In Perpetuity


The San Juan Islands, about a hundred miles northwest of Seattle, located in the confluence of the Rosario Straits, the Straits of Juan de Fuca, and Puget Sound, is arguably one of the most beautiful areas in the United States, if not the world. This archipelago constitutes San Juan County (SJC), which is the legal jurisdiction entirely responsible for maintaining the overall look and feel, the "island character", the degree, size and location of villages and activty centers, the rate of growth, the "sense" of the land. This felt sense has drawn humans here for centuries, to live, to be refreshed, to create communities, to play, to work, to be grateful for the graceful intersection of trees, hills, meadows, shorelines, viewscapes, and silence.

Because of these sweet, rare and insular qualities, during the period 1970 to 2007, San Juan County has been the fastest growing county in Washington State, becoming in less than 40 years over 4 times as large than its historic and basically unchanged size 1870-1970 100 year history.

Growth pressures plague Washington State. In response to the negative impacts of growth, the state legislature in 1990 passed the Growth Management Act. As a result of the financial incentives offered by this new law, San Juan County (SJC) in 1992 initiated the process of rewriting its comprehensive plan (CP), completing the process in 1998.

It would be reasonable to suppose that the vast majority of American citizens do not know what a comprehensive plan is, have never read one, would most likely not understand one if they waded even carefully through one, know next to nothing about land use, were not introduced to this topic in school, and, if they discover a land use problem, it is most likely because something has happened in their neighborhood that has disturbed what they took to be "normal" and, in their discovery process, find themselves disamused, confused, irritated and likely feeling helpless. They come to discover nuances and realities of what their neighbor, or nearby landowner, can do with his/her land that impacts them in ways that, had they known in advance, might well have prompted them to taking some action. It might not be a neighbor; it might be the local government that, in its normal (and likely political) manner, puts in a new road, clears a forest, allows multi-family structures in what used to be neighborhoods of single family homes, adds utilities, or enables (which is to say does not prohibit) others from doing those tasks.

Thus a CP, quietly sitting on a shelf in some governmental office, is not simply a document once written and never looked at. It is the official repository of what can and cannot be done, by whom, where, how, and when. That you might not know about it, and how it might impact you and your vision of what you hope and dream for your living and working spaces, parks, roads, vistas, etc. cannot, sadly, be used as a defense.

So it was that when SJC embarked on rewriting it's CP, certain constraints were imposed by the Board of County Commissioners (BOCC)--comprised of 3 elected representatives--which, tho legal, were to create a process that was significantly out of step with the aspirations of its citizens' hopes, dreams and expectations about this staggeringly precious and unique group of islands.

This web site presents a description of the "awakening to reality" that the emerging new CP came to concretize, and of the efforts by five citizens to demonstrate that parts of the new plan were in egregious violation of state law. These five made several successful appeals of the non-compliant plan before the Western Washington Growth Managment Hearings Board (WWGMHB) and other judicial bodies. As a consequence of those appeals, San Juan County has had to re-design critical parts of the comprehensive plan (CP).

The intent of these citizen challenges was to preserve and protect, if possible, in perpetuity, the beauty, simplicity, sustainability, size and character of these islands from the trajectory of growth pressures not only experienced in the previous few decades, but those growth pressures and consequences certified as "legally" possible. This future population potential was both extraordinary but undisclosed and, if realized, would eviscerate the whole reason for coming, and staying here, in the first place.

Their efforts, then, were (and are) best characterized as damage control. No serious planning was done or is being done by SJC to truly plan for or even determine what might be a sustainable carrying capacity (both physically and aspirationally) for these islands.

What follows, then, is a somewhat dry (in the legal documentation) yet rich (in the essays and commentaries) unfolding of this still ongoing, tho largely ignored, battle between exploitation, consumption and disregard v. sustainable self-control in service of harmony, beauty and humility.

The very short version is that the population potential built into the CP of the county is many times larger than what, in 2016, exists. As the county inexorably grows (it's beautiful, right? Who wouldn't want to live here?), we will do to SJC what we are doing to the planet (climate disruption, toxic chemicals, topsoil loss, ocean acidification, resource depletion, etc.). Most of us may feel helpless about these larger issues; we need not feel helpless about preserving and protecting these special islands, as long as we follow talk with walk (no matter how rocky the road).

