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Greenprint and the Sandpoint City Council

greenprint kitchen

Greenprint and the Sandpoint City Council

City Council Meeting – February 2, 2016

By Anita Aurit

I left work at the usual time which normally allows me 15 minutes in the council chambers to wait for the meeting to start. This was not the case for this meeting. Parking was difficult to find and, by the time I walked in, the chamber doors had been shut and no one was being allowed in. The city police were informing those in the hallway that they could still speak and were very helpful in assisting people in filling out the forms that are needed in order to make a public comment. We filled out our forms and I connected with some old friends and made a few new ones as I waited.

Standing in the hallway was an interesting and enlightening experience. I will elaborate on this in my “Two Cents” section.

Since I was not in the chamber for the meeting, I went through the excruciating task of watching the video in order to ensure what I am commenting about is accurate.

Normally, I blog about things that affect small business. This  Greenprint issue has proven to be an education in how the city views its constituents and it’s power and that will affect small business in the long run.

The mayor began the meeting with his usual  instructions for those who wished to speak, 3 minute time limit and then commented that “it’s great to see a full chamber.”  The mayor also asked those who were for clean water to raise their hands.

Greenprint – We’ll Explain It To You Again

Aaron Qualls, the city planner began his presentation by saying how great it was to see so many people at the meeting and that it “shows how special this area is.”

He began by stating he wanted to address concerns about the Greenprint. He said Eric Grace and Susan Drumheller were part of the Greenprint and that “although it identifies almost 100,000 acres that are a priority for conservation, no one is promoting conservation of 100,000 acres.” Based on “shared community values” the planning team did “a lot of work to determine what those values were.” The planning team acknowledged that a broad enough segment of the population wasn’t reached and “so they elevated one of the goals, which was working lands.”  And what was the information they used to “elevate” this area considering that this plan for 100,000 acres included less than 2% of the residents of that 100,000 acres?

Qualls said that the report is not regulatory, it is a 2-year process, a lot of work went into it, and the goal is to raise awareness.  The plan would help the city of Sandpoint win funding for specific projects and “in our area of city impact”  ” , which is, he explained, the area the city is someday projected to grow into. I would be interested to see exactly what areas the city has targeted to “grow into”.

He said the adopted comprehensive plan has a vision for the area and the city seeks to mitigate the burden on the taxpayer as regards delivered services. I would like to know what this mitigation plan is in detail.  “The tax revenue -dispersed revenue development doesn’t make up for the cost of other land uses such as ag or commercial. In the action plan for this report it says to “incorporate the plan into the city planning documents, which could be an appendix item.” Pay attention to this comment, it will come up toward the end of the meeting. He wrapped up his comments by saying that what happens outside the city of Sandpoint has an impact on the city of Sandpoint and what happens in the city of Sandpoint has an impact outside the city.

Kaniksu Land Trust and The Trust For Public Lands

Eric Grace, head of Kaniksu Land Trust spoke first, his main points:

  • Conservation easements don’t remove property from the tax roles, however most of the lands they protect qualify for certain tax deductions. What he didn’t mention is what happens to the taxes of the lands around those lands which was addressed in some of the comments noted below).
  • Easements don’t drive up the cost of lands, this only happens in areas like Boulder, CO or other populated areas close to full build out. This is interesting, when we lived in Jackson Hole, WY where private land was scarce, average home costs were as high as major metropolitan areas, the reason many (some who were born and raised there) moved out of the area.

Susan Drumheller then spoke. She used to work for the Idaho Conservation League and is now a grant writer, she was working with the ICL when the Greenprint was written.  Her points:

  • The Trust for Public Lands was brought to Sandpoint to do trail planning and that’s when the Trust for Public Lands talked to them about the Greenprint.
  • They didn’t have the resources to bring the Greenprint people in so the LOR foundation provided a grant.
  • It was a consensus of the Greenprint committee that they didn’t want to do a Greenprint county wide. (So why did they include almost 100,000 acres of the county in the Greenprint?)
  • They based their information on a survey with  540 respondents. “we missed the county fair, materials weren’t ready, we hoping to get to the Draft Horse show materials weren’t ready. We missed the rural demographic so when we got the survey back, working lands was a “kind of a distant fourth” so we acknowledged we needed to “bump this up” (working lands).
  • We then invited people to be on steering committee. The question was never should be or should be not map areas for conservations but “What is the conservation value of the community” How could they know the conservation values of the community when they polled less than 2% of the community represented in the Greenprint’s almost 100,000 acres?
  • In the end, this is just information to help make decisions about spending resources.  It doesn’t mandate anything, The Greenprint is the kind of document funders like to see before investing funds into a project. Having your stamp of approval on it gives it more credibility.

