— 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: http://www.doebay.net/appeal/socioeconomicgrowth.pdf
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: doebay.net/appeal
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