Guest Opinion: Could Orcas Be Nantucket? Never Say Never

— by Joe Symons —

Anyone who has moved to San Juan County (SJC) since 2000, and many others who already were here, may not know that in 2000 the SJC planning department commissioned a study of San Juan County specifically to be compared with other island counties on the U.S. East Coast (Martha’s Vineyard, Nantucket and Block Island) as well as Aspen, Colo.

The SJC planners presumed that the study would show that San Juan County (SJC) was not and would not be on the same economic, environmental and social demographic pathway as these “resort communities” had taken.

The SJC planners stated:

“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 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)

This study is neither mentioned anywhere on the SJC web site nor is the study made available there. The only place the study exists on line, easily known to and accessible by the public, is here:

The report concluded:

“While there are a number of lessons which might be gleaned from this investigation, and indeed from a more detailed analysis of these communities and their growth issues and response, the most telling would seem to be that the earlier the problems are confronted and consensus developed, the better. That is, action in advance of a crisis will assure that more of the character and natural environment will be saved and that the controls to do this may be easier to install. (emphasis mine)

Other more specific control mechanisms that seem to be generally recognized include:

1. Reduce the rate of development through a point-scored cap or another similar growth rate reduction system.

2. Decrease the level of capacity at which buildout is reached.

3. Create a vital, affordable housing market for long-term, permanent residents with perpetual deed restrictions; and do the same for seasonal workers.

4. Diversify the economic base beyond tourism and construction using multiple strategies including marketing made-in-the-community products.

5. Use the slower rate of growth to increase the rate of acquisition of key parcels, through the development and implementation of a unified greenspace/open space plan. Use this in conjunction with TDR’s and infill mechanisms to focus growth away from the countryside and concentrate it within urban growth boundaries.

6. Establish a peak carrying capacity for the area using both objective and subjective criteria.

There are a number of ways to accomplish these tasks. What is important is that no matter how they are done, we believe they must be done if these types of communities are to remain vibrant and retain a significant amount of what made them desirable in the first place. The sooner they are done, the better.” (emphasis mine)

Seventeen years have passed since this study was published, putting SJC very close to what those communities looked like then. Please read pages 2,3, and 4 to see details of their findings.

As SJC approaches the starting line on updating the Comprehensive Plan (CP), this study should be placed front and center on the county’s web site in the “Update CP” section. Omitting it is a grave disservice to the community.

Further, the County Council, Planning Comission and Department of Community Development should craft a vibrant and comprehensive public process to discuss the implications of this study prior to a simple perfunctory “update” to a Comprehensive Plan that is already significantly out of alignment with the Vision Statement and with GMA goals. Right now there is precious little public knowledge of the Comp Plan update much less a broad and comprehensive public engagement process to discuss the implications of the Comp Plan that is already on the books.

I encourage all who care about the future of these beautiful islands to take an immediate and proactive position on this topic in order to ensure that you have been fully informed about the changes that have and will occur. Let your county council members know that you need to know much more, now, before we systematically drift unconsciously toward a future no one wants.

The only significant online comprehensive plan information resource available for San Juan County is at:

Joe Symons is the former chair, Orcas committee to rewrite the Comp Plan, 1992-1999, and a former plaintiff, challenging the plan as an egregious violation of GMA, 1999-2008

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Guest Opinion: Could Orcas Be Nantucket? Never Say Never — 33 Comments

  1. Thanks again Joe for this helpful article. So many newcomers
    are disengaged from this process, not realizing the agonies many endured to engage the community in its’ rights to a quiet, peaceful, clean and healthy community.
    The Build-out in Eastsound with the Deliberate destruction of the swale which is critical to the health of Eastsound Bay. Eastsound used to be a Village. It is fast becoming a depository of the effluent from polluted Minds who worship the Almighty Dollar.

  2. re: previous comment:…distinction between fact and opinion is always helpful if the desire is to engage in a conversation…

  3. As an East Coaster who has spent time on Nantucket, Block, and Orcas, let me assure you that panic isn’t really necessary. There is so much that makes Orcas special and very different from these east coast islands, especially the people and their commitments to doing the right thing. I appreciate that people on Orcas want to be cautious and control growth, but there is so much that sets Orcas apart I would think it would be nearly impossible for it to become Nantucket West.

