservation, have no simple solutions. Blind faith -- either in government to compel appropriate action, or in landowners to automatically do the right thing without regulation -- does not cut the mustard. Everything we know about the Tragedy of the Commons suggests that regulation is required, and must be constantly balanced between competing imperatives.
San Juan Island
(07-17-14) DOE & The Friends?
What kind of a monster is the Department of Ecology (DOE) becoming Related Story) ? I fear it is following the historical path of the Friends: to sue those who want to do something on their property, and do harm to those who are not contributors to their organization.
Historically, the Friends’ choices have supported prohibition for those who are not ideologically and monetary contributors to them. See Gary Tripp’s document, “Conservation vs Prohibition” caprsanjuan.wordpress.com/
Why isn’t the DOE supporting education and considering intent? Why is DOE choosing to use abusive police/political tactics? If DOE focuses on making an example of the Honeywells by making them into villains and excessively fining them, DOE will soon be emboldened to reach further down the food chain for anyone else who might gain them a buck or two, whether they are guilty or not, and regardless of intent. Legally, fines do not relate to one’s ability to pay.
I support Conservation over Prohibition. I support education over an abusive police state. I support vetted peer reviewed science, over the use of theories and scare tactics. This means I will support the Honeywells over the Friends and the DOE’s political decision to make an example of the Honeywells.
As San Juan residents, the Honeywells have given generously to our community. For example, contributing to projects at the San Juan Historical Museum and local Food Bank. From my experiences with Community Treasures, DOE and the Friends want to beat citizens into submission.
I more fully understand the carrot and hammer approach pushed on the County by the Friends through the San Juan Initiative. I would rather see DOE, the Friends, the County, and the citizens, being good neighbors, and resolving issues without bullying.
Thanks for reading and for considering the negative and unintended implications of the Friends’, DOE’s and San Juan County’s emerging policies and practices.
San Juan Island
Unintended Consequences Of Health Care
To the Editor:
As an interested and hopefully unbiased observer of the state of medical care on this Island, I attended the May 2014 meeting of the County Council's Board of Health.
At that gathering, I stated with some passion that we have a crisis in primary care on San Juan Island that is as least as important as the other "usual" issues discussed (argued about? evaded?). This extends to but is not limited to women's health care in general and mental health services for children and youth.
The present cadre of primary care providers is dangerously shorthanded and are themselves approaching the end of their careers. In the absence of strategic planning, within a few years there will be NO primary care for our people.
The bigger issue is that the stake holders -care providers of all persuasions, clients, government services, hospital districts, philanthropists, etc., each have their own agenda and DO NOT TALK TO EACH OTHER. Grants or other catalysts are not prerequisites to begin real conversations. I firmly believe that if this had occurred several years ago there would be a single group practice serving San Juan Island, a real system of care, and NO hospital.
What has happened is the full manifestation of Edmund Burke's iron law of unintended consequences: a toxic and inevitably fatal mix of private, public, and ecclesiastical institutions that do NOT address our collective needs and has left most of us out of the process. There must be a stepping back, a significant correction, a change of the locus of control, and a community wide approach addressing our real needs.
In this rapidly changing national medical environment coupled with our unique geography, costs, and demographics, the absence of a plan for remediation and a strategic vision for the future has placed us all at real risk.
The Council and the Town need to own this, not subgroups or vested interests, and lead the way. My wife and I have just celebrated 10 years on San Juan Island. We love this place and am absolutely committed to the well being of its people as we are sure do all its residents young and old, rich and poor. If not now, when? If not all of us, then who?
Mark Fishaut MD FAAP
San Juan Island
Report Noise From Growler Jets
As is often the case, the people who speak loudest about an issue aren't the ones who live with it or experience it.