Councilman Snedden asked about the raw data and how the weighting was done. He asked where the weighting shows up, is it on the map? There ensued an explanation that this simple woman had difficulty following, Aaron Qualls, said, “the goals are  listed 1-4 but that’s not necessarily how it’s weighted.  To answer a more detailed question about how data sets went in there is much more complicated. There’s no simple answer as to how it was weighted”. In my simple way of thinking, if you polled less than 2& of the population affected, your data is skewed and not representative at all

The mayor pointed to map reference page 23 but again, the issue is moot as the data does not represent the entire population and the weighting was done by those putting  the Greenprint together, and they were not a representative of the cross section of the areas targeted.

The People Speak

The mayor cautioned the speakers on the 3 minute time limit and that comments could not be a repeat of anything that had been said previously.

County Commissioner Dan McDonald  spoke first. His points:

  • As regards the “core team” make-up of the Greenprint, he didn’t see any County Commissioners on list. He noted that a former employee who dealt with planning was on the committee but that individual was not authorized to sign or agree to anything on behalf of the county. There was nothing to be found in the Greenprint regarding coordination with the county.
  • He referred the Council to Idaho Code Title 50 Chapter 3, which speaks to the issue of powers. There is nothing in this statute that speaks the city having authority over lands outside the city.
  • He received a parcel report from the Greenprint regarding his property. It outlined all the details of his property including areas that have been targeted for hiking trails and public access. Not only did this parcel report concern him but he was also concerned that these reports are not readily available to all private property owners.
  • The culture of this area is important and property rights are part of that cultured.  The Greenprint will discriminate against lower and middle class families.
  • In the minutes of the Jan. 4, 2017 council meeting, Councilman said that the city should have no jurisdiction outside city and this is correct.
  • In addition, there is an assumption that if anyone is not for the Greenprint they are against clean air and water. Commissioner McDonald said, “I assure you, citizens are concerned about this.,”

When Commissioner McDonald finished speaking, the mayor said, “just for the record, Shelby for the record and for  clarification, Bonner County planner Clare Marley was involved. “ This comment by the mayor was not only misleading, it was false and was addressed by the Commissioner,  Clare Marley had no jurisdiction to be involved in anything but a private capacity and did not have authorization to represent the county.

I have attempted to consolidate the public comments to cover highlights. I am not referencing names of those commenting but you can always watch the video or read the council minutes for those details.

  • The chair of  Waterkeepers thanked the Trust for Public Lands for bringing “something like this to the community. He said that people who are opposed may want to listen to some of the conversations going on. He also said that he heard people at the last meeting saying “follow the money” and he wanted to acknowledge the LOR foundation for spending $280,000.00 to buy the last piece of property for the Trail and for spending over $200,000 to do a park at the Fairgrounds. He is in full support of the Greenprint.
  • Speaker: “Members in the community have participated in this fully” (Less than 2% of the county population is not full participation). He said that to set that information aside and not look at it would be to say it has no value.  If members of the community feel they didn’t have a voice, I urge the council to consider being more inclusive in the future but at this point
  • Speaker: Members of the community have participated in this fully and vouched for it and given their input, I think it’s important that if that many members of the community are involved that we consider that information, to set that information aside and not look at it would be to say there’s no value in it and he urged the council to go forward\ with the Greenprint.
  • Speaker: We already have land use regulations, why do we need someone coming in here telling us what to do? We already have environmental regulations. Who can justify logically what we’re doing here? At this point, the mayor interrupted and said, “This isn’t a plan, did you read it?” The speaker continued, “We’ve gone down this road, Seattle had gone down this road, it smacks of Agenda 21…At this point, the mayor shut the speaker down again saying, “Do you have any testimony that’s relevant to the resolution? And then he stopped the man from commenting. There were many shouts of “point of order” but the mayor ignored them.

We have land use regulations already, what do we need someone else coming in here telling us what to do. We already have environmental regulations here. Who would be able to justify logically what we’re doing here. Shelby interrupts, this isn’t a plan, did you read it, in Seattle they’ve gone down this road. Shelby-do you have nay testimony relevant to this resolution. People shouting point of order….

The mayor spoke again, “I’ll just reiterate that any easement would be voluntary by any and all land owners.”

