Letters to the Editor

Vote yes on I-933

Everyone needs to vote yes for Initiative 933. We have never sent a letter to a newspaper before, but the ads for No on I-933 weighed heavy on our hearts. We have been working with rural landowners since 2003 helping them to steer through the expensive, complicated and unfriendly permit system because they are losing their lands, mostly due to river erosion. Because of this, we know government regulations and their responsiveness to the taxpayers they work for.
Initiative 933 is sponsored by the Washington State Farm Bureau, which is made up of 34,000 farmers, rural landowners and their families. The last thing the farmers and their supporters want is strip malls and housing developments. They want to keep their lands that they have worked and loved for generations. However, for most, this land is all they have; being self-employed, they have no pensions or 401ks; the value of their land is all they have for retirement.
Because of free trade agreements, imports of inexpensive fruit and vegetables and the rising costs of fuel, labor, equipment and taxes, the farmer is finding it hard to make a profit or even to just break even.
Added to that are the Growth Management Act, Critical Areas Ordinances and a bunch of government regulations designed to control growth and keep open lands for our future. We have seen what can happen, as in King County where rural landowners with even less than 10 acres are required to keep 65 percent or 50 percent of their lands in native habitat which can mean that they cant even clear brush without approval and a special permit from the government. The permits necessary can be many and impossible to get if you have any wetlands or water nearby.
If you are a rural landowner who happens to own acreage or farms in the Growth areas, you are able to develop those lands into housing developments, strip malls, Costco or Wal-Mart. Your lands become valuable to developers and sell for a good price. But, if you want to keep your rural lands and are surrounded by these growing developments, your taxes skyrocket as your land value soars and selling your land to a developer becomes something you find hard to resist. This isnt good either.
We believe this is discriminatory and financially devastating to a very specific people, those who have rural lands in these open space designated areas. Once you limit rural lands market value by restricting the right to develop or even build barns, clear lands for horses or other livestock or limiting impervious surfaces (including gravel roads, driveways and decks); all done with good intentions to save environments and open spaces for future generations, these lands immediately lose value and the property owner is financially damaged by this loss.
The Eminent Domain Law is as follows and it is very clear:
Washington State Constitution, ARTICLE I
Private property shall not be taken for private use, except for private ways of necessity, and for drains, flumes, or ditches on or across the lands of others for agricultural, domestic, or sanitary purposes. No private property shall be taken or damaged for public or private use without just compensation having been first made, or paid into court for the owner and Whenever an attempt is made to take private property for a use alleged to be public, the question whether the contemplated use be really public shall be a judicial question, and determined as such, without regard to any legislative assertion that the use is public: [AMENDMENT 9, 1919 p 385 Section 1. Approved
Why would someone be against I-933? Who will gain? Mr. & Mrs. Jones rural land cant be developed so its value isnt near their neighbors lands value less than a mile away who are within the Urban Growth area. Finally, tiring of the expensive, complicated and unfriendly revolving door permitting process and out of money, they sell it for the best price they can get which is much less than what their neighbors received. Guess who the buyer is? A county, city or state agency who then keeps it as open space in trade against the habitat harmed when they approved or supported development of land somewhere else, an environmental group who sets it aside for future generations or a tribal organization who may be allowed to build anyway since they are their own governmental entity not subject to many of the laws that the normal landowner is bound by.
So, who got hurt? Mr. & Mrs. Jones lands were taken back door by Eminent Domain (taking of lands for public use) under the guise of zoning or ordinances (which are supposed to apply to all citizens) that unfairly and arbitrarily damaged the value of their land. Who gained? The governmental agency, environmental group or tribal organization who obtained the land for less than it would have been worth without the zoning or ordinances that have been implemented at an ever increasing rate since the late 1990s.
If you believe what the current vote No on I-933 ads tell you, that voting yes will cost taxpayers millions of dollars, think of how many millions of dollars worth of lands Western Washington rural landowners have donated already.
Passing Initiative 933 would go a long way to make saving lands more fair and helpful for everyone in this State. Initiative 933 would require the agency to consider what negative effects their ordinance may have on the affected property, work to create incentives to help landowners keep the open space such as reduced property taxes, transferring development rights to another property, conservation easements and many other creative and progressive incentives that are attractive to everyone involved. If the agency continues to want to enact the ordinance that would financially harm the lands value, then they would have to pay the landowner the amount of damage that happened because of the new law.
We fair and honest citizens of this state cannot continue to make a few rural landowners carry the burden for all of us. If we want to save lands for future generations, we all need to share this burden and be fair to those who have farmed these lands for many generations. We need to keep our farmlands and make them viable for these farmers. If government agencies want to damage its value by restricting its use, lets quit dancing around the words and make our state and county officials and representatives call this exactly what it is: Eminent Domain the taking or damaging of private lands for public use.
Voting Yes for Initiative 933 would require government agencies to consider its acts and the consequences and be accountable. Rather than costing the taxpayer millions of dollars, it will force them to work with landowners in good faith in a fair and equitable manner for the good everyone involved and future generations.
Lori Kratzer
River Resource Trust

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