Currently the Fiscal Year 2015 President’s Budget Request does not include funding for continued production of EA-18G Growlers, an aircraft manufactured by Boeing. Over 25,000 electronic letters have been sent to Congress to ask for additional production of the Growler to the Fiscal Year 2015 budget from a link on Boeing’s website. fa-18.com/contact-congress/?gclid=CPTn5MiFor4CFQqIfgodQHAAnA.
San Juan County’s population is only 15,800. Since we are the ones that live with the noise, not the 25,000 folks from Boeing’s website, it is incumbent upon us to point this out.
When the Growlers flew over young children playing T-ball at a park on Whidbey Island, the game was cancelled because the children fell to the ground holding their ears. I concur with the 5 year old who was there holding his ears and said, "Mommy, my ears are breaking." I too have had to plug my ears at 9:40 at night on Lopez because the noise was excruciating.
Remember to record Growler noise disturbances to the County website: sjcgis.org/aircraft-noise-reporting/. Do not underestimate the value of your comments.
Letters On Lack Of Swallows
(05-29-14) Common Sense Is All We Need
To the Editor:
Let me be clear about this. We have bats in the eaves of our house & there are few sights so beautiful as bats and the split tail swallows flitting about in the evening earning their way by removing mosquitoes and other airborne pests. We should do nothing - such as knocking down nests - to deliberately deny their access to our environment. However, good intentions without good sense do not produce good works. Hence the below.
Based on empirical evidence and solid local research conducted by Howie Rosenfeld and John Evans regarding the plight of the swallows, I think we need to mount a countywide "SOS" (Save Our Swallows) program to turn this problem around.
In fact the underlying causes probably have to do with global warming and swallow heat prostation brought about by exertion in the warming climate. It is true that one study theorized that the extra heat was offset by the value of carrying fewer feathers, but the final results aren't yet published in reputable scientific media.
However, in keeping with the urgent suggestion from Howie and the example set by our former county council to act strongly without valid underlying information, it is a moral imperative that we take preemptive proactive steps to SOS.
- Immediate regulations calling for all households with swallows in their eaves to vacate the home during swallow season with a one week buffer on each end to reduce swallow stress syndrome.
- Each household within 1/2 mile of a water source, including wetlands, shorelines, streams, ponds, lakes, spigots and hoses must provide a mud source in a suitable container for access by swallows through swallow season (later to be determined).
- These mud containers are subject to inspection by 2 new county inspectors per ferry- served island. Due to the lack of information about standards to be applied to the containers and mud (consistency, color, source, etc.), those standards will be developed by the new hires after they receive appropriate county-paid training at an accredited educational facility. Until then, whatever they say goes.
- due to the emergent and critical nature of current swallow endangerment the SJCC will be authorized to promulgate appropriate regulations without public involvement, but with strong "amicus curiae" assistance from the Friends of the Swallows.
I apologize for not having thought this through thoroughly, but the issue is so dire that it justifies immediate implementation of protective swallow measures without thought.
Dennis R. Hazelton
San Juan Island
(05-27-14) Evans Agrees With Howie
To the Editor:
I agree with Howie's observation that we have fewer swallows than in years past. We have nest boxes ready but no residents.
It is speculation on my part, but my guess is that the mortality of swallows and other migratory birds from the wind towers all along the crests of the hills through California and Oregon is under reported.
Aside from being struck by the blades, the air pressure differential as the blades spin kills bats and I expect birds as well. In my view, the electricity generated by these wind farms is a poor tradeoff for the affect on our migratory birds.
Tax Break For One Is Increase For Others
To the Editor:
I’m delighted to see that our County Commissioners are proposing, by extending the tax break for not farming, to shift yet more of the County’s tax burden onto me and others who are too poor to own big parcels of land or to hire experts to mine the tax law for ways not to pay their fair share of taxes.
Already about half the County’s land is being taxed at pennies to the dollars I pay, but that’s not good enough for today’s Commissioners. They want more from me. But, of course, since I’m not wealthy, while those with huge chunks of the county land more often are, it’s only right that elected officials should favor them over a mere resident.
