Saturday, January 05, 2008

Does PSRC membership make sense for Kitsap?

I attended the recent Puget Sound Regional Council (PSRC) public hearing held in the Commissioner’s Chambers, and have been following the editorial commentary on the local blogs and in Letters to the Editor since then.

The job of the PSRC is to do regional planning for King, Pierce, Snohomish and Kitsap counties. It has crafted a plan called “Vision 2040,” that supposedly is our road map for land use and transportation planning, between now until then. And for those who aren’t up on such things, the PSRC is also in charge of allocating and handing out state transportation money to its four member counties.

It’s interesting to note the diametrically — or perhaps I should say ideologically — opposed editorial coverage of the public hearing by the Kitsap Sun and the Port Orchard Independent.

As reported by both papers, the Kitsap Alliance of Property Owners (KAPO) turned out in force to register its displeasure with Vision 2040 — and pointedly, the PSRC’s land use intentions for Kitsap. It’s members repeatedly told PSRC representatives in no uncertain terms the group wasn’t welcome here, and publicly called on our county commissioners to pull out of the organization.

However, depending on which paper you read, you may or may not know KAPO members weren’t the only people there expressing that opinion. Of the 80 or so people who attended the meeting and testified, only a handful were actually KAPO members. The rest were ordinary citizens concerned with what could happen to them if they didn’t register their objections. There were only three people testifying that membership in PSRC was actually a good idea for us.

Before saying anything more, in the interest of full disclosure, let me state for the record that I am not now, nor have I ever been, a member of KAPO.

In fact, considering my personal views on some issues near and dear to its membership, I’m not all that certain I’d even be welcome as a member.

That aside, it’s no secret KAPO is a tightly organized, militantly activist, local property rights organization that’s pretty well-informed on issues, and well-funded by its fairly conservative membership. For years, it has been an ongoing — and painful — thorn in the side of certain county commissioners. Yet it’s almost always portrayed in at least one local media as a group of anti-environment, right-wing nut jobs. In any organization, there’s always at least a few members out of touch with the mainstream. However most KAPO members I’ve met have a pretty solid grip on reality.

Although KAPO suffers from a lack of public credibility because of that media portrayal, its left-wing counterpart, the environmental extremist Kitsap Citizens for Responsible Planning (KCRP), is almost always treated with deference. As near as I can figure, KCRP has about 20 members — and that may be a generous assessment. Meanwhile, KAPO has quietly amassed several hundred members, begging the question, which group actually represents the local majority opinion? Is it 20 or so people continually working the GMA legal process to roadblock growth at the expense of the taxpayers, or the hundreds of residents willing to back up their beliefs with their checkbooks?

Ironically, it was only because of continual agitation by KAPO, that the PSRC public hearing was even held here at all — much less held in the evening. Originally it was scheduled for 7 p.m. on a weekday — in Edmonds.

What I also found interesting was that only one county commissioner — Jan Angel — even bothered to attend that public hearing. Angel makes no bones about the fact she doesn’t support PSRC’s ultra-liberal, socialist approach to land use.

But the issues about KAPO, KCRP and local media bias all aside, the simple question is, does getting out of the PSRC make good sense for Kitsap or not? Some elected officials privately agree it does, and will give you a laundry list of reasons why. But Jan Angel has been the only one with the political courage to step up and say so out loud.

Openly agreeing with KAPO on this in the press also resulted in the usual suspects attempting to discredit her character on the local blogs — something I’m certain she’s probably become quite used to by now.

In my view, the PSRC amounts to a monolithic, unelected government that’s accountable to no one, and dominated by ultra-liberal interests from the Interstate 5-centric side of Puget Sound. It can, and will, hold whatever transportation dollars it decides we deserve, hostage, unless we march to whatever land use tune it whistles. In my view, membership makes no sense because we’ll essentially castrate all our local land use decision-making authority from now until 2040 — and beyond.

We have extremely little in common economically or environmentally with King, Pierce or Snohomish counties. Common sense planning, coupled with retaining what local land use planning and decision making power we still have left, dictates we should either manage our rightful share of that transportation money ourselves through an organization like the Kitsap Regional Coordinating Council (KRCC), or align with counties we do have things in common with.

Liberal Thurston County is a perfect example of making this work. It’s about the same size as Kitsap, but isn’t a member of PSRC. Thurston manages its own state transportation dollars, and in case you haven’t been there lately, it has some of the best roads and freeways in the state.

Kitsap County has documented that it will need well over $20 million in the next 20 years to meet just our most pressing and immediate transportation needs. We have 3.08 percent of the total population of the four PSRC counties and a little over six percent of its board’s voting power. King County has 52 percent. King County’s transportation problems are well-documented — the Viaduct, massive cost overruns at Sound Transit, coupled with its grandiose, PSRC-backed expansion plans, the 520 Bridge, etc. How much impact can any thinking person believe Kitsap County actually has on PSRC’s transportation funding decisions? Membership means we’re forced to give up local land use decision-making power and live by what PSRC and King County decide for us.

Considering PSRC’s arrogant dismissal of the views expressed at the public hearing as a “minority opinion,” the real question isn’t, “Does PSRC membership make sense for Kitsap?” The question is, “WHY does it?”

1 comment:

  1. At first glance, it seems that 23 US Code 134 requires that Kitsap have a "metropolitan planning organization" designated through agreement between the Governor and the Fed's to maintain eligibility for federal highway funds. The MPO has to handle the "urbanized area" designated by the Census Bureau. (That would be "Bremerton," UA 09946, which includes the urbanized areas of Kitsap County.)

    It seems we could go it alone, just as you say Thurston County does.

    Why don't we? As you put it, what does Kitsap County gain by being part of the PSRC?