The city [of Bothell’s] legal challenge is misguided in that the City is essentially asserting that it cannot meet the intent of the GMA and must, therefore, have greater flexibility and the right to base its land use decisions on its own criteria.
Ask yourself why it is that for the past 25 years, all the cities and counties within the GMA umbrella have been able to work within the provisions of the GMA requirements, except now Bothell. Is Bothell’s issue so complex, so much more difficult than the large and complex issues faced by all the other jurisdictions, including major counties like King County and cities like Seattle, Tacoma, Bellevue?
This legal challenge is unnecessary and is not driven by a genuine difficultly in complying with GMA requirements; rather, the legal challenge is the result of arrogance, stubbornness, and foolishness and will result in a waste of taxpayer money.
Ironically, the GMA provides for local control, rather than state control of land use decisions. It sets up rules, but offers incredible flexibility. The rules are necessary because the GMA is attempting to constrain the spread of growth (prevent sprawl), but in doing so creates high density development and the resulting need to protect the remaining environmentally critical areas. The State legislature was wise to require decisions based on actual science within critical areas, because the personal opinions of lay Council Members, and their keen desire to please constituents, would enviably lead to unwitting destruction of the functions of wetlands and streams. The State legislature did, however, provide broad discretion to municipalities, so the Hearings Board can only overturn municipal land use ordinances when they deem such ordinances “clearly erroneous”; thus, very, very few municipal land use ordinances are ever overturned by the Hearings Board. The Ci ty of Bothell now has the dubious honor of being one of only a small number of such rulings. The Hearings Board determined that the Bothell City Council clearly applied the GMA rules incorrectly, meeting the “clearly erroneous” threshold. It is highly doubtful that any neutral party that is truly knowledgeable of the GMA requirements could have come to any other conclusion about the previous Council’s methodology, logic, and decisions.
In the unlikely event that the city of Bothell prevails, such a victory would ultimately be a hollow victory, because it will serve to undermine a key tenant of the GMA, that protection of the environment is paramount in critical areas. If I were a Council Member, I would forever sleep badly knowing that I played a role in a court case resulting in undermining highly necessary critical area protections in Western Washington.
Pursuing the legal appeal is a policy decision, not a legal decision. Neither the City Manager, City Attorney, nor the City’s hired gun attorney (Eglick) can make that decision. All Eglick can do it tell you his legal opinion about the City’s chance of prevailing, but keep this in mind. The City’s hired gun attorney gets paid (a lot) whether or not the City prevails in court and any hired gun attorney would salivate at the chance to make a name for himself by winning a case against the Growth Management Hearings Board.
Lastly, any notion that Bothell citizens “want their day in court” is pure fantasy by a few council members. I am absolutely convinced that if any of you walked door-to-door throughout this City and asked each resident whether or not they want the City to use its General Funds to pay for a court case that may ultimately benefit a few property owners, or whether the City Council should instead try to find a way to craft land use rules that comply with the intent of the GMA and protect North Creek fish runs, continuing pursuit of the legal appeal would lose by a large margin. Make no mistake, in this last election the candidates that won (and won big) where the candidates that spoke of a change of course, of putting the broader communities’ interests above special interests. Pursuing the legal challenge is about supporting the narrow interests of a relatively few landowners against necessary protection of the environment, and it’s about trying to sal vage the pride of previous council members that voted to adopt “clearly erroneous” land use policies in contradiction of GMA principles. The election results prove that the public expects wiser leadership and decision making from its Council Members.
This lawsuit just makes Bothell look like the petulant child that refuses to play if it can’t get its way. Please end this unfortunate chapter now; save the misguided and wasteful spending on the lawsuit and notify the growth management hearings board that new City leadership will, like all the other GMA cities, cooperate with the growth management hearings board to develop land use regulations meeting the intent of the GMA.
Ending the appeal is an easy call; the hard work lies ahead – good luck.
Tim Tobin, Bothell resident and former councilmember