Majority Favors Managed Growth But Poll Finds Most Aren’t Familiar With Terms Of State Law
It was the hottest issue in local elections, is a favorite topic for talk show hosts and was mentioned in 15 front-page stories this year alone.
It could affect the lifestyles, bank accounts and retirement plans of thousands of Spokane County residents.
But three years after the county started planning for life under the Growth Management Act, fewer than one in five residents knows the basics of the state law, a scientific survey shows.
Nevertheless, follow-up questions show that a majority of Spokane city and county residents support the goals of the act.
They think that small lots should be prohibited in some areas, for instance. And they place a higher value on controlling the ill-effects of unplanned growth than they do on preserving private property rights.
“They may not know what the Growth Management Act is, but they live in this community and they know that we have to start planning,” said County Commissioner John Roskelley.
The survey of 408 residents, conducted in mid-November and early December by Mason Dixon Political/Media Research, has a margin of error of 5 percent. Respondents were at least 18 years old, and equally split between those who live inside and outside the city of Spokane.
The survey was commissioned by The Spokesman-Review and KHQ-6 television.
Roskelley and other local officials say they aren’t surprised that only 17 percent of respondents could define the Growth Management Act. Pollsters were looking for any mention of requirements for cities and counties to develop detailed plans for the development of urban areas.
“If it would have been anything above 20 or 25 percent, I would have been surprised,” said Chad Hutson, information specialist for the county’s Public Works Department.
Hutson won a national award for his efforts to educate county residents about the law. Still, “there’s always the fear that when peole hear anything about growth management, their eyes glaze over and they head for the lake.”
More surprising than the ignorance of most respondents was the attitude of those in the know.
In hearings and other public forums, most comments about the act are negative. But 83 percent of the knowledgeable survey respondents said they think the act is good for Spokane.
“Theoretically, it could be that people who are read up on this are more environmentally inclined,” said Del Ali, vice president of Mason Dixon. “They may not represent the mainstream in Spokane.”
Except, Ali said, that follow-up questions show most people support the goals of the act, or are concerned about the problems it was designed to ease.
Eighty-two percent said it’s important to designate some areas off-limits to urban development, for instance, while only 10 percent said that’s something government shouldn’t do.
Eighty-five percent said traffic congestion is either serious or somewhat serious.
And 60 percent favored “significant growth controls” to help ease congestion, preserve some undeveloped areas and make public services more efficient to provide. By contrast, 30 percent said growth restrictions should be kept to a minimum “so that people generally can do what they want with their private property.”
City Planner Chris Hugo thinks it was unfair to make respondents choose between private property rights and preserving land.
“One of the goals of the Growth Management Act is to preserve private property rights,” said Hugo. “I think it would be possible to say yes to the first and yes to the second if you’re familiar with the act.”
County commissioners have scheduled a Dec. 27 hearing to decide where urban growth will be encouraged and where lots smaller than 10 acres will be prohibited.
Critics of the Growth Management Act predict that the price of land inside the urban growth boundaries will skyrocket while the value of rural land plummets. New residents and businesses will go to Kootenai County - and spend more time commuting to Spokane - to avoid the regulations, they contend.
Growth management supporters say it will curb urban sprawl, help ease traffic congestion and preserve those qualities that draw people to Spokane.
Either way, Hutson predicted, more people will become aware of growth management when it starts affecting their lives.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 2 Graphics: The Growth Management Act and you; Problems and the Growth Management Act