Land use planning is complicated, confusing and arcane. Comprehensive plans are virtually incomprehensible. Nevertheless, as indicated above, the comp plan names the sport, establishes the playing field and sets the rules regarding future growth permitted in a county. While open meeting laws and policies give citizens legal notice of upcoming hearings regarding governmental activities (such as testimony regarding changes to land use laws), the reality is that very few citizens show up. Reporters might attend, and stories might be written, but rarely is the true meaning of a decision understood much less communicated.

If you want to preserve anything, you have to know the rules of the game and be dedicated to play hardball by them.


This site is organized into 3 main sections:

(Abbreviations and definitions for many terms are presented here)

Comp plan Construction 1992-1998

San Juan County (SJC) began a process to rewrite their comprehensive plan (CP) in 1992. The process involved creating 3 committees of 15 citizens each chosen by the BOCC from each of the political districts (1-3), Lopez (#3), Orcas(#2) and San Juan Island(#1). (Shaw is part of the Lopez District; Waldron is part of the Orcas District).

For those historical buffs among you, a huge box of file folders tracking the documentation of this process was given to the Orcas Historical Society in approximately 2010; only highlights are presented here.

The committees met regularly for several years, guided by Darcie Nielsen, who at the time was SJC's long range planner.

From day one, the committees were instructed that they could "talk about anything except density". Density, which translates into how many dwelling units (DU) can be on a certain parcel size (example, 1DU/5 acres), is a legally defining characteristic of land use. SJC created a CP in 1979; at that time a density map was created, not by planners but by groups of citizens in various neighborhoods around the county. No one ran the numbers as to what all that density might add up to if every parcel were built upon. The maximum number of people (based on roughly 2 people per DU) is called "buildout population". No one knew what the buildout population was in 1979, and the 1992 committees were prohibited from either finding out or discussing it.

The committees from each District chose 3 members among themselves who were assigned to be participants in the Steering Committee, i.e., a county wide committee whose job was to reconcile any differences between the different district committees. The Steering Committee also met regularly.

The first year of the process involved creating a Vision Statement for SJC, describing what the committees felt was the vision of SJC and what the CP was designed to fulfill and create.

Politics was no stranger to this unfolding process. In 1994, the incumbent commissioner from Lopez chose not to run. Two candidates came forward. One was a very conservative white male Republican, characteristic of the BOCC for virtually the entire history of the county. The other was a woman, a Democrat, a theologian and a lesbian. She won hands down.

Two years later, the incumbent commissioner from San Juan Island ran for re-election; he too was white, conservative, Republican, male and involved in development (he was a surveyor). He was challenged by non other than Darcie Neilsen, the long range planner, a woman, a democrat, and whose partner was an African American. She won.

Now there were 2 women, 2 democrats, and 2 progressive views on the 3 person BOCC. There was also less than 2 months before Darcie took office on Jan 1, 1997. The CP process was then accelerated by the 2 Republicans, outvoting the single woman Democrat, rushing to get the CP ratified before Jan 1. They made changes, then had hearings on an accelerated schedule. In early-mid December 1996, the county was struck by a staggeringly unprecedented snow storm. There was between 3 and 4 FEET of snow on the ground, bringing the county to a complete standstill. No one could get out their driveways much less make it to the county courthouse in Friday Harbor to attend and comment on the vast changes to the CP that were being created in haste by these two commissioners. At 5 pm on December 31, 1996, they signed the CP (all it took was 2 signatures; majority vote).

During January 1997, a staggering number of lawsuits were filed against SJC alleging a gross violation of due process regarding the CP. The new commissioners chose to effectively render the lawsuits moot by rescinding the CP and more or less "start over" about where the 2 commissioners went rogue. Thus began another two years of hearings and CP process mostly involving the Planning Commission.

The CP was finally signed in December 1998. This ended the CP construction period. By law, anyone who felt the CP was in violation of GMA had 60 days to appeal. The petitioners (identified above) filed motions (called Petition for Review or PFR's) during the appeal period, thus triggering the legal challenges which are described below.

However, the challenges inherent in the construction process were brought to the attention of the BOCC long before the legal process began. The comments below describe some of the activities by players who ultimately became petitioners.

An overview to the "density" issue was written by Joe Symons as a letter to the BOCC. It was picked up by a reporter from Lopez and presented as an op-ed piece in January 1995 and published in the Islands Weekly.

