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Thursday, January 27th


(Editor's note: The following letters are in response to a report) in the Island Guardian that was based on a press release from Mr. Gaylord's office)

Open Letter To Gaylord
To the Editor:

RANDY GAYLORD: SHAME ON YOU for continuing to prosecute someone in the media after the case against him was dismissed! Your innuendos against the young Orcas man in the dismissed rape case, are reprehensible. You knew you couldn't win in court - "stay with the case" as you called it in your statement - so now you're getting your licks in from another direction.

I am a former San Juan County Juvenile Probation Counselor with four decades of experience working with young people behind me. I also have personal knowledge that the former accused young man is innocent of wrong-doing. In fact, he is the real victim here, of false accusations made against him.

I notice your statement didn't mention the plea bargain you offered the young man, a lesser misdemeanor charge without the word 'rape' attached. Could it be because he turned down your wonderful offer? The fact that he would rather face all the uncertainties of a courtroom that just might lead to a prison sentence rather than admit even to a misdemeanor he didn't commit, with far fewer consequences, must have stopped you dead in your tracks: within 24 hours of his refusal of your "offer," the young man was told the rape case itself was dismissed!!

Truth has a way of coming out sooner or later. The young man has absolutely nothing to fear from that. In fact, he welcomes it. Ironically, he is the only person in this morass of misconduct who "stayed with the case." His account never varied, and he stood firm in his innocence, while you and your team bent and manipulated the truth until what you built collapsed beneath you. There was no case for you to “stay with.”

I will admit you took on a tough job, artistically speaking. You tried to spin gold out of a bunch of straw - spending lots of county money and using its resources along the way.

Reader, you had better pray that neither you nor your husbands nor your sons ever cross paths with a person like the one Randy Gaylord calls "brave" and "strong." Once again, SHAME ON YOU for trying to implicate the young man you weren't able to mount a case against.

Sandy Anderson
Formerly of Eastsound
Family Of Accused Responds To Gaylord

To the Editor:

While it is common for prosecutor’s offices to release press notices excusing a dismissal or lost case, San Juan County prosecutors have refined this behavior to an art. Whether it is taxpayer money spent on an out of court financial settlement because of wrongful arrests or justifying a false accusation that had no basis in fact, our prosecutor’s office has become an out of control power with virtually no oversight. Because the prevalence of prosecutorial abuse is a nationwide problem, organizations such as The Justice Project in Washington DC are calling for investigations and accountability. The Justice Project states…..

“Recent studies reveal that prosecutorial misconduct is a systemic reality within the criminal justice system. In 2003, a study conducted by the Center for Public Integrity found that prosecutorial misconduct was a factor in dismissed charges, reversed convictions, or reduced sentences in at least, 2,012 cases since 1970. In 28 of those cases, involving 32 separate defendants, prosecutorial misconduct led to the wrongful conviction of innocent individuals”

Make no mistake, readers. When the prosecutor’s office dismisses a case it is because they had no evidence to proceed and most likely had no evidence to begin with. Why then would they charge a person wrongfully? They have nothing to lose. A case won is justification for state money, kudos for the prosecutor and further entrenchment of their power. A case lost is excused by the prosecutor’s office. That taxpayer dollars were needlessly spent is of no consequence to them. Even less important is truth or reason. Political cronies making back room deals are the norm.

Most of us have lives that are full of family, work and community interests and have no time for a nebulous claim of injustice in our county justice system. My family was just like yours, until we were forced to the realization of a corruption beyond our imaginations. As Edmond Burke once stated “For evil to triumph, it is only necessary for good men to do nothing”.

Elise Anderson
Orcas Island


Saturday, January 22nd

Thank You Firefighters!

My beloved old farmhouse is still standing thanks to the quick efforts of all the firefighters who arrived just in time to stanch a fire in my roof that, in short order, could have engulfed the whole house. I’ve since learned that this was the first time that the combined districts responded to a fire. All I can say is thank you, thank you for getting here so fast and for knowing how to put out a fire with minimal damage"miraculously there is no water or smoke damage, only the lingering smell of charred wood upstairs. Besides the expertise and swift action, what also touched me were numerous kindnesses"the firefighter who apologetically told me that he had to move my papers out of the way and that they might not be order, but they were safe. Someone else took care of my knitting and yarn. I extend heartfelt thanks to all who showed up and saved my house.

