This new program is loaded with copious quantities of collaborative gobbledygook, crisply punctuated with "required." The Excavator has done some serious dredging, and it’s apparent that this Ruckelshaus “Voluntary Stewardship Program” is going to be extremely illiberal and control-freaky. And it’s not really voluntary. Far from it. Typical of the sustainability movement, this process makes glowing assurances of "local" participation, but real control is wielded by the appointed statewide advisory commission. The commission is tasked to "improve compliance" judging local ordinances and comprehensive plans "to prevent the degradation of functions and values." With definitions that vague, WE think this bill and this program is bad news - very much a Trojan Horse.
This came onto our radar because WE learned that there’s going to be a Whatcom County “informational session” on Thursday July 28, 2-4 pm at Council Chambers. Note that they picked a time when most farmers are getting ready to milk their cows or bale hay (weather permitting). The farmers ("agricultural operators") probably weren't expected anyhow. This looks like it's primarily intended to bring government and special interests up to speed. Regardless, it is a public meeting and WE encourage citizens to GO TO THIS MEETING IF YOU CAN and witness the hard-sell at onset. This commission will press Whatcom County to opt-in (bad idea).
Why should the public care? This new board will periodically review the countywide comprehensive plan (beginning in 2014), with a particular interest in our Critical Areas Ordinance (CAO), watershed management, and the county's conservation efforts and land trust holdings. This new oversight, similar to the Growth Management Hearings Board, is intended to have impact. Land use lawyers and consultants will get a lot of business, fighting for and against whatever the commission believes is necessary for Whatcom County to do in the way of voluntary "self-management." Heaven only knows what the Ruckelshaus Center will pick up in the way of state grants for its long term part facilitating this "process."
WE read quite a bit of the fine print in this new law, and there's no doubt that Whatcom County will be told on Thursday that it must decide in the next six months if it’s going to opt-in or opt-out. Some choice, there. Whether counties opt in or not they’ll be under the thumb of a regulation intense crew. Counties that opt out are still subject to mandatory goal setting, and periodic review of plans and "progress." If their progress falls short, they'll be given “recommendations” at the command of this commission and its “technical panel.” If counties don’t toe the line – read the bill [particularly Section 16 very closely] – the state will have its way. From our reading, what this bill offers is a veiled threat. Get with the program in a friendly way (partnering, kibitzing, all the usual glad-handing), or we’ll getcha anyway. This is loaded with "compliance" deadlines.
It should come as no surprise that there are carrot and stick money ties to this. Private special-interest environmental groups ("or other entities") are being welcomed to join in on every level: at the commission table and on the technical panel, on local boards and at the local trough. Non-profit NGO's can suggest goals, then be hired to operate programs, as so many do now. People – this process will be loaded by the usual swarm very quickly, if they haven't already signed-up at the state level. Will the Planning & Development Department have more work or less work? We think a great deal more, every which way. Will our county council lose more direct local regulatory power than it has already? WE're afraid that's definitely in the cards, particularly if they choose to opt-in.
All this is embellished with talk about protecting agriculture as a resource and watershed protection for fish - but if you dig deep enough, it definitely intends to ensure greater enforcement of the GMA (the Growth Management Act) across the board. At seven year intervals, the commission will review our countywide comprehensive plan --population, city programs and sub-area plans, urban growth areas -- all other matters as they relate to watersheds and "agricultural resource" conservation.
Dredging on this subject, WE see why farmers across this state feel like marked-men and women. They are. This new Ruckelshaus Bill, 2011 House Bill 1886 (and 2007 Senate Bill 5248 that preceded it), is loaded with language about fostering a spirit of cooperation and partnership, constructive outcomes and goals, collaboration and public input. But it clearly expands government, creating a virtually untouchable bureaucracy we can't eject at the ballot box. It’s a hammer.
WE will develop a complete informational page under the “Home” tab on this soon. There’s just too much information for one blog post. Until then, WE suggest you reflect on how this erodes individual property rights compared to state interests.
You’ve probably have heard the phrase “agriculture is a resource.” Stop and think about what that really implies.
If the State of Washington (or the county) were to declare that in the interest of affordable housing, “private homes are a resource,” you’d probably say, “That’s ridiculous! No. That’s wrong. I paid for my house. My home is my castle. The government shouldn’t have an interest in my property.” What if a farm is your home?
Today people seem conditioned to accept the premise that "the community" has a tangible interest in private farmers’ property and operations. There's something not right about it, to say the least. For years, the state made welcome recommendations though its “extension services.” But government has pushed way over the line, particularly here in Whatcom County. Council has passed ordinances that make ”farm plans” mandatory. And this “voluntary program” – it means to monitor operations and to conduct pushy outreach, with the goal of managing what agricultural "operators" do. Would other citizens welcome that kind of oppressive “friendly government” interference in their day-to-day businesses or private lives? Put yourself in the farmer's boots.
GO to the meeting if you can. Let’s not sleep through this one, people.