Court affirms Whatcom SMP

District Court 1 Superior Court  last week affirmed that, unlike the Growth Management Act, that the Shoreline Master Program is not subject to the  regulations which prohibits local governments from imposing direct or indirect taxes, fees, or charges on development. The folks appealing this, usually considered the “anti SMP” point of view, were challenging whether by adopting locally crafted SMPs, that this put these regs in conflict with that rule.

The reasoning from the court appears to be that because the state has such a deep role in demanding that SMPs be done, and Ecology approves them, with modifications, that the regs are not local, but actually state regulations. This makes sense. Why? Well, they point out a very interesting point of view from our state constitution, that is worth remembering by those who have been opposing the work done here on the SMP. I quote:

Article XVII, section 1 of the Washington Constitution declares that shorelines were originally owned by the State, and therefore
subject to State regulation. Even after sale or lease of shorelines, the State continues to hold remaining sovereign interests of the
public. Indeed, the SMA was expressly based on the proposition that shorelines are of “statewide significance.” Local governments
do not possess any inherent constitutional police power over state shoreline use.

In other words, the shorelines of this county belong to all of us citizens of Washington state, even though we don’t directly ‘own’ them! The state, which means all of us through our representatives in all levels of state government, as well as those of us who participate in this rule making,  have ultimate responsibility in protecting the shores.. The work we did was to help the state do it’s job by drafting locally relevant rules.

Bottom line, this isn’t about socialism, as so many who showed up at the Fort last month tried to shout out, but it’s about democracy, and the notion that our state founders, a very unconventional group that didn’t like the notion of a state income tax but liked taxing all business regardless if they made money or not, also decided that even while allowing state shorelines to be sold to the public, would make sure that the ultimate authority of the regulation of the shorelines would stay in the grasp of all of it’s citizens.

All of us that own shoreline and those who don’t, should thank the court for it’s finding.

If I misread this ruling, I welcome comments.

3 Responses

  1. Al, your reading is correct. More broadly, it’s known as the Public Trust with legal foundations traced as far back as Roman law. Tideland sales – especially oyster tracts – did not include “all of the sticks” when sold by the state. Their regulation for the public’s benefit on a statewide level – for everyone – is only one reflection of this. It can be difficult to accept.

  2. You are right Peter. As I read the constitution it is a regulation issue and not a latent use issue.

  3. “In other words, the shorelines of this county belong to all of us citizens of Washington state, even though we don’t directly ‘own’ them!”

    If you mean that the state has a role in regulating shorelines and their use, then I agree with you. If you mean that there is somehow a latent public use (e.g. I personally have the right ot use someone elses property if its on the shoreline.) then I have to disagree.

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