As a consequence of this letter, a stalwart resident of San Juan Island became horrified that the future of the islands was so threatened, and began a petition. She obtain 1160 signatures (the link shows page one of over 100 pages), which was about 10% of the entire population of the county. As it turned out, each signature constitutes a "comment" and conincidentally, these comments were gathered during the official SEPA comment period running from February to mid-April 1995. The short version is that regardless of the size and intention of the petition (read about it in the Symons 1999 Brief), it was ignored.

Although the testimony before the BOCC by Maile Johnson, was written after the litigation began, (on 4/26/2000), it is included here as it eloquently describes the challenge and opportunity faced by the CP committees.

As well, what follows here is a very brief primer on the population issue at the heart of the challenge to the plan.

Feel free to download and pass on a book of background and commentaries related to the stewardship and protection of this precious archipelago.

Read San Juan County Planning Department's commissioned study on related resort communities (aspen, nantucket and martha's vineyard) here. The conclusion?

"Staff's expectation from this analysis was that the consultant might find some characteristic of the San Juan Islands that differentiated it from the situations in these communities (Aspen, Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard) that have transitioned to a dual market in which long-term residents and local workers are squeezed into narrower choices and disrupted lives. The report does not provide such hope for the San Juans. On the contrary, the similarities in size, scale, access, environment, and trends make us look very much like these communities as they were 20 to 30 years ago. The San Juans appear to be headed the direction of Aspen and Nantucket. (emphasis mine) The lessons of those communities seem to be:..." (the reader is invited to read and reflect on the 8 bullet points following this conclusion)

FYI, you can no longer find this report on San Juan County's web site. In January, 2017 a google search for this report, entitled "Socioeconomic Impacts Growth Pressure in Seasonal and Resort Communities. Staff Report, 5-25-2000; attached technical report examines conditions in Nantucket, Martha's Vineyard, and Aspen" showed that the only place it exists online is on this web page.

The bottom line is that SJC is headed in exactly the same direction as these once-small and beautiful areas were, decades ago. "Don't it always seem to go, you don't know what you've got til it's gone, they paved paradise and put up a parking lot". Joni wrote this song in 1970. The forces leading her to compose "Big Yellow Taxi" are far stronger today.

Legal challenges, 1999-2008

In order to preserve the small scale and rural qualities of the island community so valued by residents, visitors and prospective new residents, the aforementioned 5 citizens initiated appeals of the comprehensive plan in the winter months of 1999. The thrust of their appeals was that they believed the comp plan, or CP, did not meet the standards required of it by the state's Growth Management Act (GMA). The Western Washington Growth Management Hearings Board agreed, and found the CP out of compliance with the Act. In fact, the Western Board imposed an invalidity order on the County, preventing the subdivision of some properties until the County made revisions to the CP.

Information on the appeals, appeal process, findings of the Western Board, etc. during 1999 can be found here.

It is essential for the reader (and potential litigant) to understand the critical importance of procedural process built in to the Growth Management Act. The following bullet points summarize some (hopefully most) of the requirements:

San Juan County modified the CP to address the problems identified by the Western Board, and resubmitted its amended CP to the Board for its review in the fall of 2000.

Once again, the same group of petitioners felt that the county had still not made revisions that were within the standards of the Act, and so appealed again.

To read about the second round of appeals in the fall of 2000, just click here for filings and orders in 2000.

And again, the Western Board agreed with the petitioners, and imposed another invalidity order on the county. Two actually. One of the invalidity orders prevents a property owner from constructing a guest house. The county's response to this invalidity order has been to appeal it to Thurston County Superior Court. However, the Western Board does not defend its decision in that court, nor does the State of Washington via the Attorney General's Office. The petitioners must present the case against the 'guesthouse' policy before the Thurston County Court.

To present an adequate challenge, the petitioners need some legal muscle. Legal muscle costs money. Hence the request for assistance from the community.

A third round of appeals, (including a continuation of the challenges that were unresolved in the 2nd round of appeals), was held on March 6 and 7, 2001. To read some of the materials filed for this Hearing including the May 7, 2001 order of the Western Board, click here for 2001 materials.

SJC, disamused by rulings against it, continued to obfuscate, deny, oppose, delay and spend hundreds of thousands of your tax dollars in a futile, and ineffective, effort to resist the rulings of the WWGMHB and two Superior Court judges. Planners have come and gone at a rate faster than updates to CNN.

