At the July 12 evening Whatcom County Council Meeting, which I attended, Council Chair Barry Buchanan made an announcement at the beginning of the meeting. The following excerpt is transcribed from the audio recording available on the County website:
“I’ve got a couple items to discuss from today’s meeting earlier. We had an executive session today to discuss some of the Cherry Point UGA comp plan amendments [proposed by Carl Weimer] and after considering advice from our legal counsel we voted to forward the Cherry Point UGA comp plan amendment proposals to the planning commission requesting an expedited process. We anticipate that we’ll be considering a resolution to determine timelines and other pertinent data and details at our July 26 council meeting.” Link to the audio recording of the meeting:
What didn’t get announced at the July 12 evening County Council meeting was what exactly had transpired earlier that day with Council’s action at the Council Special Committee of the Whole meeting.
The reality is that earlier that day, the amendments Council member Weimer had proposed to Chapter 2 Land Use Cherry Point UGA in the Comp Plan Update were separated out of our County’s Comp Plan’s normal 10 year review cycle—and those proposed amendments were sent to the Planning Commission to be docketed for subsequent Council review.
And, two days after the July 12 Council meeting, according to Council member Rud Browne’s July 15 email to me, the Council finalized the Comp Plan. I replied asking what that means. He responded saying: “As I understand it, we have finalized the vote on all proposed changes. We will now introduce the final full draft at the next Council meeting July 26 and vote on the final document on Aug 9.”
All of this feels very rushed and the information being presented to the public is confusing. How does everyone feel about what just happened? What can we do?
Today, I sent a detailed letter (copied and pasted below) to County Council, Executive Jack Louws, and County Attorney Karen Frakes, asking the County to halt/suspend the Comp Plan Update in order to allow time for some outside entity with the authority to review and make a determination as to whether the process and actions I’ve described above have impinged on Whatcom County citizens. I encourage people to read it because there is information in it that I think is important for people to know, if they don’t already know. I am not expert in the Comp Plan Update process so it’s possible there are nuances or rules, about which, I am unaware.
Big thanks to Dena Jensen who tediously transcribed portions of the audio recordings of the meetings.
Dear Whatcom County Council members:
I am writing to you all with serious concerns regarding our 2016 County Comprehensive Plan Update process.
At the July 12, 2016 County Council Special Committee of the Whole meeting, the Council went into Executive Session to speak with County attorney/s regarding the proposed amendments to Chapter 2 Land Use Cherry Point, in the Comprehensive Plan Update, made by Council member Carl Weimer. After that Executive Session, Council reconvened the Special Committee of the Whole meeting in Council chambers.
When reconvened, Council Chair Buchanan announced:
“We are going to report out on our executive session. That’ll be the first thing that we do. We had advice from counsel and we are considering to split off the Cherry Point UGA amendments into a separate process and I would entertain a motion to docket this into the future and send it to the Planning Commission.”
Council member Barbara Brenner said “Moved.”
Council member Rud Browne seconded.
Then the Council had some discussion.
The following is a transcription (from the audio recording of the July 12 Council Special Committee of the Whole meeting) of the dialogue of Council Chair Barry Buchanan, trying to clarify the original motion, and Council member Todd Donovan adding his input:
Buchanan: I think the motion is, is to first of all, to separate these proposals, proposed amendments, out of our normal 20 year review cycle, right? – or 10 year review cycle – And to send it to the planning commission and to docket it for subsequent council review, but, okay, does anybody have any clarifications?
Donovan: With the understanding that a resolution will be crafted with specific instructions and timeline
Buchanan: Yes, With the understanding that staff will bring us a resolution that lays out a timeline
Donovan: Will we introduce the resolution at a future meeting?
The motion carried with a vote of 5-2.
It’s important to note that at the Whatcom County Council Meeting that evening (on the same date July 12), which I attended, Council Chair Barry Buchanan made an announcement at the beginning of the meeting. Below is a transcription of Mr. Buchanan’s announcement taken from the audio recording of the July 12 County Council evening meeting:
“I’ve got a couple items to discuss from today’s meeting earlier. We had an executive session today to discuss some of the Cherry Point UGA comp plan amendments and after considering advice from our legal counsel we voted to forward the Cherry Point UGA comp plan amendment proposals to the planning commission requesting an expedited process. We anticipate that we’ll be considering a resolution to determine timelines and other pertinent data and details at our July 26 council meeting.”
In making his announcement, I do not feel Mr. Buchanan was clear when attempting to inform the audience about the action the Council had taken earlier that day in the Special Committee of the Whole meeting. The Council’s action earlier that day in passing the motion about Mr. Weimer’s amendments, was not explained clearly by Council Chair, so that the public attending that evening Council meeting, and the people who might listen to the audio recording of that meeting, would receive a clear understanding of the significant action relating to our County Comp Plan process that was actually taken at the July 12, Special Committee of the Whole meeting.
On top of this seemingly ambiguous announcement by Council Chair, at the beginning of the July 12 evening Council meeting, there are still no written meeting minutes for that July 12 meeting posted on the County website. There are also no written meeting minutes posted for the July 12 Special Committee of the Whole meeting.