  4. Neil, I appreciate your comments. I encourage you to learn about the comprehensive plan, the challenges to it, and it’s current buildout potential. You are kind to speak toward “much that makes Orcas special” and “especially the people and their commitments to doing the right thing”, but the record shows a different trajectory. I have heard for decades that “It’ll never happen here” and I’ve been here long enough to see the population quadruple (yes, over 4 times larger in the last 40 years.) What those special people of Orcas may not realize is that we are legally permitted to quadruple or more again. Think 4 more Eastsounds, Olgas, Deer Harbors, Lopez Villages, etc. and this does not include the over doubling of population from visitors. The illusion that we are “different” and that it would be “nearly impossible for it to become Nantucket West” is precisely what will cause folks to not pay attention to what has happened and what legally can happen. While everyone speaks to the “we do it differently here than on the mainland”, the reality is that we don’t. It is a nice fantasy, but these islands are driven by market forces, not wisdom, not thoughtful planning, not carrying capacity, not sustainability. Please study this so that readers, already overloaded by too many issues, fears, concerns, tasks, don’t fall back on some presumption that the “right” thing will happen spontaneously. If you look at, you will read that the previous comp plan was in egregious violation of GMA and but for the tenacity of 5 islanders, (4 of whom were from Orcas), our comp plan would have allowed the county to be over twice as big as Bellingham today, not counting visitors. Do the math. What sets us apart from the east coast is that there are a whole lot less folks in Western Washington than the NE corridor. Seattle today has more construction cranes than any other city in the country. Seattle growth means huge population pressure on the San Juans. It is up to everyone to clear the smoke and ask real questions before we presume that someone else will do the right thing. That presumption, re land use, has been violated in 1979 and in 1999. There is no reason to presume that this time the silent majority will be lucky. Don’t be silent. Read and ask and be sure you are given hard testable facts, not evasive answers. County tax parcel data is right there on their web site. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to calculate what buildout is. (It just takes grit). It takes asking the right questions, and the county is not going to do that work for you. If you drill into the web site, you’ll discover (among many things) that rural areas in the county are legally permitted to be, at buildout, at an average density of 1 du/4 acres. That’s sprawl. Since the time that data was determined (16 years ago), rural areas now have an average density of 1du/2.75 acres. This is by no one’s definition “rural”. I can provide this data to anyone who inquires. There is no narrative of what the county’s comp plan says in terms of financial, environmental, transportation, water, capital facilities, wildlife, etc. impacts as we continue to grow anywhere on the county’s web site. There is no growth restriction rate, nor any requirement that growth be in urban areas (UGA’s) per GMA mandate. Zip. Ask the planners. Ask the County Council. Look it up. While I am not advocating “panic”, I want citizens to know that the comp plan is reviewed only one time per decade or two (the rules keep changing). It is not reviewed annually and it is NOT reviewed by the State of Washington. This is our window, now, during a mandated Comp Plan update window. Speak now or forever hold your peace. No one else will do it for you.

  5. Joe,
    As a recent arrival from overseas (‘though coming to Orcas from the mid-80’s to the era), I appreciate your zeal. I recall visiting Nantucket in the late 70’s, and from what I’ve seen, the increased density has robbed it of some of its original charm. Thanks for your thoughts.

  6. Joe, I have read the entire plan and have followed its development. There have been many threads on this site on the theme of keeping anyone else from ever moving to Orcas and I would refer you back to those. I do fully understand that there are people who think Orcas was perfect the mpment they arrived and that any change would only be detrimental.

    But, I believe in Orcas remaining a welcoming community and we may retire there ourselves someday (unless you pass a law barring anyone else from moving on…) I fully realize there has been growth and change and I accept that as part of life. I am confused by what you mean when you say “legally” allowed to quadruple in size. Is there really a law that limits the population on the island? I haven’t seen that one yet, so if you give me a link I’d like to see that. I still thought in the USA people could move freely wherever they want. I know there are limits on building density but population?

    There are many ways for Orcas to isolate itself, if that’s what people there really want. You could even turn back things to how they “used to be” if people wanted that. Consider eliminating the ferry (or just ask the State to raise the fare to 100/person one way) and you will get your wish very quickly. Or, if the old days were really so great, don’t bother to replace the underwater electric cable and you’ll see people leave when the power runs out, money saved, and much less commercial activity.

    Planing for the future is important, but I believe it requires managing growth and not simply trying to kill it.

  7. As I’ve written, the distinction between fact and opinion is always helpful if the desire is to engage in a conversation…in this instance we get to consider Dr. Kaye’s reassuring opinion alongside Dr. Symons’ considerable body of troubling facts.

  8. Fred, I thank you for being so gentle in slamming me. You are a real gentleman. Since you seem to think Orcas is doomed to be the next metropolis, perhaps you should look at property on Waldron before it too is a lost cause to people from Seattle looking for another place to invest their extra millions? Or, is Waldron also going to see the same quadrupling of population that you are assuring will occur (you seem to take that as fact and not opinion)?

    It might be helpful/interesting if you could identify the year in which Orcas was perfect, and that would allow me to see what it was like at that moment, and to better understand what you want to achieve, what and who needs to be removed from Orcas, etc. Perhaps 1791?