And I thank friends and neighbors and co-workers from Griffin Bay Bookstore who showed up to help and offer support. They came with vacuums, brooms, rags, buckets, and mops and heaters to help me put things in order. Gigi at Islanders Insurance and KSD roofing moved quickly to ensure the roof was patched with tarps before the storm arrived Tuesday night. All the help and support I received exemplifies the best of island living, that community spirit of goodwill, the kind of neighborliness that means we help one another when there’s need. How fortunate for me, for all of us.

There is one person who deserves my deepest gratitude: the motorist driving down Beaverton Valley Road who spotted the smoke, who came thundering across my deck, pounding on the door, and bursting into my kitchen, startling me from my lunch with, “Call 911, your roof is on fire.” I made the call. He ran off saying, “I’ll go down to the road to direct the fire engines.” That was the last I saw of him. Whoever you are, wherever you are, how can I thank you enough? Friends say, “He was your angel, Nancy.” I can’t think of a more apt description. Thank you.

Repairs are underway.


Nancy Larsen
San Juan Island

Thursday, January 13th


ust a few questions for those who are involved in the "movement" against the SJISD School Board and Superintendent...

First, are you aware of, and prepared for, the potential for the serious, and probably significant, unintended consequences of your actions in "leading" this "movement"?
Real leadership involves listening to, understanding and acknowledging all facets of an issue.
Do you realize how much of the School District's resources are going to responding to you and your legal filings rather than to the education of our kids?
Is this where they should be spending their time and energy? Or perhaps should it be in the classrooms, and the offices, and on the financial well being of our School District?
Are you really providing a solution to the issue at hand, or creating more problems?
Do you realize the divisiveness that you have created in this community?
Understand that you are not speaking for the community at large on this are speaking for a small minority of people, or for lack of a better term, a "movement".
And I say to those of you in the community at large that understand these questions, now is the time to join in and speak out on behalf of our School Board.
Silence is not the answer when it comes to the education of our children.
Could not the passion, resources, and time you and your "movement" are putting in go to something more important like feeding/clothing the many challenged families we have here?
Or perhaps your passion, resources, and time could go toward raising money for the funding gaps our School District grapples with every year in order to educate our kids.
Do you really think that we are going to get the kind of committed, bright, passionate, and well rounded School Board members than those we already have?
Who is going to want to submit themselves to this kind of vilification in the future? It is a thankless job to start with.
Do you really know what goes into being a School Board member? What is your experience in volunteerism? How many Boards have you served on?
Have you ever been a manager who has to make tough decisions? I can tell you that it is not a popularity contest.
Do you really think that these five individuals, with the experience that they collectively have, would have made a hasty decision about a well liked administrator?
Are you aware of how well this School Board and previous School Boards (with some of the same members) have done in navigating the financial issues of the past few years?
Do you know what kind of blood, sweat and tears have gone into keeping this School District relatively healthy?
It is hard work and it takes committed, bright, passionate, and well rounded people to do it.
Do you know how hard it is to get a good Superintendent in a small community like this?
How will our kids (and their education) suffer later this year when we find ourselves not only with significant budget shortfalls, but with a new/green School Board and perhaps a new/green Superintendent?
And finally, I understand how everyone feels about Gary Pflueger and his leadership at FHES. However, if he was the true leader that you all believe he is, then he would be standing up and helping with a solution.
He would be standing up and asking for all of this madness to stop. He has publicly, on numerous occasions, asked that the community respect his decision to resign. He would be doing something other than being silent. At the end of the day, all of this is NOT healthy for our kids. We should be teaching our children how best to go about positive change, not that the loudest ones get the most attention.

We should honor Gary's work, his love of children and his commitment to his job. We should also honor him in his request to respect his decision (regardless of how that decision came about).
I think that the more this "movement" carries on, the more difficult it is going to be when Gary starts interviewing for his next endeavor.
What is this all going to mean to the next FHES Principal (who may be equally great or even greater)? Will you welcome him/her with open arms?

Just food for thought.
Please be mindful of the BIG PICTURE here.

