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The environmental legacy of the late Governor Booth Gardner

Booth Gardner, Washington state’s 19th governor, has died from complications of Parkinson’s disease.  Booth was the Governor who helped push through and sign the Growth Management Act (GMA), a still somewhat controversial bill, that has had wide ranging impact on development across the State. Locally, beyond the planning required for implementation of the GMA, there have also been the Critical Areas Ordinance (CAO) and Shoreline Master Programs (SMP) to deal with. Thousands of hours of work and  millions of dollars of State money have gone into the implementation of GMA, and yet, growth continues to seriously impact our waters, land and air. As someone who has been involved with GMA issues closely, I can say that I can see positive things that have come out of GMA planning, and I believe we are better off for having done it than not, but I cannot say that the results have been in line with the money and time spent.  The greatest shortcoming to the GMA seems to be real enforcement of growth management. It appears that big money projects always can work around the GMA while smaller projects by less wealthy and well connected individuals get shot down. Should this be reversed? I don’t really know.  As an example in Jefferson County, much discussion has been made of whether or not the Black Point development is inline with the GMA statutes. How about the proposed huge development at Port Gamble? It appears that the benefit is that the developers trade off pristine land and shoreline for the ability to put in hundreds of units of housing. Certainly, we still see clogged roads that are not forced to be upgraded in anticipation for the growth.  To this day, over in King County, developers east of Lake Sammamish were not forced to update roads when they built on the plateau, and  it’s still faster to drive to a location like Microsoft from Seattle than the Plateau.

In Clallam County, GMA has been weakened at the demands of the city, and our Democratic representatives, both of whom say they are for environmental protections, have shown no desire to fight Port Angeles on this, in fact they both want to see the GMA weakened to support the demands of PA.  The claim is that it’s too inflexible for a town the size of Port Angeles.

When I tried finding reasoned debate on the effectiveness of the GMA, the only comprehensive discussion seems to come out of the opponents of the Act. It would be a worthwhile study,  as to whether the GMA actually has accomplished it’s goals, and where it falls short.  Have comprehensive planning really brought measureable improvements?  I would guess yes, but really, I can’t enumerate them. Someone with knowledge of this issue want to help out?

Locally, I can point to one small improvement brought about by GMA planning. Here in Port Townsend, the west end of Fort Worden, between the Chinese Gardens and the Straits, was slated for development into condos or apartments. The GMA group in PT, with considerable public debate, apparently decided to trade the development of that land for development of Tree House properties, across from the Fort cemetery.  I think that those of  us in the neighborhood would agree that decision worked out for the best. It led to the State annexing the Chinese Gardens for the Park. We ended up with more open space attached to an already existing Park, and a small bunch of lots sandwiched into a residential neighborhood were infilled with dense housing. Most people would say that it was a good trade.

So it *can* work.  And overall, most people would thank Governor Booth Gardner, for taking a hard principled stance on an environmental issue of such importance.

Former Gov. Booth Gardner dies at 76

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