Citizens demand answers for local governments joining ICLEI planners

by Sue Forde and Lois Perry
for Citizen Review Online

Posted 5/3/2011

Sequim, WA - Approximately 150 citizens showed up for the panel discussion about property rights at the monthly FourC [Concerned Citizens of Clallam County] meeting at the Boys and Girls' Club on Monday, April 25, 2011.  Joanne Estes opened the meeting; and the Pledge of Allegiance was led by Sean O’Neil from Senator Jim Hargrove’s office in Olympia.

Pete Church-Smith of the FourC moderated the event, which included four panelists – two representing government, and two representing private citizens.  Church-Smith explained that the purpose of the event was to help frame and clarify property rights because they are shrinking as government grows.

Clallam County Commissioner Mike Doherty (D); Sheila Roark-Miller, newly elected DCD [Department of Community Development] Director (NP); Kaj Ahlburg, retired attorney and citizen activist; and Scott Roberts, of the Freedom Foundation (formerly Evergreen Freedom Foundation), each took turns to state their case about whether or not government should be actively involved in regulation of private property.

Scott Roberts talked about John Locke’s famous 2nd Treatise of Government – that all rights are from God, and that government by the people is the only legitimate form, which includes the protection of private property rights.  He said the Declaration of Independence echoes that, as well as the U.S. Constitution and the Washington State Constitution.  “This is for elected officials with a very short attention span,” he said, and they are charged with protecting “individual rights”.

Mr. Roberts talked about the involvement in local governments by the United Nations in the form of ICLEI (short for International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives (ICLEI): Local Governments for Sustainability), and urged people to ask their local governments to remove their membership from the  organization.

Roberts said he sees abuses; the government bureaucrats don’t look at that first; citizens will make the right decisions.  He said we need to take back our own self-reliance and be good neighbors, which will solve a lot of potential problems before they even begin.  He talked about having read the Communist Manifesto written by Karl Marx – “we’re halfway there”, he said.  The abolishment of private property rights is one of the key tenets of that Manifesto.  He shared his family history, who came to the U.S. from Czechoslavakia when the Soviets took over their country.  His grandfather told him, “You can do anything you want in America”.  “That’s changed,” Roberts said.  “We have the pocket gopher, wetlands and all kinds of regulations to take our land.”

Kaj Ahlburg spoke next and stated that property rights are deeply ingrained in human nature.  He talked about how eminent domain and how it has changed since the U.S. Supreme Court’s KELO decision.  The Washington State Constitution states that private property should not be taken for private use; and the Clallam County Home Rule Charter (the county’s ‘constitution’) had an amendment added, passed by an 87% vote of the people, that private property could not be taken for private use.  He said this does not address partial takings, however, which usually occurs by environmental regulations.  The GMA [WA State Growth Management Act], the Criticals Area Ordinance, and Shoreline Management Protection acts involve government taking the right to use one’s private property, without compensation.

Kaj also spoke about ICLEI and UN Agenda 21, Sustainable Development.  He said Clallam County has been a dues-paying member of ICLEI.  He has read the documents, and they state among other things that the ecological footprint of humans has become unsustainable.  ICLEI is not shy about announcing how it pursues these goals: quote, “We must … pursue more radical solutions”.  It defines itself as “an effective sustainability and environmental Agency strengthening local governments’ capacity to find radical solutions” and states that it “will request that our members commit to … radical action”.   

Ahlburg continued: ICLEI is a part of UN Agenda 21.  Agenda 21  is the UN’s blueprint for what they call sustainable development.  A brief review of its table of contents shows headings such as  “changing consumption patterns” and “strengthening the role of … trade unions.”  The stated cost of implementing Agenda 21 is $600 billion per year (Chapter 33).
ICLEI’s guide for “Outreach and Communications” (also is instructive about the organization’s goals and means to achieve them.  The goals listed are first, “[r]aise awareness”, second, “[c]hange attitudes. Change the way people think and feel”, and, third, “[c]hange behavior … ensure compliance with climate change goals.” (p.7)
“I, for one, do not want my tax dollars to fund an organization that has as its goal to change how I think and feel’, Kaj stated. (Click here to read Kaj’s entire presentation and links to the UN’s website for its documents.)

