If you live in Spokane County because you like it here, beware. There are very rich people who only see dollar signs when they look at undeveloped land and they like to play in Spokane because we are still blessed with vast areas of open space.
Look out, because they want to force as much real estate development on you as they possibly can and are hard at work every day doing just that. They have so much more money and power than you. Your voice in debates about responsible local land-use policy is nearly drowned out.
Please don't sit idly by and let this situation continue. Your presence at a January 19 public hearing is crucial. The Spokane County Growth Management Steering Committee of Elected Officials will hold a virtual public hearing via Zoom on Wednesday, January 19, 2022 at 9:00 a.m.
Read on for more information and background.
See this website for how to participate:
Local politicians who owe their elected office to the huge sums of money that real estate and construction trade associations spend on their political campaigns have little reason to listen to residents who show up at public hearings and write letters asking tough questions about the wisdom of allowing wanton development to degrade their quality of life, over tax and pollute their aquifer, forever eliminate arable farmland that could feed future generations, strain school districts to the breaking point and increase traffic fatalities as a result of ever more crowding.
Local politicians would rather listen to the opinions of their own planning staff who conveniently arrive to work for local government through a revolving door that leads right back to their old jobs developing real estate. This is the result of the real estate/construction-industrial complex which at the local level enjoys the same kind of political clout as the monstrously over-resourced military-industrial complex that has a strangle-hold on Congress. Congress obliges military contractors by giving the military-industrial complex anything it wants much to the detriment of our societal well-being. Spokane City and County planning departments and our bought-and-paid-for decision makers are equally obliging to developers. Why? Because real estate developers and their enablers care more about getting rich than whether the community they leave behind is still a likable, livable place. It's that simple.
The Growth Management Steering Committee of Elected Officials was established in 1995 to oversee the implementation of the Growth Management Act and the continuous public and participatory process of updating and amending the Comprehensive Plans for the entire Spokane region. Membership includes elected officials from the City of Spokane, City of Spokane Valley, Liberty Lake, Airway Heights, Cheney, Deer Park, Medical Lake, Millwood and one elected official to represent the small towns of Fairfield, Latah, Rockford, Spangle and Waverly. In addition to these elected officials who serve as voting members, the Steering Committee includes three elected officials as non voting members. They represent the school districts, water districts and fire protection districts as well as one citizen-at-large member representing the urban growth areas (UGAs) in Spokane County.
The Steering Committee is intended to serve as a regional forum for urban growth issues and growth management planning. Some of the specific responsibilities of the Steering Committee are to:
Oversee joint planning within UGAs
Recommend standards for defining UGAs
Recommend minimum levels of service for UGAs
Recommend distribution of future growth
Negotiate UGA designations
Make recommendations regarding UGAs to the Board of County Commissioners
The Growth Management Steering Committee of Elected Officials is a dysfunctional body that is failing to perform its intended functions. While the Steering Committee effectively sits on its hands, unchecked development continues unabated in the County.
The Steering Committee's website states that the Committee meets on the third Wednesday of each month (12 times per year), however, the record indicates that the Committee only met five times in 2019, only once in 2020 and only twice in 2021. That's only eight meetings when there should have been thirty-six! In addition, meeting minutes are missing from the Sept. 2019 meeting as well as from the June and October, 2021 meetings.
More evidence of the Steering Committee's dysfunction is reflected in the following facts:
On January 17, 2022, two days before a scheduled public hearing, the Committee's web page on the County website, "Steering Committee News," only displayed the public notice for the Oct. 20, 2021 meeting.
The City's web page about the Steering Committee states the Committee was "Authorized by and Date: RCW 41.16 (Title 4) in 1970." RCW 41.16 is the Firefighters' Relief And Pensions Act of 1947. No clue as to that.
On the City's web page, the County Contact is listed as Vickie Merriott, 509.477.7224. That phone number is for reporting deaths. A call to the City yielded another number for Vickie Merriott, but that ended up being the Regional Veterans Service Center. A call to the number for the Committee on the County website results in a recorded message saying only, "Susan Luna is not available" and asks for a message to be left. One can only hope Mx. Luna is the contact person for the Committee. There's good reason to doubt that.
In 2015, a state appellate court panel ruled Spokane County failed to notify the public about a change made to population projections, resulting in a violation of the Growth Management Act. “In addition to finding that the increased population projection had not been subjected to adequate public participation processes, the board also found that the resolution violated other goals of the acts, including the reduction of urban sprawl and providing for adequate public planning for public services and facilities,” the appeals court wrote.