    As the population of the US grows, most areas see population growth, so long as they have any reasonable infrastructure and opportunity. I wouldn’t expect Orcas to remain unchanged over the next 20, 50, or 100 years. I do expect that the smart, resourceful, sensitive and engaged community that I have experienced there will do an admirable job of stewardship. Frankly, I consider that a fact, but I would be forced to agree with you that it is only an opinion, based on my experiences and faith in people there.

    Have a great day.

  9. Please recall that, in 1992, the State Legislature passed the Growth Management Act which purposely concentrates growth in urban areas. In San Juan County those areas are Friday Harbor, and the villages of Lopez and Eastsound. The Law states that one-half of anticipated growth must be planned for densities within the above “urban” communities.
    So, all of the regulation about expansion of the above villages is intended to protect the “rural” areas from developmental sprawl. The underlying question is who determines, in a free society, whether a family can move to our treasured island? No one !! Actually, the free-market economy drives that discussion. I would love to live in Hawaii, except that I surely could not afford to do so.
    I can assure you that Orcas, and Eastsound, specifically, was dramatically less populated in 1974 when I moved here. And even then, it was more crowded then those years when John Willis was a youngster. Get over it !! People will continue to move here as long as land is available on which someone new is able to build a home.
    Our challenge as a community is to responsibly plan the growth and development of our small villages through groups like the EPRC. If you are concerned about the future, then you should become engaged in the discussions.

  10. Mr. Symons, having sat in many meetings with you in the past, I cannot help but agree with your observations. Both my family member and another gentleman,a realtor before his passing, fought to save the Swale as well as create the open space in Eastsound which hosts numerous events. And, the comparison to Nantucket is apropos in its presentation. The only difference I recall is that in Massachusetts, the dedicated, hard-working individuals considered “illegal aliens” are from Ireland. Furthermore, let’s start counting the number of condominiums being created on the landscape which are integral to the growth mode.

  11. Eastsound-4,961-5,397 people (sources vary), median household income 59,500, median home value 523,000, median age 48 or more (some sites say it’s over 60.) No stoplights or chain businesses. State funded ferry system. No real beaches. 110 homes for sale.

    Nantucket-7,500 people (almost 1,500 foreign born,) median household income 85,600, median home value 910,000, median age 38. Stoplights and chain businesses. Private competing ferries. Amazing PUBLIC access beaches to lure people. 280 homes for sale.

    These are a few “facts” that might cause some people to conclude that these are not identical islands or populations…

  12. When considering what communities might or might not grow into I often begin by considering that surrounding communities from Anacortes to Seattle started out small, perhaps a homestead or a few, a trading post or general store or perhaps other commercial ventures and they grew from there so I don’t suffer the illusion that it can’t happen here because it happened elsewhere, it is happening elsewhere and it IS happening here. Growth is a reality but we as a community have the right to ask and the right to decide how big a community we want to become and how fast we want to grow. I suggest we ask ourselves that. There are legal and market mechanisms to accomplish both those objectives once we decide how big and how fast. We also might want to consider whether the community should be subject to the will of the market or the market should be subject to the will of the community.

    The argument about anyone closing the door on newcomers is an absurd and simple misdirection from the discussion whether conscious or not. You cannot close the door, there is no means to and I have never heard anyone propose that. So let’s drop that from the conversation because it is utter nonsense. People come and go, people die, property is bought and sold. That is a market reality and it will always allow for newcomers to come as property is available for sale or rent so there is always a natural turnover whether there is any growth or not. We can can however control the rate of growth by controlling the rate of new development, refrain from future policies that permit further subdivision beyond what the current CP allows and we can retire development rights by use of conservation easements and property acquisition for the public trust. We can make certain that development follows the mandates of GMA. The controversy is not between Pro-growth advocates and Anti-growth advocates. It is between advocates of Unrestricted Growth and those in favor of Controlled Growth. You might also frame it as a controversy between those who support an unregulated market (calling it a free market) and those who think the market needs to be regulated because an unregulated market is not a free market but just a free for all. Again does the community have a right to chart it’s future or must it surrender that decision to the whims of the market.

    It would be interesting to inquire as to whether the county’s management of growth since the enactment of the GMA has actually met the legal requirements for where growth is to be directed between rural areas and the UGAs.

    I think it’s a disservice to pat a community on the back and tell them they are special. This isn’t the first community I have lived in where that kind of comment has been employed. I always ask myself what the person who makes that comment is selling. Communities like individuals can develop illusions about themselves thus creating blind spots and a capacity for ignoring. Like other communities we have an opportunity to explore what community means, can be and what it can include. I also hope a community doesn’t settle on an answer to those questions (because definitions become self limiting) but continues to explore, thus sustaining inquiry and perhaps creating a little less susceptabliity to ignoring.

