Opinion

King County’s oppression could show up in Kitsap

Memo to local jurisdictions that have adopted — or plan on adopting — a critical areas ordinance (CAO) similar to King County’s: You will be sued, and you will lose.

That’s because the Court of Appeals, Division 1 in July dealt King County and Executive Ron Sims a major blow when it ruled the county’s regulations restricting rural landowners from clearing up to 65 percent of their property violated state law.

The court’s opinion sent shockwaves across King County and the state. The Seattle liberal elitists couldn’t quite believe their eyes as they read the news.

Sims claimed the court got it wrong, arguing the judges failed “to recognize that these clearing limits help recharge groundwater use by rural property owners for their drinking water and protects rural property owners against floods.”

And of course, Sims didn’t waste any time in announcing the county would appeal the decision to the Washington Supreme Court.

Fortunately, the court didn’t get it wrong when it dismissed King County’s red herring arguments. The court properly applied the law and ruled that county officials could not impose uniform regulations forcing people to set aside over half of their property as open space.

Instead, a local government must prove on a case-by-case approach whether its clearing limits are necessary based on what the owner is proposing to do with his or her property.

According to the court, the regulations were an unlawful tax on development.

The decision by the Court of Appeals can’t be overstated. The opinion is not only good news for King County residents, but also for property owners throughout Washington.

The decision paves the way for lawsuits against other jurisdictions that followed King County’s lead in adopting similar regulations and sends a clear message to those contemplating similar extreme measures.

Most importantly, the court’s decision is a check on King County’s influence on the rest of Washington.

Similar to the way many of California’s leftist policies are adopted by other states, regulations drafted in King County are often exported to other Washington local jurisdictions.

For example, soon after King County enacted its critical areas ordinances, Pierce County adopted equally onerous regulations.

Critical areas ordinances aren’t the only environmental issue King County is influencing statewide.

The county recently announced it was drafting a new State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) ordinance that will force builders to mitigate the effects of climate change.

Not to be outdone, state Department of Ecology Director Jay Manning recently formed a group to come up with statewide SEPA climate change regulations. The group is looking to propose regulations similar to King County’s.

Unfortunately, these types of regulations are allowed to foment due to a severe lack of organized opposition to such regulations in King County.

Sims and the liberal council members have been given a free pass.

That free ride is about to end. The Building Industry of Washington has committed to focusing its attention on King County.

BIAW submitted comments this month in response to King County’s draft SEPA climate change ordinance and is studying whether legal action is viable in the event the County adopts the ordinance.

BIAW also helped fund the CAO lawsuit against King County through its Legal Trust Committee and will submit an amicus (friend of the court) brief if the Washington Supreme Court accepts the case on appeal.

BIAW will continue to monitor King County as it adopts new CAOs in response to the court’s decision.

This is imperative because before the ink could dry on the Court’s decision, Sims issued a defiant press release threatening to impose even more stringent regulations.

For too long King County has been the breeding ground for anti-builder regulations that ultimately spread across the state.

Andy Cook is the legal counsel for the Building Industry Association of Washington.

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