Work on the stalled shoreline master program resumed Tuesday as Spokane Valley’s City Council and planning commission held a joint meeting.
Development of the shoreline plan stopped last summer after a community advisory group helped put together a set of draft goals and policies. The city recently hired the Seattle law firm GordonDerr to consult on the shoreline plan and now appears ready to move ahead with the plan, which must be updated by the end of 2013. The city is currently using a shoreline plan enacted by Spokane County in the 1970s and inherited when the city incorporated in 2003.
“We have taken this time to really look at our shoreline management program,” said Community Development Director John Hohman. Several council members and planning commissioners questioned what the limits of their authority were since the Department of Ecology must approve the city’s plan.
“You do have some choice points where you have some flexibility,” attorney Tadas Kisielius said. The standard set by Ecology is that there be no net loss of shoreline function, he said.
Planning Commissioner Steven Neill said he has problems with guarantees of no net loss. “How in the world do you guarantee no net loss in ecological function?” he said. “I see that as impossible.”
“The statute doesn’t guarantee no net loss, it’s ensuring it,” Kisielius said. Development is allowed in shoreline areas and mitigation can be required to make up for any changes to the shoreline.
Ecology has approved a variety of different shoreline plans across the state, said GordonDerr attorney Jay Derr. “You also have the ability to push back, to negotiate,” he said. “It’s going to be site specific. It’s going to be community specific.”
Councilwoman Brenda Grassel said she was concerned about the process that has the planning commission debating the various parts of the plan and holding public hearings before the council gets to see the proposed plan. “Is that standard?” she said.
“It’s a very common model,” Derr said. The process calls for the planning commission to do the “heavy lifting” and then bring the proposed plan to the council for final approval, he said. “It’s important to let the planning commission do their work. It’s part of what is laid out in state law.”
If the council was unwilling or unable to approve a plan, the Ecology Department has the authority to write its own and impose it on the city, Derr said. “You’ll probably like that one less than the one you write for yourself,” he said.
In other business, the two legislative groups heard a report on the Open Public Meetings Act. A meeting must be announced to the public if there are four or more council members present and/or action is taken, said deputy city attorney Kelly Konkright. “An action is any transaction of city business,” he said. It can be as simple as a discussion of city business even if no vote is taken. “When in doubt, it’s probably a public meeting,” he said.
It is also possible to have serial meetings by phone or email that violate the act. If two council members have a discussion and the second phones another council member who calls another, it’s a violation even if the conversation takes place over a few days. “It can end up being a meeting,” Konkright said. “It can be a tricky situation.”
“If there’s going to be a discussion about public business, it shouldn’t happen off-line between multiple members of the council or the planning commission,” said City Attorney Cary Driskell.
If a council member sends out an email to the rest of the council and several people respond to the email, it is also a violation, Konkright said. Such emails can be sent, but those who receive them should never respond, he said. “Discussions are government action.”