 

  • Speaker: My concern is about the direction of the study and, reading the paper today about the meeting tonight, that Sandpoint voting for this would make it easier to fund further studies and building committees. I’m not afraid to move into the future but this seems like the city is moving into the county and I’m concerned about the direction this action would take. I’m concerned that we, the cities of Sandpoint are being influenced by larger cities like Seattle and Portland.
  • Speaker: The less government, the better the government, in my opinion. This is government encroachment on areas they should not be involved with.
  • Speaker: Sandpoint was called one of the best cities in the west, one of the coolest mountain towns by Men’s Journal, etc. That being the case, I’d be very much against this kind of bureaucracy impinging on tis community, especially when I see the report comes out of the city of San Francisco., We don’t need San Francisco telling us how to manage our resources when we see how they’ve managed theirs.
  • Speaker:  I have a business in Ponderay. The 2005 future comprehensive plan from the city of Ponderay stressed that property rights are very important to the city. I’m wondering if, in fact, this Greenprint conflicts with Ponderay’s stance on private property rights. I am also concerned that the actual property owner does not get to sit on the committees, our voices will not be heard if we’re not in the meetings.
  • Speaker: A lifetime resident of Bonner County and owner of property in Selle Valley noted that they have a lot of interaction around the county. An agenda of this magnitude is all about presentation. This was presented as if the Greenprint was of the utmost importance. I don’t think you’re being truthful. I think there is a higher agenda and it reminds me of the Syrian refugee memorandum from January of last year. That was presented in a way that Sandpoint needs to show they are a tolerant and implied that anyone against the memorandum is intolerant. It’s the same here, the implication is if you’re not for the Greenprint, you’re not for clean water, conservation, etc.
  • Speaker: Many of us already have a voluntary conservation plan for our farmland and timber land. I’ve worked with the University and the extension office and have ensured that there’s a conservation plan. The plan is mine and it allows me to control the legacy I leave my family. My plan is truly voluntary. This is just another layer. We’re uncomfortable with the idea that we’re lumped in with the city of Sandpoint.

The mayor made another statement at this point, “I appreciate the comments and this plan would empower people to do what she (the previous speaker) has done and would give people access to funds to implement this plan.”