    Few people in our community know as much or more about the history of the SJC Comprehensive Plan than Mr. Symons. The institutional memory of the Development and Planning Department is nearly non-existent because the directorship of that department is a revolving door due to County Council politics that systematically ignore the recommendations of CD&P expertise. Thus the endless chain of lawsuits, a considerable number of which are and will be lost, at enormous expense to the county. So I am always grateful for his comments and sights.

    And lastly, it was not proposed that Nantucket and Orcas were identical islands or population. The comparison was based on trajectory. Let’s keep our eye on the ball.

    The study itself was of communities considered comparable and was done by people with some expertise in this field of inquiry. Our County Commissioners at the time simply ignored the study, perhaps because they found the conclusions inconvenient. They passed a CP, it was challenged, they lost.

  13. For the record, the population to which Neil Kaye refers is for the whole of Orcas island, rather than Eastsound. The residents of the north end of Orcas which includes the village totals some 1500 neighbors.
    Regarding the reality that there is a steady increase in folks moving here, it is not realistic to ignore that fact. The County projects that growth will continue at about 2 1/2% per year which means that the population will double again in some 28 years. Then the island will be home to 10-12,000 people. The existing platting on the island will accommodate that number. That is the bad news.
    The good news is that the State Ferries will never come close to matching that growth and most of those future residents will never move here because transportation to America will be a pain in the butt. Too, the aging of our community with an average age over 60 will be such that many seniors, including me, will, of necessity, move closer to hospital care.
    So the bottom line is that the net growth of Orcas in the foreseeable future is likely to be very modest. Frankly, I welcome new faces because those people represent a changing vibrancy to our community which is essential to creativity and fresh thinking.
    The alternative is that I have to look at the same old buggers with whom I share coffee every morning at Teezers. Sorry guys, I’m buying !!

  14. Thank you Joe Symons and Charlie Carver. This is, indeed, the time when individuals in our island community are called to step up and become engaged in this crucial process of trying to shape our future. Read the documents that Joe Symons mentioned. Attend meetings that will soon be forthcoming. Think about those elements that are precious to you about Orcas. For myself, there is no question that it is the natural environment of this small island, in all its fragility, that needs to be preserved. Do not heed those words that would lull you back into inactivity. Be attentive!

  15. Charles, just to be clear. I do support engagement, I respect institutional memory, and although not a resident, I have read all of the documents and many of the lawsuits in an effort to learn more about a place that I would consider calling home someday. I research pretty well as I’m a scientist.

    But please, I’m not selling anything; I have no financial interest in Orcas, own nothing there, etc. I simply have an interest in islands in general, have lived on them in the past and studied many. The issues/decisions facing Orcas aren’t unique, nor are the responses I see posted on this blog.

    Ed is correct, I used total island populations to compare Orcas and Nantucket; that seemed appropriate to my scientific brain. And I further agree that ferries are a limiting factor on an island population. If you take the number of ferries x number of people/boat going only to Orcas, you can easily determine the rate limiting factor on growth. Your variable simply is how often people travel/off/on the island. That can be controlled by changing the cost of the boat very easily. I’d also use 2 people/residence for density as that’s a fair number.

    The ferry is the blood supply to the island. Just like in your body, it can only supply so much blood, and if you want to curtail growth or promote death, just occlude to the desired flow. “Problem” solved.

    Housing is also a rate limiting factor. While 15,000 people may want to move to Orcas, there isn’t the housing to support that and probably never can be. Currently, there are about 2,600 houses there for the approximately 5,000 people (showing that an assumption of 2/home is reasonable.) To quadruple the population as was feared by Joe would thus require 7,500 new homes. So what does the new homes built data show?

    1960-1969: 182
    1970-1979: 419
    1980-1989: 450
    1990-1999: 703
    2000-1009: 565
    2010-2013: 60

    Total: 2,379 new homes in 53 years. That would allow for about 5,000 new people and not the 15,000 new people Joe has noted is “possible.” Of course some of these replaced existing homes, so that the real numbers are even lower.

    If you don’t like my numbers, the Comprehensive Plan itself (Table 8) projects Orcas at only 7,115 in 2025, not really a quadrupling of the current 5,000. Of course the plan predicted 6,052 by 2015 and you missed that “goal” so again, panic seems unnecessary…6,592 predicted by 2020 so you have less than 3 years to do a lot of recruiting or to have a lot of babies.