Every April and October, as I write those checks to the County, I thank the Commissioners for allowing me to help out Paul Allen by paying the taxes that he is being allowed to avoid. After all, my Social Security check went up a whole $18 a month this year, so it’s only right that the Commissioners should feel free to take that (and a lot more) to help out Paul and his friends.
For those who think it’s unfair that they should pay higher taxes so that the wealthy can enjoy tax breaks normal residents aren’t entitled to, quit whining. If you don’t realize what a privilege it is to subsidize Paul Allen’s tax relief, you obviously need an attitude adjustment.
Just repeat with Big Brother: Tax Inequity is Fairness. Fewer Taxes on the Rich is Justice. Paying Higher Taxes Brings More Happiness than a Warm Puppy.
There, now don’t you feel better?
San Juan Island
(05-09-14) Buck's Misinformation
To the Editor:
Sam Buck's recent article in the Island Guardian, as well as his response to a follow-on letter from Howie Rosenfeld, continues the tradition of misinformation perpetrated by the Common Sense Alliance (CSA) and its supporters over the last several years to mislead the public when discussing our county's update of its existing Critical Areas Ordinance regulations (CAO) as required by state law. Specifically:
1) It is not true, as claimed by Buck, that one needs permission (i.e. a county land use permit) to place a garden on his/her property. In fact, according to the Community Development & Planning Department, one does not need a permit, although one does need to meet certain self-verified conditions if you choose to put a garden or orchard within a critical areas buffer. There are no such conditions, and still no permit, if the garden or orchard will not be within a buffer.
2) It is not true, as Mr. Buck implies, that the pending Critical Areas Ordinance update process was responsible for the weak real estate market in San Juan County over the last several years. In fact, the cause was the collapse of U.S. financial markets and its consequent severe negative impact on the national and local economy and real estate market. In other words, our CAO update did not cause the collapse of the U.S. economy, as self-important as we may feel.
3) It is not true, as stated by Buck, that the CSA has "raised a very small amount of money relative to the Friends of the San Juans bankroll" to challenge the CAO update. In fact, the CSA has raised and spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal expenses to oppose the CAO, primarily on a high-priced Seattle attorney ($300 per hour?). In contrast, Friends has not spent one cent on outside legal counsel, instead using its one local inhouse attorney whose salary is a fraction of a Seattle attorney. (Buy local!) Moreover, the CSA's official legal expenses do not include pro bono legal support from the Pacific Legal Foundation, a right wing property rights group whose HQ is in California.
4) Buck states that none of the CSA board members "had anything personal to gain" by serving on its board and opposing the CAO. As the CSA board membership includes the co-owner of the largest real estate firm in our county, a second realtor, the largest contractor on San Juan Island, and the executive director of the San Juan Builders Association, this claim stretches the limits of credibility.
Over the last several years there have been all kinds of wild statements by the CSA and its supporters claiming, among other things, that because of the CAO update process, some property owners would not be able to build on their properties, that their dreams were being taken away from them, that they would not be able to obtain mortgage financing of a non-conforming property, etc. What's illuminating is that none of these claims, unless I missed a specific article or letter to the editor, was personally made by a property owner, or prospective owner, who was allegedly so affected. In other words, not one of these claims has been proven true by direct personal testimony. So the public should continue to consider these claims to be nothing more than rural legends until self-identified property owners start coming forward to certify the validity of these claims.
San Juan Island
(05-08-14) Howie Aims Off-Target
To the Editor:
Howie totally misses the point of what government’s responsibility is. Government is supposed to protect the minority from the majority.
Innocent until proven guilty is losing its place in government, and we are headed toward socialism. Everyone is a minority at some point, and if Howie’s premise is followed, we will all end up in servitude to those with money and political power.
There is a lot of pushback to CAO regulations because the regulations do not address an identified problem.