Jim Skoog
San Juan Island
25 of 27 Teachers signed the following letter

Dear Members of the School Board and Superintendent Thompson,

We the undersigned teachers and staff of Friday Harbor Elementary School want to record our dissent to the recent action by the Board in accepting the resignation of Gary Pflueger, our Principal. We object to the Board’s actions for two reasons:

Firstly, we object to the substance of your decision.

Gary has been a major and positive addition to our school. He has created a positive and nurturing environment in which our students feel welcome, loved, and secure. The environment Gary has created is both conducive and essential to learning.

Furthermore, at a time when our District is suffering budget difficulties, the Board is committing funds to hiring a new Principal.

Secondly, we object to the process by which your decision was made.

On December 14, our representatives met with Superintendent Thompson. They were assured that no decision was imminent and that there would be opportunities for future discussions. Unfortunately, a decision was imminent and no further discussions occurred.

In addition, the decision was made without seeking input from our staff of professional educators. This decision conveys a disinterest and disrespect for our professional opinion. Also, the decision was made without soliciting input from the parents in our community. Many parents are vigorously opposed to your action.

Furthermore, the School Board and Superintendent have assured us that they will seek our input on hiring a new Principal. Yet at the same time these assurances were made, the Board and Superintendent released a job posting with specifications for a new Principal. Once again, this was done without consultation with our school and community.

In order for our School to fulfill its mission to education, it is absolutely essential that we have a cooperative and mutually respectful relationship with our Board and Superintendent. We ask that you reconsider your decision to accept Gary’s resignation and that in the months to come, we work together on matters that come before the Board which materially affect our School.

Respectfully submitted,

The Staff of Friday Harbor Elementary
Open Letter To School Board

To the SJISD School Board, regarding the FHES Principal:

Hello. I am a parent in this community. I have lived in Friday Harbor School District for 18 years. My husband and I raised 3 children who attended Friday Harbor schools. For 18 years I have volunteered and interacted with staff and teachers at the SJISD, along with volunteering in the community at large.

I have a 12th grade education and am a construction worker with 28 years now in the drywall trade, I work and volunteer as a farmhand, and work as an artist in a studio on Nichol St in Friday Harbor.

I appreciate the members of the school board who have volunteered to serve, but feel a serious mistake has been made by the board. I wonder if this is all about financing, about money.

My years of formal education are not many, but my years in the trades do help me understand something I hope the board will think about as well.

Long range plans, vision statements and models are all helpful, but not the most important thing. Architects of models, writers of vision statements are most often not consistently on the ground to find if they have included in all their theories everything that should be measured. And in models and equations those things that are not measured cease to exist, although in real life they are very much present even if they have not yet been assigned an exciting catch phrase title and quantitative value.

Tradespeople and laborers who must build or put into practice such visions know the most important question they ask, the one they get to right away, is "will it work?" In a drawing, I can erase two or 3 legs of a 4 legged table. I can remove them, and suddenly they have no value. In the drawing the table is still upright. I can hand this plan to a carpenter and tell him build it for me, and to make it work.

But too many times, in practice, such plans don't. I think we've all seen that it's wise to listen to what experienced people on the ground have to say. They're the ones who must suffer and try to fix such visions when you don't listen.

Whatever model is being used to justify what has been done to Gary Pfleuger and our elementary school does not give the most important components here the needed value, doesn’t recognize their real worth. Maybe what you're doing is not valuing the qualitative in a quantitive equation, maybe this is about a spatial value the model can’t recognize.
It isn't just a kind of feel-good intuitional factor parents and teachers are asking to have included in your equation. The statements on the far-reaching effectiveness of this principal are evidence-based.

We are exceptionally lucky to have this man working for us, and to have this team of teachers and parents working so well together because of him. Listen to them.

I believe you, our friends and neighbors who make up the school board, work hard and must make difficult decisions, almost always lately rooted in money. But more thought needs to be put into value.

Elementary school principal Gary Pflueger's actions have been shown in practice - not in theory - to have an enormous instrumental value as a means to an end: his methods accomplish the valuable task of successfully educating students, supporting teachers, and supporting parents. They do this in a way that has been demonstrated to be rare and to be exceptional, in not only this school district, which has had many good principals, but around the country.