As of June 2006 the county has stayed an appeal of an ADU ruling to the Court of Appeals (initiated by former commissioners, all of whom have been voted out of office), pending the resolution of the "guest house" or detached ADU issue. This issue has more or less been resolved by the Compliance and FDO orders issued in mid February, 2007. This FDO resulted in Ordinance 7-2006 which places limits on the number and location of ADU's. Many other issues remain in resolving SJC's comp plan non-compliance. Perhaps the next most contentious issue circles around the definition and creation of compliant "VGA's" (Village Growth Areas, a local version of the GMA "UGA", or Urban Growth Area). The process of coming into compliance in this area is characterized by the same delay and deny tactics that have failed regarding the ADU issue. However, due to energy and time limitations, this topic is not covered in the materials in this web page.

Reading legal documents may not be "your thing", yet the comp plan rubber meets the GMA road on this stretch of the highway. To really know what is going on, you need to be willing to get your foot wet in these waters, or, to follow the rubber/road metaphor, to smell the smoke and see the length of the burn marks on the tarmac. Read a brief or two. We think you will find the experience valuable, and it certainly will give you a flavor of the process that a citizen needs to follow if he/she wishes to wrestle with this dragon.

If you see a reference to an "index number" while reading the material, including the briefs (sometimes indicated as "#" followed by a 6 digit number, such as #231432), this number refers to a legally defined page within a document. The San Juan County Prosecutor's Office has a complete list of all documents for which index numbers have been created, as well as all the indexed documents, any of which you can obtain a copy of.

Another thing to notice, if you walk down the legal trail we've paved for you, is that there are 2 cases (so far) that are still in process: 99-2-0010c and 00-2-0062c. The first case, abbreviated to "10c", refers to the issues that were raised in the 1999 case. The second case, "62c", refers to the new issues raised in response to the amendments to the comp plan, amendments made by SJC in response to the Final Decision and Order (FDO) from the first case.

Going Forward 2008-present

Summary of Current Status ~2000-2016

NOTE: The information presented below is based on county data available as of 2000. There has been no change in the density (read: potential buildout population) other than that required by the Growth Board as a result of the plaintiff's litigation; those changes are reflected in the following summary. The ADU issue was settled in 2008. The summary below reflects the impact of that settlement.

* SJC's current comprehensive plan permits a buildout population of approximately 70,000; this figure does not include impact of visitors. The current population of the county is about 16,000 (see page 70 of the OFM report for SJC data). Prior to 1970, the historical population of the county was less than 4000 (see page 71 of the OFM report linked above). In less than 40 years, the population of the county has quadrupled;

* Had a small group of petitioners not been successful in challenging the comprehensive plan, the buildout population for SJC would have been over 180,000; SJC has spent in the neighborhood of 1 million dollars in its unsuccessful effort to defend a plan that was in violation of GMA. As a consequence of its non-compliance status, SJC did not benefit from state funding for various projects;

* As a condition of the re-write of the comprehensive plan, begun in 1992, the Board of County Commissioners prohibited citizen committees established for this purpose from discussing or altering the existing density map;

* U.S. Supreme Court rulings have consistently established that the county is the governmental unit responsible for making and enforcing land use decisions. In SJC, the "county" government's highest authority is the County Council (formerly BOCC);

* Because SJC agreed to participate in planning under GMA, it is bound to comply with GMA rulings regarding the degree to which its comprehensive plan conforms to state law. Since the current comp plan was passed in 1998, SJC has been found to be in continual non-compliance with GMA. For many years, the degree of this non-compliance was considered egregious. SJC has never met a single deadline set by the Growth Board and continued to ask for extensions;

* There is no restriction regarding the number of building permits issued per year, i.e., there is no limitation on the rate of growth of population in the county;

* There is no land use planning regulation that would guide, mandate or restrict the number of building permits issued per year by any criteria to conform with encouraging or directing growth in activity centers or UGA's consistent with GMA guidelines;

* At buildout, the rural lands in the county will have a residential density that is defined by GMA as sprawl (1 dwelling unit/4 acres)--this density does not reflect the impact of guest houses and/or other facilities for visitors;

* The cost of community services study for SJC, consistent with the findings of nationwide COCS studies, shows that there is a significant tax deficit that results from the construction of every new residential structure in the county. Consequently, as each new residence does not pay its fair share of the tax burden, all other property owners in the county are subsidizing the unrestricted growth created by new residents;

* There is no regulation, guidance, or restriction on the maximum size in square feet of residential structures in SJC;

