Northwest NEWS

July 19, 1999


Citizens' rights? I don't see them!

   What good are the rights of citizens to appeal illegal government land-use decisions when the system is designed to stall and delay any enforcement of the laws until the projects are already built?

   In December 1994, a citizens' group appealed a policy in the first King County Comprehensive Plan. The issue was simple: Was the Urban Growth Area (UGA) created for the Novelty Hill Urban Planned Developments (UPD) legal?

   The policy itself had been developed years before, but now the county was faced with a law that made their UGA illegal. The citizens of the area simply wanted the law enforced and the UGA deleted, but King County was determined to make this "island" UGA for Weyerhaeuser anyway--and at whatever cost!

   It took nearly a year for the Washington State Growth Management Hearing Board to rule on the appeal, and guess what? They agreed with the citizens and told the county they would have to delete the UGA.

   You see, it is illegal for a county to put an urban "island" of growth into the middle of a rural area. But that order--wasn't it for Weyerhaeuser's allies on the Council? They decided to sue the state for their ruling, approve the development anyway, and then carve out an exception in the law for this developer that wouldn't apply to anyone else. This course of action was taken without any public consideration, by the way.

   It took 3-1/2 years for the opponents of this project to win the issue before the State Supreme Court, but in the meantime, Quadrant (Weyerhaeuser's real estate subsidiary) and King County moved into the construction phase of the project over a year ago and have been working like nothing is wrong.

   Maybe they have known all along the futility of public opposition to illegal land use policies.

   The Supreme Court has placed the fate of the project in the GMA Board that will decide the issue once and for all in a compliance hearing to be held at some future date, but now Quadrant has moved aggressively into a stalling mode.

   They have filed motions with the Supreme Court and the GMA Board in a effort to further delay the inevitable outcome of that compliance hearing. Their delaying tactics make it evident that they know the UGA created nearly five years ago was illegal and they are determined to prevent that compliance hearing from happening one day sooner than they can delay it.

   And while this five-year struggle has been waged at an incredibly high price to the citizens of King County that have pursued it, Quadrant has stepped up its construction. Their activities have shut down roads, created unacceptable noise, devastated the main road through the community, and it has been allowed, despite the fact that the project is illegal.

   This project was illegal when the Comp Plan created it in 1994, illegal when the GMA Board ruled against it in 1995, and it is illegal today, while we wait for the process to give us our day before the GMA Board--a day Quadrant will fight to delay as long as possible, while their urbanization of our community continues.

   Where is the justice in this? While Quadrant bulldozers and backhoes continue to dig up Novelty and Union Hills, they benefit by their stalling tactics and attempts to thwart the system that they have been excused by since 1994. And not being worth millions, we cannot even attempt to win an injunction against the project, as only wealthy corporations like Weyerhaeuser could even consider the bond requirements in this state associated with such an effort--requirements no doubt put into law by the interests that most benefit by crushing opposition to their projects.

   Citizens are led to believe that government is "of the people and for the people." I used to believe that myself, but no more. The phrase should be "government of the special interests and for the special interests."

   And anyone who thinks our system of justice is there to defend their rights against the greed of special interests and the governments they buy is really being naive. That lesson for us has been a very expensive one--maybe as much as a quarter million dollars.

   A quarter million may be chicken feed to a massive corporation like Weyerhaeuser and its army of attorneys, or even our own county government that simply opens up the taxpayers' wallets when they need more cash to defend their actions, but for citizens who take on this corrupt system who are forced to use the very system itself to fight for justice, it is not only incredibly expensive, but more times than not, totally futile as well.

   I drive home from work every day and get stuck in the backup from one of Quadrant's construction snarls on Novelty Hill Road. It just amazes me every time when I can't help but say to myself, and this is happening despite the fact that this project is illegal and always has been illegal.

   If Quadrant and King County disagree, then maybe they can ask the courts and the boards to accelerate their ruling on this matter and stop the efforts to delay it any further. Five years is long enough for citizens to have to wait for the law to be enforced, even in King County.

Michael Costello, Redmond