This talented professional, as a daily part of how he does his job, has taken the initiative to go out every day among his elementary students, teachers, and parents as a matter of course, to directly interact and gather data using observation, and with that interaction evaluate and use the information with his teams to respond and adjust, quickly and effectively. Over and over. The success of his approach is verified both by the support teachers and parents whose children are directly affected are giving this principal - in unprecedented, overwhelming numbers - and by the district's own data. Teachers and parents in unprecedented numbers and unity not only support this principal, they feel supported by him.

This guy has also conducted himself with admirable grace during long times of uneven guidance from above, and during this board's last action.

The superintendent and board members who are driving this resignation have not done that job well. In their action against this district employee and continued failure to correct this action, they have done harm. The parents and teachers they are also supposed to represent are clearly not being represented, and have not been given a real voice.

To admit the error, and to do what is needed to effectively correct this - now - would be respected. If the superintendent and members of the board pushing this forward are not able to find courage or humility to take actions correcting what definitely has caused harm and, if let stand, will cause even greater harm, they should understand that to let this blunder continue can irreversibly damage this school district, the teachers, parents and children now in it, the ability to attract talented school staff, and will also intensify the feeling of insecurity among current staff.
If that's allowed to happen, it is a shame.

I get if this is about meeting someone's standards to get money, but if it is, it's time for our community and members of our school board to feel free to question those standards out loud and recognize the damage being done by them.

Lastly - Parents and teachers at Saturday's meeting (1/15) were respectful and thoughtful in their comments, bringing intelligent, valid concerns. To hear good teachers and staff afraid of even having a voice for fear of being ‘marked’ for speaking up should be deeply disturbing to all of us. To use a political quote about sausage making and democracy to excuse a flawed process, and to have the superintendent describe what is happening here as “democracy” simply because parents and staff are allowed to speak yet not allowed power or given timely information in the decision making, unfortunately came across as condescending and insulting. Simply insisting that running for the school board was the way to be heard was disingenuous; many parents do not have the good fortune to have the economic advantages that would allow them to do that; many others are very involved in the schools and their students in many other ways, and they should also be allowed a power in the process. Showing little recognition for the weight of the feedback being given by working parents, teachers and other professionals, when compared to the work done by board members as board members, was insensitive and unfortunate.

And Superintendent Rick Thompson's acknowledging the undeniable right of parents and teachers simply to speak, while giving up no power to them until too late in this decision making process - then to lightly toss off the word ‘democracy’ - was arrogant, offensive, and transparent.

In democracy, when there is no effective check to avoid an uneven distribution of power, one branch of the system can accumulate power, and the system becomes undemocratic.

Information was held back from those who could have been a check and a balance to the ultimately unilateral power used by the board and superintendent in this action.
To say you want parent and teacher input on what they want in the next principal when you are effectively ignoring their input on this one seems deliberately offensive.

I apologize for the length of this comment, but I don't know how else to say this. I am seeing many members of this community - our community - afraid to speak up due to real fear of professional or economic harm. This is very sad.

This is my comment as a community member and parent who over the last 18 years has watched and taken part as this district improved when parents, teachers and administrators shared power equally, and saw it suffer when they did not. It was clear that the community members at Saturday’s meeting appreciate the SJISD board members’ willingness to serve. I hope that those on the board who keep pushing this forward keep a clear perspective on their abilities, this process, and the power they are using.


Linda Degnan Cobos
San Juan Island
Superintendent: Principal Had Forewarning

[//The following was sent in as a press release -Ed//]

On January 5th, 2011, Elementary School Principal Gary Pfleuger submitted his resignation to the district stating a desire to seek other employment. On January 11th, Gary was cited by the Journal of the San Juans as having said his resignation was also motivated by a difference in views on “instructional leadership.”

In a special Board meeting on January 11, 2011 the Board of the San Juan Island School District and I heard public comments from members of the school community that Mr. Pfleuger was a well-liked principal and that his work to establish a safe and civil learning environment was highly valued. In this meeting, we listened to and sincerely acknowledged these comments. The Board also noted that this was not new information to them. The board then voted unanimously to accept the resignation of Principal Pfleuger.

The District’s elected Board of Directors have over 25 combined years of experience serving the community as volunteer Board members. The board members come from five very different backgrounds and frequently have diverse points of view. The Board has experienced many different school leaders and leadership styles. The board has also researched what is known about effective school leadership and reviewed generally acceptable leadership standards. The decision to accept Principal Pfleuger’s resignation was neither a decision made lightly, nor a reaction to a single event. The decision was made by board consensus, not by any individual board member.

