by Vivian Henderson
July was a milestone for me. Exactly 10 years ago I started regularly attending County Commissioner’s public meetings on behalf of Kitsap County property owners. I’ve been through 8 county commissioners (if you count Garrido twice); usually three commissioner meetings a week. It’s been an education.
I’ve learned a lot about county matters — not just land use. I’ve also learned a lot about the commissioners, department heads and county staff. There have been a lot of changes in staff, elected officials and staff in those 10 years. Many times I’ve discovered that I have more archival knowledge about past county matters than anyone sitting in the room.
My history with the county doesn’t just go back 10 years. It started back in 1991 as the state was strong-arming local governments to implement the newly legislated Growth Management Act (GMA). That was when I discovered that our elected officials were no longer in charge.
The Olympia bureaucrats — namely the Dept. of Ecology and Dept. of Community Trade & Economic Development had taken over. Other state agencies soon followed; i.e. Dept of Fish & Wildlife, Dept. of Natural Resources. They have punitive powers and grant money!
It seemed to me that our elected officials were happy and eager to hand over their legislative powers to these unelected bureaucrats. And when the bureaucrats found out how easy it was to get power — like taking candy from a baby — they revved up their engines! Now when some underling from the Dept. of Ecology tells one of our elected officials to jump – our elected officials say “How high”? It’s a sad affair.
I always thought our local elected officials were there to protect us from a too powerful state and federal government. And we did have some good people trying to do just that. Matt Ryan was a County Commissioner when all this came down. He tried his best to protect Kitsap County property owners from the devastating downzones and other calamitous mandates of the GMA.
Much to our loss, Matt got voted out of office. The only friend property owners had in Kitsap County and he lost at the polls. My hat is off to Matt Ryan. He tried! Thanks, Matt.
There were other good people who saw the potential for what has turned out to be serious unintended consequences of the GMA. Retired Senator Harold Hochstatter (13th Legislative District, Yakima/Kittitas) was a fighter. I will never forget his words:
The issue is not the issue. Who decides the issue is the issue. If you decide the issue you are a free man. If a politician decides the issue you can un-elect him, but if a bureaucrat decides the issue you are his pawn and practically without recourse.
Thank you, Senator Hochstatter, you are so right!
But you don’t see many Matt Ryans or Harold Hochstatters around anymore. They have been silenced and replaced by “bobble heads”. Bobble heads don’t ask questions. Bobble heads don’t read legislation before they vote on it. Bobble heads vote with the majority without question. If you want to see the “bobble head” jig performed just go to a meeting of the Puget Sound Regional Council (PSRC) policy boards in Seattle.
I have been going to PSRC meetings pretty regularly also for several years. Every motion that I have ever witnessed at PSRC board meetings has passed unanimously. Unanimously! Come to think of it I believe every motion I’ve ever heard at the Kitsap Regional Coordinating Council (KRCC) meetings has also passed unanimously.
In 2004 the KRCC, with the guidance of PSRC, updated the Countywide Planning Policies (CPP). The Kitsap Countywide Planning Policies are the framework for Growth Management in Kitsap County. They must be ratified by the County Commissioners and all four cities in the County. At the time, KAPO described these policies as “… the most difficult document KAPO’s technicians have ever had to plow through.”
KAPO submitted 19 pages of testimony carefully outlining concerns of property owners. We gave a copy of our testimony to every mayor, city council member and county commissioner. I was stunned when our three county commissioners and the city councils of Port Orchard, Bremerton, Poulsbo and Bainbridge Island ratified the CPPs without a single dissent. They passed all of these elected officials unanimously. Now THAT is scary!
But I have a glimmer of hope there. Port Orchard Mayor Lary Coppola has been kicking up some sand at those meeting. Way to go, Mayor!