The Jefferson County, Washington, Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) meets at 9 a.m. on Monday mornings in their "chambers" in the basement of the beautiful big red Courthouse in Port Townsend.
I went to my first BOCC meeting on April 8, wearing clothes I'd slept in and a schwenker-scented hoodie. I sat in the front row beside a former employer/friend who was texting busily and didn't say hello; and Lily Haight, a Leader reporter I've never met, but she gave me a little smirk.
As I sat down, I observed the graywater-colored carpet, and caught a strong whiff of laundry soap off the friend not saying hello to me. It was shaping up to be a great morning.
They did the Pledge of Allegiance. Four people remained seated, not including Lily, who stood and recited, hand on heart. She uses a composition book, eschewing those narrow spiral notepads that say "Reporter's Notebook" on the front (I freaking love those); and she has one of those reusable coffee cups that's made of plastic and shaped to look like a paper cup.
Anyway, the three commissioners sat high up in front, behind their oak-paneled bench: Greg Brotherton, David Sullivan, and Kate Dean. On the right, a clerk was mostly obscured by a large computer monitor. On the floor level was a table for Philip Morley, the County Administrator. He wore a pink shirt and black leather clogs, and sat up very straight.
Public comments come first at BOCC meetings, which is nice. First up to the podium was Patricia Ernest of Marrowstone Island, voicing opposition to marijuana growing and/or processing facilities coming to Marrowstone. She called them "prison-like" and an "assault on rural properties" because of "the smell and the noise." She pointed out the high costs to the County to explore the feasibility of allowing growers and/or processors there. She had her speech all neatly typed up and was very prepared.
Next, Carol Pinella of Marrowstone also had a neatly typed, prepared speech opposing Marrowstone maryjane. She mentioned Austin Smith, who wanted to put a pot facility on Marrowstone, but two years passed while Marrowstone residents spent $50,000 to oppose it, hiring two attorneys for two separate administrative hearings, a noise expert, and a pilot to take aerial photographs. They collected signatures from 325 people who don't want a pot facility near their houses. She also said it seems to cost the county a lot to have "maybe" zones, and they should just have "yes zones and no zones."
Maybe they'd hire me as a Smell Consultant, except that I love the smell of pot plants because they smell like tomato plants. Maybe if we paint a big tomato on the prison-like wall of the facility, people will be able to pretend it's just a tomato farm. Also, speaking of offensive smells, I am reminded of the Crescent Company, in Seattle, which roasted coffee in addition to packaging spices and manufacturing fake-maple flavoring. Did you know that Mapelline's secret ingredient is kinnickinnick? Anyway, in the early 1970's, the Cresecent Company's coffee smell was deemed air pollution and they had to install emission-scrubbers. I've also noticed a pervasive bacon smell around the Blue Moose during the noon hour, which could possibly mix with coffee odor from Sunrise Coffee. I guess that's zoned industrial, though, so it's OK. Just don't try that shit out on Marrowstone, where the air is only zoned to smell like lavender or dead clams.
Craig Durgan of Port Ludlow spoke third. He didn't use notes. He wore jeans and a sweatshirt with a plaid shirt over that, and talked about the availability of single-family and multi-family homesites in Port Hadlock and environs. "People think there's a lot of vacant land down there," he said, but there's not as much as they think. "There are about 100 lots" in low-density areas, he said, and "753 residences planned in the urban growth area in your Comprehensive Plan. I don't think you're going to meet that goal." He said, "we need to look at the zoning, especially where the sewer's going to go." He said 18 per acre is pretty low, and he figures 40, maybe 50 per acre for high-density housing, meaning an apartment buildings. "Affordability comes with density, there's just no way around that." He said, the next step after the sewer is seeing some affordable housing.
Then, Jim Stergent of Marrowstone gave public comment regarding a derelict vessel in Mystery Bay. He said it's a 45-foot sailboat called Mon Amie, belonging to Michael Misha Mang. He said it's a pollution risk, has an 8- to ten-foot gash parallel to the waterline, has its keel broken off, and is a risk to shellfish health and water quality. They've had no cooperation from the DNR, Coast Guard, or the Health Department, he said. It's in front of Lois Houth's property, and "the property owner is broke," he said. Did he mean Lois, or Michael Misha Mang? "All we have is his email address, and we're trying to get him to do something ... so we're appealing to the county to try to get this thing off of there."
