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Advocating for you!

Growth management, agricultural land preservation, and rural water rights have been the dominant discussions at the Council this year. A lot’s been happening so I’d like to fill you in on some details.

As always, please feel free to call or email me with questions or comments at or 253-798-7776.

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Comprehensive Plan Amendments

As required by the Washington’s Growth Management Act, Pierce County’s Comprehensive Plan sets the direction for accommodating and directing growth and development in unincorporated portions of the County. The County’s zoning and development regulations are based on this policy document. 

This year’s amendments to the Comprehensive Plan include;

  • Minor changes to the urban growth area boundary
  • Identifying additional areas for potential annexation
  • Changes to land use policies and text
  • Changes in the Land Use Designation Map

While many other issues are important in their own right, the bulk of the public attention and Council debate was on amendments designating Agricultural Resource Lands (ARL) and associated land use designation changes. Years ago, the County discovered that the current criteria for designating ARL was flawed. There was also a mapping error that resulted in 942 properties and more than 11,000 acres that had been designated ARL without meeting anyone’s standard for prime agriculture lands.

As a result, the Council commissioned a study known as Fresh Look in 2016. I proposed an amendment based on the Fresh Look proposal with a few adjustments to remove public lands (parks, schools, etc.) and forest and mineral resource lands. This amendment would result in 22,392 acres of ARL. You can read more on this issue in my blog post here. Unfortunately my amendment failed on a 3-4 vote.

Despite deep division on this ARL issue, the Council passed Ordinance 2017-6s on a 6-1 vote, adopting the 2017 Comprehensive Plan amendments.

However, the Executive has now vetoed the bill specifically over the ARL issue, so I will be reintroducing it soon.

Narrows Bridge

SR 16 – Tacoma Narrows Bridge to SR 3 Congestion Study

Since last year, Mayor Guernsey and I have worked on the steering committee for the Highway 16 Congestion Study. In addition to traditional traffic metrics and analysis, we want to hear from you.

If you have a few minutes, please take our survey here.

The survey will help WSDOT understand how the SR 16 corridor is used today. It should only take around 12 minutes and will be available until Friday, May 26 at 4 p.m.

Washington State Capitol bldg

Working for you in Olympia, to

I represent Pierce County on a number of external boards, but at the start of the new year I’m busiest representing Pierce County on our state association’s Legislative Steering Committee. This year we’ve been working on a number of issues of significant importance to our district.

Rural Water Rights

Late last year the Washington State Supreme Court issued a decision in the case Whatcom County vs. Hirst, Futurewise, et al. commonly referred to simply as Hirst. In it, the court reversed decades of law that says counties can rely on the Department of Ecology to determine water availability.

While protecting water rights and in stream flows for habitat are important, counties aren’t equipped or qualified to make these determinations or manage regional mitigation projects. For more on this issue you can read my blog post here.

Unable to process permits without clear determinations on water rights, Pierce County has a de fact moratorium in place for building on rural lots lacking an existing water source. As a result, I’ve testified in both houses of the Legislature, lobbied members and the Governor for a solution to Hirst this session. We’re close, but I’ll keep working until the job is done.

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Rural School Building

School siting (building) is another issue particularly important to Pierce County, especially within the Bethel and Peninsula School Districts. The Growth Management Act (GMA) allows for schools primarily serving a rural population to be built or expanded in rural areas. The GMA does not allow for schools serving both urban and rural students to build schools outside the GMA boundary. Actually, our regional planning document, Vision 2040, prohibits it outright.

The Pierce County delegation worked hard and passed a bill that enables the county to help our school districts move forward, build schools outside the GMA boundary, and serve Pierce County students.

Public Defense

A constant struggle for local government is implementing unfunded mandates handed down from the federal or state level. Initiatives to perform a service may be very good ideas, but without the resources to provide them, we either have to make cuts to other services or increase revenue. Public defense is one such service.

The right to counsel provided by the state is guaranteed by the 6th and 14th amendments. You’ve probably heard law enforcement say this on tv shows;

You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed for you.

Criminal justice is a State obligation that counties carry out the State’s behalf. Providing adequate funding not only minimizes the impact to county budgets, it also ensures a uniform system of justice. Unfortunately, Washington is at the bottom of states in funding public defense. Here’s the stats:

  • 23 states fully fund public defense. Most states provide more than 50% of the cost
  • Washington State contributes just 4% to counties for public defense
  • Since 2006 there’s been a $50 million increase (56%) in counties’ costs for providing public defense services
  • Pierce County spends almost $17 million annually, up from $13 million in 2006

For every dollar out of Pierce County’s General Fund budget we have to spend on the Department of Assigned Counsel, that’s one dollar we don’t have to put deputies on the street, provide behavioral health services, housing for the homeless, or make investments in infrastructure. We are working hard to secure the proper funding from the legislature for this state mandated service.

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