Critical Areas Ordinance is not needed and based on bad science

Guest columnist
by Rodney McFarland

Snoqualmie Valley Record

Dec. 9, 2004

King County, WA - In the wee hours of the morning on Oct. 26, the urban representatives to the King County Council, ignoring the objections of the representatives of the areas actually affected, voted to prevent many rural property owners from using 50 percent to 65 percent of their property. They also imposed increased buffers and hundreds of pages of new regulations on unincorporated King County residents when they passed three new ordinances, commonly referred to as the Critical Areas Ordinance (CAO). Because most of their constituents do not have to live with the new restrictions, they were able to enact their "solution" to a "problem" they have never been able to identify.
Listed below are some of the restrictions that will go into effect if the ordinances become law:
* Owners of previously undeveloped properties lose forever the use of 50 percent to 65 percent (depending on size) of their property.
* The largest stream buffers increase to 165 feet on each side. Wetland buffers can be as large as 300 feet.
* Each red-tailed hawk nest will consume 4.6 acres while a spotted owl nest will eliminate all use of over 980 acres.
* Wildlife corridors will connect other wildlife buffer areas. You may lose use of your property even if you have no actual "critical areas" on it.
* Unelected bureaucrats will decide many of the specific rules you will have to abide by via the "public rule" process, and those same bureaucrats will determine which consultants you can turn to for help.
The state Growth Management Act (GMA) requires that cities and counties periodically review the policies and ordinances that they have enacted to meet the requirements of that act. "RCW 36.70A.130 Comprehensive plans -- Review -- Amendments. (1)(a) Each comprehensive land use plan and development regulations shall be subject to continuing review and evaluation by the county or city that adopted them. A county or city shall take legislative action to review and, if needed, revise its comprehensive land use plan and development regulations to ensure the plan and regulations comply with the requirements of this chapter...." King County ostensibly has a deadline of Dec. 1, although there were reviews and changes in the last couple of years that probably already met the requirement. While reviewing the applicable policies and ordinances, the county has a requirement to include best available science. "RCW 36.70A.172 Critical areas -- Designation and protection -- Best available science to be used. (1) In designating and protecting critical areas under this chapter, counties and cities shall include the best available science in developing policies and development regulations to protect the functions and values of critical areas."
The powers that be in King County seized upon those few words in a major state law to put through the second most draconian set of regulations in the United States. Pierce County's new rules qualify as the most draconian since they used what King County had originally proposed without the amendments that occurred in King County. The primary author of the CAO freely admits that King County is not out of compliance with the GMA. An independent review of the science (available at found that much of the science that is the basis for the new regulations is not reviewable, not applicable or not real science. Of the thousands of buffer studies done worldwide, the ones most applicable make an argument for very small or no buffers. When Skagit County reviewed the science they ended up with no buffers in the rural agricultural areas. The primary study upon which the 65% native vegetation cover is based relied upon data from before any of the current regulations were in place. The very restrictive regulations that we currently endure have simply been ignored as though they have had no effect.
Politics is the art of creating a real or imagined crisis and then pretending to solve that crisis by doing whatever you could never win approval to do through regular channels. The bureaucracy of King County in collusion with the more extreme environmentalists have certainly mastered the art form. The CAO will do nothing measurable to improve the environment of King County but will have immense impacts upon the small group of rural property owners most affected. Meanwhile housing costs will continue ever upward forcing our kids and grandkids to abandon the area to those trust-fund kids who can afford to live here.
As President of Citizens' Alliance for Property Rights, I have filed three referenda that will put the ordinances to a vote of the people affected. The King County Charter makes provision for unincorporated area referendum of ordinances that only apply to the unincorporated areas of King County. We have until Dec. 30, to gather signatures equal in number to eight percent of the votes cast for King County Executive in 2001. The vote will take place at the March 2005 election. Only registered voters who reside in unincorporated King County can sign the petitions and vote.
The Washington State Constitution is very clear that the right of initiative and referendum are reserved to the people and supercede the authority of the legislature. The King County Charter is very clear about the citizens' rights of referendum. That hasn't stopped King County Prosecutor Norm Maleng, at the behest of 1000 Friends of Washington and the Center for Environmental Law and Policy, from using your tax money to sue me in an attempt to squash the referenda. They obviously realize they won't win the vote if we get the referenda on the ballot so will use the legal system to attempt to batter us into submission. That isn't going to happen. The residents of rural King County are no longer going to stand by while the urban elite dictate how we live our lives. If they really knew how to save the environment, the basin condition map that is part of the new ordinance would show their part of the county to be in as good shape as rural King County. That map shows the real problems are in the city.
Rodney McFarland is president of the Citizens Alliance For Property Rights

©Snoqualmie Valley Record 2004



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