I would like to add some thoughts to the point-counterpoint articles written by Thousand Friends of Washington’s Tim Trohimovich and my friend Rod McFarland, president of Citizens Alliance for Property Rights, concerning the Critical Areas Ordinance (CAO).
Tim’s article presented the view that the CAO was a reasonable and needed addition to King County land-use regulations for the purpose of protecting drinking water, wildlife, open space and other amenities. Rod’s main argument was that the CAO was draconian overkill that addressed a nonexistent problem adversely affecting the small, rural King County population.
I have worked a resource business more than 30 years, owned land in the Snoqualmie Valley more than 20 years and been involved in rural land-use issues about five years. I served on the Snoqualmie Valley Land Use Advisory Group, citizens studying the CAO, and was nominated to two other land-use commissions. I wrote four policy papers on the CAO, which were published statewide, attended public meetings and testified before the King County Council.
This complex issue boils down to two main themes for most people that own rural property in east King County: economics and fairness. The CAO will cost landowners many millions in permits, fees and studies by empowering a bureaucrat/consultant complex. It will render some land unusable and limit options on most other lands. This after landowners have already given millions in the form of downzones, setbacks and buffers already mandated by current law, the Sensitive Areas Ordinance.
State law pushing this ordinance, the Growth Management Act, codified specific goals, among them environmental protection, but also economic development and property rights protection. They were all supposed to receive equal weight when considering regulation. The CAO does not represent a balance of these important goals.
Is it fair that rural landowners should bear the brunt of these costs?
Rural King County council members voted against the CAO. It was passed by liberal urban council members. Their constituents will not be affected by the pain. Another example of Seattle urban elitists putting us under their thumb. We pay while they come out here to play.
It is easy to see where this is going by looking at the state of Oregon. Washington and Oregon are similar in that both are dominated by large urban city/counties, Seattle/King County and Portland/Multnomah County. Most economic and political power resides in these two metropolitan areas. Land-use regulation is nearly identical in both states. Urban growth areas, exclusive zoning and state-controlled development plans exist in similar schemes. There is one important difference. Oregon’s system has been in place much longer, about 30 years. The economic impacts of their system have come home to roost. I know, my family took one of the worst hits.
Drew farms was a 2,000-acre, Eugene-area, grass seed producer. The farm was started by my great-grandfather in 1908. The third generation was farming the operation when my uncle died suddenly in 1974. The inheritance tax burden coupled by five bad years left them in serious debt. They had to sell some of their land to save themselves. The late ’70s real estate market was good and the land was already zoned appropriately, but the Oregon Land Conservation and Development Commission deemed the land better for farming and timber production. Our family lost the whole farm. Three generations of farming gone, a loss that can never be recovered.
The last election cycle saw Oregon voters effectively throw out their land-use system. Measure 37 even passed in Multnomah County. The new law requires compensation when land-use rules destroy value, or as an alternative, the relaxation of the regulation.
Citizens Alliance for Property rights has organized a referendum to put King County’s CAO on the ballot. The people affected, unincorporated King County residents, will have the opportunity to vote it up or down. King County Prosecutor Norm Maleng, Thousand Friends of Washington and the Center for Environmental Law and Policy are suing to stop us. Big mistake. They are turning this into a voting rights issue along with the other substantive issues. This will further enrage and polarize the eastern portion of the county.
Please find a “NO CAO” signature location and sign the petition. Let’s not wait 20 or more years and witness the destruction of our rural economy. Sign the petition and then vote to kill the CAO.