    Now I did make an error in a prior response when I noted 110 homes for sale. I mistakenly included land and homes. It’s actually only 48 homes and the other 62 are vacant land, which is a slower sale, less desirable, and harder to turn into a move for a new person, as building on an island is more expensive (400/PSF?) and challenging due to many factors (building supplies, contractors, etc.) It’s pretty clear that a 20,000 population on Orcas is a fear, but not a probability. I do understand anything is possible, but let’s stay grounded.

    IMHO, while everyone is focused on unbridled growth, I would point out that the not so silent epidemic on Orcas is an aging population unable to get necessary services to stay on Orcas with their wealth and generosity. I know there are some services for aging/aged on the island, but that is your biggest growing demographic. And, with rising land/home prices, there is a disproportionate number of retirees moving on as 30-somethings with kids can’t afford to move there. Where are/will be the youth to support these 55-85 year old’s who will need personal care, and how will these care givers be able to afford to live in your paradise?

    We’re due for a big snowstorm this week, but we’ve had less than you so far. Stay safe! Cheers!

  16. I am surprised that nobody has mentioned the recent push toward tourism and the problems caused by such a lopsided economy. “The SJC planners presumed that the study would show that San Juan County (SJC) was not and would not be on the same economic, environmental and social demographic pathway as these “resort communities” had taken.” This has clearly showed to be untrue, and I don’t believe any attention is being given to the Report’s #4 mandate: “Diversify the economic base beyond tourism and construction using multiple strategies including marketing made-in-the-community products.” (and so many other pathways) We seem to be stuck into a mindset of worshiping a tourism economy while we turn a blind eye to the damage it causes to our overall economy/sense of human community/nature/environment/etc. If you really believe that our economy is primarily based on tourism, take a look at our local telephone book yellow pages to see the many businesses that are here serving the permanent community with no ties to tourism. You will be surprised! Merry

  17. Neil…I fear you’ve drawn some incorrect conclusions as to my concerns regarding the future of Orcas Island…here they are, in truth only my opinions, as follows:

    I believe the ability of the Island to host an economically diverse community is at high risk in the unregulated-market-free-for-all described by Charlie Carver…I would consider it a tragedy if Orcas became dependent upon workers commuting from the mainland to fill jobs essential for a thriving community. A SJC study has predicted 3400 daily commuters…(I don’t have relevant dates at hand)…(This study draws direct parallels w/ Nantucket where, 20 years ago, the entire staff of its local planning office commuted daily from Cape Cod; and BTW, I’ve sailed, ferried, and flown into Nantucket many times, many years ago.)

    I believe that far in advance of reaching “ultimate build-out” or limits of “carrying capacity”, the magic that attracts idealistic young families, wealthy and not-so-wealthy retirees, and vistors alike…namely, the natural landscape, set within “the wild and generous nature of the Salish Sea”…will be long gone in the face of current trends.

    I believe we’re heading towards a tipping point where suburbanization of the rural landscape will become dominant over the natural environment…but it’s not too late to prevent it.

    OTOH, if suitable regulatory policies were adopted to ensure that growth and development follows the historic pattern of development…namely, that of small, compact nodes of settlement (witness our 4 postal zones) around the perimeter of a rural landscape anchored by forest and agricultural resource lands…I for one could sustain my illusions of paradise far into the indefinite future. Such a future, quite aligned w/ the goals of the GMA, is unlikely short of the concerted efforts and conscious intentions of an aroused citizenry.

    There’s no question in my mind that serious, creative thinking must be brought to bear in order to address these economic and land use issues…but I’m confident that precedents are out there and solutions can be found…blithe assurances to the contrary are most unhelpful.

  18. Mr. Kaye,
    I can be a pretty good researcher as well as I am a gardener. I am just hoping that you are not one of those scientists who have decided that climate change is a hoax and has nothing to do with the trajectory of civilization. Your recent admission that you do not live here do not own property here and simply have an interest in islands makes we wonder why you have inserted yourself into this conversation at all. It is not clear whether you have ever even visited or have family here. Perhaps this is some kind of abstract intellectual exercise for you. This is not an intellectual exercise for us. It is very personal. This is the place where we live, the ROCKE WE STAND on. We know the hedge rows of snowberry and rose, the places where Shooting Stars, Trout lily and Fairy Slipper can be found, we welcome the glorious Redwing Blackbird in C minor that heralds the spring, have leaned against the human-like flesh of Madrona, listened to the rain play violin, been held by the darkness of winter, felt that faintest brush of summer breeze. This very personal to us. Certainly you are fully entitled to your comments and I appreciate the civil tone of them. However, the thrust of your comments suggest we need not be vigilant in protecting our sense of place. Don’t be concerned about growth and here are all the reasons why. In your view it’s not possible that more ferries might be added to island routes or that housing availability might be addressed by construction of more houses. Neither you nor I know what may happen definitively in the future because there’re so many factors to consider. But the history of this place suggest that at the very least we should consider a precautionary approach. The population as Joe Symons has indicated quadrupled in the last 40 years. Mr Sutton indicates it could double again in the 28 years. Do we ignore history? Do we even remember it? Do we consider a community determined path forward or do we surrender to a market determined future. Some people are perfectly comfortable with growth, even call it progress. Some of us ask, What do we want to grow into? Where are we progressing to? I can’t speak for others who share some of my sentiments but I am not in a panic. I am saddened at the despoiling of the great beauty of the natural world and mindful of it’s momentum.