Over the past 2 ½ years, the Board has had the opportunity to interact closely with Mr. Pfleuger. The board has been kept apprised of management feedback and direction he received and the ways in which he did or did not respond to that feedback. In other words, the board has had ample and thorough opportunity to observe his performance in light of the full responsibilities required in the position he holds.

Many people have asked why the district cannot explain in detail why we accepted Mr. Pfleuger’s resignation. The answer to that question is simply that we are required to respect the confidentiality of the employer-employee relationship. To violate this confidentiality would be unfair to Mr. Pfleuger and would send a message to other District employees that their own employment information is at risk. We have held this belief and continue to do so today for the sake of all our employees.

Our elementary school has an excellent staff who continue to deliver a quality education to our K-6 students every day. The school is also blessed with PTA and parent volunteers who contribute to the educational environment in amazing ways. We are committed to working with the staff and elementary community to ensure continuity with the great work that is taking place there. The Board looks forward to working with the staff, PTA, parents and community in an inclusive and public process of determining the attributes we are looking for in the next Elementary Principal and in choosing from among the field of candidates we are able to attract.

If you have any questions or suggestions, we genuinely welcome your phone calls and e-mails. Our contact information is available on the district website ( )

Sincerely Yours,
Rick Thompson, Superintendent
San Juan Island School District

Compelled To Speak Out

To The Editor:

I've never met this man. Your editorial, together with some input from friends who do know him, tells me this whole thing is rotten. One can come to no other conclusion when a teacher, or in this case a principal, is respected, admired, and loved by so many. [Related Story]

It is beyond sad that our community is losing someone of the quality of Mr. Pfleuger. The biggest losers are the children. Who then are the victors?

If Mr. Pfleuger committed a crime in the course of his job, he would not be protected. So one must assume he didn't do anything wrong.

If my kid was in that school I would want to know what happened. I would be looking at the Board and demanding answers.

Claudia La Cava
San Juan Island
Compelled To Speak Out

To The Editor

I can’t believe this is happening. I’ve been distracted and agitated for days, wondering if there was something I could have said to change the outcome, something any of us in the community could have said - wondering how we all missed any hint that something was going terribly wrong

I went to the school board meeting on Tuesday evening in hopes that our community would collectively find the magic words to save our principal. Although many words, and tears, were shared demonstrating Gary’s devotion and service to our children and community, it was not enough.

In my opinion, the school board’s acceptance of Gary Pflueger's resignation is evidence that they, with the support of our newly appointed superintendent Rick Thompson, not only had no intention of preventing it, but rather actively orchestrated it. They chose to ignore our pleas.

Those of us present at the board meeting, while we wanted to respect Gary’s words assuring us that this was indeed his choice, couldn’t help question whether his words were spoken out of necessity rather than by personal choice. I find it hard to believe that even with the entire voice of our community united in support of our principal Gary Pflueger, we appear to have no recourse to challenge the school board’s decision.

Admittedly, Gary is not publicly asking us to fight for him. In three years he has worked under three different superintendents, purchased a home and become an integral part of our community. I imagine this hasn’t been easy for him. But as a mother of two girls with a collective 22 years ahead of us in the San Juan Island school district, I am compelled to try and fight this for my children’s sake, not for Gary’s per se.

Our community clearly demonstrated that they desperately want what is best for our children. I question the motives of our current school board and superintendent. I firmly believe that utilizing our resources to begin a search for a new principal at this time is not in our community’s best interest, financially or otherwise, especially since we cherish the one we have. Perhaps searching for a board and superintendent that reflect the voice of our community would be a better course of action.


Penelope Haskew
San Juan Island
Fully Supports Board Action

To The Editor:

I would like to affirm my full support of the San Juan Island School Board. This five member, ALL volunteer board works tirelessly for ALL of our children. As a volunteer for the past 12 years at the elementary school, I have seen the school board creatively guide our district through some very tough financial times, working hard to preserve teacher jobs and maintain as small as possible class sizes. They crafted the collaboration between Island Rec and high school athletics that preserved varsity sports for our kids.

I believe in the intelligence, compassion and integrity of each of these dedicated volunteers. There is no fame and glory in their tasks. They do it for ALL of our children, to see that they each get the best education possible.