  • Speaker: You received a total of 540 responses, 371 were from Sandpoint citizens, not from elsewhere in the county. I’ve heard you say you should have gotten more input but you haven’t. This is the city coming in and encroaching on us. It’s been insinuated that we do not manage our properties.  There’s only 14% of privately owned land in this county, putting more land into easements will negatively impact the economy.
  • Speaker:  I’m for the Greenprint and it is good for economic development.
  • Speaker: If you council do engage in this activity, this is fraud. The plan and the data conflict, and there is an ulterior motive. If any document or plan is provided to you that is so complex that you can’t understand it, you should not consider it. The process has been flawed. You shouldn’t say “next time we’ll do it properly”. I ask that you strike any references or locations that are outside the city as they are not under your authority and should be exempted from this plan. If you wish to have them under your authority I urge you to run for commissioner.  You have other options.
  • Speaker: People are concerned because their property is included in the report. The report is lacking, misleading and deceptive. It talks about the 2010 US census, listing the county population for 2010 as 52, 909 people. The survey results do not reflect all  opinions in the community. Councilman Snedden interrupted and said the speaker was referring to a section, could he give the page number. The speaker provided the page number.and then continued. 17% of respondents were for strong planning and zoning (of 560 people responding, this only represented opinions of 95 out of total population of 52, 909, or, one in 557 people.
  • Speaker: The general population has not been listened to and not asked their opinion. Surveys collected in venues that already had a bias in favor of the sorts of groups who are in favor of these ideas, There was no presence at the Bonner County Fair, no Farm Bureau meetings, no Sportsmen Association meetings, etc. Calling it a great report of great when only  1% of the county population responded is not correct.. It’s hard to trust this as good date with such a small sampling. Also I resented the question and how it was couched at the beginning of the meeting, , “Raise  your hand if you’re in favor of clean water.”
  • Speaker: I’m a 60 year Bonner County resident, living on family farm in Cocolalla. The claim has been made that this is voluntary for land owners.when the  power of persuasion doesn’t work, often the persuasion of power is used.. I have a neighbor who came from the Columbia Gorge area and has had experience with something like this. They were told it was voluntary and now you need government approval to do almost anything with your land. I wonder if the city council member have done their due diligence and at a minimum read and considered whether the assertions Jeremy Grimm made in letters to the paper on Jan 15 & 22 are true and if so, please vote no, Also you should not be endorsing things that are out of your jurisdiction.
  • Speaker: Sandpoint represents roughly 15% of the county population. If 2/3 of the respondents live in the city of Sandpoint than the county is misrepresented and information is being misinterpreted. I’ve attended Sagle planning and zoning meetings  and wasn’t aware of how closely Sandpoint Planning and Zoning was looking at Sagle and Selle Valley.  Everyone wanted to see some commercial improvement along the highway and good sound growth but they need commercial growth to improve tax growth. Grants do not create sound growth, The TPL buys up properties and then sell the properties to a state entity.
  • Speaker: Although I’m not a city resident, but according to this document, I’m in the “Greater Sandpoint Area”. I feel like I’ve been placed in the middle of a road and the headlights of a car are shining on me and making me  a target by someone who doesn’t have jurisdiction over my area. The document in question should be in front of the Bonner County Commissioners. My property is 20 miles south of Sandpoint. Maybe this is before the long deliberative body.
  • Speaker: I’ve owned and operated a farm outside of Hope for 25 years. Farmers are underrepresented. We raise organic food. We have a problem with wildlife already eating our crops and spend thousands of dollars on wildlife mitigation. Food is more important than people walking their dogs and gazing at wildlife.
  • Speaker: Eric Brubaker, the City Planner for the city of Ponderay stated he is a  “radical advocate for local control”. He then reminisced about taking his dog to for walks at Trout Creek and how important it was to him. There is a small amount of money available for conservation and this is a prioritization tool in getting the best property.  It’s a regional worldview “we all live in and out of city limits”, and I am “super enthusiastic” to have a conversation about conservation. There’s  , been some negativity about this plan and maybe it would help if we could have further conversations.
  • Speaker: I represent a Sagle homeowner’s association. Only Sagle homeowners association representative. I want to correct the figures as only 12% of property in Bonner County is privately owned. You’re going to lower that property value because it can never be developed. When you lower someone’s property assessment and value goes down, my tax assessment on my property which is not conserved will go up. Other people will have to pay for the easements. And this is the wrong venue for this, affects  all of the county and other counties.
  • Speaker: The report states that Sandpoint is a growing community, but this is not true. I’ve lived here 12 years, 12 years ago, the population was over 8,000, and has now decreased. The school district has hundreds of students less than it did 12-15 years ago. We don’t have development pressure in Sandpoint with a declining population. Some of the people who participated in this plan are members of The Trust for Public lands and Smart Growth Idaho.. Aaron Qualls, the Sandpoint city planner,  is a member of Smart Growth Idaho which is a part of Smart Growth USA. Smart Growth Idaho’s president received much of her experience in economic development in the Soviet Union and then in Boulder, Colorado before she came to Idaho. These organizations do not represent our values.
  • Speaker:  The federal government own 65% of land in Idaho, why do we need to conserve more land?  I was an environmentalist before it was trendy but environmentalists are different today and have involved themselves in government control .
  • Speaker: Mayor of Ponderay, Steve Geiger  Everybody here has a deep passion for this county. The one problem that I do have is that I would not want to make decisions for your city or county. The city should make decisions for it’s own city and not the county. This matter should be brought before the county government. I  have a problem with governments reaching out to areas outside their jurisdiction.

The mayor addressed the Ponderay mayor’s comments saying, “It’s certainly been outlined that government should approve the plan in their jurisdiction. The expectation would be that they would approve of this study and then it would inform each jurisdiction’s planning efforts. All of you who are concerned with the impact in your area, this issue today is as it relates to the Sandpoint constituency. We are making an effort to understand where our assets and resources that are significant to our community are in conservation. Nothing in this plan gives the city of Sandpoint any authority whatsoever to influence any other areas.”

  • Speaker: Details and specifics of this plan are involved in micromanaging properties. They flew over our property and then came back and told us how much water , etc. we are allowed to have. GIS services allows you (the government) to micromanage. They could come back and say, “The last time we flew over your property we noticed you removed a few trees” and there may be repercussions regarding this.  My question is, can you micromanage and reassess my property based on this information? There are other  things that make me nervous about the Greenprint, for instance  the easement of 200 feet along trails. Whose to say that 200 foot buffer on trails wont render the land useless?. Whose to say that you can start exercising eminent domain to connect these easements?

greenprintWRITTEN COMMENTS

  • Key word is voluntary don’t make decisions based on “heresy, soundbites and rumors”
  • I was on the Greenprint advisory council and recommended approval on “voluntary market based conservation”
  • Don’t let paranoid conspiracy theories be a roadblock to Greenprint
  • It was a robust outreach survey project, (Evidently he didn’t get the memo of the less than 2% participation of citizens in the survey)
  • I’m unsure why there is any opposition to the proposal, it takes community input to make the decisions in the plan,.
  • I applaud the collaborative and community driven efforts to develop the Greenprint. One main concern raised was with the fundamental ideas of conservation easements.  It is rare that any survey can collect all opinions, but it does capture general communities values.

