Why I am appealing the Comp Plan

As many people know, I have been a dedicated participant in the rewrite of the San Juan Comprehensive Plan since 1973, when I was appointed to be the chairperson of the Orcas/Waldron Citizen Advisory Committee, one of 3 committees established by our county government to build a comprehensive plan from the ground up. As part of the process, I was also a member of the steering committee, which had the task of combining the ideas from each of the three political districts into a county wide plan.

At the beginning of the comp plan project, I recognized an omission which I felt was significant. I brought the omission to the attention of the planners, to the Planning Commission and to the Commissioners repeatedly, in written and oral testimony at virtually every opportunity that was available. I was politely ignored.

I suppose I could have said to myself that I had made an effort, even a substantial effort, to promote my concern and thus could justify, should I simply give up, that I had not been an unfaithful servant of the ideals I stood for. I found myself unwilling to give up. I had walked this far, I observed to myself, so I might as well walk further and deeper, and take my view to the end of the line.

The end of the line meant that I would formally appeal the comprehensive plan. That meant that I was no longer going to simply entreat the commissioners to listen. It meant I was going to challenge their decision formally. We were going to go from being friendly pals discussing a difference of opinion to being adversaries.

It’s not really my style. I would prefer the commissioners to simply recognize that I’m right and they’re wrong and, as Frank Sinatra said, do it my way. So far, they aren’t showing any sign of dancing to my tune.

So what am I so possessed by that I would spend literally hundreds of hours (and I don’t want to talk about how many hundreds of dollars) writing any number of legal documents to put myself at the legal table, where I and some very dedicated others are sitting across from the San Juan County Prosecutor, and the judges are the Western Washington Growth Management Hearing Board, known to us insiders as the WWGMHB?

And, why would you want to know about it? Who reads comprehensive plans, anyway? Who understands them even if they read ‘em? Your life goes on. You elect a commissioner. He or she does what you hope they’ll do, which for a lot of people is hopefully not screw up, and otherwise manage county life with some reasonableness.

I imagine the reasons I protest the comprehensive plan might sound rather inflammatory to a lot of readers. I imagine that, like cancer, bad news will be received with the usual cluster of reactions: denial, anger, bargaining and depression. I think of myself as pretty reasonable. I think that my research on this issue is impeccable. I think that we have a big problem. I think that few people in the county will find themselves amused.

Here is my concern: our comprehensive plan says that the total number of people who can live here, in San Juan County, not counting summer folks or visitors, if every parcel of property that could have a structure on it in fact had a structure on it, is over 175,000. You won’t find this number in the comprehensive plan because the county failed to calculate this number properly. You will find it in my brief, which is my legal document now submitted to the WWGMHB. Those of us on the advisory committees worked hard on a Vision Statement that describes the future that we want for the county. After over a year, the Vision Statement was approved, several years ago, by your commissioners. I don’t believe that the average resident contemplates that we could stretch our collective imaginations far enough to suck up even 75,000 people, much less 175,000 people, and still achieve the kind of county, the kind of community that we described in our Vision Statement.

The law states that unless someone protests, the comp plan as passed is considered okay. I decided to protest. My protest is in the form of a brief. Read it, and the other briefs submitted by deeply concerned yet otherwise basic folks who care about this county as if it were their own land. Make up your mind and let the county commissioners (BOCC) know where you weigh in. Don't shoot us. We're just the messengers. The BOCC is where the rubber meets the road.

Joe Symons, 1999