In the April 2019 Minutes, Dave Anderson, at the time a non-voting member of the Committee and Interim Managing Director, WA Department of Commerce flippantly stated that "a JPA [an Urban Growth Area Joint Planning Area] is just a contract between county or city entities." No contract is "just a contract" in the sense that it's nothing special-- nothing to worry your little heads about. On the contrary, a contract is a binding legal document that contains conditions and provisions that must be adhered to, like meeting when the contract says to meet.
If the aforementioned contract was being taken seriously by City and County officials (and the public for that matter) we would not have been faced, as we were recently, with a situation where the City's Comprehensive Plan designated 88 acres of open space in the Seven Mile Urban Growth Joint Planning Area while the County Comprehensive Plan designated the same 88 acres as Low Density Residential. The County went ahead and approved a 475-unit single-family-residence development despite neighbors' opposition. The development would not have been allowed on open space. This all occurred with nary a peep out City officials who are supposed to be looking after the interests of city residents as reflected in the Comprehensive Plan they approved for their city. As a result, Spokane City residents lost 88 acres of open space they had set aside for themselves and for future generations’ enjoyment. Incidentally, it is worth noting that 100% of the property, a former golf course, is classified by the USDA NRCS as "prime agricultural soil." Construction has yet to commence while questions arise as to the financial capacity of the permit-holder to even start, much less complete construction. Adding insult to injury, the site has been left devastated for months after the removal of hundreds of mature Ponderosa pine trees and now looks like a war zone.
Spokane County Commissioner Al French, who sits on the Committee, has repeatedly thwarted efforts recognize or make use of the authority of the Steering Committee. During an April, 2019 meeting, French voiced the opinion that "there is absolutely no pressing work product that demands a monthly meeting schedule." As a result, unchecked development in Spokane County continues and public participation is truncated. This must make Mr. French quite happy.
In 2019, the Steering Committee's minutes indicate the Committee was taking nominations for a vacancy on the Committee for the Citizen At Large Representative for Spokane County and then with no other record of the Committee's deliberations on this matter or mention of other nominees, it was announced in June, 2019 the County Commissioners had appointed Joel White, of the Spokane Homebuilders Association, to be the Citizen At Large Representative. With all due respect, Joel White does not represent the citizenry. He represents the real estate/construction-industrial complex. In 2005, the WA legislature, referring to the Growth Management Act recognized "the need to ensure that land use measures reflect the collective wishes of its citizenry." Appointing a representative of the construction industry to the Citizen At Large position is a slap in the face of ordinary Spokane County residents and another illustration that the building and planning bureaucracy does not want to hear from you.
Spokane County and affected jurisdictions within the County are required to "take action to review and, if needed, revise their comprehensive plans and development regulations to ensure the plan and regulations comply with the requirements of [the Growth Management Act] ... on or before June 30, 2026. The Steering Committee should have been planning for this process for years already, but obviously, they cannot have done the work necessary to adequately plan for this review and revision process given the shockingly sporadic nature of the Committee's meetings.
This brings us to January, 2022. On Jan. 10, 2022, an email notice of public hearing for the January 19 hearing went out over the County's email notification service with the subject "New News Flash Notice of Virtual Public Hearing for Spokane County, WA." The email notification service exists so that interested people can opt into to receiving County notifications. The only problem was, the link in the email to the agenda incorrectly took the user to a Nov. 18 2021 public hearing agenda instead. More Committee dysfunction.
The error was communicated to the County and a corrective email with the subject "New Agenda 1/19/2022 for www.spokanecounty.org" was sent over the County's email notifications system. Since the initial email was flawed, the new email should have repeated the Notice of Public Hearing and provided a link to the official notice but it did not. The web page for the public hearing notice includes links to "Supporting Documentation" which includes a link to a 2022 draft of the Growth Management Act Public Participation Program Guidelines, last amended in 1998. In the future, agendas for these meeting should also contain the links to any relevant supporting documentation, not just the public notice.
For those interested, the draft document Growth Management Act Public Participation Program Guidelines is available here:
The Public Participation Program Guidelines begin by stating "One cornerstone of the Growth Management Act (GMA) is citizen participation. That concept is first articulated in the GMA planning goals, specifically RCW 36.70A.020(11), which states that jurisdictions shall “…encourage the involvement of citizens in the planning process.” Opportunities for public involvement will be provided throughout the Comprehensive Plan Update to encourage early and continuous public participation."
Every meeting of the Growth Management Steering Committee of Elected Officials includes a period for public comment. When the Committee fails to hold meetings when they're supposed to, the third Wednesday of each month, they violate not just the spirit, but the letter of the first paragraph of the Public Participation Program Guidelines noted above.
Please participate in the public hearing on the 19th. Be the voice for your community. Work to bring sanity back to growth planning in Spokane. Don't let the real estate/construction-industrial complex encapsulate Spokane County in a tomb of concrete and asphalt. Fight back!