The mayor attempted to solicit other pro-Greenprint comments but no one volunteered.

Is it a Plan, Is it a Recommendation?

Councilman Snedden waxed eloquent on the values of the Greenprint stating, “I didn’t hear anyone disagreeing about those values. Sitting in this chair I’m always looking for more information to help me make decisions. Page 16 outlines areas where we can maintain protection of water quality. I thought there were some really good points tonight, one was bias, sampling done in areas that weren’t representative of the population of greater Bonner county, I think  that’s true but I ask how does this reflect my decision for city of Sandpoint,? There were 321 residents respondents.  There was an attempt to compensate for some of the inadequacies. I think citizens of Sandpoint were accurately represented in this plan. You residents in the county have to look to the county to approve this plan, I have no ability to affect this plan. There was confusion over whether this is a plan or a report, in parts it’s referred to as a plan, in other areas as a plan. where action items are offered. The concern from what I heard tonight is that plans affect policy, and  policy affects law.  I kind of struggle with some of this, I don’t agree with some of the action items, for instance that it needs to be revisited annually or that it should be a part of the comprehensive plan. One of the questions I have for Jennifer Stapleton (City Administrator) is, this may have value for obtaining grants, how important is section 5 in the grant obtaining process or can we exclude section 5? “

Her response was  that the document was relevant without section 5, the fact that the city commissioned the plan and was a participating partner in the plan and the data and collaboration is of value in and of itself. She didn’t  know that it was necessarily to include all of the components but  the council having a resolution to support all of the points of the plan is necessary for grant applications.

Snedden asked the same question of Aaron Qualls and the response was, “Yeah, sure,  incorporating it into the city planning documents is a more weighty thing that should be considered over time.”

The mayor spoke for section 5 saying that personally he felt the action items gave guidance that is valuable to the city for conservation.

Councilwoman Williamson addressed the potential conflict of interest that had been expressed and noted that she didn’t take the survey as a council member of representative of Waterkeepers.

There was much more back and forth discussion that also included the council expressing their appreciation for the attendance at the meeting. An amendment was proposed that section 5 be removed from the approval of the Greenprint document.

Councilman Camp was firm in his belief that the Greenprint was not necessary.

The amendment to remove section 5 passed and Councilwoman Williamson proposed another amendment that the last “whereas” was not necessary and should be removed. She acknowledged that much of the conversation was about how the team did not reach out to the wider community and that she agreed that the team reached out the citizens of Sandpoint but she didn’t think it adds to the resolution and felt it should be stricken.

The motion with two amendments passed with Councilman Camp stating, “I believe the resolution is outside the scope of the city’s purview. “

The council called a recess and before the mike was turned off, the mayor was hard to say,  “Geez, one item, four hours”.

 

My Two Cents

Being outside during the meeting was interesting. I love to observe people, body language says so much. When I was called inside to make my comment, I stood next to the head of the Kaniksu Land Trust and watched as he snickered, shook his head and silently mocked anyone who was expressing opinions not in favor of the Greenprint.

When I made my statement and returned outside, I watched a group of 3 people (one is the significant other of a council person) who happened to be listening to my comments (the video is on a time lapse), they snickered and laughed through my comments.

There is no need for such behavior and I am constantly frustrated by the childish name calling and smearing I see in this community, not just about the Greenprint. Good, civil conversation is important and inclusive conversation is important as well. I am always leery of people who go on the attack rather than engage in conversation.

I was flabbergasted listening to the morphing of the description of what the Greenprint is. It’s a report, it’s a plan, it covers almost 100,00 acres in Bonner County but it only applies to Sandpoint. There is much about this that stinks to high heaven. If the city was truly interested in conservation in the area of their jurisdiction, why the expansive report. I’m sorry but IMHO the city was caught red-handed trying to overreach. These are the types of things that make people leery of government, not engaging everyone in the process and attempting to pawn the results off as “representative of all the population”, insinuating that anyone with questions or opposition to the plan/report is a clean air, clean water, conservation hating Neanderthal and changing the narrative after you’ve been caught misrepresenting the subject.

If you haven’t read it yet, here is a link to the Greenprint document.

Anita Aurit is the owner and operator of
The Office Sandpoint.

Edited for typos and byline.

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