There are also no written meeting minutes posted for the July 5th Special Committee of the Whole meeting that inform the public that a motion was made by Council at that meeting to “Wait until at least July 12th” meeting to then again take-up the matter of Mr. Weimer’s amendments to Chapter 2 Land Use, Cherry Point. There was no specification made in that motion whether that meant the July 12 regular County Council meeting, or the County Council Special Committee of the Whole meeting that was eventually scheduled for July 12th. As a matter of fact, I brought this to the attention of the County Council and public during my “Open Session” testimony at the July 12 County Council meeting when I asked if I could make a Point of Information for the record, and was given an opportunity to do that before I began my 3-minute speaking time allotment.
I read the July 12, 2016 County Council meeting “Action Taken” report posted on the County website, and there is no record of the action taken (separating Mr. Weimer’s proposed amendments to Chapter 2 Land Use, Cherry Point from the Comp Plan) at the July 12 Special Committee of the Whole meeting.
Because of what I outlined above, presently, the majority of the general public is in the dark about this hugely significant action (separating Mr. Weimer’s proposed amendments to Chapter 2 Land Use, Cherry Point from the Comp Plan) taken by Council, unless they attended the July 12 Special Committee of the Whole meeting.
When I heard Council Chair Buchanan make his announcement at the July 12 evening County Council meeting, I was under the impression that the proposed amendments to Chapter 2 Land Use Cherry Point, made by Council member Weimer, were being sent back to the Planning Commission for further review, which, during that Commission review and public input, the Council would still be conducting their portion of the Comp Plan process.
Because of that, I had no idea that in reality, Mr. Weimer’s Chapter 2 Land Use, Cherry Point amendments were being separated/removed from the actual Comp Plan review process. Most people attending that evening Council meeting also had no idea. That potentially kept those citizens attending the meeting from then commenting during “Open Session,” that night about that specific action taken by Council earlier that day because they were not properly informed by Mr. Buchanan’s announcement.
I received a July 15 email from Council member Rud Browne he sent last evening, letting me know the County Council “finalized the Comp Plan” on July 14. I responded, asking him what does that mean exactly.
His response he sent today, July 16, was: “As I understand it, we have finalized the vote on all proposed changes. We will now introduce the final full draft at the next Council meeting July 26 and vote on the final document on Aug 9.”
I believe Mr. Weimer’s proposed amendments to Chapter 2 Land Use Cherry Point have been handled improperly. Furthermore, I believe the actions by County Council in the July 5, 2016 Council Special Committee of the Whole meeting, the July 12, 2016 Council Special Committee of the Whole meeting, and the County Council July 12, 2016 meeting, have not been adequately and clearly conveyed to the public, nor have those actions been transparent to a reasonable degree.
I want to be clear that I do not think there was intent by Council members to be unclear to the public, or to avoid transparency. But, rather, I feel it is the result from the manner in which critical information had, and had not been, presented to the public. And, it is a result of the limitations placed on Council due to the Executive Sessions relating to the Comp Plan Update that Council was directed to conduct with County legal counsel, which stem from what many consider to be a questionable legal advisement (relating to the Gateway Pacific Terminal project) given by the County Prosecutor’s office in 2012. An advisement, which I understand to still be in effect, presently. At least it continues to be stated as such on County Council Agendas in the “Open Session” section of the agendas.
I also have serious concerns about the fact that our County Executive Jack Louws, is trying to exert his influence on our Comp Plan Update process.
In the online Whatcom County website record of public comments on the Comprehensive Plan Update, on July 8, 2016, there is a grouping of approx. 50 comment response letters sent from County Executive Jack Louws—his office’s Executive Assistant/Communications Coordinator, Arden Landry (“on behalf of Jack Louws”). A screenshot photo of his response letter is here:
The commenters Mr. Louws responded to had voiced their opposition to Carl Weimer’s amendments to the Comp Plan Chapter 2 Land Use Cherry Point, and their comments were directed specifically to Jack Louws, as they were sent to his email address. All of those emails in that grouping sent to Mr. Louws have the same subject line.
Executive Louws’ response letter expressed this statement: “Although my personal preference would be for the county not to address limiting new and/or expansion of heavy industrial activities and uses that process fossil fuels in the Cherry Point UGA in the comprehensive plan update, the Administration has offered a compromise position for the council to consider that set aside for now the broad discussion related to the specific issue (please review attachment).”
While I do not know if there is any law preventing him from doing so, I believe it is, at the very least, improper for our County Executive to try to exert his influence over our Comp Plan Update and its process, which is handled by the Legislative branch of our County government, the County Council. And, in doing so, he is using County staff to do that, such as having had his Executive Assistant Arden Landry, send out those approx. 50 emails on his behalf.
The document Mr. Louws’ attached to his reply emails to commenters was a Memorandum from Mark Personius, Assistant Director County Planning & Development Services. I have attached a screenshot photo of that Memorandum here:
I ask that the Comp Plan Update process being conducted by County Council be immediately halted in order to allow time for some outside entity with the authority to review and make a determination as to whether the process and actions I’ve described above have impinged on Whatcom County citizens’ due process rights.
I look forward to a response from you all.