    Will happen, won’t happen. The elements of that debate are important but I find little convincing or comforting in your presentation. I council vigilance. Vigilance is critical to survival. It is in our DNA. We would be unwise to abandon it now.

  19. Charles, I hear you loud and clear. I am not welcome nor is my opinion worthy of consideration. Attacking the person instead of the ideas is childish and something that I have thankfully found rare from people on Orcas. I’ll not respond again as you clearly are a hater, and thankfully an anomaly on Orcas. Since clearly the problem is humans, perhaps you should just move off and unburden the island. Sorry you have devolved.

    However, let me do something radical. I’ll pay you, Joe, and Fred 1,000 each if Orcas’ year round population breaks 7,500 by 2025. Keep this e-mail as a contract. I believe the conclusions I have drawn are correct. And as we still are discussing moving there, have been there repeatedly, (made offers on 4 different houses) perhaps after we live there for 20-30 years we’d be allowed to have an opinion. That my friend is the attitude on Nantucket, and so you may have already achieved that which you claim to want to avoid.

  20. It is unfortunate that Dr. Kaye has changed the conversation to personal attacks, unworthy of this venue. As he has indicated he will not be responding again, I would like to thank him for his research and interest in the topic, and offer the following observations:

    Full time resident population is not the correct metric any more, as the essentially (or likely soon to be) almost full time non-resident visitor population must be factored in, as these folks represent the same, or even greater, impact per person than a full time resident does (hey! we’re on vacation! party time!) Hard data from Doe Bay Water some years ago has shown that part timers in the summer can use almost an entire year’s allocation of water in just a few weeks. (source: Ted Wixom, General Manager, DBWUA) The county’s infrastructure (and all other factors related to the CP) must be based on human impact, not on whether the human is a visitor or a full time resident.

    Technological changes such as driverless cars may entirely change the commuter/visitor/resident transportation profile via what is argued as a potential bottleneck regarding ferry service. Walkons could and likely will have a huge impact on the county given very low cost vehicle options on the Island’s side of the ferries. Think, with a bit of technological vision, Bainbridge Island marries Uber and has a child called SJC.

    Visitors aside, there is the very real potential for substantial in-migration of climate and wealth refugees for whom transportation and housing costs are not barriers.

    No one over 15 reading this can ignore the reality that most projections during the past several decades re human impact on the environment, by the best available science at the time, have consistently underestimated the actual impact. To proceed under presumptions like “It can’t happen here” or “technology will save us” or “scientists are idiots” or “humans aren’t that stupid” is to ignore the clear evidence, manifested in books like “Collapse” (Jared Diamond) or “The Collapse of Complex Societies” (Joseph Tainter) or “The Watchman’s Rattle” (Rebecca Costa), that we are on or past critical tipping points and that societies for centuries have grown and died, i.e., our situation today has many precedents and none has demonstrated anywhere near the durability of, say, cockroaches. Failing to learn from history pretty much dooms us to repeat it, as there has been no substantive increase in wisdom and self/cultural restraint in the last few millennia. I would happily accept credible evidence to the contrary.

    What is on the table, in San Juan County today, is an opportunity to seriously and thoughtfully break the enchantment of “growth has no negative consequences (or if there are few, they are manageable)” and have truly strategic and end-game conversations about sustainable and financially responsible carrying capacity oriented balancing of humans and nature symbiotically working in long term evolutionary harmony.

  21. This is a wonderful discussion on everyone’s part. And all opinions and facts are worthy of consideration. Perhaps the true value is in consideration.

    Whenever these types of interaction pop up on our beloved island, I am brought back to the words of The Eagles’ song, “The Last Resort.”

    “Call some place paradise,
    Kiss it goodbye.”

