The County Planning Commission is Broke

By Wendy HarrisOn Jan 30, 2013

Do we really need a County Planning Commission? Thanks to poor appointment choices by the Council, the Planning Commission is broken. The Council appoints citizens to the Commission based on political ideology (CAPR, Tea Party, or some other form of property rights extremism.) As a result, few qualified citizens bother to apply for the PC.

PC meetings are attended by a fan club of believers, who encourage the PC to reject science and local law. Anyone with a different viewpoint is subject to hostility and ridicule, if not from the Commissioners, than from the audience regulars. Few people, outside of the fan club, bother to attend.

As a result, the PC does not fulfill its intended purpose of vetting planning proposals based on review of local law and consideration of public input. There is little filter between the public and the Council on land use matters. The gap between the PC’s recommendations and the public’s comments has increased. Instead of responding with self-righteous indignation to the snickers and comments of angry, frustrated constituents, the Council should examine the connection between their partisan PC appointments and acrimonious public testimony. If the PC process is broken, (and I believe it is), then the Council has broken it.

I can think of no greater example than the proposal to rezone agricultural land for slaughterhouses. For several meetings now, the Council has attempted to pass the rezone, and is repeatedly meet with opposition from members of the public who raise numerous valid concerns. A limited proposal from the Planning Department was sharply altered by the PC, who recommended removing restrictions on the size and number of slaughter facilities. If the PC was functional, these issues would have been reviewed and resolved before reaching Council.

We all know how much the County Council hates, hates, hates those political appointees on the Growth Management Hearings Board, but recently, the former Chair had good advice on “The Art of Planning Commission Maintenance.” And guess what? The first recommendation was to select the right people, i.e. a broad representation of the community, technical expertise, history of community involvement. It was noted that “the planning commission is a deliberative body, not simply a straw poll among predetermined, inflexible opinions. It is important to find people who are not only willing to listen but also to speak up, to persuade and be persuaded.” Translation: no ideologues.

This year 4 County Council seats will be up for re-election. During the campaign process, ask the candidates if they are willing to fix the PC through appointments based on qualification and fair representation of community values. Even if it means appointing someone with a planning background or someone who supports land use regulations. Only Carl Weimer has attempted to rank appointees (at a time when there was enough interest to generate about 25 applicants) based on criteria reflecting qualification for appointment, which he made public. Are other candidates willing to be objective and transparent?

About Wendy Harris

Past Writers • Member since Mar 31, 2008

Comments by Readers

Delaine Clizbe

Feb 03, 2013

“Do we really need a County Planning Commission?”  I asked myself the same question about the Whatcom County Parks and Recreation Commission.  Since I am a mountain biker and a trail runner and spent a huge amount of time in our City and County parks, I thought I would be “qualified” to be on the commission.  Turns out the real qualification is only that you agree politically with Mike McFarland, Whatcom County Park Director.  I haven’t the time, due to fighting against a little MPD issue, to deal in depth with this issue now.  Suffice it to say that in my estimation the Whatcom County Parks and Recreation Commission is also broken!

Hopefully, since you think the Planning Commission is broken and I think the Parks Commission is broken that the two cancel each other out and we somehow get some balance!


David Onkels

Feb 10, 2013

“Do we really need a County Planning Commission?  Thanks to poor appointment choices by the Council, the Planning Commission is broken.”

I encourage you to approach the council to make your argument.

I, David Onkels, am a member of the commission, of course.

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