"a bi-monthly journal of environmental news and commentary..."

SPEECH President's Message

by Janine Gates

As we approach the New Year, a number of environmentally troubling episodes have recently played themselves out in the South Sound. These involve how we are choosing to guide, direct, and subsidize growth and development.

City of Olympia Acts to Stop Developer Losses
As the City of Olympia seeks to involve the public with the update of its Comprehensive Plan, we must take an active role in shaping our future. However, the Olympia City Council has recently approved an extension of developer permits for projects that have stood still as a result of the economic climate.

Granted, these are almost unprecedented economic times, but, in my opinion, developers have dreamed up grandiose projects that do not fit with the character of Olympia, received the necessary approval for them, and then had their projects grind to a halt. As speculators, developers know they are taking a risk in moving ahead since they never know if the demand will be there for it when they have it completed. When the economy turns sour, then they generally take a loss. When a project is delayed, they must seek new approval and conform to new standards and requirements that might now be required.

Not so, this time. The city decided that they would help cushion the losses for the developers, one of which is Triway Enterprises, which is currently pushing for the Larida Passage development on Olympia's downtown isthmus.

Whither Goes the State?
One of the first conferences I coordinated on a state level was when I worked, in the early 1990's, for the then-named Washington State Department of Community Development, which is now the Washington State Department of Commerce. A citizen activist at heart, I conceived of the marketing strategy for a conference, urging local governments to consider how they can "paint their community's picture" by being an active participant in controlling and directing growth.

The Growth Management Act (GMA) of 1990 states, "that uncoordinated and unplanned growth, together with a lack of common goals expressing the public's interest in the conservation and the wise use of our lands, pose a threat to the environment, sustainable economic development, and the health, safety, and high quality of life enjoyed by residents of this state."

Under the provisions set forth in the GMA, local communities have sought to influence local growth in order to make it match existing natural resources and to keep it sustainable. But the state seems to be changing its emphasis.

The Washington State Department of Commerce, the former heart and soul of community development, has morphed into something unrecognizable to insiders and outsiders who have long loved this state agency. Although I've been self-employed for 11 years now, I have fond memories of my time at this agency. I felt like I was really doing something meaningful there. This recent business and jobs growth focus has all but displaced the previous concern for growth management, environmental sustainability, and public participation in community development decisions.

What Now?
As former Congresswoman Jolene Unsoeld says in an article in this issue, "What are you going to do about it?"

Local communities cannot rely upon guidance or direction from the state. Despite the recent change-over in local electoral races, we cannot assume these incoming candidates know what is going on. Contact them - on all levels - state, county, and local. We must unite around a vision of an environmentally sustainable, socially equitable, and optimal future for the South Sound community.

Janine Gates is president of SPEECH and can be reached through her website at http://www.janinegatesphotography.com or her Olympia news blog at http://www.janineslittlehollywood.blogspot.com

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Updated 2015/01/07 21:14:22