I am greatly saddened by some of the rhetoric that I heard at the board meeting last Tuesday night and that has continued in the printed press. The fact is that we, the public, do not know all the facts because it’s confidential.

I do not believe there is sort of “conspiracy” by the board. Nor do I believe there is a desire for “slickness” in a principal. But by all means, use this as an opportunity to become more involved, in a calm and reasoned way. And remember to thank those who volunteer for our schools.

Liz Covert
Friday Harbor
Board Needs To Get Out More

To The Editor:

The current crises in the San Juan Island School District is one of management style or philosophy. It also involves how information flows throughout the system.

School districts are historically organized as a hierarchy similar to the military. Information and decisions generally flow from top down. The “general staff” (school board) hires an expert (superintendent) who manage the principals. Principals communicate upper level decisions to the teachers, who, in turn, implement these decisions in the classroom. Students have little or no say about what is happening to them. This downward flow of information is often autocratic and, at best, paternalistic.

There is a management style called MBWA, i.e. Management by Walking Around. It is little used in school districts, but is effective in anticipating crises. Here the manager “walks around,” gathering information from his or her employees. They are proactive listeners. Unfiltered information is gathered and decisions are made based on the best input from various sources.

I would suggest that the San Juan School District could benefit from this style of management. Instead of listening only to the “good old boy (or gal)” network of professional cronies, get out of the office and see first hand what is happening in the classrooms.

Talk to students, teachers, and parents. Observe, and, above all, LISTEN !!

Teachers are not privates in a military hierarchy. They come to the classroom with 5 or more years of college education and many have years of experience working with children. They, as well as parents, deserve to be listened to. Even a good general always has his ear tuned to the morale of his/her troops. Principals, like Mr. Pfleuger, who walked the halls and listen to students and teachers are to be prized, not pressured to resign. The “CEO” and School Board in the San Juan Island School District could benefit from his example.


Richard W. Wright
San Juan island

Wednesday, January 12th

Craftsman Corner Concerns


Remember the line from the movie “Field of Dreams” that says, “if you build it, he will come?” I’m wondering if the Planning Department has changed that line to, “if they build it, we will adjust regulations to accommodate it?”

It’s disheartening to know that the ongoing development project at Craftsman Corner (the saw rental place) has repeatedly violated the Eastsound Subarea Plan land use rules for its Service/Light Industrial zoning. The planning department has made some alarming blunders and oversights in handling the permits for this project. In a phone call to Rene Beliveau, chief building official, last July, he admitted that the planning department dropped the ball and didn’t pay attention to whether or not Mr. Pearson was following his original permit requirements, even after multiple code violations were pointed out in letters from concerned and worried citizens. That’s unacceptable.

The problem with sloppy management of land use regulations is that it sets precedent for a glut of unscrupulous developers to sneak in unlawful projects, with no qualms about infringing on what’s left of the natural environment and wetlands in higher-density housing areas where generally, people are middle-class and lower-income and don’t have the money to legally appeal. There are already too many infractions on what little aesthetics, peace, and natural surroundings we residents have left in the UGA area. How can the planning commission tweak the zoning rules for a developer to accommodate full-time retail in a zone that prohibits it? That’s a betrayal to the nearby residents these laws are supposed to protect, and to the businesses that will be impacted in Eastsound village core.

Anyone with concerns about Craftsman Corner and the pandora’s box of trouble it opens, the possible environmental problems it may pose to nearby wetlands and ground water, the aesthetic eyesore, and the increased high-impact vehicular traffic dangers, please submit letters, emails, and faxes before the examiner’s hearing on Feb. 3rd. Even better would be before January 12th , the cutoff date for people to raise the excessively high fees to appeal.

Sadie Bailey,
Eastsound, WA.


Friday, January 7th

A Letter Of Thanks To The Entire Community Of San Juan Island.

December 28th, my husband, Jim Calhoon, passed away in the Life Care Center of the San Juan Islands. I hardly have the words to express our gratitude to the very able, graceful and kind staff who supported and cared for Jim, for me and my family. I truly believe there could
be no better skilled nursing center anywhere!

Further, after leaving the Life Care Center on the 28th, I inadvertently left my wallet and box of tea I had purchased at the check out stand at the Market Place. Only after returning to our home on Orcas did I realize what had happened. The manager and assistant managers couldn't have been kinder. They immediately mailed my wallet and the box of tea to me on Orcas!

