Offering frequent news and analysis from the majestic Evergreen State and beyond, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Monday, July 03, 2006

I-933 Endangers Our Future

This is the fourth in a special, multiple part series on the threat that this year's crop of right wing ballot measures pose to the sustainable future of Washington State. A reminder that you can help the progressive movement take advantage of our First Amendment rights by reporting right wing signature gathering activity when you observe it occurring. And don't forget that you have every right to urge fellow voters not to sign a petition for a right wing ballot measure.

The national right wing effort to destroy land use and community protection regulations spread into Washington State late last year when the state Farm Bureau announced its plans to run its own Measure 37 clone in 2006.

Measure 37 was a statewide ballot measure passed by Oregonian voters in 2004. Put simply, the measure created a "pay or waive" system which allows landowners to demand compensation for any reduction in their land value. If the government (local or state) can't pay, the rules are waived.

The Washington chapter of the American Planning Association has done an excellent analysis of the Farm Bureau's proposal and warns of what will happen if I-933 (which is almost an exact clone of Measure 37) passes and takes effect:
The initiative proposes to lower that bar by inserting into Washington state law a new legal definition of "damage."

When an owner then claims that a regulation "damages" his property under this new definition, I-933 would compel a state or local government agency to choose between paying taxpayer dollars to enforce the law or else waiving the requirements of the law.

No notice would be given to adjacent property owners when an I-933 "damage claim" is asserted, nor would notice be required when the challenged rules are actually waived and protections removed. Even if such notice were given, neighboring property owners would have no way to defend their own interests other than hiring lawyers and filing lawsuits.

Although the language of I-933 states that the "agency shall pay," in reality this means "taxpayers shall pay." Under I-933, the choice facing our communities would be to either pay millions of taxpayer dollars or else waive the rules that protect residential neighborhoods from property devaluing intrusions and the laws that protect farms, forests, streams, and wetlands from being paved over by irresponsible development. In effect, I-933 asks us to surrender Washington’s very quality of life.
I-933 would create mayhem by stealthily wiping out our state's carefully crafted growth management laws. If it isn't defeated, it will have significant, immediate, and devastating consequences. Not just in Puget Sound, but statewide. I-933 means the end of growth management and careful urban or rural land use planning. For example:
Concerns about flooding would be magnified by the passage of I-933. By its terms, the exemptions in I-933 for flooding only apply to "structural standards in building or fire codes." No exemption is created for the flood plain requirements necessary to maintain eligibility for federal flood insurance. Washington state cities and counties could lose their eligibility to participate in such programs. This would mean flood plain property owners would not be compensated for flood damages and federally insured and regulated loans would not be available for properties in flood plains. If lenders are prohibited or discouraged from lending in Washington’s flood plains, properties in flood plains would be greatly reduced in value and difficult to sell.


The Puget Sound Action Team concluded that legislation like I-933 would hamper if not eliminate safeguards that protect the health of Puget Sound. Their analysis stated that the resulting loss of habitat and species critical to the food web "could result in partial or total ecosystem collapse," manifested as "dead zones" in Puget Sound, similar to that found in the Hood Canal. Threatened species like the Chinook salmon and orca are already having a difficult time surviving as part of Washington’s ecosystem – irresponsible development enabled by I-933 could very well push these species to endangered status and beyond to ultimate extinction.
While the state Farm Bureau is sponsoring the initiative, much of the financial resources contributed so far for the signature drive have come from out of state. The Illinois based "Americans for Limited Government" group has donated at least $200,000 to the Farm Bureau's political action committee.

The money trail, however, doesn't end at "Americans for Limited Government". The real sugar daddy is Howard Rich, a New York real estate mogul who chairs the organization. Rich isn't just rich; he's extremely rich.

His "Americans for Limited Government" and "Fund for Democracy" fronts have contributed some $2.4 million to right wing initiatives assaulting land use protections in California, Idaho, Arizona, Oklahoma and now - Washington.

The "Fund for Democracy" also gave Missourians in Charge (a local right wing front group in the Show Me state) $1.36 million to put two separate initiatives on the Missouri ballot, including one which would require taxpayers to pay special interests to follow neighborhood land use rules.

Many of the efforts in other states, such as California or Montana, are being framed as homeowner protection campaigns. In fact, the Arizona campaign is actually calling itself the Home Owners Protection Effort - or, "HOPE". (And that kind of Orwellian deviousness sure brings back memories from 2003, when the Building Industry Association of Washington ran its "Workers Against Job Killing Rules" campaign to gut ergonomics regulations).

Not all of the proposals are the same, of course, but each one contains the same sinister "pay or waive" scheme designed to benefit special interests. That's why, as the APA concludes, it's un-American:
The "pay or waive" approach to land use regulation disconnects decision-making from the strong American tradition of open, inclusive, and accountable decision-making by representatives directly elected by the people.

[I-933] twists the concept of "fairness for all under the law" into a protection racket for the benefit of the aggressive and self-interested few.
There's absolutely no question that I-933 is a serious threat to our sustainable future. I-933 represents the exact opposite of progressive, traditional American values: fairness, equality, opportunity, and prosperity for all.

Initiative 933 is not about protecting your rights; it's about taking them away. It's about denying you a voice in your community's future. It's an underhandeded effort by special interests to get you to sell out without your knowing. That's why it's so dangerous.

The sponsors of I-933 have done, and are doing, everything they can to get Washingtonians to blindly support their efforts. I-933 will be marketed extensively as a "property fairness" or "homeowner protection" proposal, when in fact it lays waste to the concepts of fairness and protection.

I-933 hurts you, your family, and your neighbors. It's bad for all Washingtonians. It doesn't even deserve to be called public policy.

One major lie that you need to watch out for is any attempt by sponsors to claim that I-933 will stop eminent domain abuse. For the record, Initiative 933 has nothing to do with eminent domain. Absolutely nothing.

There's language in the first part of the initiative that mentions the subject, but that language was written in as a marketing gimmick. That's all it is.

The bottom line: I-933 includes no substantive provisions dealing with emiment domain.

If we want livable communities - clean air, clean water, green spaces, less sprawl, more carefully managed growth (and we do) - then we can't afford Initiative 933 and its "pay or waive" scheme.

We are staunchly opposed to outside, right wing special interests funneling money into our state to fund ballot measures that put an end to our way of life.

We have a moral responsibility to defeat proposals like Initiative 933, and keep our communities safe from greedy, careless developers and special interests. If you are approached to sign I-933, tell the petitioner you oppose this assault on our sustainable future - and report the incident to Permanent Defense.

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