* San Juan County has been determined to rank first in the nation among counties as having the greatest gap between the haves and the have-nots;

* SJC's fiscal flexibility to respond to growth pressures is dangerously inadequate; a former county administrator has said in public meetings that the county's financial situation is currently in 'controlled descent';

* The County Council has to date made no agenda item, policy, process or plan to deal with the existing and growing degradation in environmental, fiscal, infrastructure, housing and community services, amenities, and expectations. There are two organizations in the county that help preserve land through conservation easements and outright ownership: the SJC Land Bank and the San Juan Preservation Trust. While relevant and helpful, these organizations are either private or semi-autonomous and do not represent proactive leadership by elected officials;

* SJC did a housing needs assessment in 2009. The Executive Summary, pages 2 and 3, include the following bullet points:

* There is no current recognition of, much less response to, known critical global problems such as peak oil, global climate change, and economic disruptions due to developing nation resource consumption as these problems will impact public and private options, behaviors and costs to SJC residents and stakeholders;

* SJC has no definition of or implementation plan regarding the creation of a sustainable future in any much less all relevant aspects of this term in either the public or private sectors;

* No public process has been identified or promulgated to inform the public regarding the likely consequences of future extrapolation of current policies and programs, nor is there any county-government-sponsored process by which alternative policies and plans might be considered to mitigate undesirable fiscal, environmental, and other population-growth-related consequences. NOTE: SJC has initiated a process to update the CP as required by GMA. The process began in the summer of 2016 but as of February 2017 it is still under development;

* Shoreline property wells in SJC are increasingly becoming contaminated with salt water due to consumption rates in excess of recharge rates;

* 62% of all parcels in SJC are non-conforming, being smaller than their density designation; the average size of these parcels is 2 acres. In SJC rural lands, there are 6755 non-conforming parcels designated R-5, consuming almost a fifth of all rural acres, with an average size of 1.5 acres. Updates to these statistics based on 2017 SJC data will be added as the information becomes available. In order to come into GMA compliance, SJC has agreed to accept a growth board ruling that non-conforming parcels less than 5 acres will not be permitted to construct a detached ADU;

* SJC citizen committees took a year to craft a Vision Statement outlining principles and goals for the look, feel and operation of the county--the comprehensive plan states that the Vision Statement "is the foundation upon which the entire Comprehensive Plan is based";

* A 2001 unanimous ruling by the Planning Commission recommended that a "truth in planning" analysis of the comprehensive plan should be undertaken as "these tasks and analyses are of the highest priority and all necessary resources should be made available to the Planning Department to accomplish them...these tasks and analyses should be addressed immediately and pursued in earnest until completed". The BOCC ignored these recommendations;

* Citizen surveys have consistently shown a clear mandate for strong action to be taken to control growth. Over the last decade, when given opportunities to select county governance, citizens have consistently chosen progressive environmental candidates to office;

* The population demographic of San Juan County is aging (source). There has been little to no conversation about how this demographic will be served over the next 20-40 years.


* Population rate of growth, and ultimate maximum amount of population, are substantially inconsistent with the Vision Statement;

* SJC has no current intention or strategy to inform the citizens of the degree to which changes in service levels, quality of infrastructure, taxes, and adverse effects of population growth on environmental and aspirational aspects will occur. NOTE: As of mid 2016 SJC began preparing for an update to the CP as required by GMA. The public participation process has yet to be formed and implemented as of February 2017;

* News organizations in SJC, prior to 2017, have been ignorant of or unwilling to discuss the true meaning implicit in the comprehensive plan. It is too early to tell how engaged and engaging they will be for the 2017 CP update;

* Failure to discuss these issues openly represents a major policy failure inconsistent with the standards of responsible governance;

* Suitable organizations and non-adversarial processes already exist in SJC to assist in the process of crafting, implementing, and institutionalizing procedures to transition to a future environment consistent with the Vision Statement;

* Continual non-compliance with GMA shows poor faith in achieving goals appropriate to the conservation and stewardship ethic of county citizens;

* The implied rights of citizens to a vision-statement-defined county are being subverted by failure to address fundamental land-use issues;

Going Forward 2017+

Western Washington is growing. OFM projects that King County will add about 400,000 new residents by 2040; Whatcom county will add about 74,000 during the same period. Growth pressures on San Juan County, in terms of visitors and residents, will likely increase. It is not clear that OFM has considered the impact of these pressures on San Juan County.

