History – In June 2007, the SJC Council invited John Pagini, Planning Director for Nantucket, Mass from 1995-2005, to lead two days of Smart Growth (SG) workshops in Friday Harbor, workshops that were structured to compare growth and planning issues in Nantucket and San Juan County during the past decade.
The workshops were invitational, attended by several SJC councilmen, some SJC Administrators and Managers, and representatives from NGO's, civic and service organizations, and affordable housing providers. Approximately ninety individuals attended the first day and approximately seventy on the second day.
Six weeks after the June workshops, Mr. Pagini sent to the County an elaboration on SG principles and techniques that were mentioned only in passing during his visit. He notes that the main issues for SJC concern how much growth our Islands can bear; what rate of growth is appropriate and can be supported, considering environmental limitations, infrastructure and budget limitation; and what the distribution of that growth should be on the landscape.
The first tool he suggests is a Carrying Capacity System analysis, because it sets a base line for all other policies and actions. It should be based on the examination of environmental systems but also include other measurements like traffic and water supply/quality, the latter, especially, given SJC's low retention of rainfall.
None of the results of the workshop can be found on the county's website, but you can find them here:
What's Happening Now - Now, three years on, it's useful to examine the progress the County has made in implementing the suggestions of the SG workshop. The short answer is, "None."
Here's the County's response to my request at the May 25 County Council meeting for the status of the Carrying Capacity analysis:
"After the smart growth workshop meeting over two years ago, the subsequent Council discussion of its priorities (2008) asked for this study and a response from staff as to the scope, cost and when it could be done. Due to constraints of long range planning resources, this has never been scoped or taken beyond a basic discussion."
The County also furnished their latest Prioritized Planning Tasks (4-29-2010)
In the section, Requested Comp Plan, Activity Center & Subarea Plan Amendments Not Reflected on Work Plan, we find the following:
Land supply, carry capacity and build out analyses. (Risk: Absence of data to support a long-term vision; No accurate evaluation of long term impacts of contemporary activities; Absence of clear development thresholds. e.g. those points in time that mark the beginning of a new phase, i.e. What year will our population reach the point that the County will need to modify roads/ intersections to accommodate the extra traffic? At what point will our part time residents outnumber full time residents? When will Lopez Village need another water source- (beyond the one they need already) and so on.).
Independent analysis: One would have supposed that a quantification of the water available in the County would be an immediate need, not a long-range need. How much more growth can the County sustain before we run out of water? Have we already run out? Are water table levels dropping?
The development industry argues that we'll always have enough water because:
How many desalination plants does it take to kill the near-shore environment? See theWorld Wildlife Fund's desal report.
Damming up flat swampy areas?! Aren't these called wetlands? How desperate can you get?
Desperation, in fact, seems to be the key to interpreting what's going on. Influential entities seem determined to suppress information that the people of the County need to assure that their health and well-being are not threatened. (See a previous column,Information Wars.) The desperation stems from the (well-founded) belief that a Carrying Capacity study will show that our renewable water resources are maxed and that any additional draw on these resources will threaten current users.
What needs to be done
Note: The County Council is scheduled to review their planning priorities at the meeting of July 13, 2010. This is a chance to make your voice heard.