A press release stating that I-933 — the so-called "Property Fairness" initiative — has qualified for the November ballot, hit my desk recently. If passed, the measure, which is sponsored by the 34,000-member Washington Farm Bureau and the Property Fairness Coalition, would require state and local government to compensate property owners when regulations passed after January 1, 1996, damage the use or value of private property.
As I originally noted in this space in late May, not only would I-933 qualify for the ballot, but I believe it will pass by a comfortable margin. Approximately 225,000 signatures were needed for it to qualify. Backers of the measure turned in 315,000 — and didn't even pick up all the outstanding petitions.
Personally, I think 315,000 is just the tip of the iceberg. This should be the equivalent of the proverbial 2x4 to the side of the head of opponents, who should be considering the reasons so many people feel so strongly about this issue. But it won't be. Instead of taking a reasoned and well-articulated approach based on the benefit of preserving the protections currently in place, opponents will go into full warrior mode, attacking supporters as greedy, thoughtless, profiteers with no regard for the environment. That will prove to be a serious strategical miscalculation.
Should I-933 be enacted into law?
To property rights advocates, the answer is an obvious no-brainer — a resounding “Yes!” Many see it as a weapon to finally strike back at liberal legislators, activist judges, and unelected bureaucrats that have far exceeded their authority to regulate private property under the U.S. Constitution. Stories about family fortunes and retirement nest eggs being wiped out with the stroke of a regulatory pen have become so commonplace in Washington that they fail to elicit sympathy anymore.
In the view of opponents, I-933 will wipe out environmental protections, negate zoning laws, and allow unbridled and largely unregulated growth anywhere someone with a piece of land wants to develop. This is a serious over dramatization of reality, but there are reasons for concern.
The main target of I-933 is obviously the state’s Growth Management Act (GMA). Do we need reasonable regulation to preserve our environment and manage our inevitable growth responsibly. Absolutely! Leaving a place in 1975 (Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.) where as the Joni Mitchell song goes, “They paved Paradise, and put up a parking lot,” I passionately believe in responsible, realistic, and pragmatic, planning and management of growth.
The GMA as written, interpreted, and implemented however, has proven to be a monumental failure. It’s one size-fits all approach, which eliminates all local control and leaves major land use decisions to people who don't live here and are accountable to no one except the governor, has proven it just doesn’t work. This has become painfully obvious to most pragmatic, non-ideologues.
Meanwhile, the most vocal local supporters of the GMA hypocritically enjoy their waterfront and/or their rural homesteads, while demanding everyone else live in overpriced “pack ‘em and stack ‘em” urban settings where the only housing choices are basically apartments — be they rentals or condos. I’d love to see these folks walk their talk for a change, and move their families into the urban areas they insist the rest of us should live in. Yeah, like that's gonna happen...
Which reminds me of that old joke...
Question: What’s the definition of a developer?
Answer: Someone who wants to build a house in the woods to sell.
Question: What’s the definition of an environmentalist?
Answer: Someone who bought that house in the woods.
The law of supply and demand is hard at work where GMA is concerned. It is single handedly responsible for the unbridled upward spirial of housing prices — and your property tax assessments — by artificially restricting the supply of land that can be developed for housing.
And because of the GMA, the law of unintended consequences is also working against the citizens of Washington State. The GMA fails to address the unintended social problems it creates — such as homelessness when people can no longer afford housing, and are being forced to choose between a roof over their head, or food. Also, any time you increase the proximity of people to one another as GMA mandates, the result is an increased crime rate, not to mention seriously more concentrated traffic; the pollution that creates; and the health care problems generated by it.
The other dirty little secret GMA supporters won't admit, is the longer-term problem of the "brain drain" that takes place when the price of housing becomes so high, young, educated professionals with families can't afford to live here, and move to business-friendly locales that offer both job opportunities and affordable housing — places like Arizona, Nevada, Texas, Georgia, Tennessee, and of course, our direct neighbor to the east, Idaho. This workforce issue negatively impacts our state's long term economic future by choking off our ability to attract quality companies offering, environmentally clean, high-paying, jobs, and to grow and keep the ones we already have.
The GMA doesn't provide a way to remedy any of those problems, and in fact, because of its inflexibility, actually exacerbates the social problems it creates.
The ivory tower elitest environmentalists and opponents of I-933 should ponder the fact that their message of planned growth and protecting our environment for future generations is now viewed by a majority of citizens as one of government interference in our everyday lives, and systematically denying our constitutionally guaranteed private property rights. And the ordinary, working class people of Washington State — Democrats and Republicans alike — are saying they've have had enough of it. They're fighting back. I-933 is just the first shot across the bow.
If environmentalists want to achieve their goals and retain the gains they’ve made, instead attacking the messengers, and moving farther to the left, advocating even harsher regulation, which is their usual knee-jerk reaction, they need to move back towards the center — where most of the voters reside.
Remember you read it here first... In the end, after I-933 passes, 315,000 will prove to be a very small number.