Sheila Roark-Miller was the next to speak.  She said we “need to be balanced with some long-term thinking.”  She talked about her history on the North Olympic Peninsula, and how she’s implemented some changes for property rights since she has been in office (she was elected in November 2010).  “Small residential ramps were not allowed; that has now been changed,” she said.  She explained how a fence over 6 feet tall needed a permit; now the department has changed to allow for a “prescriptive fence”, which means people don’t have to pay for review costs.
Roark-Miller explained that the shoreline management was back up for review, and we’re in about week four – she saw they were putting together an advisory committee, and she made sure there were several voices from the community on it, including Kaj Ahlburg and Joanne Estes.  “You’re a part of the process,” she said.

County Commissioner Mike Doherty (D) said he is the current chair of the Board of County Commissioners.  He said he has degrees in Political Science.  He said “the law evolves”, and he took an oath to support the Constitution of the United States.”
Doherty talked about how two houses have gone into the Dungeness River, and how flood plain regulations are needed.  (He failed to mention that one of those homes was taken by the river due to the requirement of the county to change the type of rock that had previously protected it for years.)

Commissioner Doherty said that ICLEI is a “convergence of issues” – the largest group of local governments.  “In my mind”, he said, it lobbies for practical advice on how to manage public property.  We have to use not only the “letter of the law”, but our “own personal experience,” he said.

He said he taught business law, and he is much more sensitive toward individuals.  I’ve “come to understand your concerns”, he said.  “Our Board of County Commissioners is very open to the public coming; we have never applied the 3 minute limit; we try to be open; we have over 30 advisory committees.”  He said we are in a time of “convergence” of major public issues, shortage of water issue, population issues.  We have to leave a little better “stewardship” for future generations, he said.

Pete Church-Smith then brought questions that the FourC had received by email to the panelists.

At a recent Board of County Commissioners’ meeting, a citizen spoke about her neighbors who live at a lake west of Port Angeles, and how they were concerned because government officials were entering their property and surveying it.  She said they couldn’t go complain because they were afraid of retribution from government agencies.  What can government do so citizens aren’t afraid of the government? she asked.

Scott responded that there can be local “pushback” – people are giving anonymously because they’re afraid, there are private property rights abuses.  An organization has been formed elsewhere in the State – Stop Taking of Property of Olympia – and an organization could be started here, he said.

Kaj stated that citizens are protected by the Bill of Rights.  The Fish & Wildlife agency, however, is allowed to enter on any land; he doesn’t know whether this infringement of property rights has been tested in the courts.  Employees of Fish & Wildlife can trespass on private property, according to a state law, he said.

Doherty said he’s spoken with the person and is “sympathetic with her position…there are some ‘issues’”, he said.  If someone is burning copper wire, should government have the right to enter?  Polllution of upstream water – junkyards – can be defined differently – these are “complex issues”.  We need some kind of regulations, with the danger to water, air…, he stated.

Roark-Miller said at Lake Sutherland, someone was in a boat surveying the private docks, and she “guessed” that was the problem.  We need to reach out, and “educate” them about “the process”, she said.

Church-Smith said the next question concerned conservation easements.  The tax bill is reduced and there is also a reduction on income taxes for giving a conservation easement; however, if a critical areas is determined on property and buffers required, the taxes are not reduced.

Doherty said that when people buy land they should know what they’re getting.  “One can be philosophical”, but if you want to change what’s going on in government, you should run for the legislature, he said.

Roark-Miller talked about fire loss and how the assessor can remove the building from the tax rolls.  She added that even though some might “lose” some of your land use through building restrictions, etc., she doesn’t count it a “loss”, because you can “enjoy” the beauty.