Additionally, western Washington is one of the few locations on the planet that will have the least negative impacts of Anthropogenic Climate Disruption (ACD). It is expected that there will be climate refugees coming into this area over the next few decades:

Added to the mix, there is considerable uncertainty about the direction that the country is or will be taking due to the disruption of the Trump administration. A January 2017 article in the New Yorker raised the issue of wealthy refugees escaping disruption:

What You Can Do

With thanks to KCTS television for the idea, we urge you to:


Learn about the comp plan issues. Learn about the legal challenges. Learn about the arguments. Learn what the concerns are regarding increase in taxes, loss of wildlife and wildlife habitat, concern over depletion of water resources, loss of the values and size of a small rural community (SJC has the greatest gap between the haves and the have nots of any county in the country), increase in conflict that is a likely outcome of the population growth permitted by the CP. Each of you may have a concern. After reading about the issues, and informing yourself, take the next step.


Think about what you want. Read the Vision Statement and imagine what it really means in terms of the number of people, where they are located, how fast the county should grow, and what mix of people we want for our community. Be creative and inspire ("to breathe life into") your own interpretation of the foundation of the Comp Plan, the Vision Statement . Then...


Get involved in ways that work for you. Write a letter or email to your Commissioner. Talk a friend into writing a letter or sending an email, or even informing him or herself about the issues. Send a contribution, and get a friend to send a contribution, to support the legal efforts to preserve the islands we call special, we call an "extrodinary treasure of natural beauty and abundance." Write a letter to the editor. If you have the means, consider a large contribution, or donating some land to OPAL for affordable housing, or putting a conservation easement on your property. Fund an all county mailing. Be a speaker, or help support a speaker, to promote a long-overdue conversation on how we meet the multiple objectives of our Vision Statement, how we preserve as well as maintain an income stream, how we limit population impacts while allowing growth.

One suggestion for coordinating these different needs into a coherent plan is presented below as the Smart Growth Policy. Read it. Disagree? Great! Write us and say why. Write your own plan. Put it out there by yourself or ask us to publish it on the web. Discussion and Consensus are what we need to come to a personal, practical and participatory decision about how to move forward, consciously and deliberately, as stewards of our own and our children's children's future.

You can contribute financially to the effort to make the Vision Statement a reality. Why would I want to contribute? Here's what fellow islanders have said with their contributions.

Since the only 501(c)3 organization that is focusing on these issues right now in San Juan County is The Friends of the San Juans, please send a contribution of any amount to:

Friends of the San Juans
P.O. Box 1344
Friday Harbor, WA 98250

Contributions are tax deductible. Be sure to indicate that your contribution is for any effort to make the Vision Statement the controlling factor in guiding the CP.

Smart Growth Policies

The short version of the Smart Growth Plan (SGP) proposed as a framework for resolving complex and conflicting land use issues in San Juan County.

A more detailed version of the Smart Growth Plan (SGP).

The ideas in the SGP are similar to the proposed Comp Plan for Nantucket (google it). Nantucket is an island community similar to San Juan County located off the coast of Massachusetts.

The idea of Smart Growth is percolating up in many places. Minnesota has a Smart Growth process.

Futurewise (formerly 1000 Friends of Washington) has also weighed in on Smart Growth and GMA.

According to the U.S. Census for 2000, San Juan County has been the 2nd fastest growing County in Washington State, for the 10 year period 1990-2000. (For the 30 year period, 1970 to 2000, SJC had been the fastest growing County in Washington.) Now, the fastest growing county is Clark County. In late April, 2001, Clark County Commissioners voted to restrict the growth rate of the county to 1.5%, far below that which they had been growing. When you read about this unexpectedly courageous political decision, imagine that your letter (see below) to the SJC BOCC might be the straw that brings about the same kind of forward thinking. (Note, as of June 2006 the newspaper account of this action has been removed from the web site where it was originally reported: href="

Explore the Big Questions

Here is one list of questions and here is another that penetrate the fog of the Comprehensive Plan. Each is dense yet each begs answers to the fundamental issues. These questions will be answered; the issue is not that they won't be answered. The issue is who will answer them and what will those answers be. If it not you, it will be by the DCD, the Planning Commmission and the County Council. Please take a crack at these questions and let DCD and the County Council know how you feel. You can do that in an email; see the following.

Send a Letter or email to the County Council

Write a letter or email, sign it and let the Council know how you feel.



