Long before new development breaks ground, local governments adopt policies that guide how they will plan and encourage development to happen. The policies are called Countywide Planning Policies or CPPs for short. And if you are at all concerned with how the County and your City get developed, you should want to know more.
Now what if I told you that local government officials regularly meet behind closed doors and without public comment to develop the CPPs that determine how your community plans for growth. And that their decisions become the foundation for how your city plans and grows.
This is exactly what is happening.
In the late 1980s and very early 1990s, as the State’s Growth Management Act (GMA) was being implemented, Snohomish County and its cities collaborated to form Snohomish County Tomorrow, a group that would allow the County and cities to collaborate on growth planning and implement annual work plans for the purpose of fulfilling the statutory GMA requirement that counties and cities consult with each other and ensure coordinated planning for growth. Snohomish County Tomorrow is 100% government funded (by the cities and the county), staffed by government officials (both elected and appointed), and the policies developed in SCT get presented to the County Council for final adoption, bypassing any other local processes.
Like any government agency, SCT is a maze of committees and sub-committees – the most powerful of which is the Planning Advisory Committee or PAC. It’s composition is a planning department representative from each city that is staffed by County long-range planners. The PAC is tasked with developing the “county-wide planning policies” that each city has to be consistent with when adopting local plans and policies. And those Countywide Planning Policies, known as CPPs, dictate what gets built, how much gets built, and where it gets built in Snohomish County.
Right now, this PAC group is responsible for developing the policies that will shape the next 20-year growth plan for Snohomish County and its cities. These policies impact where you can live and in what type of dwelling, who can afford to live in which communities, how far you commute and by what means, etc. Pretty important stuff, right? We think so.
That’s why we regularly attend the PAC meetings to listen to what’s happening and how it could impact our lives, business, and clients. However, the PAC doesn’t hold actual “public hearings” on their work and public comment is exceptionally limited. Generally speaking, the entire Snohomish County Tomorrow process is devoid of active public participation opportunities sans a “Community Advisory Board” of +/-17 people that only meet once each quarter and 7 citizen representatives on their Steering Committee.
But, at least we (or anyone in the public) can listen right? Not exactly.
SCT has decided that its sub-committees, small groups charged with choosing the newest growth policies and drafting the specific language, should be private meetings in order to allow the planning representatives from the cities to have a forum to freely discuss policies without fear they might find themselves criticized for what they discuss.
SCT says they aren’t a government agency (their an associated) and their meetings aren’t really “committee” or a “sub-committee” meetings but work groups. So Washington’s Open Public Meetings Act (OMPA) doesn’t apply to them. SCT has taken its position so far that it’s Steering Committee voted in April to permanently change their operating guidelines to call sub-committees “working groups” from now on despite the fact that nearly every issue discussed in any other SCT committee always notes that it was developed and recommended by the PAC sub-committee.
The immediate result? The new county-wide planning policies are being developed by small groups of planners in private meetings. These policies will be adopted by Snohomish County Tomorrow with very limited and controlled public participation before being sent to the County Council for approval. Once approved, these policies will guide the next 20 years of growth. Yet you probably had no idea this was happening.
As a result, only +/- 50 people out of Snohomish County’s +840,000 residents have been able to figure out how to share public comments with SCT – a mere 0.0064% of the population.
The outcome? In the next 2-3 years your city will have to update it’s comprehensive growth plan. And when it does, the city you live in will have to follow these policies to plan how it will grow and what it will look like. These policies will limit your city’s choices. And you will be told it is too late for your meaningful input. These policies affect densities, infrastructure, etc.
It’s nearly a done deal. And worse yet, there is no allowance in State Law for a citizen to challenge a CPP in court. Only the Governor or a city or county can file such an appeal – something that is very unlikely to happen.
Our firm has sent a letter to SCT to let them know we object to private meetings (read the letter below).
What can you do?
Let Snohomish County Tomorrow know it’s unacceptable to have private meetings to develop planning policies. And request they take in more public input prior to making any decisions.
Send Snohomish County Tomorrow an email:
Or send them a letter:
Snohomish County Tomorrow
Toyer Letter to SCT Regarding Open Meetings
C/O: Cynthia Pruitt, Coordinator
3000 Rockefeller Ave
Everett, WA 98201