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Island Guardian


Open Letter To The County Council


Congratulations on your election. I sincerely wish you the best in this job.
I am hopeful and concerned for the future of our county so please take my comments in that spirit.

Having taken part in the debates and arguments over the creation and evolution of the Charter, I have some opinions, backed by evidence and reason as to why the voters approved the propositions and how the Council can move forward under the new system. Please allow me to summarize the most important lessons learned as former Freeholder and Charter Review Commission Chair.

The CRC was focused upon how the Charter was working to meet the needs of Islanders. The most important lesson I learned is that these islands need to be unified. We should never forget that our islands, with their diverse interdependent communities, must be unified in the way they are governed.

The people we elect should always act in the best interest of the entire County not just their own island. I see this as one of the main reasons voters passed Proposition 1 with the mathematical precision of representation by countywide voting.

Second, the Council needs to be strong and show leadership. That was the point of Proposition 2. You are the people’s best hope for making positive changes in our local government. You need to stand up for the people and take control of the management of the County in our best interests. We expect you to be active in controlling staff not staff controlling you.

The original Charter unintentionally shifted power away from the people by weakening the power of our elected representatives. Council members came and went but staff remained in place. Administration and staff became a force that sometimes acted outside the control of the Council.

Administration and key staff people will naturally assume the leadership role when leadership is lacking. As the part-time Council members revolved out and new ones came in, the Administration and staff became the leaders. In some cases they acted less like public servants and more like overlords that felt superior to the citizens. As the representatives of the people it is your job to shift power back into the hands of the electorate.

The lesson to be learned from history is to be decisive and positive. The people need your leadership. Take responsibility for your own actions right or wrong. Doing nothing is not acceptable. We simply can’t afford it.

It’s easy to delay decisions when the choices are poor to begin with but this leads to complacency and inaction. On the other hand, making a decision and then working hard and enthusiastically to see the decision through will lead to positive results. The result may not be perfect, but your willingness to make hard decisions in the face of uncertainty means you have the courage to take responsibility for your actions and for the outcome of your decisions.

Proposition 3 was passed by 85% of voters. The people want open government. Meeting together as a group of 2, no matter how innocent it may seem to you, is a poor choice that could create legal problems for our county.
Your relationships with each other should be forged in open public session. That way no one is left out of the discussion. You can meet as frequently as it takes to hash out issues and do it in public session. This is a full-time job serving the public. Meeting once or twice a week may not be enough.

Let the manager do his job. He/she doesn’t need to be at every meeting. Don’t let the administration and staff, decide what the agenda is. Please lead the way.

The people have delegated more power to you as our representatives. Please use it to improve our county.

Thank you for listening.



(Gordy has been writing a fun filled -for the most part, and sometimes even fact filled- column for The Island Guardian for eight years. He has a talent for poking fun at us while pointing out the absurdness of the unintended consequences of many of our actions, and has become a must read for politicians and the populace. Gordy graduated with honors from Seattle Pacific University with a degree in Philosophy. He also attended Theological Seminary. He has spent most of his life sequestered in the remote San Juan Islands where he has survived by fishing, hunting, and growing prize-winning vegetables. He once owned a small chain of grocery stores in the islands. He has served on many committees and has held elected office. )




What They Do And Say


“Shorelines: Where We Live, Work, & Play.” That’s a charming little title for the recent “Friends” countywide mailer but I think there’s something fishy about it. The evidence is clear that the “Friends” don’t want people living, working, or playing, near the shoreline. They seek to control all human activity near the water while at the same time telling us how much they support it. What they say and what they do are very different.

What do they say about local tourism?

"Protecting our shorelines is good for our economy and our environment. Our visitors contributed over $158.5 million to our local economy last year,” said Stephanie Buffum, Executive Director of “FRIENDS” of the San Juans.

It sounds like they support tourism, right?

Not really. The “Friends” have recently taken up a fight to cripple island tourism by challenging permits at a Lopez Island resort for a modest expansion (see below). Like Rosario or Roche Harbor, small-scale island resorts benefit the local economy in many ways not the least of which is bringing customers that spend money and increase the tax base.

