Lewis County commissioners are holding a special meeting Tuesday evening, seeking public feedback ahead of a workshop focused on the Growth Management Act.
The meeting is scheduled for Tuesday evening at 6 p.m. in the commissioners’ hearing room in Chehalis.
All elected officials in Lewis County have been invited to attend the Friday workshop, which is conducted by the William D. Ruckelshaus Center, a public policy collaboration between Washington State University and the University of Washington. The Center has been directed by the Legislature to produce a Road Map to Washington’s Future, a vision for policy framework that guides the state’s direction.
The GMA, according to Road Map project co-lead Joe Tovar, is one of about a dozen measures the Center is looking at, “the framework of state laws that tells those units how to do what they do. It tells them what their mission is, what their roles are.” Similar measures include the Shoreline Management Act and the State Environmental Policy Act.
The Growth Management Act has been the subject of ire in some areas, particularly rural ones, which have complained that it sets inflexible standards for everything from zoning to comprehensive plans to environmental regulations.
“One thing that we’ve heard is that one size does not fit all,” Tovar said. “There are very regionally specific priorities and circumstances.”
County commissioner Gary Stamper expressed those frustrations when discussing the upcoming workshop last week.
“This is a ridiculous barrier,” he said. “We have to be more flexible. Give the counties more opportunity.”
In 2015, 25 years after the GMA was passed, legislators asked the Ruckelshaus Center to seek the public’s input on the Act. After an assessment period, the state agreed in 2017 to fund the project, with a report due in June of 2019. Since then, the Center has been canvassing the state, seeking out leaders in local government, tribes, utilities, ports, business and economic development.
The Friday workshop in Lewis County will be the Center’s 26th and final meeting of the project. Because the workshops are in a focus group style, the Center has specifically invited people it wants to hear from, though members of the public are not prohibited from attending. All elected officials in the county have been invited to the session beginning at 9 a.m. Another session at 12:30 p.m. will seek input from private sector leaders. The meetings are at Lewis County Fire District 6 in Chehalis.
“This is a really important meeting,” said county commissioner Edna Fund. “(The Growth Management Act) has impacted Lewis County for years. … Now it’s time to bring it to the forefront.”
At the county’s Mayors’ Meeting Friday morning, Lewis County Community Development Director Lee Napier urged local leaders to attend the workshop.
“You’re obligated to remain compliant,” she said. “You can say, ‘So what? I don’t really care if I’m compliant. What are they gonna do to me?’ If you’re not compliant with Growth Management, when you go to apply for a grant, you’ve got to check that box. They have us at every single step. It’s a burden that we all have to face.”
The Ruckelshaus Center’s workshop will not be an official open public meeting, which is why county commissioners are holding one of their own in advance of the session, to give residents a chance to share their opinions before officials meet with project staff.
“I’m really glad we’re doing this,” Fund said.
According to Tovar, those working on the Road Map have been hearing several themes during their two dozen workshops. One is reforming the tax structure in the state, which has been approached with a variety of opinions. Another is “right-sizing” Washington’s regulatory framework to work for different regions.
“What you’ll hear from the coast is very different from what you’ll hear from Walla Walla,” he said.
Though the Center’s workshops are focused on the leaders it has invited, the public is welcome to fill out an online questionnaire on its website. Tovar said the Center’s eventual report will talk about its findings and themes, but also include recommendations to the Legislature on policy subjects that need attention and the stakeholders that are invested in them.