May 12, 2009
Land protection seems unneeded
King County does not need a charter amendment to add an extra layer of protection to some of its lands. The proposal seems a classic example of a solution in search of a problem, and a waste of valuable staff time.The County Council has spent the past few weeks studying scattered bits of land from all over the county. Much of this property has rich ecological value, and certainly should not be developed. But then no one has suggested it should be, which is part of the problem with the study — council members are contemplating protecting land from development that no one wants to develop anyway. Many of the lands in question are wetlands, areas that already enjoy enhanced protections.
The methodology is also heavy-handed. The proposal calls for enshrining this protection in the county charter, effectively the county’s constitution. Yes, it might feel good to say that King County is so green that we have a list of protected lands in our county charter, but the charter is not the place for this.
As Councilwoman Kathy Lambert has said, the charter should govern the abstract of how government works, not be used as a way of implementing a specific policy.
By placing this policy in the charter, we run the risk of tying the hands of future councils. The charter comes up for review once every 10 years. While there is no foreseeable reason to develop or sell any of the properties, that doesn’t mean there won’t ever be.
For something so unnecessary, this proposed charter amendment is a colossal waste of time. Two employees are briefing the council about each property for hours during each meeting. And those two stand for a team of others working behind the scenes to prepare reports about each piece of land.
Our understanding is that the county employees working on this project are smart, talented and hardworking. Surely their time — time in short supply due to budget-tightening furloughs — could be better spent on a project that is less redundant. Protecting undevelopable land is not necessary.