For a business investor, spending capital to hire attorneys and other professionals to face endless challenges by the “Friends” for a simple permit reduces potential profitability and discourages investment. How is fighting this project consistent with support for tourism or local “economic development?”

Do they really care about contributions to the local economy from tourism? Not according to what they do. They have undermined the whale watch industry by supporting the closure of the west side of San Juan to all boats (including kayaks). Does this sound like they support working and playing near the shore?

It makes no sense unless you understand the philosophy behind it. Here it is in a nutshell; they feel it is their duty to save the world from idiot hominids. If you believe humans are part of the natural world and you just want to live, work, or play here, they need to protect the islands from you. Of course the “Friends” are the enlightened hominids that obviously know the secrets of the natural universe. The enlightened ones must control all residential activity by the lesser hominids before the sea rises and the earth is destroyed.

At least they’ll excuse us for living won’t they? Not really. They’d rather we just go away.

The “Friends” goal seems to be restricting all human interaction with the environment. They support large “no-touch” buffers to keep people away from the shoreline and they’re twisting the arms of legislators to impose them.

Each new regulation is another tool in the “no growth” toolbox that their attorneys can use to run up the cost and complexity of building a single family home. This is the strategy that they have used to stop growth. Jobs mean growth and growth is bad. The result of all this regulation is making the construction of a home only affordable to those few that can navigate the expensive, arbitrary, and unpredictable regulatory schemes.

The truth is that they don’t want us idiot hominids to “live, work, and play” anywhere near the shoreline! Watch what they do not what they say.

ig_FSJ_LopezAd-001-1 (151k image)




Resistance Grows Due To Heavy-Hand Of CAO


I enjoyed reading Judge John Darrah’s guest column “Deconstructing the CAO Campaign,” (Journal, pg. 7, April 3).

It may help him understand the “Anti’s” if he had an inside look into the movement.

I’ve been embedded in what I call the “Rural Resistance” for about 25 years. At times I’ve felt alone but now there are many of us.

I’m certainly not the leader. This movement is made up of very independent folks who don’t follow orders very well. We do not receive grants like the Friends (Friends of the San Juans) who are paid to lobby for more government authority over land use. Well-funded State agencies like DOE and Puget Partnership are also allied against us.

The Resistance pays for the occasional advertisement or public forum by the fruits of our own labor. Letters to the Editor are random but sincere. We are all volunteers who are loosely organized and pitch in our own money and resources to defend what we see as a war against our rural way of life. Most of us are long time islanders.

How did this movement grow? The lies got bigger and more obvious.

We’ve been told that if we don’t support strict regulations, then we must want orcas and salmon to die. We have been told that a great catastrophe is looming over the islands because our homes are too close to the shoreline and that our mere presence in nature is something to be loathed.

If we don’t accept half-mile buffers for the Peregrine Falcon we must want them extinct. None of it is true. That’s why we are seeing a paradigm shift.

Judge Darrah had his office in downtown Seattle, where Peregrine Falcons nest on top of buildings. Imagine a half-mile buffer being imposed in that densely populated area. Ridiculous?

Then why does the CAO require it here? Where’s the common sense? The CAO cannot fix a problem that doesn’t exist in the first place.

According to the science these islands are pristine. The biggest lie is trying to justify these CAO prohibitions on the premise that increased protections are desperately needed. The fact is that our existing laws have done the job nicely. The evidence is all around us.

The division in our island society generally breaks down along the lines of authoritarianism versus libertarianism. It’s all about how people perceive the role of government in their lives. The authoritarians want to use the power of government to control the actions of the people, while the libertarians want to use the power of the people to control government.

The authoritarian nightmare has played out recently in an enforcement campaign. We have a situation now where neighbors turn in neighbors for building code violations. New regulations are used as tools to prosecute people in the most authoritarian manner.

I’ve visited a lot of homes in the islands and every one of them has some violation subject to fines and possibly jail. Do we really want to treat our neighbors like criminals when they plant blueberries near a wetland, or sell organic foods from their farm stand?

