King County’s oppression could show up here
September 19, 2008 · Updated 2:46 PM
Memo to local jurisdictions that have adopted — or plan on adopting — a critical areas ordinance (CAO) similar to King County’s: You will be sued, and you will lose.
That’s because the Court of Appeals, Division 1 dealt King County and Executive Ron Sims a major blow when it ruled the county’s regulations restricting rural landowners from clearing up to 65 percent of their property violated state law.
The court’s opinion sent shock waves across King County and the state. The Seattle liberal elitists couldn’t quite believe their eyes as they read the news.
Sims claimed the court got it wrong, arguing the judges failed “to recognize that these clearing limits help recharge groundwater use by rural property owners for their drinking water and protects rural property owners against floods.”
And of course, Sims didn’t waste any time in announcing the county would appeal the decision to the Washington Supreme Court.
Fortunately, the court didn’t get it wrong when it dismissed King County’s red herring arguments. The court properly applied the law and ruled that county officials could not impose uniform regulations forcing people to set aside more than half of their property as open space.
Instead, a local government must prove on a case-by-case approach whether its clearing limits are necessary based on what the owner is proposing to do with his or her property.
According to the court, the regulations were an unlawful tax on development.
The decision by the Court of Appeals can’t be overstated. The opinion is not only good news for King County residents, but also for property owners throughout Washington.
The decision paves the way for lawsuits against other jurisdictions that followed King County’s lead in adopting similar regulations and sends a clear message to those contemplating similar extreme measures.
Most importantly, the court’s decision is a check on King County’s influence on the rest of Washington.
Similar to the way many of California’s leftist policies are adopted by other states, regulations drafted in King County are often exported to other Washington local jurisdictions.
For example, soon after King County enacted its critical areas ordinances, Pierce County adopted equally onerous regulations.
Critical areas ordinances aren’t the only environmental issue King County is influencing statewide.
The county recently announced it was drafting a new State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) ordinance that will force builders to mitigate the effects of climate change.
Not to be outdone, state Department of Ecology Director Jay Manning recently formed a group to come up with statewide SEPA climate change regulations. The group is looking to propose regulations similar to King County’s.
Unfortunately, these types of regulations are allowed to foment due to a severe lack of organized opposition to such regulations in King County.
Andy Cook is the legal counsel for the Building Industry Association of Washington.