  22. Thanks Lin: here are the lyrics. Note the similarity to Joni Mitchell’s Big Yellow Taxi which I attach below:

    Eagles: The Last Resort
    She came from Providence, the one in Rhode Island
    Where the old world shadows hang heavy in the air
    She packed her hopes and dreams like a refugee,
    Just as her father came across the sea

    She heard about a place people were smilin’,
    They spoke about the red man’s way, how they loved the land
    And they came from everywhere to the Great Divide
    Seeking a place to stand or a place to hide

    Down in the crowded bars out for a good time,
    Can’t wait to tell you all what it’s like up there
    And they called it paradise, I don’t know why
    Somebody laid the mountains low while the town got high

    Then the chilly winds blew down across the desert,
    Through the canyons of the coast to the Malibu
    Where the pretty people play hungry for power
    To light their neon way and give them things to do

    Some rich man came and raped the land, nobody caught ’em,
    Put up a bunch of ugly boxes and, Jesus, people bought ’em
    And they called it paradise, the place to be,
    They watched the hazy sun sinking in the sea

    You can leave it all behind and sail to Lahaina
    Just like the missionaries did so many years ago
    They even brought a neon sign ‘Jesus is Coming’,
    Brought the white man’s burden down, brought the white man’s reign

    Who will provide the grand design, what is yours and what is mine?
    ‘Cause there is no more new frontier, we have got to make it here
    We satisfy our endless needs and justify our bloody deeds
    In the name of destiny and in the name of God

    And you can see them there on Sunday morning
    Stand up and sing about what it’s like up there
    They called it paradise, I don’t know why
    You call some place paradise, kiss it goodbye

    Big Yellow Taxi
    Joni Mitchell
    They paved paradise
    And put up a parking lot
    With a pink hotel, a boutique
    And a swinging hot spot
    Don’t it always seem to go
    That you don’t know what you’ve got
    ‘Till it’s gone
    They paved paradise
    And put up a parking lot
    They took all the trees
    And put them in a tree museum
    And they charged all the people
    A dollar and a half to see ’em
    Don’t it always seem to go
    That you don’t know what you’ve got
    ‘Till it’s gone
    They paved paradise
    And they put up a parking lot
    Hey farmer farmer
    Put away that D.D.T. now
    Give me spots on my apples
    But leave me the birds and the bees
    Don’t it always seem to go
    That you don’t know what you’ve got
    ‘Till it’s gone
    They paved paradise
    And put up a parking lot
    Late last night
    I heard the screen door slam
    And a big yellow taxi
    Took away my old man
    Don’t it always seem to go
    That you don’t know what you’ve got
    ‘Till it’s gone
    They paved paradise
    And put up a parking lot
    Don’t it always seem to go
    That you don’t know what you’ve got
    ‘Till it’s gone
    They paved paradise
    Put up a parking lot
    They paved paradise
    And put up a parking lot
    They paved paradise
    Put up a parking lot

  23. What a rich and thoughtful discussion. What we’re looking at is HOW we grow – in what ways do we want to grow? We can’t come up with a better plan if we refuse to look at our denials and failures. I am excited to be working with people who recognize that we need to consider carrying capacity, that we need to address the lopsided worship of tourism as the only way to attract growth – and not ask ourselves who ends up being able to afford moving here from all that tourism (hint: it’s NOT the workers!)

    I feel we have not only failed in a visionary approach to the GMA, but also to the multiple purposes we laid out in our Comp Plan. We made tourism and economic growth more important than all the other elements – this is anything but a balanced approach.

    This is our chance to right those wrongs, invite young people who will inherit the earth into this conversation and decision-making, and to get our heads out of the sand and plan our future – if this planet includes humanity in the future. If we keep going in the direction we’re going it wont; but we, here, locally, have an opportunity to effect something amazing and exemplary. As I’ve said year after year, decade after decade, you cannot have water without trees. You cannot have a city that is treeless – the land cannot sustain it. This is especially true in the Eastsound watershed. You cannot ask a land mass at sea level, one mile wide, to support maximum buildout density – without trees. It won’t! And just because maximum buildout is “projected” – does NOT mean we have to allow maximum buildout densities LONG BEFORE it looks like these numbers will be reached.

    I’m all in. Thank you, Joe Symons, for all the hard work you have done to put together the facts so that we can get out of our collective denials and get to work. I’m all in.

  24. I finally get it! This is the reason why we can’t have top-notch school facilities, bicycle rideable and walkable roads, public transportation, and public beaches. Orcas would be too attractive and we’d be even more over-run by the all the hordes wanting to move here!

  25. Every time I read one of these discussions (and they have been going on for decades), I wonder what data we should be using in our analyses.

    I recall, back when the Council decided to greatly restrict the ability of landowners to have traditional guesthouses, that the information being cited was varied and inconsistent.

    Does anyone have a source for information such as total # parcels, total # of developed parcels, total parcels that are owned and can be developed, #of homes, # of apartments, # of vacation rentals, # of homes owned but occupied only part of the year, % of island land out of development due to government ownership or community efforts like the Preservation Trust and Land Bank, % of land that receives tax reduction or elimination based on open space, ag, or forest status, how many summer visitors, how many seasonal employees, what seasonal employees are paid, what constitutes a living wage for seasonal employees, unemployment rates, etc.