Many people have seen the authoritarian path that the CAO promoters want to take us down and have said, “Enough! We love nature but we don’t worship it.”

That’s why the Resistance is growing. Don’t be surprised if the authoritarian candidates are defeated again in the next election.

It’s not stealth. It’s not wealth. It’s about living free in this place we all love.




Thy Neighbor?


The hard old oak chairs in the Courthouse have held the butts of generations of islanders. Judge Stuart Andrew peered over the huge dark paneled desk down upon the small audience in the oak chairs. Faded historical photos of island characters hang from the courtroom walls. These are the men who sat in judgment of their neighbors, men who handed down rulings according to the laws of the territory. I was here today out of an interest in justice. My neighbor and friend Errol Speed, is on trial, charged with serious crimes.

My butt is in an old oak chair. Errol ‘s butt is in a sling. That’s right, he is charged with the most heinous of crimes (at least in San Juan County), building code violations! OMG!

The district court judge sees a daily parade of substance abusers, domestic violence perpetrators, and people who commit violent crimes against others. Then along comes someone who is slammed up against the wall by jackbooted thugs for a difference of opinion over the size of his barn.

In this case a business competitor turned his butt in to the County Assessor, and the Planning Department for alleged offenses he found by looking at aerial photos of Errol’s farm on Google Earth. Errol was served with a search warrant and the authoritarian enforcers from the County swarmed his private property and busted him because he had no permit for his trailer or wood stove. He didn’t even know he needed one for his trailer.

I’ve known Errol for more than 20 years. He is a father of six with ten grandchildren. I was the neighborhood grocer on Orcas where all his kids grew up. I saw Errol and his family in the store almost everyday. He’s a hard worker, a good father, a small business owner, and an organic farmer (why does SJC persecute organic farmers? This is the third one in a row! Charles Dalton, Nick Jones, now Errol Speed?).

Now here is the point of this article; seriously, is this the way we want to treat our neighbors? Have we come to the point in San Juan County where the correct application of the building code is the same as criminal assault? Where a landowner can face fines and jail time for using an unpermitted wood stove to keep warm? Why wouldn’t San Juan County exhaust civil remedies for non-compliance before violating the privacy of its’ citizens and storming the property with a search warrant? Is this the way we want to treat our neighbors?

This case brings some important issues to the forefront:

Can the County use information obtained from magnified aerial photographs as the basis to obtain a search warrant?
Does a private property owner who is doing no harm to his neighbors have a right to privacy?

Have regulations in San Juan County gone too far?

Regulations in this county have done an adequate job in protecting community values. Soon we will see the implementation of the most onerous and unnecessary regulations to ever come down the pike. These regulations are nothing more than tools to use to harass your neighbors for a vendetta of any kind. Is there someone you don’t like? You can stick it to them with the new CAO. If the County gets its’ way you can use aerial surveillance photos to turn in your neighbor. Have we crossed the line here into some kind of fascism? Does the “golden rule” have any meaning in the islands anymore? “Love thy neighbor” or put his butt in jail, that’s our choice. I hope for a better community. I don’t even recognize this one anymore.




One Way Conversation


About 50 friends and island neighbors sat around tables in the High School Commons. We were there to participate in the first of 4 evenings of “Community Conversation” presented by San Juan County. Bob Jean, our County Manager, facilitated the meeting. It started late because he thought more people would show up. They didn’t. In fact many people left before it was over. He told us that Orcas had a better turnout for their conversation than we did on San Juan.

In his opening remarks Bob stated that we were always in election season. Since he has been here (9 months) there has been one election after another. Then he said that this meeting was not a campaign for any candidate. I recognized several candidates for County Council in the small crowd. Bob told them not to participate in the discussion. They could sit there and be quiet.

This made me wonder what was really going on here. I agree that we have had lots of elections. I don’t see that as a negative thing. It is our way of controlling our county government instead of being controlled by it. I’m not sure Bob understands this. In fact, if we could just have a direct unfiltered conversation with the candidates, this Community Conversation would not be necessary. Instead the County is spending 25K on slick mailers, ads in the center pages of the paper, press releases, and don’t forget we are paying Mr. Jean a salary that exceeds that of the State Governor (15k per month). Seriously, why are we doing this?