Books are available at your local bookstore or on the web, at, for example, Amazon.

You can read about the book Balancing Nature and Commerce in Gateway Communities

Consider "Better Not Bigger" by E. Fodor

Potholes in Paradise (by Joe Symons), available as an iBook at the iBookstore

Benfield, F. Kaid; Raimi, Matthew D.; & Chen, Donald D.T., "Once There Were Greenfields: How Urban Sprawl is Undermining America's Environment, Economy and Social Fabric", Natural Resources Defense Council & Surface Transportation Policy Project, 1999


Read about the carrying capacity analysis underway in the Florida Keys.

Read about the Marin County Land Trust, a county experiencing rapid growth and trying to preserve its farmland.

Explore addtional information on sprawl, with links to various anti-sprawl efforts occuring around the United States.

Quick resource list:
San Juan County's web site
Washington State's Growth Management Act overview. See also Wikipedia info on Washington State's Growth Management Act.
Orcas Issues: email ""
Sounder email: ""
Journal email: ""
Phone numbers/email:

Note: if you send an email, be sure to include a sentence asking specifically that your email be included in the record.

Western Washington Growth Management Hearings Board (WWGMHB)

in Olympia. Note: the Western Board is not a newspaper entity where letters can be sent to express an opinion. If you wish to become involved in challenging a SJC ordinance or a WWGMHB ruling, there are very specific procedures that must be followed. Calling, writing, or checking the WWGMHB web site will get you started. Once begun, this process may not be for the faint of heart or pocketbook.

San Juan County Prosecutor's Office in Friday Harbor, (360-378-4101) email:Prosecuting Attorney ""
San Juan County Council
350 Court St.
Friday Harbor, WA 98250
fax: 360-378-7208
email: "" or click here to send an email.
San Juan County Planning Department in Friday Harbor,
Note: San Juan County, by a vote of the county commissioners, eliminated the planning department in the Fall of 2003; the current status of the planning department can be found at Community Development and Planning. As of January 2016 there is no person assigned the position of "code enforcement officer" and only one person assigned to long range planning.


This web site, and all the work it contains, involving not only the five principals but an endless number of support folks and organizations, on each island, during all 3 periods (writing, litigating and going forward) described above, is grounded in a deep respect for the beauty and treasure of these precious islands and the thousands of people, mostly Native Americans, who have made the communities on them, over many centuries, thrive. Until just a few decades ago, the humans who lived here enjoyed a pretty stable, functional, and nature-dominated way of being.

It is love of the beauty, tranquility, small scale, safe, neighbor helping neighbor qualities that has been the driving force behind the inspiration to do this work. Petitioners (and everyone else supporting these preservation efforts) made no money, received no awards, sought no glory, spent uncountable hours in research, writing, hearings, and received a not insignificant amount of animosity, in persevering 'gainst the ever-constant pressures to stop disrupting the transformation of these islands into yet another version of Paradise Lost, of which there have been, are, and will likely continue to be, many examples.

The bumper sticker that reads "We do it different here than the mainland" captures the flavor of wanting to insure that future generations will, in perpetuity, be able to participate in a treasured, slow, caring, small scale, community way of life sketched out in the Vision Statement. Love is the fuel that powers the little engines that could, and hopefully will continue, to make this vision a reality.

Boiler Plate


This web site was created by one petitioner to provide full public information about the comp plan and issues raised in the appeals. It is not provided by San Juan County.

Petitioners are committed to supporting conservation of the biologic, scenic and rural qualities of the San Juan Islands. We encourage the support of The San Juan Preservation Trust, a non-profit land trust helping preserve San Juan County by assisting landowners in dedicating conservation easements on their property.

If you would like to contribute to the discussion on and of the future of San Juan County, or have suggestions for improving this web site, please email your submissions or ideas to "joe AT"

Please note: the information in this web site was the best available at the time it was created and maintained (~1999-2008). Many references no longer exist. Hopefully most of them have been removed. This web site does not follow the trail of land use planning since the 2008 FDO for which petitioners began their appeal in 1999, such as the CAO and SMP challenges. Further, this web site is largely focused on the legal issues related to the comp plan construction and appeal. It does contain essays and background material, but an interested reader would need to study newspaper editorials and letters to the editor, and talk to elders who've been here long enough to share their views, to get a street-sense version of the unfolding.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

© 2017 joe symons