We are truly fortunate to live in islands filled with such warm and helpful people. Again, a big thank you to all San Juan Islanders.

Susan Mustard
Orcas Island


Tuesday, January 4th


Olson & Wilson Arguments Are But Codswallop
To The Editor:

Do land use restrictions affect property value? For Messrs. Olson and Wilson, the answer is “no.” Also, according to Olson-omics, “There are factors other than supply, demand, and pricing that effect [sic] real estate sales.”


All markets are driven fundamentally by supply, demand, and pricing. Uncertainty affects pricing of the supply-demand equilibrium via a risk premium or discount.

Yes, of course, the global recession has been a major factor on the demand side of the equation, but it is not right to ignore the role that local factors (like land use restrictions or local economic vitality) may have on demand. In fact, land use restrictions, covenants, and zoning often are used as tools to preserve value for homeowners, so clearly there is a well-established link. Occasionally, however, poorly planned land use restrictions can erode value by affecting demand negatively, just as macroeconomic considerations may affect demand.

At times, even County employees have championed the link between land use restrictions and value, albeit in typically bizarre fashion and by using a supply-side argument. Shireene Hale, for example, has cheerily predicted that property values would increase for parcels not affected by the CAO and the SMP. She might be right, but she is unknowingly advancing the Depression-era economic philosophy known as “beggar-thy-neighbor,” where a few become rich, not by creating value, but by impoverishing their neighbors.

Ed Kilduff
Lopez Island
Sam Buck: Uncertainty Impacts Sales

Dear Editor:

Some people doubt that there is a true need for a vested “site plan approval” similar to a septic system permit that will stand the winds of change for 4 years.

In general, property values have dropped 20, to as much as 40, percent from peak values due to national trends that we are all familiar with and rule changes will not solve that problem.

The value of the property is partially based on how the property can be used. If it is wooded to the waters edge, the current code would call for a 50 foot setback and require that many of the trees between the shoreline and the building foot print be left in place to reduce the impact of how the house looks from a boat on the water. If the set back was changed to 200+ feet with the ability to clear 15% of the foliage, as an experienced agent, I can say with confidence that for most people such a restriction would greatly reduce the value they would be willing to pay for the property and completely ruin the point of ownership for those who bought with the concept of a 50 foot set back.

Similarly, for the same reason above, any improvements would become non-conforming prohibiting expansions which would also impact value.

The problem is, if the current fair market value of a waterfront parcel is $600,000 but one does not know what the set back will be, who would be willing to pay the fair market price? If the seller really needs to sell it, how much lower will the price need to go to compensate for the risk? How many people do any of us know that are willing to risk great sums of money even with the potential of a substantial gain?

How low will the price need to go to entice a speculator to accept the risk? How low would it need to go for you? If one must sell, the price will be brutally negotiated downward and that “artificially created” much lower number will become the basis for comparable sales of other properties.

Anyone can secure a “site plan approval” currently called a Residential Pre-Application Site Plan (RPA) right now as a part of the building process, but even after spending the money to do so, if the rules change the next month, it becomes invalid. We are simply asking that once the RPA is approved, that it be vested for 4 years to create some sense of certainty for a buyer who wants to build within the next few years. This will not be acceptable to someone that seeks a long term investment, so that part of the market is still eliminated and those are the people that have maintained so much of the undeveloped property that we enjoy now. Vesting will simply allow a property owner to achieve a sale at current fair market value.

Lastly, this same principle applies to all properties that are perceived to be close to what might be considered to be a “critical area”. When money turns over, commerce is stimulated and the trickle down effect takes place. How many more storefronts need to close before this helpful and simple fix towards improving our situation is implemented by our leaders?

Sam Buck
San Juan Island
Uncertainty Not Due To New Regulations

Dear Editor:

The reasons given for the “vesting” initiative sponsored by the Association of Realtors bother me. I can readily identify with their concerns about the survival of their businesses; after all, many Americans are finding themselves in financial difficulty in this “Great Recession”. However, the premise that uncertainty surrounding the pending update of our Critical Areas Ordinance is causing a “chilling effect” on the real estate market, fails to acknowledge the true market-driven reason for the steep decline in sales, particularly high-end waterfront property.