I know Misha. He's very friendly/talkative, a real character, comes off sorta flaky and pot-heady, and I've observed that he has zero shame about taking full advantage if there are free beers available; like, he'll sit there and drink beer paid for by someone else, all night long, cheerfully, fully confident that it's perfectly okay and that if you wanted him to stop, you'd ask him to, because he sure as heck doesn't feel embarrassed about anything so why should anyone? Very tan and New-Age-y and chatty, probably doesn't have a cent, but I can easily imagine him shacking up/housesitting in some outlandish nature-palace mansion, possibly remodeling it in exchange for living there, drinking pink champagne on ice in their giant hot tub high on a mountaintop, scarfing prosciutto and truffles and, in his morning coffee, glass-bottled cream from cows that eat exclusively organic Marrowstone lovage. I think somebody gave him that boat Mon Amie. He's very good at networking. He's probably relatively good at building and fixing stuff, too, and he looks great in a skirt.
Stergent did not speak from notes. He added a few words against pot facilities on Marrowstone. He said people have a right to live there, especially people who have lived there for 50 years, without "super destruction" of their property, "without a devaluation of property."
Of course Marrowst-owners are probably not opposed to pot as pot, but are mostly worried their property will be less valuable if there's an ugly, noisy, smelly industry there. Do peoples' concerns actually get more valid the more valuable their home is, or the longer they live somewhere?
James Fritz talked next. He's a regular feature at many local public meetings, talks fast and sort of stumbles over his words, has sort of a frowsty look, jeans and a sweatshirt, rumpled hat, unruly beard and hair; Hagrid-like. He did not use notes. He suggested the commissioners look to surrounding counties for models of how to approach pot licensing; they "only allow growing in commercial or industrial-zoned areas," he said. "Just like Joe D'Amico," he continued (I did not understand the connection). He said something about, "if we had allowed him to hire 20 more employees, he'd still be down there," and then something about "three or four different groups suing the county." Was he still talking about D'amico, or pot? Then he talked about big box stores, lamenting the loss of revenue by people doing their cargo shopping in Sequim or Silverdale. "We've managed to make a comprehensive plan that's totally unusable," he said; "we're facing the worst financial crash since the Great Depression." This elicited an audible chuckle from George Yount, who was sitting behind me. He also goes to lots of public meetings, in addition to co-leading the ukulele club. I'm sort of clueless about people. But I doubt Fritz plays the ukulele.
Next up to the podium was Lois Houth, of Griffith Point Road, in Nordland, on Marrowstone Island. A little old lady in a purple top. Misha's boat is stuck aground in front of her house. "Last winter, a boat washed up on my beach," she said. "It's contaminating the beach, endangering the shellfish and other wildlife." She said it is a shame "to see our little Mystery Bay strapped like this." She said, "if we could somehow get the owner of the boat to somehow raise the money and get that boat off of there ... I can't move it because I don't have ownership of the boat." Also she doesn't look like any salvage-boat person I've ever known, and I've known a few; they generally have a hefty five-o'clock shadow and filthy sweatpants and giant grease-blackened paws, and she looks more like a Scrabble player, or perhaps a quilter, or someone who makes really good meatballs.
Next up was Jessica Randall of Old Eaglemount Road, there to talk about "pollution and global warming." Her devoted male friend diligently video-recorded her back while she addressed the commission in somewhat general terms, I think mainly just trying to inform them that pesticides and chemicals are bad for the health of the land and water. She said she had a housemate in the mid-1990's who was an environmental politics professor at UW and who refused a grant to study global warming because "we already know this." She said, "here we are, living this life, making tiny, tiny steps toward this huge, huge problem, while things are just slipping away." It was unclear to me exactly what she was asking the commissioners to do, but she stated that she has addressed them a few times already, and said something about "changing regulations around chemical use" and then something about "as we see the timber industry changing." Is it about the Weed Board spraying glyphosate? She might have said so but I didn't hear it. I think she's right, but her speech would have more impact with more specific suggestions. Vagueness is ... well ... vague. But I do appreciate that she is getting up there and saying something. "I think we are seeing our county changing more toward organic farms, craft industries," so "we need to protect our land and our watersheds," she said. "I'm feeding you information, little by little," she said, which was news to me because I wasn't getting any new information, just general platitudes. "We all need to do something here," she said. "The baby steps aren't working." No, they aren't. Take bigger steps. Maybe print out a copy of the Comprehensive Plan or the county's budget, grab a highlighter and a pen and make the change you want to see in the world a little more concrete.
