I read with great interest the new San Juan Islands Destination Management Plan. There were elements in the plan that I believe are wise investments for the future of our community. However, like much of politics, this hodgepodge spending package is laced with the good, bad, and the ugly. While perhaps well-intentioned, the Management Plan fails to be aligned with priorities that the community needs. Here’s why.
Money Grab During a Slow Economic Season
In the past few years, my family and I have witnessed friends move from the island, unable to afford the ever-increasing cost of living. Grocery prices are astronomical, gas prices at an all-time high, and an economy that is slow to recover. Many working families are feeling such impact.
This $13 million package is an ill-timed proposal during an economic shortfall when more and more people are taking on second jobs just to get by. Spending over $2 million on electric charging stations and electric shuttles disregards the financial reality of many of our residents. It’s also a slap in the face to residents who already pay a healthy premium for living here. Why can’t our real estate taxes, vehicle tabs, etc. cover the cost of our public resources? Perhaps the county budget needs to be adjusted instead of charging our locals more and more taxes, permits, and fees.
Prioritizes Transient Over Year-Round Locals
Secondly, the plan seems to prioritize short-term visitors over long-term locals. I think we can all agree that tourism is at the very heart of our economy. But there needs to exist a healthy balance – too little, and our economy suffers, too much and our community turns into another Martha’s Vineyard. If anything, tourism needs to slow down, not ramp up.
The plan proposes to:
- Spend $7 million on acquiring additional land for camping.
- Another $4.5 million on creating “90 additional van, bunkhouse, and yurt style seasonal camping locations on each island.”
It also sounds complicit to the idea of “stealth camping” where individuals live in their vehicles on county roads.
How is this benefitting locals? Instead, it fosters transient incomers who work 3 months out of the year with little to contribute otherwise. To conserve our precious resources and invest into our existing infrastructure and most importantly, community, we should aim to create more opportunities for young hard-working individuals to raise their families here. Camping spots and yurts are not the answer.
Driving Up Housing Cost
According to Redfin, San Juan County Housing cost went up 18% from last year to a median sale price of $960,000. Combine this with an 8+ percent mortgage rate, and it’s easy to foresee a vicious cycle of labor shortage ? increased home price ? more labor shortage.
As a sixth-generation islander, I would love to see my kids and grandkids be able to call this beautiful place home. However, I see a pattern of increasing food prices, acquisition of public land, and subsequent rising home prices that makes it near impossible for any middle-income family flourish.
While the plan does acknowledge the issue of housing affordability, I do not see how the objectives address the root-cause of our housing shortage. Rather, it caters to drive more tourism and seasonal living as evidenced by the fact the housing proposed in the plan is designated for “seasonal workers”. Not only that, but it puts another financial responsibility on year-round citizens.
I fear that this Management Plan (along with the proposed trail system) will ultimately contribute to more tourism on an already over-taxed infrastructure system.
I hope the county council takes into consideration the needs of our local residents who voted them into office first and foremost. These are the people who ultimately will keep our islands strong. Instead of a plan that fosters more tourism at the expense of the local, let’s charge each visitor a set fee (e.g. $10) for an “all access pass” for utilizing our county resources. Perhaps we use those funds to actually build affordable housing, youth centers, and host community social engagements. This would put community at the forefront, not tourism.
Out of love of my community and as a young local who wishes to see my three kids also thrive on this island, I humbly ask the council and leaders to reorient the plan to prioritize our long-term locals and character of our community.
- Gavin Guard