The answer is simple. If you look ahead at the schedule you can see more tax increases coming. The simple fact is that the County cannot live within its means. Secondary to this, the County wants to break the harsh fall of the new CAO regulations once we are pushed off the cliff onto them. This is their way of campaigning for higher taxes and stricter regulations down the road. It’s that simple. But I thought this wasn’t a campaign? I thought they would listen to us instead of funneling our words into a formula that dictates the outcome. But NO!

I would like to predict how this conversation ends. Please look back at this column in a few months to check the accuracy of this prediction. Here goes:
In the first meetings you told us that that you wanted all these expensive things that defined your “Quality of Life.” (The list that the County suggested will be the basis for the definition).
In the second meeting you told us you needed more County services.
In the forth meeting you told us that the environment was more important that the economy.
Therefore we need to raise your taxes and find additional ways to kill the economy with more regulations.

I hope I am wrong but I am cynical because I have seen this so many times before. It is clear that this County can’t live within its means. They have raised every possible tax and fee. There is no regulation that is too strict. Just try to build a home here under the new CAO. You ain’t seen nothin’ yet!

These things destroy the quality of life for many of us. If we can’t afford to pay I guess we have to leave. The fact is that we are turning into an exclusive community just like Nantucket, Aspen, Jackson Hole, etc. We are on that exact pathway. I thought nobody wanted that. I hope I’m wrong.




This Trail


There’s this trail I walk almost everyday. Sometimes my dog and cat come along. It’s not just any old trail. This trail sits on the edge of an ancient mountainside that is sunken into the sea. There is not much soil and there are rocky bald spots in every direction.

ig_Gordy_Column-118_Photo-01 (50k image)

(all photos by Gordy Petersen)

Overhead is the far edge of the “blue hole.” Often there is a round blue--‐sky opening in the clouds above this trail where the sun shines through. It is part of our rain shadow. On the far horizon you can see the weather coming in from the Straight of Juan de Fuca but clouds often divert around the blue hole.

ig_Gordy_Column-118_Photo-02 (50k image)


Navies from 2 countries patrol the waters and shipping traffic from all over the world passes by. Out on the horizon the ships sit high up on the curve of the earth. You can see that from this trail.

ig_Gordy_Column-118_Photo-03 (43k image)


This trail has a southern exposure and the sun and salt air have kept the small terraced cliffs neatly pruned. Short grasses, green moss, clover, and a spectacular array of multi--‐colored wildflowers dot the old mountainside.

ig_Gordy_Column-118_Photo-04 (77k image)


Across the sea 20 miles or so, are the Olympic Mountains. This saw--‐toothed range is part of an inpenetratable wilderness. The glacier crowned tips stand watch over the straight of Juan de Fuca. You can see them all from this trail.

ig_Gordy_Column-118_Photo-05 (47k image)


A description of this trail must include the wildlife. Songbirds provide a musical soundtrack all along this trail. A pair of bald eagles share a nest just below and can often be seen soaring through the treetops. Today a red tailed hawk screeched above me, a Merlin chased a small bird through the bushes, and I saw a Flicker and a Downy Woodpecker, pecking tree bark.

ig_Gordy_Column-118_Photo-06 (46k image)


We often scare up deer that have been sleeping in the thickets of ocean spray. The dog gives chase for a few yards. The deer will bounce a few times and then disappear leaving the dog in the dust. She comes back to me with a big grin and asks for a treat. I pull one out every time and say, “Good girl!”

ig_Gordy_Column-118_Photo-07 (76k image)


In the warmer months there are Orcas. They play in the kelp beds on the deep shore waters. You can smell the fish on their breath as they blow great clouds of spray into the air when they surface. The sound is unique and primitive.

ig_Gordy_Column-118_Photo-08 (62k image)


This trail has a dangerous stretch. I have been hurt here twice. Once I twisted my ankle. It required surgery and I took several years to recover completely. When I was building this trail, I was moving a large rock and I pulled a bicep tendon. It was another long recovery. Both of these injuries rank at the top of my life’s pain list.