Next up was Devon Sturgent of Marrowstone Island, voicing opinions on the marijuana issue. "I know the DCD [Department of Community Development] doesn't have the money to change this policy," Sturgent said. "If they did, would you three ... change that policy?" Then Sturgent talked about the boat that's been aground in Mystery Bay for three months. "I've been in contact with the owner. He said he's going to be doing something about it." So that's good.
On one wall of the BOCC chambers is an enormous TV screen; the facing wall has a map labeled "Jefferson County No-Shooting Areas." There are only a few little pink-shaded areas on that map. I didn't look closely, though.
The next commenter was Steve Blasina of the Jefferson County Sportsmens Association (JCSA). He is concerned about the commission possibly mandating reduced hours of operation at the gun club. "You have every walk of life that shoots at that facility," he said, naming some professions, like lawyers and so forth, whose free time falls at different times of the week. "Their hours vary so much ... It's important to keep that open," he said. "I understand there are people in the neighborhod that don't particularly like the noise," he said. "A lot of consideration is needed ... maybe a questionnaire or something. I'm not sure of the process." He said, "I do not want to see another major court battle."
Next up was Tom Parks, who said he lives at the corner of Jacob Miller and Hastings. Lily of the Leader took photos as he set up his laptop and speakers and played a video with the sound of gunfire to demonstrate how fucking annoying it is. People who make comments about the necessity of gun ranges "do not live underneath that," he said. "It's escalating." The video was from a Saturday when the constant, rapid-fire gunshot sounds went on for four hours, he said. "You want that in your backyard?" He said he's installed four cameras surrounding the gun range, and believes bump stocks are being used there. They are illegal. "We're going to hold your feet to the fire," he said. "People talk a lot about sustainable families," he said. "I'm surrounded by farms," he said. "It's brutal" to work outdors with that in the air. He reminded commissioners that shooting ranges are "not essential. This is recreational."
Next, Don McNees from the JCSA spoke. "I represent them," he said of the shooting range. "We get a lot of exaggerations," he said of the noise complaints. "We're working to close the grant proposal for sound mitigation." He said, "as far as the backyard issue goes ... if that range closes, this problem could go to everybody's backyard."
When I told a friend later that day that I'd gone to this meeting, my friend nodded and said, "yeah, NIMBY stuff."
So, that was the end of public comments. The three commissioners talked a little in response, starting with Kate Dean, who said she was glad to hear about the sportsmen's club. "There is compromise involved here," she said. "I'm in favor of taking a look at it." Regarding density of housing in Hadlock, she said, "as we get closer to the sewer, there's going to be some hard conversations about density." Ew.
On to derelict vessels, which Dean called "one of those tough issues that falls between a lot of cracks." Sheesh. I'm sorry for my immaturity, but once the sewer comes up, everything everyone says reminds me of sewers, and I can't stop chortling like a 9-year-old.
Anyway, the Marine Resources Committee (MRC) has devoted a fair amount of time to talking about derelict vessels, she said. The state potentially has funding to help, but they're out of money until the new fiscal year starts on July 1.
Morley chimed in, saying the boat's black-water tank was empty when it sunk, and the engine has been pumped of fuel. David Sullivan said the boat will still have other lubricants on board, meaning it's still polluting.
Greg Brotherton said, "I do know the owner of that boat, so I will reach out," adding he's on the MRC. "Maybe a GoFundMe page or something," he said. Regarding the Marrowst-owners concerns about marijuana facilities, he said, "I appreciate your guyses determination, that's great." He said, a "Tier 1 grow facility can be very appropriate in a rural area," describing "growing some plants in the back and then knocking them down and someone comes and takes them away in a trailer." And he suggested to Tom Parks that he put "spectrum analysis" on the cameras around the shooting range, to get better data. He said he'd be happy to go out and talk to the neighbors of the shooting range. "I hope I don't come across as dismissing your complaints," he said. "Good negotiation usually ends with everyone a little upset." He wore glasses with shocking-turquoise frames. Uber-hip. In response to Jessica Randall, he said something about still learning about capacity on spraying, that "it's a real impact. I want to learn what tools we have without moving that rashly."