Discussion was toward the current shoreline management act hearings and other hearings that take place by the agencies.  What effect does the testimony of the people have in changing anything? was the question.

Roark-Miller said that it’s a “process”, and every so many years, they have to look over the “plans” so we are in compliance with the State.  As an example, she said, people want to get more “public access”.

Ahlburg said that hopefully, it’s not just an exercise to have citizens vent.  He cited the WA State Dept. of Ecology (DOE) as an example.

Scott said individuals can make a much great impact at a local level.  The DOE has the “guidance” – he said “we believe in voluntary programs before the heavy hand of regulation,” to which there was good applause from the audience.

Church-Smith took questions from the audience.

Dan Shotthafer asked Doherty about the county’s membership in ICLEI.   The county has been a member for 3 years, he said, and wanted to know the cost per year.

Doherty responded that the dues are about $1,200 per year, based on population.  Half of that is paid by “nongovernmental organizations”.

Shotthafer asked if ICLEI has made any recommendations that our county has followed.

Doherty said it’s “difficult for me to say”.  He said ICLEI will help search for grants, offers “free” workshops, and “suggests best methods”, etc.  He said he’s personally been to a workshop which made him aware of fuel-efficient vehicles and solar panels.

Shotthafer said there is much “local talent”, and wondered why we need an “international” organization to “guide” our county.

Doherty stated that there is a “convergence of major issues” – that “water is a serious issue”.  Hopefully, we’re all “critical thinkers”, he added.

Joanne Estes asked who was the nonprofit organization that paid for half of the ICLEI fees.  Doherty responded that it’s the North Olympic Research Institute Policy Council.

Someone from the audience asked about the “zero net loss” and 200’ setbacks that are being discussed currently on waterways.

Roark-Miller said that DOE is wanting “no net loss of ecological functions”.  The county already has setbacks in place, she said.  As far as “no net loss” is concerned, she said we don’t know what that means – and will need another committee to figure that out.

Scott talked about nonconforming use, and that the county should work on a “prescriptive method”.  DOE does want to provide more “public” access over “private land”, and wants “view corridors”, he said.

Sandy Collins, a local citizen, said she finds it “offensive” that government agencies have the right to go through my private property.  “There seems to be this prevailing belief that people are stupid and that we need government to do everything for us,” she said.

Doherty replied that special interest groups can give us the information we need.  “If you look at public opinion and talk to your kids”, you’ll see that they want “more public access” to beaches.  When there’s a “willing seller”, he said, the county acquires more land.

A woman from the audience responded that she lives at Diamond Point, and that government “took our beach”.  Since they, she said, there have been drug deals, teens having sex, kids carving up the beach, and it’s become an environmental hazard.

Kris Hallis of Sequim commented that Tuesday morning meetings of the Board of Clallam County Commissioners are difficult for working people to attend.

She then challenged Doherty by reminding him that George Soros is in partnership with ICLEI.  "You took an oath to uphold the US and State Constitutions and the Home Rule Charter.  Signing by ICLEI says to abide by their charter---who is your allegiance to---here or the United Nations?"

Doherty said, "There is no obligation to abide by the UN Charter.  "It was not discussed at workshops," he said.

Doherty chastised the attendees for sharing Henry Lamb's booklet about ICLEI Sustainablitly.  Although apparently embarrassed at times about issues with the agenda, of ICLEI, he clung to the local involvement, with the United Nations (UN) International group.

When questioned about  "takings", Doherty used the Dungeness upper river flooding (Conley's) to support the actions of commissioners in past issues toward regulating private property. He failed to mention that government action, at least in one case, was what caused the destruction of a home along the Dungeness River. (See "Willing Sellers Sought Along the Dungenes River..." story from 2002)

A couple of individuals spoke about the ongoing problems in Carlsborg due to government regulations and the Growth Management Act.

At one point, Commissioner Doherty talked about the need for regulation due to "failing septic systems". See the follow-up inquiry through the Public Disclosure Act: the county has "no record" of failing septic systems.