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Send Olympia a message: Vote yes on I-933

By John Carlson
King County Journal

Oct. 17, 2006

Seattle, WA - Here's an excellent guidepost to use when you're deciding ballot initiatives: When one side asks you to read the text of the initiative, vote for that side.

That is what supporters of Initiative 933, the property rights measure, are asking people to do while the opponents make dire warnings and claims about the measure that are now so ridiculous they border on the comic.

Initiative 933 is a response to government bullying of land owners, most of them small, and almost all of them rural. The tipping point was a series of county land-use restrictions imposed after 1995 that included the Critical Areas Ordinance, which required 65 percent of a rural landowner's lot to remain untouched and no more than 10 percent of the lot covered by buildings or pavement (like a driveway).

There was no need for the Critical Areas Ordinance in the first place. King County already had the Sensitive Areas Ordinance and the Growth Management Act in place to put a brake on growth and protect rural areas. But with Seattle Democrats running the county executive's office and the County Council, they got greedy, and pushed the CAO into law on a party-line vote. Landowners like Edwina Johnston, now in her 70s, found their land deliberately regulated to a fraction of its value. In Johnston's case, 30 acres of land once zoned for six houses near Preston suddenly had "no build buffer" areas placed around two tiny seasonal streams (with no fish in either) imposed by new county rules. Today, Johnston would be lucky to have even one home on the property. So absurd are these regulations that if you bought five acres in rural King County and wanted to build a house, barn and driveway and farm the rest, it would be prohibited on the grounds that farmland (which the county says it needs more of) would harm the natural state of the undeveloped land.

What if Johnston had subdivided her land in the early '90s? The government would have imposed steep "impact fees" on the developer to pay for the direct and indirect costs of that activity, because the beneficiary should pay the costs. So how much is the county willing to pay Johnston for changing the rules to keep her land in its natural state?

Not a dime. It wants Johnston, and landowners like her to absorb the costs of keeping the land as is. The anger provoked by that attitude explains why I-933 is on the ballot.

As Todd Meyers of Washington Policy Center (disclosure: I'm a founder and former president of the group) stated in a recent study on the initiative:

"Environmental regulations are built upon the principle that those who benefit from an activity, such as a manufacturing plant, must also absorb the costs of that activity, like paying to reduce the pollution they emit. Likewise, according to this principle, when the public benefits from keeping land in a natural state, the public should also pay for that benefit, instead of imposing the entire cost on individual landowners."

I-933 codifies this principle by stipulating that any new rules (like
the CAO) adopted after 1995 (in other words, after the Growth Management Act and Sensitive Areas Ordinance were already in place) that encroach on a land owner's rights must either be waived if desired by the land owner, or the landowner would have be compensated for the lost value of the land. In Johnston's case, if the county wanted to impose additional no-build areas around those two no-fish seasonal streams, they would either compensate her for the lost value, or knock off the bureaucratic BS and issue her a waiver, which is more likely.

Opponents of I-933 predict that it could cost the state nearly $9 billion. The same type of predictions were made when Oregonians were considering a similar initiative, Measure 37 two years ago. But instead of costing $344 million a year, Measure 37 has cost closer to $3 million a year.

To augment their scare tactics, opponents of I-933 recently had seven Washington governors — Chris Gregoire and six of her predecessors — announce their joint opposition to the initiative. All of the current and former governors happen to be nice people and most of them had successful administrations. But none of them prevented people's property rights from being weakened when they had the chance, and some of them played an active role in diluting those rights. When I asked one former governor about Johnston's case he said "Life is unfair". Well, yes it is, but a vote for I-933 will make it considerably less unfair.

John Carlson hosts "The Commentators" with Ken Schram weekday mornings from 9-noon on AM 570 KVI. He also does news analysis on KOMO 1000 news. He can be reached at johncarlson@komonews.com


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