Sullivan said something about the sewer, about an adequate facilities plan. Morley said "adequate design work" would cost about $1.5 million. Dean said the state Senate budget has about $200,000 for the Hadlock sewer project, not the $1.5 million the House had. "We anticipate fairly soon a revised scoping plan," she said. "Progress on that front."
Brotherton asked for clarification on the $14,000 to $15,000 for the Port Ludlow traffic study. Was that for studying the change, or making the change? Dean said, "it sounds more like the studies."
Brotherton said, "We're talking about making a speed-limit adjustment, so what are we going to learn by the study? Wouldn't we learn the same thing if we just did it?"
This made Morley sit up even straighter. "We're talking about metrics," he said.
"I'm just trying to understand the process," Brotherton said.
"We've done this a number of times on different road segments," Morley said. I wonder if the county also hires consultants to decide which brand of toilet paper to use? Doing anything without expensive studies seems to be Just Not Done.
Then Brotherton asked about the artifacts found at Memorial Field. Apparently the contractor digging holes for new lighting poles found a bunch of animal bones, which are being examined to determine whether they were left there by white settlers or Native Americans, who had a settlement there. "So we're looking at doing some mitigation, likely include some signage," Morley said. The mood was very low during this discussion, as if they had encountered a terrible stroke of bad luck by happening upon some bones that could have archaeological value. Which I guess in financial terms, they had. "It's unfortunate, but it happens," was the general attitude. The Public Works guys were very cautious, someone said. "It was a bit of a surprise," someone said. "There was a financial impact to the county," someone said. "The process is pretty clear," Sullivan said. "State law that we have to follow." Boo-hoo. Of course Native Americans probably hung out where Memorial Field is now. Can you imagine a better spot for summertime beach parties? To schwenk some venison and show off your salal pie, clam fritters, plank-smoked salmon, kelp pickles, poached rockfish with strawberry sauce, cougar kebabs? Throw a potlatch and burn some fish oil, show off how rich you are? Give blankets to all your friends? Pull your beautiful canoes up on the beach and have workshops about the best kind of adzes and paints and how to carve the best paddles? Seems like a good spot for that.
Finally, the commissioners moved on to the real star of the day's agenda: the Proclamation of the Month of April as County Government Month. "I know that's why you're all here," Kate Dean joked. "Anyone want to gush about county government?"
Morley wanted to. "I want to say a few things," he said, and talked about the role the county government plays in providing necessary systems and institutions. "We collect taxes for the state," for fire, hospital, cemetery and school districts. "Everybody relies on that mechanism." The county does vehicle and boat licensing, marriage licenses, and they run the elections for federal, local and state governments. "And we have the court system that all of us rely on for public safety ... These things are funded by and undertaken by counties." And the county provides for essential constitutional rights, like funding for indigent defense. Societies as a whole need to pool their resources. "We're essentially a mechanism," he said. "Counties do so much."
Dean agreed, and talked about how adaptable counties have to be.
Morley had loosened them up, and it turned into a regular love-fest and mutual back-patting session.
Brotherton said counties are "where the rubber meets the road."
Sullivan said, "we are agents of the state ... we also do a lot of regional work. We collaborate, and we're the voice for citizens."
No wonder we need a new sewer system, to handle all this. They all said several times that the good work is all done because of the county staff. However, the woman behind the computer monitor was never addressed or spoken of by name, or personally acknowledged in any way; it was as if she was just part of the computer she was working on.
It was interesting, though. "We get funding handed to us by the state," Sullivan said. "People don't realize how fundamental county government is."
Then they read the proclamation, taking turns to read it "stanza by stanza," each stanza starting with its own "whereas," and althogether including the word "county" about a hundred times.
Full of sound and fury.
For more information, check out https://www.co.jefferson.wa.us.