Conservatives should love the state Growth Management Act because it makes good economic sense, according to Steve Wells.
“It’s all about money,” says the state’s growth management guru who oversees the law’s implementation.
“It says that you need to tell folks what you’re going to build, when you’re going to build it and how you’re going to pay for it in order to cope with the growth that you know is coming.”
Development shouldn’t occur if there’s not enough money to address its impacts, such as more traffic, says Wells.
The law “asks the follow-up question, ‘Who pays?”’ he says.
Despite Wells’ assertions, the reality is most conservatives don’t love the law. Neither do developers. They say the act tramples private property rights and creates a stranglehold of government regulation.
“What we are doing is fooling around with the free market,” says state Sen. Bob McCaslin, R-Spokane Valley, who has fought the law since the late 1980s. “We don’t need it.”
Spokane County is in the throes of implementing the controversial law that pits developers against neighborhood groups, right-leaning politicians against left-leaning ones, city officials against county officials.
The county and its cities are drafting urban growth areas - boundaries that will set limits for urban services such as sewers and water.
Establishing those boundaries, as well as implementing other growth policies, isn’t easy, Wells admits.
“As one politician recently told me: Since growth management, it’s not fun to be a county commissioner anymore,” he says, adding the politician wasn’t from Spokane.
Growth management, adopted by the state Legislature in 1990, grew from a “groundswell of concern” that Washington’s rapid growth too closely mirrored California’s, says Wells, assistant director of the state Department of Community, Trade and Economic Development.
“There was a popular bumper sticker at the time: ‘Don’t Californicate Washington,”’ he says.
The law says counties and cities must draft plans detailing where residences, businesses, roads and services will go and where they won’t.
It operates on the theory that the cost of sprawl is enormous, so containing sprawl keeps costs down, Wells says. “There’s a difference between saying suburban is bad and saying suburban is expensive.
“Expensive isn’t bad if you can afford it.”
He explains it this way:
Development that takes place miles from the urban core needs an equal number of miles of roadway, pipelines or power lines to serve its residents.
A mile of those services costs the same as any other mile, regardless of how many homes are connected to it.
“If you’re not willing to pay, you must be willing to accept more portables at schools, more air pollution, more congestion at stoplights,” says Wells. “There’s no free lunch.”
But McCaslin doesn’t see it that way. “Sprawl occurs why?” he asks. “Because of demand.”
In fact, he says, urban growth boundaries create an artificial land squeeze by limiting the amount of acreage that can be developed.
“We’re running up the price of land, driving up the cost of housing,” McCaslin says.
Those higher costs will force people out of the area, says Ray Murphy, president of the Spokane Valley Chamber of Commerce.
“The only people calling this (economically sound) are those who live in Kootenai County,” Murphy says.
It’s no surprise that Wells doesn’t agree with Murphy or McCaslin.
The law requires setting boundaries that can handle 20 years of growth, but it also requires those lines be reviewed every 10 years, Wells says. “Theoretically, you can never use up more than half the capacity that was there before you must add to the supply.”
Building houses and worrying about how to pay for their impacts later doesn’t cut it anymore, he says.
“We have an ever-increasing infrastructure deficit,” he says. Growth management requires that land use, capital facilities and dollars must be coordinated.
“I believe that’s the heart and soul of GMA,” Wells says. “I believe that’s why we’re doing this.
“I believe it’s really hard.”
, DataTimes MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: MEETINGS The Spokane County Growth Management Act steering committee is holding a series of workshops to discuss proposed urban growth areas. Those are the boundaries that will determine where urban growth can occur and where it cannot. Here is the schedule. All meetings will run from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.: Tonight, Evergreen Junior High School, 14211 E. 16th. Thursday, Airway Heights Community Center, 13120 W. 13th. Tuesday, Oct. 29, Ferris High School, 3020 E. 37th. Wednesday, Oct. 30, Mead High School, 302 W. Hastings. Wednesday, Nov. 6, Spokane City Hall council chambers, 808 W. Spokane Falls Blvd.