    The term “maximum buildout” certainly needs to be defined and then determined. As I understand the situation, part of the island is owned privately and already developed; part of the island is government-owned, including parks; part of the island is owned (or encumbered) by our active preservation efforts; and part of the island is undeveloped parcels owned principally by people who hope to build homes. Are there maps or schedules that show all that information?

    Without a common accepted understanding of the island as it is in the form of data, we cannot rationally discuss its future.

  26. We have public beaches and very good school facilities. People have been bicycling and walking on our roads for a century–it’s a rural county. Which is also why public transportation makes no sense.

  27. Peg, if you wan’t to see good school facilities, look at Lopez. They’ve passed every school election in the 40 years I’ve lived here! Public beaches? Where? Oh, yeah, there’s 30 feet at North Beach, and try enjoy Crescent Beach with all that car traffic! Bicycling and walking our roads? You’d be crazy to send your kids or grandkids out there! Public transportation? Hmmm… a few less cars in the summer could make perfect sense.

  28. Yes, let’s take Lopez as an example. In reviewing the upcoming Orcas road update I was surprised to see on the blueprint of a planned 4 ft. easement on both sides of the highway to be used as walking/bicycle paths for much of the roadways (from the ferry landing towards town). I would be the first to agree in principal with this approach as a safety measure for all of those involved (drivers included). I mean, how many narrow-misses do we need, or are we waiting for a fatality before safety measures are implemented? And, who amongst us would not like for our local business’ to prosper (including the local bike shop)?

    But, that being said, after the new road construction is completed how long will it be before the powers that be (including the Wa. St. Tourism Bureau, the Chamber of Commerce, and our local politicians) begin hosting an annual bike-athon event (similar to the one that Lopez now hosts), attracting THOUSANDS of bicyclist within the same week? We know this will occur. This is in my mind what I call “hyper-tourism.” It’s a two-edged sword. Though road improvements of this nature are indeed a partial solution to some of the problems associated with growth… unbridled tourism & growth offers a sort of never-ending, self-reinforcing, negative feedback loop always requiring the building of more infrastructure to accommodate more people, which will mean more infrastructure, more people, more infrastructure, more people…. No thanks. Quality of life to me does not equate to bigger, better, faster, more. I moved here many years ago to escape that where I came from in Colorado. It saddens me to see what’s happening here now. It’s laughable for people to think “it can’t happen here,” as it’s already happening folks. This is Aspen all over again.

  29. Dan, the island does not have that many beaches. It is a rocky shoreline. The County is now working to mark and identify road ends that touch beaches, but this is not Hawaii.

  30. Wow!
    Thanks to everyone for joining the conversation.
    Let us continue to share our thoughts.

  31. Would a four foot striped shoulder on Orcas Road (standard code for roads with this traffic volume) attract “THOUSANDS of bicyclists within the same week?” The Tour de Lopez was a big event two decades before they finished the up-to-code road from the village to the ferry.

    Most Lopezians welcome the one day event; it helps the economy in the off-season. Do all the cyclists move there? Probably not — you rarely see many locals riding their bikes there.

    So… anti-growth? Then don’t rent out a tourist accommodations like the author of this article. He could also ride a bike to lessen the car traffic. Designing a safer more usable street in Eastsound? Will that help push us “towards a tipping point”? Involved in construction projects (contributing to “…more infrastructure, more people…”)?

    I run a business that serve locals and tourists about 50/50. Puts food on the table and shelter over my head. Not many of us are going to live the back to the earth lifestyle, build our own home out of local materials, grow our own food, and travel by horse and buggy (which most of our roads were originally designed for). Don’t put any of that home-grown produce in a roadside stand though — tourists might buy it!

  32. It”s great to see this conversation is ongoing and I am sorry to be so slow returning to it. I am also sorry Mr. Kaye so profoundly misinterpreted my previous remarks. I was in fact curious why he had inserted himself into the conversation. I wasn’t disinviting him. Experience, however, reminds me that any comment can be misinterpreted.

    Ms. Manning raises a good point about using any data available as a common reference point. I am all in favor of that, though I don’t think we need it to have it a “rational” discussion of our future.

  33. Charles– Actually, I think we do need good consistent data to discuss these issues. Indeed, the most basic fact–population growth–is frequently discussed as skyrocketing when it seems to be barely happening, at least according to WA State figures that we must use in formal planning. I don’t know how they count and whether it’s a good method for island purposes. I do know that it is difficult to reduce many concepts to ordinances without decent metrics.