Waterfront property by its nature is expensive, finite, and with a limited number of qualified buyers equates to a very thin and price-sensitive market. According to a WSU College of Business Real Estate report issued September 2010, we had the highest median home price in the state ($402,000) and as a result, the lowest housing affordability. Reportedly, home re-sales dropped 29.4% in SJC; this was the greatest decrease of all counties with Puget Sound waterfront. If the number of homes and property presently on the market could be sold at the current sales tempo, it would take five years for the inventory to be liquidated, and that assumes no inventory additions. At present sales rates, SJC has a 14.6 year supply of homes worth more than $500,000; comparatively, the total statewide, all price, supply is 13.9 months.

There are factors other than supply, demand, and pricing that effect real estate sales. The most important, and likely the fundamental reasons for the distress among our realtors, is that we still have high unemployment, job insecurity, an unstable housing market, challenging loan accessibility, many states with unbalanced budgets, and a federal government that is borrowing enormous sums from China, all of which contribute to real uncertainty. To blame CAO uncertainty is disingenuous and self-serving.

San Olson
Lopez Island
Gordy Responds To Wilson

Dear Editor:

Thank you for reading my column. I agree with your point but I wasn’t intentionally disingenuous. Even though the economy is generally “in the crapper”, we’re trillions in debt, the housing market sucks, and the global recession has not hit bottom, there are still investors scooping up real estate at bargain basement prices. There are vacant parcels of island waterfront on the market today that have been significantly reduced in price. But who would invest in these properties when there is a serious question weather or not the parcel could ever be developed? The answer seems to be only preservation groups are willing to invest in them. If you talk to realtors, they have hard evidence of this.

The Council could do something to strengthen consumer confidence for a short time before the entire shoreline becomes a no-touch zone. I understand that turning the county into one big “buffer zone” would mean sheer bliss and celebration for the death-to-development crowd but it will create economic chaos as one of the many downside effects for the community at large.


Gordy Petersen
San Juan Island
Wilson Invited To CAPR Dinner

Dear Editor and Harold Wilson,

I appreciate your interest [see letter below -Ed] in our local economy. However, your view is only part of the story. Studies from Washington State University and news stories from many news organizations have reported that the largest costs to building a home are "regulations". People mostly buy real estate to build a home and for investment. The current regulatory environment makes it impossible to know what, how or when the next set of regulations will be implemented and that causes some of the jitteriness about real estate potential here in the San Juans and around the country. In addition, the current draft regulations will make a lot of homes that are already built "non conforming." I don't know about you, but when things get too expensive, or uncertainty is in the air, most people choose to wait and see what the costs are going to be.

I warmly invite you to attend Tuesday's Jan. 4th, CAPR San Juan meeting at the Grange Hall at 5:30 pm. Ted Clifton will be speaking about the costs of regulations.


Frank Penwell
San Juan Island
Disingenuous To Blame New Regulations

Dear Editor:

To the Editor:

I read the Guardian with great enjoyment and appreciate the columnists who contribute. It brings out a point of view shared by a large number of islanders. I appreciate you publishing letters, as well as their rebuttals.

I believe Gordy and Sam Buck are being a bit disingenuous when they blame government regulation for the downturn in the real estate market.

Gordy said in his most recent column (dated 1/3/11) "The threat of new regulations has made REALTORS break out in mini-initiatives and is forcing some of them out of business". and Mr. Buck stated recently speaking to the council, as quoted in the Guardian "Mr. Buck told the Council the uncertainty of what can, or cannot be done on a property has caused economic distress for property owners, and for the overall economy in San Juan County."

Gentleman, we are in an extended, severe, global recession with large financial institutions failing, entire countries going bust, in excess of 10% unemployment, and trillions of new deficit added by the current federal government. That is the problem. The real estate trends here merely reflect that.

I support your ideas and positions and take delight in reading your columns, but I would like to keep the debate level. To blame the real estate woes of our County on the speculative changes in local and state regulations is simply intellectually dishonest.

Thank you for listening.

Harold Wilson
Friday Harbor


Tom Bauschke
John Evans
Mary Kalbert
Ron Keeshan
Gordy Petersen
Janice Peterson
Bruce Sallan
Terra Tamai
Amy Wynn
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