Clallam County Commissioner Mike Doherty and Director of Community Development Sheila Roark Miller defended the county’s position on property rights at a forum Monday night.
The Concerned Citizens of Clallam County hosted a lively discussion of property rights with the two elected officials pitted against Kaj Ahlberg, president of the Port Angeles Business Association, and Scott Roberts of the Freedom Foundation.
Panel members weighed in on the Shoreline Master Program update, the county’s membership with the ICLEI Local Governments for Sustainability, eminent domain, the Growth Management Act and government regulation of property use.
Roberts, a property rights advocate and one of the founders of “Stop Taking Our Property Thurston County,” began by telling the audience the most important thing they can do to protect their property rights is to ask their government officials to remove themselves from ICLEI.
ICLEI is an international association of local governments committed to sustainable development, according to its website. The association provides workshops, training, technical consulting and information services.
Roberts said shorelines, wetlands, pocket gophers and other “environmental excuses” are just a gimmick to shift power from the people.
“The difference between the Soviets and today’s government is the Soviets were more honest about the takings,” he said to audience applause, comparing modern environmental regulations to the Soviet takeover of Eastern Europe after World War II.
Roberts said he got involved in advocating for property rights after reading “The Communist Manifesto” and connecting aspects of modern U.S. policies such as a graduated income tax, estate tax and free public education with Karl Marx’s ideals.
In reference to ICLEI, Ahlberg asked what business the county has getting involved in a group that promotes finding “radical solutions” to what they believe are problems caused by human population growth.
“I don’t want my tax dollars used to change how I think and feel,” he said, to audience applause.
Before Doherty and Miller were handed the microphone to give their opening remarks, Pete Church-Smith, chairman of the 4C’s Government Oversight Committee, asked the audience to be respectful of the elected officials.
“Sheila and Mike work at their job diligently, and in their minds, with the best intent,” he said.
Miller said as director she revised a list of people to serve on an advisory board to the Shoreline Master Program update so all viewpoints and needs could be represented, “not just those that want to protect the environment.”
Four members of the advisory board were present in the audience and stood to be recognized, including Ahlberg.
Doherty, who studied constitutional law at Georgetown University, told the audience it is important to understand that law evolves. He thinks it is important to establish guidelines and make sure people have adequate information and warning when it comes to property use in certain areas, he said.
“I can take you up the road and show you a bend in the Dungeness River where, in my adult life, two houses have gone in the river,” he said.
A question was posed to the panel on why property owners who can’t do whatever they want on a piece of their land, such as land in a shoreline buffer zone, don’t get property tax adjustments for the loss of value.
“Property owners who have reduced use should get reduced property tax,” Roberts said.
Doherty said the law hasn’t changed because the courts have upheld it and no one has produced successful legislation to change it either, he said.
“If you want to be active in changing the law, run for the Legislature,” he said. “You can argue about the philosophy but that is the best way to change it.”
Miller said the beauty of a creek bed, the view of the Strait of Juan de Fuca from a bluff or seeing ducks inhabit wetland are all reasons people choose to live on property that, because of those aspects, has rules about what they can do near the environmentally sensitive areas.
“Even though we might lose something, I think the benefit is still there, so in my mind that is not a loss,” she said.
An audience member asked if the county has followed any recommendations by ICLEI.
Doherty said being a member of the association doesn’t mean you have to follow its agenda or do what it says, but the group offers free workshops and technical advice on efficiencies and money-saving strategies that have been helpful to county staff. He said he has attended a workshop on fuel-efficient vehicles and one on solar panels.
“ICLEI has expanded their philosophy (since the county joined) but they never bring it up at workshops,” he said. “They give information and advice.”
The next monthly meeting of the 4C’s will be held at 7 p.m. Monday, May 23, at the Boys & Girls Club in Sequim. Legislators Kevin Van De Wege, Steve Tharinger and Jim Hargrove will be reporting on the 2011 session.