The absence of a protective measure simply does not create risk, especially when the considered risk is based on theories, rather than on vetted peer-reviewed science. Constantly tightening regulations are leading us toward choosing prohibition over boots on the ground conservation (see Conservation vs Prohibition by Gary Tripp
We can, and should, do better.
San Juan Island
(05-07-14) Buck Responds to Rosenfeld
To the Editor:
No land regulations stand in the way of my/our real estate services. I/we simply do our best to help buyers and sellers find common ground, no matter what the regulations or prices may be. Realtors come in many colors, blue, red and many shades of purple and implying that we are willing to sacrifice the our quality of life for the sake of our business is reflective of your position as a Council member.
Five years ago it was apparent that we would have great uncertainty about land use for at least a year or more and the market had almost come to a standstill. So on behalf of desperate sellers in general, I stood in front of Mr. Rosenfeld and the rest of the SJC Council and begged for some sort of short-term certainty regarding land use. I suggested “site plan approvals” that would be good for 4 years, as was done for septic systems and for the very same reason, certainty of use. I asked “Would you buy a property without knowing what you could do with it?” and “How low would the price need to be to get you to buy without knowing what you could do with the property?” This plea was dismissed, stating that I was just looking out for my own personal interest! Where was the empathy for the citizens and the recognition of the economic ripple effects? I was literally shocked at the arrogance and complete disregard for the current and projected financial suffering.
The building of single family custom homes is foundational to the economic circle within our community. IF the goal is to stop additional growth, then let us have an open discussion about it. An unstated agenda frustrates logic and creates mistrust.
Under the new rules you need permission to put in a garden to grow your own food and you might be denied. If you read the details you may become ill about what happened while you were doing your best to take care of other responsibilities.
San Juan Island
(05-05-14) Rosenfeld Responds To Buck
To the Editor:
A response to Sam Buck (Guest Column)
It’s easy to understand why the Common Sense Alliance (CSA) gets support. Most of us feel we have too many regulations. No question about it! But we need to ask: why are we plagued with so many rules and regulations everywhere we turn?
Our laws are mostly based on protecting the majority from the minority that would take advantage. It’s particularly sad, in what is supposed to be a free country, to lose freedoms because of a few bad apples. That is our predicament. It was considered profound in the 1950’s when the comic page character Pogo said, “We have met the enemy and it is us!”
In land use, every property owner wants to be able to do what he or she wants with his or her property, but they don’t want their neighbors to be able to do anything they want. So we have regulations.
Many realtors, like Mr. Buck, and developers, want less regulation, which stands in the way of their business. Many, like myself, are concerned their business affects why we want to live here.
The purpose of governmental processes like the Critical Area Ordinance is to find a balance. There is common sense on both sides, not just one.
Howard Howie Rosenfeld
Open Letter To Town Of Friday Harbor
Hello Town of Friday Harbor:
I know you don't really care, but I thought I should let you know that this evening I tried to take my kids out to play some frisbee in the front yard. Sadly, the smell from the Waste Water Treatment plant ruined that experience, and after about 10 minutes, I told them I had to come inside and write to you. Since the Town of Friday Harbor doesn't seem to think the smell from the Waste Water Treatment Plant is a problem, I thought I would report it to the Island Guardian, and see if they'd like to to any research into it... especially it being Earth Day and all.
I have sent you so many complaints, and I know you are tired of hearing from me.... so tired of hearing from you you just ignore my e-mails at this point. I don't know what to do though. I don't know if you think I should just accept that the Waste Water Treatment Plant smells, and because I live 352 yards away from there I am just out of luck... or that this isn't your problem to fix? But does it really not mean anything to you that after being in my front yard for 10 minutes on an evening in April, where I am trying to encourage my children to do something besides watch t.v. or play on the computer, I would be forced back inside because of your Waste Water Treatment plant? This means nothing to you?
Hope you enjoyed your Earth Day,