Citizens rally to overturn Critical Areas Code

By Lois Krafsky-Perry for Citizen Review Online

Port Angeles, WA – 4/24/01 - Clallam County community members were anxious to share their stories about the Critical Areas Code (CAC) and how it’s affecting them as approximately 100 citizens joined together at the Port Angeles City Center. The forum was titled “The Critical Areas Code and How It Affects You.  The CAC is an ordinance “mandated” by the state Growth Management Act.  Clallam County’s version of the ordinance is among the most restrictive in the state – so much so that many local citizens are feeling the effect of it in restrictions in the use of their property and high fees and fines to comply with it.

A group of citizens formed the Committee to Repeal the Critical Areas Code, and have been gaining impetus as they have held informational forums around the county. The organization is growing, as more and more taxpayers become frustrated and angry with unconscionable restrictions on their private property.

Bob Forde, chair of the committee, began the forum by offering an overview of the Code and why it needs to be repealed. He explained that the Code is extensive and complicated – that even county staff (Department of Community Development) who wrote the Code (and are also charged with administering and enforcing it) have problems interpreting it.  The critical areas maps, according to county staff, are inaccurate and incomplete.  The Code – which covers approximately 55% of unincorporated Clallam County – calls for compliance whether or not the environment is actually in danger of being harmed, according to Forde, who cited a case that went before the Hearings Examiner.

Fines, said Forde, can run as high as $25,000 – with proponents wanting to get them increased to $100,000.  Code Enforcement Officers are on county staff pursuing noncompliance, and a number of people in the audience testified as to how they had been hurt financially and by loss of the use of portions of their land as a result.

Buffer zones required on either side of waters – from rivers to seasonal runoffs – mean that no activity at all can take place on that portion of the owner’s property.  The courts have ruled in Washington state, however, that unless the entire property is taken, it’s not considered a “taking”, and they will not be compensated for the loss of that portion of their property – yet they still have to pay taxes on it.

Forde stated that one county commissioner had proudly stated that “our Critical Areas Code will be used as a ‘model’ for the rest of the state.”

Forde read from the State Constitution: “Article I, Section I of the Washington State Constitution states “All political power is inherent in the people, and governments derive their just powers from the CONSENT OF THE GOVERNED, and are established to PROTECT AND MAINTAIN INDIVIDUAL RIGHTS.”

Clallam County is a “home rule charter” state, which is the county constitution.  It  states: “the first power reserved to the people is the Initiative.”  The Committee to Repeal has begun the initiative process by filing through the proper channel.  The initiative has been given the title “Initiative No. 6 – Critical Areas Code Repeal”.  In its reasoning section, the initiative states: “We believe the Clallam County Critical Areas Code is contrary to wise environmental practices, that it creates dangerous high densities on our lands, and artificially restricts the best use of land.  We believe that the Critical Areas Code as written is far too complex, leaving far too much room for broad interpretation.  We believe the ambiguities in the Code subject the people to burdensome control, and may also cause law-abiding citizens to unintentionally violate the law as interpreted by unelected officials.

Forde also pointed out that the Code is unconstitutional in that it contains more than one subject (he counted seven), which is contrary to both the state and county constitutions, which state that an ordinance can only contain one subject.

Approximately 4,000 signatures must be turned in by July 9, 2001 to place Initiative #6 on the November ballot.

Forde, a Sequim resident, invited all the attendees to ask questions or make comments if they desired.  “We invite anyone who is in favor of the Code to speak,” he said.

Parker Stoops of Joyce, Kip McKeever of Sequim, and Mike Brown of Port Angeles told their individual stories of how they have been affected by local government bureaucracy. Many others in the audience also shared.

Lou Huber of Port Angeles reminded the citizens that no one could enter their property without presenting a warrant. Some had complained that people identifying themselves as county officials had entered their land making demands regarding their private property. It was determined that those non-elected county officials were breaking the law, as they violated the rights of the citizenry.

Buffers was one of the main topics as many people are affected by 50 foot buffers on both sides of streams on their property. Re-classification of their property with buffer sizes changing upset many people as they discussed their plights.

The Washington State Growth Management Act has called for certain counties to create “a Critical Areas Code”.  There is no stipulation as to the terms and requirements of the Code; in fact, one county wrote its code so that it just barely incorporated the bare minimum that was required, Forde concluded.  “Where will it end?” he queried.  “We must take action now to stop this insanity!  This law is unconstitutional.  Will you help us repeal the Critical Areas Code?  It’s a beginning toward returning the power to the people, instead of unelected bureaucrats apparently answerable to no one!”

Bob Forde can be reached at 360-681-6955, days or 360-681-3023, eves.

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