The dangerous part of this trail is below a cliff at the top of an overgrown talus slope. The rocks that have sloughed off the cliff have been long covered by grasses and hardy shrubs called Ocean Spray. You can use this “hardhack” to hang onto and they won’t give an inch. The trail is steep and rocky here as you walk up and over while hugging the cliff.

Today my foot slipped just a little on a loose rock. I caught myself but went on. Yesterday the long arm of a blackberry bush raked my pant leg and left a few stickers in my jeans. I stopped and removed them on the other side of the slope.

Sometimes I use a light walking stick. I use it to whack back thorny vines and because it keeps me sure-footed. It gives me more courage in the rough spots.

My cat always takes the high road at the top of the cliff. The dog will do that sometimes too. They look down at me while I carefully walk the narrow path between the cliff and the ocean spray. They meet me on the other side and sometimes they’ll get a treat from my pocket.

Even though it’s dangerous I walk this trail almost every day, and each day I need to work up a little more courage before entering the dangerous part. I can laugh if I come through unscathed. I can also laugh when stickers grab at me or when a foot slips and I catch myself from falling, or when a rock falls from above me nearly missing my head (cats will do that).

Something like this happens every time but that doesn’t keep me from walking this trail everyday. And it never will. I hope you have the courage for your trail today and in the New Year. Enjoy your property and remember this:

A man’s attachment to his property is personal and emotional. It is like the love of a father for his daughter. Fathers can be very protective of their daughter’s virtue. Beware now. The government has become like a lecherous teen-aged boy lusting after the rights to our land. These rights are inalienable and are the basis for our freedom. We should not make it so easy for government to take them away




Speak Louder?


I had suspected that the County Council was deaf. Now I know that they’ve just stopped listening. They have already made up their minds about the Critical Areas Ordinance (CAO). Public input is officially over. Here’s proof.

I recently attended a meeting with the Attorney General of Washington where Howie (Nostradamus) Rosenfeld predicted that the CAO would be passed soon by a vote of 5 to 1. How utterly astonishing! (Or perhaps this was decided in a secret meeting?)

Anywhere else this would be called “Breaking News.” Here in San Juan County it is evidence that our council stopped listening. The “Gang of Five” has already decided their course. Let’s ram this law down the people’s throats!

Mr. Rosenfeld’s determination to slap us with the most restrictive anti-human laws since Prohibition is shameful. If the other members of this Gang of Five go along it will be a loss of freedom and a critical blow to our local economy.

The Prohibition made criminals out of everyone except “teetotalers.” This CAO will trip up everyone who may have a mud puddle or a frog on his or her property. It is simply the worst assault on individual liberty in San Juan County’s history.

This legislation is expensive, unenforceable, and makes criminals out of property owners for using their land. It’s just wrong. For Howie to assert that this CAO will pass soon by a 5-1 margin is frightening. We need to speak louder by voting this gang out of office.




Imagine . . .


How bad can it be to work as the Administrator of San Juan County? It seems like a dream job and it pays top dollar. Imagine moving to these Islands to finish up a successful career in government. Imagine getting paid fifteen thousand dollars each month to do it! How much stress and BS could you put up with for that much money?

Imagine that you only have a few years left before you retire. You just finished building your island dream home. It’s a bad time to sell it and you could lose your investment. If you could stick it out a bit longer the economy might improve and you could retire in comfort. How bad do things have to be for you to pack up and leave?

Imagine that you found a new job. It’s a good job but you must give up your island dreams and take a pay cut. How screwed-up can things be in San Juan County government for you to decide to chuck it all and go back to the mainland and work in a crowded city full of gridlock and gas fumes?

It must be real bad. This County government structure obviously isn’t working. Can you imagine changing this situation so that our future leaders can succeed? I hope you can. Please take time to read and understand the changes recommended to our charter government structure and vote to change it this November.




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